Tony Cohen in Board Operations
"My background is that I'm a former [computer] programmer who became a lawyer and then an entrepreneur, so I've been building Web properties for awhile," says Josh Blackman, chief executive of the 7-year-old, Brooklyn-based Brownstone Management. "I think property management is a bit of an old-fashioned business, and there's a lot of opportunity to take advantage of online technology."
To that end, he and a team of developers spent a year, he says, creating EZPropertyCare.com, the latest of several sites, including BuildingLink.com, MyBuilding.org and Resident-Net.com, for resident communication and board administration.
The trend, Blackman believes, is inevitable. "Blockbuster Video went down because they didn't build Netflix," he says, alluding to the brick-and-mortar chain and its online-streaming-video competitor. "Netflix ate their lunch because Blockbuster didn't retool. I want to not have my lunch eaten," he jocularly adds, "by somebody who does this before me."
Where Blackman hopes to differentiate himself is by specializing in smaller properties, some of which may find themselves squeezed between what they need in terms of management and what they can afford. As with gas stations, sometimes it just pays to pump your petrol self-service and to check your own oil.
"I go to [property-management] shows and see what software is out there, and there's really nothing designed for self-managed buildings," he says. "Most of it's designed for pros like me and not really for the small-property manager. So the opportunity was there."
Another differentiation is EZPropertyCare's partnerships with two outside specialists: The Manhattan-based back-office accounting firm appropriately named The Back Office, which had no Web presence previously; and the insurance firm Mackoul & Associates.
The site uses a subscription model of $350 a month plus $5 per apartment, Blackman says. "For that you get the bookkeeping back-end, an online payment component and access to the Property Dashboard," its proprietary residents' portal that handles the usual likes of contacting management, putting in work orders and making monthly maintenance or common-charge payments. A $250 start-up fee is being waived for the next 30 days.
Managing agent Mark Levine, vice president of business development of Excel Bradshaw, and president of rival Resident-net.com, believes this is "expensive for the product. For that same price, small buildings can hire a management firm for back office or a little more for all [services]." His firm has three payment plans: a $2,500 one-time charge with no contract; a $1,000 setup free plus $150 a month with a three-year contract; and free set-up plus $150 a month with a four-year contract.
Blackman says Brownstone Management clients will have EZPropertyCare included in the company's management fee. "We haven't yet provided it to our clients but that's the next step. Our existing clients will get it for no additional fee."
Is there a trend for self-managing? Given the sheer number of co-ops and condos in New York City, and the large number of management companies, large and small, servicing them, it's impossible to say. "My sense is the market is growing," Blackman says. And if it is, he's taking the EZ route there.
Article updated April 28, 2011, to include Mark Levine comment and Resident-net.org plans.
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