Bill Morris in Building Operations on December 17, 2020
This article is part of our occasional series, “The Previous Lives of Property Managers.”
There’s nothing quite like the feeling, David Niederman will tell you. After working on a project for six long years – in this case, designing software for the F8-II fighter jet – there’s something special about the moment when all the hard work pays off.
“When you come onto a project, you start to design it,” Niederman says, “and then things start to come together. You see the plane come to life. You sit in it. Then the day comes when you finally see it fly. That feels...” He searches for the right word and comes up with: “Magical.”
David Niederman, 57, grew up in Commack, Long Island, and after studying computer science at Penn State University, he went to work as an avionics engineer at Grumman, designing software for numerous planes, including the top-secret B-2 Stealth Bomber. That assignment taught him valuable lessons about maintaining secrecy, handling stress and having zero tolerance for error.
“On the B-2, it was a little tense,” says Niederman, who bought into the 308-unit Windbrooke Homes condominium in Central Islip while he was working at Grumman, eventually serving as the condo board’s treasurer and president. “If you wore your B-2 security-clearance badge off the property, you got fired on the spot. No mistakes were allowed.”
Windbrooke Homes was managed by Melville-based Fairfield Properties during Niederman’s years of board service, and when Grumman was bought out by Northrop in 1995, Niederman was reluctant to relocate to California, far from family and friends. Maybe it was time for a career change. Could he make it as a property manager?
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Alvin Wasserman, Fairfield’s director of asset management, thought he could. “We knew David had management potential since, as board president, he faxed us single-spaced, full-page To-Do lists daily,” Wasserman says. With a laugh, he adds: “We decided to hire David to get even with him.”
Niederman, a soft-spoken, unflappable man, accepted the job offer in 1995. “Being an engineer,” he says, “you learn to develop a process to get things done, and you learn that things don’t happen overnight. In property management, things happen a lot faster. The experience of being an engineer came in handy because it taught me to be methodical and stay two or three steps ahead so you’re not putting out fires all the time.”
And then there was the matter of time. “At Grumman, the job was 9-to-5,” Niederman says. “Once I started working as a manager, the hardest part was after 5 o’clock. There were nighttime board meetings. We always carried a beeper in the early days, and sometimes I’d be in the supermarket when my beeper went off and I had to rush to find a pay phone. Cell phones have made it a lot easier.”
But technology, as Niederman has learned, can cut both ways. “With email, everyone can get you 24 hours a day, and they expect you to respond in 10 minutes,” he says. “I can handle it because of my technology background, but we definitely live in a faster-paced world.”
Susan Blancato, a board member at the 300-unit Hidden Ponds homeowners association in Smithtown, has seen Niederman in action. “A beehive materialized and was frightening some neighbors,” Blancato recalls. “So David personally came to spray the beehive because the exterminator was not available. Not only did poor David get badly cursed out for trespassing by a resident, he got stung and nearly fell off the ladder. Now THAT is dedication and service!”
Bee stings and angry words – like nighttime board meetings – are part of a property manager’s job, as Niederman sees it. “Something may not be my job description,” he says, “but if I can do it, I just try to get it done and move on. Some people don’t appreciate it, but I think most do. You can give some people free money and they’ll complain about it. But most people just want to live quietly. If you’re not hearing from a whole lot of people, you’re probably doing a good job.”
According to colleagues and numerous clients who have worked with him for the past quarter-century, David Niederman does not hear from a whole lot of people.
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