‘OAs have to decide what future they want to have for their community’
In this exclusive interview with ‘FM today’, Jeevan J D'Mello, President of the Community Associations Institute - Middle East, talks about his vision for the association, what’s lacking in the Community Management community today, and the roadblocks faced by Owner’s Associations (OAs).
Jeevan will soon be speaking at The Middle East Association Managers Conference (MEAMCON) held on December 6, 2018, at The Address, Dubai Marina.
What is your vision for Community Association Institute – Middle East?
The Community Associations Institute – Middle East Chapter (CAIME), is the official chapter of the USbased Community Associations Institute (CAI) and was incorporated in Dubai as a non-profit entity under the laws of the city. The CAI which celebrated 45 years since its formation is the leading international authority in community association education, governance, and management with over 38,000 members worldwide. For me personally, the formation of CAIME was a dream ever since I attended the first CAI conference in Florida, USA in 2007. While it took a lot of lobbying, convincing and follow-ups, my dream came true when CAIME was finally incorporated last year.
My vision for CAIME is to serve the needs of the community management industry and its members. Those needs range from continuing professional education, having proper representation in governmental forums and raising the profile of the community management profession itself. It is disheartening to note that while persons view doctors, lawyers and architects as experts within their professions and take their advice seriously when they need medical, legal or real estate development advice, they don’t accord the same respect and deference to community managers. My endeavour is to change the perception of owners, board members and residents in communities to ensure they view community managers as professionals in the real estate management arena and take their advice seriously. After all, a home is one of the biggest investments people make in their lifetime and it needs to be taken care of professionally. My hope is that CAIME will go a long way to make this vital change.
What is lacking in the Community Management today?
Unlike other professions that are chosen at high school and students embark upon it by studying that specific disciple, community management is a field that most people (myself included) just ‘fall into’. Results of surveys of community managers across the world have clearly shown that very few (if any) of these professionals chose this industry as their first choice. They were either involved in it due to their proximity with the service during another line of work, or they took it up when other options were limited. Hence, I believe, the overall level of education, domain knowledge and subsequently confidence is severely lacking. This needs to change, and I am hoping that with CAIME’s organisation of quarterly workshops, continuing education and the annual conference this will eventually change it for the better. With enhanced knowledge, better communication skills and better-honed leadership qualities, community managers will be in a better position to serve the OA boards, homeowners, residents and service providers. Needless to say, this will, in turn, ensure the stakeholders of such properties and communities get world-class technical, financial, social and individual customer service which is on par with the best in the world.
To enjoy seamless functioning, OAs need to ensure they have ample funds. But that appears to be one of the biggest roadblocks facing OAs currently.
Obviously, sound financial health is very important for an OA and the lack of it could have a detrimental effect not only on the value of the asset, but the wellbeing of the community. I disagree with many in the industry who say that property owners don’t want to pay their annual dues. I believe that people will pay when they see the value in the proposition. I put the blame sometimes on how we, as managers, calculate and present the annual budget to the owners. Board members and owners are laypersons when it comes to OAs, and may not understand the intricacies of maintenance, management, long-term planning and crisis management.
We need to be very transparent in how we develop our budgets and we need to present it in a simple way to ensure that the owner understands where their monies are being spent and the need for those line items in the budget. Of course, there will always be those who will dispute any figure put forward, but those persons will be a few and far in between and can be dealt with. The other challenge is that budgets may be reduced to placate boards and owners, sometimes reducing contributions to the reserve funds. This is dangerous as without having proper reserves in place, the community is being put at a great risk for the future. Unfortunately, the importance of the reserve fund is only really appreciated years after the initial launch of the OA.
There is a lot of discussion regarding customer expectations from OAs, from disputes surrounding service charges, to the quality of maintenance and upkeep. So are OAs meeting expectations?
There are a myriad of different customers and stakeholders here. Homeowners, board members, tenants, guests, auditors, regulatory authorities, municipal authorities and even service providers are the customers of community managers and the OA as an entity. Each of them however has different but very vital expectations. The board represents the OA and the manager has been tasked by the board to take care of the financial, technical, administrative and customer service aspects of the OA. While community managers are expected to do everything necessary to keep the OA in top shape, the other stakeholders, most importantly the owners, residents and the board members have their very vital parts to play as well. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten.
The board has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the community. They have a duty of care and loyalty, yet it is not uncommon to find many board members interested in furthering their own interests, sometimes at the cost of the community’s wellbeing. I have seen this myself and heard from other members of the industry that when the community manager proposes budgets, systems or providers that are needed to protect the OAs assets, they are often turned down or services reduced drastically to decrease costs. Obviously, this would result in lesser maintenance or the absence of some very vital protection to the asset. If an OA wants the best maintenance system and service, there will always be a cost attached to it. You get what you pay for goes the famous adage.
OAs have to decide what future they want to have for their community. They have to decide between their needs and desires. Needs must be catered for, desires are always optional. If the board clearly outlines the OA’s expectations, then the community manager must strive very hard to fulfil those expectations and the OA must accept the community managers advice. With all stakeholders working together and the community being managed by the best practices on offer, I have no doubt that the community will not only be happy but will thrive.
Tell us about the importance of MEAMCON? Why should the industry attend this?
Ever since the government of Dubai enacted Law 27 of 2007 concerning Jointly Owned Properties and the formation of Owners Associations, the Emirate has never been the same. The law brought in the muchneeded confidence into the city’s freehold real estate sector and ensured that owners have a say in the wellbeing and enhancement of the value of properties they have invested in. The Middle East Association Managers Conference (MEAMCON) is first and only conference and exposition for Community Association Managers in the Middle East which had its inaugural conference in 2011 under the aegis of the Dubai Real Estate Institute and the US-based Community Associations Institute (CAI) and supported by the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA).
With the exponential growth of the real estate market, the need for good quality management services has been felt everywhere and Owners Associations are being increasingly called on to play a significant role in the way we live, learn, work, and play. I believe that the community as a whole — with its unique mix of cultural identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and more — represents the truly physical and cultural reality of today’s world. This edition of MEAMCON will be the 7th one and after a very successful one last year which saw the participation of over 300 professional delegates and reputed speakers and experts from all around the world including the USA, Australia, Spain, Italy, Colombia and South Africa.
I call on every community management, property management and facilities management professional to attend this event as this is the place where some of the world’s most experienced and qualified real estate managers will meet and network. It is an opportunity for every professional to plan for future success through knowledge gathering and strengthening personal and professional connections. Like the years before, every attendee will meet peers from around the globe and can build on their collective wisdom.