Peace of mind comes from
knowing that not only do you have the right people doing the right job,
but also knowing that those people work and respect each other
personally and as a team.
Having been a building
superintendent for almost 30 years, I can honestly say that I have seen
it all. More importantly, I have seen many changes over the years in how
buildings are run and how building staff and management interact. Back
in the “good old days,” the super was king of the building. What he said
went. He hired and fired whom he wanted, and rarely felt compelled to
listen to the managing agent or the board, running the building as he
saw fit. Back then, supers even rented apartments. Today, it’s rare for
supers to have such direct influence. While some supers may have some
discretion in running their buildings, others are kept on a relatively
- What Makes a
Well-Run Building Run Well?
- Teamwork is at the
top of the answer list; teamwork between the managing agent, the
superintendent and the board is vital to any building. Dick Koral,
director of the Apartment House Institute at the New York City College
of Technology and secretary-treasurer of the Superintendents Club of
New York, has been involved with building operations for over 30 years
and is considered a guru amongst people involved with real estate.
According to Koral, "For a co-op/condo building to be maintained
effectively, there needs to be close and respectful collaboration
among a troika consisting of the board—represented by one person
designated as chair of the building and grounds committee—the building
site manager, and the building's superintendent. A good analogy might
be a three-legged stool: If one leg is weak, the stool is not very
- People Make a
Building Run...or Stumble
- Ask any cook what
makes a dish great, and she might reply that it’s all in the right
proportion of ingredients. So what makes a building well run? Well,
it’s all the ingredients coming together, in the right proportions.
Just as in cooking, if you leave one ingredient out or change the
proportion, it changes the dish—and not always for the better.
Teamwork, trust, and devotion should be a credo in your building and
not just words. Is it super-versus-managing agent in your building, or
is it super-and-managing agent?
Sometimes, a super and
a managing agent are bound to butt heads—I’ve been there myself. In that
scenario no one wins, least of all the building. Some board members
think that it’s healthy to have the super and managing agent at odds
with each other all the time—as though conflict stimulates new ideas and
productivity. Perhaps in some cases, that’s correct in the short term,
but in the long term, it never works. Ask any building that has a high
turnover with supers or managers, and you will find disorder, neglect,
and even outright chaos.
Superintendents have a
tremendous amount of responsibility that few laypeople fully appreciate.
We are the captains of the ship, so to speak, and are therefore
responsible for everything in our building, including the health and
security of the residents and their families, as well as their comfort
and quality of life.
It seems many supers
believe that they are undervalued and are not utilized to their fullest
potential. “It just seems that people won’t let us do our jobs at
times,” says Howard White, a super on the Upper East Side. “Too often, a
super is looked at as an uneducated, glorified porter—yet a super knows
most everything about his building, but is rarely asked his opinion.”
I have a great working
relationship with my managing agent, Ellen Kornfeld—vice president of
The Lovett Company, a real estate management firm based in Manhattan—but
I didn’t arrive at it easily. I used to be stubborn, but have learned to
adjust over the years. I had to earn her trust in the beginning. But now
trust and devotion to our job goes both ways. I can always reach Ellen
24 hours a day if needed. Total access works well between the both of us
because we know when to use it—and when not to.
“Trust is the
number-one, key component,” says Kornfeld, “that makes my working
relationship with a superintendent work. No matter how talented or
knowledgeable a superintendent may be, it’s all useless unless I can
count on him or her to solve problems and or deliver work as promised.
[The super] and I are the dynamic duo that keeps cost down and staff
productive. Any time day or night we can find each other to address any
challenge that comes up.”
It’s all about learning
together as you go along. The superintendent learns from the managing
agent and the managing agent learns from the superintendent. Knowledge
and experience are shared to solve problems.
- There’s No “I”
- Teamwork goes hand
in hand with trust—and part of that is each side knowing where the
line is, what their duties are and what is expected. Joseph Hill, a
resident manager on the Upper East Side, says, “The seeds for a strong
super/agent relationship are sown in most cases as soon as you walk
through the management company door. Job description, compensation
package, and what is expected of you should be known by the end of the
interview. A good practice is to forward a weekly report to your agent
on how the building is operating, leaving nothing out. This way, the
agent is never left in the dark.”
- When Things Go
- Who mediates when
things go awry between the superintendent and the managing agent? The
board? The president of the managing company? The union, if it’s a
union building? It’s always best to nip these things in the bud before
they get out of hand. Union and arbitration should be last resort. In
most cases, what works well is having one board member and the
president of the management company meet with the super. That way, all
sides can present their situation, and in most cases resolve the
problem without the full board needing to intervene.
Good boards don’t want
to fire managing agents and supers, especially good ones. Having an
appointed advocate or liaison between the board and super also works
well to diffuse difficulties. It’s crucial that the super knows he or
she can talk to someone on the board, who will listen and advise, when
necessary. Too often, supers are thrown in to sink or swim by
themselves. It is difficult to do a great job when you have no guidance
or direction—how can a super monitor whether he or she is on the right
track, or way off course? Lack of communication between the board,
agent, and the super is the number-one single culprit for problems with
supers and vice versa.
To sum it all up,
devotion, trust, teamwork and communication are the key ingredients to a
good recipe for a well-run building. How is your building running?