Bill Morris in Building Operations on November 2, 2017
This article is part of our occasional series, “The Previous Lives of Property Managers.”
Like many property managers, Robert Ferrara came into the profession through the back door. Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where his father was a mechanic and his mom was a homemaker, Ferrara dreamed of being a cop. His mother didn’t try to dissuade him, but she insisted he get a college education. The boy, who was never afraid of work, decided to do both. While studying accounting at Queens College in the late 1980s, Ferrara joined the New York Police Department’s cadet program and somehow found time to volunteer in the ambulance corps in Rockaway Beach and also work part-time at an accounting firm, where he handled the books of several co-ops and condominiums. As it turned out, a career in the NYPD was not in the cards.
“I saw a good opportunity and I grabbed onto it, and I’m glad I did,” Ferrara says about taking a job with the North Castle police force in Westchester County after earning his college degree. For the next 23 years he worked his way through the ranks in the hamlet nestled against the Connecticut state line – as a patrolman, on the scuba unit, as an emergency medical technician, finally retiring in 2014 as a sergeant. All along, he was picking up skills that would serve him well in the next chapter of his life.
“In law enforcement, you’re constantly mediating disputes and negotiating,” says Ferrara, 49, a gregarious bear of a man with salt-and-pepper hair and moustache. “Doing that for 23 years, I learned to listen, and it’s very important to listen as a property manager.”
His four-days-on, three-days-off police shifts offered him enough free time to moonlight with property management firms, where he handled a couple of properties and learned on the fly. “Just like any other property manager, I did everything – from rooftop to boiler room,” Ferrara says. “There was no school for property managers, so you learned by trial and error.”
Ferrara married his college sweetheart, Alisa, and together they raised three kids, now in their teens. As they were growing up, Ferrara earned a real estate agent’s license, followed by a broker’s license. A year before leaving the North Castle police department, Ferrara, no stranger to challenges and hard work, started his own management company with four employees and 13 properties.
“My police work has made a big difference,” says Ferrara. “It’s been helpful from a security standpoint – hiring personnel, securing properties, setting up surveillance cameras and key fobs. Through law enforcement I also know that you need redundant systems. If there’s a snowstorm or a hurricane, my staff can work from home, log in, answer the phone. The other thing law enforcement gave me is the need to document things. When we take over a property, sometimes the documents we receive don’t help with the transition. I’m always saying ‘documentation, documentation, documentation.’”
In the end, Ferrara says, the essential thing that police work and property management have in common is that both are about service. “Overall, the best thing about police work was helping people,” he says. “There’s a lot of negative publicity about law enforcement, but police officers, day in and day out, do little things that don’t get any publicity. Most police officers really care about public service.”
If you doubt him, consider the above photograph taken on Sept. 12, 2001 at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, where Ferrara, flanked by fellow North Castle officers, assists in the cleanup from the terrorist attack.
Though those days are in Ferrara’s past, the lessons they taught live on. And it shows. From its humble beginnings, the Ferrara Management Group has expanded to 28 employees who handle more than 50 properties sprinkled across Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Westchester County.
“Knock wood,” the former police officer says, “we’ve grown.”
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