Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on December 9, 2020
The business of property management keeps evolving. In response to the unending avalanche of city regulations, some management companies have added compliance departments in an effort to limit their clients’ fines and legal liability. Others have started handling clients’ energy purchasing and benchmarking. And some have added in-house staffers who serve as project managers, also known as owners’ representatives, when co-op or condo boards undertake major capital projects.
George Sawicki is on the vanguard of this latest trend. A registered architect who has been in the industry for 50 years and ran his own architecture firm for 15 years, Sawicki joined New Bedford Management in 2017 and is now a senior owner’s representative on the company’s staff of five. He’s currently finishing a facade project at a Fifth Avenue co-op, a job that provides a thumbnail sketch of how project managers can help co-op and condo boards.
“Boards need somebody to act as an interface between them and their architects, engineers, consultants and contractors – somebody who has no interest outside the interests of the building and the board,” Sawicki says. “We provide technical expertise that people on boards typically don’t have, but neutrality is the most important thing we bring to the table.”
Ideally, Sawicki says, a board will bring in a project manager even before it takes the initial step of hiring an architect or engineer. This allows the project manager to evaluate the project, establish the scope of work and help assemble a team.
Andras Joo, the head of New Bedford’s owner’s rep department, stresses the importance of these initial phases of any capital project. “The evaluation phase and the set-up phase – creating scope of work, getting bids, choosing contractors – are the key to having a successful project,” Joo says. “If the set-up is right, we most likely will have minimal involvement during the execution phase. That’s why we like to get involved early.”
Sawicki adds: “The success of a project depends absolutely on choosing the right team. I’ve been an architect, and I understand the architect’s role and how suitable certain ones are to a particular project. Then we’ll sit with the board and the architect during the interviews with contractors and recommend which one we think is best suited to the job.”
Once the team is assembled and the project is under way, the role of the owner’s rep changes. “From that point,” Sawicki says, “we have a weekly meeting – via Zoom right now, due to the pandemic – with the architect, contractor and engineer. We review the schedule, the progress of the work, any unanticipated problems they’ve run into. I deliver a written weekly report on progress to the board and meet monthly with the board or give an update to the president, at their discretion.”
Unanticipated problems are a given in New York capital projects, and it’s estimated that the resulting change orders add 10% to 20% to the budget of most jobs. But a sharp-eyed owner’s rep will review all change orders and weed out unnecessary ones. “This is another way I save buildings money,” Sawicki says. “I can find ways of reducing the number and cost of change orders.” He also advises boards to steer clear of contractors who have a reputation for submitting low bids – then coming in with a blizzard of change orders to pad their profit margin. The rep also reviews all invoices and recommends which ones should be paid, which should not, and why.
New Bedford charges for its owner’s rep services on an hourly basis, which Joo prefers not to disclose. If the project manager’s services outrun the estimated number of hours, depending on the stage of the project, the rep will meet with the board to explain why.
At the Fifth Avenue facade job, Joo says Sawicki’s services cut the project’s total cost by about 10%, and New Bedford’s fee ate up about two-thirds of those savings. “So,” Joo says, “essentially his services didn’t just create savings that cover his own cost, but they even have the co-op making money on it. I think it’s a win-win relationship.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER AND OWNER’S REPRESENTATIVE: New Bedford Management. ARCHITECT: Antonucci & Associates, Architects & Engineers. CONTRACTOR: Two Tone Contracting.
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