Property Management Key Service

October 31, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDSSome things have changed in the business of property management over the past 15 to 20 years, but many of the basics have remained the same.

“Service is a key, and it needs to be prompt and professional,” said Mark Muller, president of Ben Muller Realty.

Ben Muller Realty has been involved in property management to varying degrees since the 1960s.

The company officially formed a separate property management division — Muller Realty Property Management — in the early 1980s in response to the advent of strip malls and retailers’ changing needs, Muller recalled.

Today the company manages 234,000 thousand square feet of space across properties that include Breton Business Center, Knapp’s Corner, Corner Shops at Celebration Village, The Karl Building, The Founder’s Building and Breton Meadows, York Creek and West Shore shopping centers.

With commercial and industrial properties, the responsibilities of the landlord are always determined by the lease agreement, said Dan Clemo, the company’s property manager.

A commercial lease spells out both the landlord’s and the tenant’s obligations, which are almost exclusively determined during lease negotiations.

“On the most basic level nothing has changed: the landlord owes the tenant dry, functional space and the tenant owes the landlord rent,” Clemo said.

“Beyond that most basic rule, the answer always lies in the lease.”

On the retail side, tenants still have the basic need to keep their doors open to serve customers, so property managers have to be able to respond quickly to such problems such as electrical outages and HVAC issues, he said.

These days, computers and cell phones help quicken response time.

“Now when a call comes in after hours, they get the manager direct on their cell phone and if they need service the manager simply opens their PDA and makes the calls.”

Likewise, there are other aspects of property management that are much more routine, mechanized and streamlined today due to the introduction of new technologies, Muller noted.

As Clemo pointed out, the No. 1 feature in demand among commercial tenants is that a building be wired, because the Internet plays such an integral role in doing business today.

“If your building doesn’t have high-speed Internet access, then you better find a way to get it,” he advised.

“Twenty years ago,” he added, “no one had heard of the Internet. Today no one can live without it.”

Also today, property management companies have to take adequate precautions to maintain quality risk management, Clemo said.

Commercial property owners, like most other professionals that work with the public, have been subjected to increasing legal scrutiny in recent years.

“Taking precautions to make your property as safe as possible is one of the most important roles of a property management company,” he said. “Our goal is to eliminate potential hazards as they can quickly turn into a legal battle.”

One of the most important factors in a business’s success continues to be its location, Muller observed.

But he said it seems that in today’s market, coming out of a long period of contraction, operating costs are a close second on the list of business success factors.

“A far more exacting control of services is now demanded of the property manager. Tenant common area costs are scrutinized in much greater detail today given the narrower profit margins of the past few years.”

The Grand Rapids office market has become extremely competitive of late due to an oversupply of space, he said, which has sparked price competition and provided office users with more options.

“One of the key factors to success now is to distinguish your building through offering a better product,” he remarked.

“Price competition can go only so far, and then good, creative management has to take over.

“Management that’s good for the tenant is management that’s very responsive and creates a milieu that’s interesting and helps the tenant flourish. Management that’s good for the client is management that’s balances tenant needs with the landlord’s profit needs.”

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