Bill Morris in Board Operations on September 14, 2023
Judy DeVito, longtime board president at the 96-unit Brulene co-op in Jackson Heights, Queens, likens hiring a management company to getting married. First comes the courtship, then the walk down the aisle, then the honeymoon and finally, all too often, things grow stale over time.
That’s what happened with the Brulene and its management company after their 10th anniversary — bills were not getting paid on time, compliance dates got missed, follow-up from the back office began to lag.
“After a while the flowers stop coming, so to speak,” DeVito says with a laugh, “and you feel like you’re just there. You don’t want the people in the building to feel that way.”
So in early 2022, the Brulene’s nine-member board agreed it was time for a divorce and a fresh start. Interviews with half a dozen new suitors revealed very different courtship techniques among the management companies, which ranged from big and well established to small, young and hungry.
During the interviews, DeVito filled charts rating each candidate on demeanor, knowledge, attitude, experience, number of buildings handled and overall quality of the answers.
“When most of the candidates went over what they do, it was robotic,” DeVito says. “They all sounded the same. So I think it’s a good idea for boards to have questions that tend not to get asked, such as, ‘What would you do if there was a fire in the building at 2 o’clock in the morning?’ When one of the candidates, Evangelos Fantakos, gave a synopsis of his young company, High Rise Property Management, the board became interested. He realized he would have to work harder because most boards would tend to hire a management company with more experience and more buildings in its portfolio. Evangelos sounded very genuine, and I had a gut feeling — this guy was a fit.”
DeVito’s fellow board members agreed. After little debate, they voted 8-1 to take the plunge with High Rise.
(Like what you're reading? To get Habitat newsletters sent to your inbox for free, click here.)
Fantakos grew up in Jackson Heights and, after a dozen years working for various property management firms, he opened High Rise in 2018. Today the company’s portfolio consists of 33 buildings, ranging from a 10-unit condo to a 420-unit co-op. He considers the Burlene a dream spouse.
“At the interview I told the board that I used to live in Jackson Heights, and this would be our first property in the neighborhood,” Fantakos says. “I want to grow in this neighborhood, and I told them who I am as a person, and I explained my intimate management style. I want to make sure we don’t become such a large company that we neglect our clients, especially smaller buildings. I want to keep our intimate management style, whether the building has 10 units or 400 units.”
That hands-on style became apparent even before High Rise reported for work in June 2022. The company distributed a welcome package to all shareholders that listed all company employees and building staff and their roles and contact numbers, gave references, offered guidance on paying maintenance, move-in and move-out procedures, certificate of insurance requirements, and more.
The transition was not without hiccups. The outgoing management, like a jilted spouse, did not immediately reveal the whereabouts of $40,000 in funds and a number of unpaid bills. While winning those fights, Fantakos attacked the leaky garage roof that sits between the two postwar buildings, balky elevators, faulty pumps that delivered either too little or too much hot water, and complaints about the porter and the super.
“Now,” he reports after 15 months on the job, “things are quiet.”
DeVito, who stepped down from active duty and has served as an adviser to the board since the wedding with High Rise, says that the board did the right thing by doing its homework, then following its gut feeling when looking for a suitable marriage partner. She advises other boards to follow suit.
“Try to look at what that potential manager is actually saying to you,” she says. “Does he answer from the heart? Is he genuine? If you can find a manager who has that — or a lawyer or contractor or potential shareholder — you’ve found gold.”
Engage, enrage, ask questions and give answers with your community of board members. Submit your questions and comments here!
Co-op and condo board business broken down into bite-sized bits - 2 stories each week. Read now on all digital devices.