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FMTODAY: THE CRABTREE PROPERTY GROUP

INNOVATION IS THE DRIVING FORCE Crabtree’s mission is to be recognised as the market leader in property management

nnovation is driving The Crabtree Property Group in its mission to be recognised as the market leader in property services. This has resulted in a number of acquisitions and new services since the formation of Crabtree PM Limited in 1983, adding sales and lettings, consultancy, property investment and corporate services to its core property management business, all since the management buyout in 2002. In 2012, it set up Crabtree Law to provide legal services, becoming only the seventeenth organisation in the UK to form a law firm by way of an alternative business structure and only the second to do so that wasn’t previously a recognised law firm. The various parts of the business operate independently but work together to provide complementary services. And the group structure, as

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FMTODAY: THE CRABTREE PROPERTY GROUP

Crabtree currently manages around 17,000 units across some 500 developments. The client list is varied, comprising either companies or individuals that hold freeholds as an investment, resident management companies representing the lessees or property developers that generally hand responsibility to lessees once the property is complete. In the case of developers, Crabtree generally gets involved early in the process. “When they obtain planning permission, they’ll send us a copy of the legal plan,” recounts Terry. “We’ll determine what we believe the budgetary service charges should be because, as soon as the developer starts selling, people want to know the service charges.” DIFFERENT FOCUS The overall service can run from property acquisition through all aspects of managing it to ultimate disposal, although day-to-day activities mainly revolve around collecting service charges and maintaining properties. It sounds simple but, as Terry

points out, is complicated by serving different types of client: “For resident management companies, our clients are the lessees whereas for investors we’re managing on behalf of the freeholder. We have to follow their instructions but also satisfy the lessees as ultimately they pay our bills through the service charges. So it’s a different focus.” Irrespective of this, the main concentration is on running and maintaining properties in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This is the responsibility of property managers. A dedicated property manager is appointed to each site, acting as the main point of contact for clients and dealing with everything that arises. Terry says: “The property managers inspect sites regularly, arrange works needed including cyclical works such as painting and decorating, and liaise with the client boards. The accounts department collects the service charges, issues demands and reminder letters, deals with phone calls from people who are unable to pay and looks to collect all service charges from the various

Chairman Terry White explains, provides substantial benefits: “We had four shareholders when we acquired the original business through a management buyout and they’re still in the business. We’re united in our approach and work for each other, so we’re strong together. If somebody needs advice, there’s usually somebody on the Board who knows and we work very well as a unit.” Property management remains the main activity, accounting for 80 of the 100 plus team and making Crabtree one of the largest independent residential property management companies in the UK. Although there are some commercial elements, generally in mixed use developments, the focus is essentially on residential properties that present different challenges to commercial ones. Not only is there more legislation, but the number of tenants in a block of managed flats tends to be greater than that in an office block of similar size.

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FMTODAY: THE CRABTREE PROPERTY GROUP

lessees because clients can’t function without the income.” A major feature these days is that reactive requests come in by telephone or email and an immediate response is often expected. All repairs and servicing are dealt with by third party companies, with the work tendered periodically to ensure a good standard of service at the best possible price. Contractors are subject to a stringent approval system and, in line with legislation, any one-off work which will cost an individual flat over £250.00 has to go through the Section 20 procedure, which is a three-part consultation process that includes going out to tender and keeping lessees informed of cost and actions.

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Some contractors have been on the books for many years and others are acquired when new properties are taken on but all are subject to the same level of controls. “Much of it is down to talking to people involved with the work,” recounts Terry. “The property managers, for example, have a monthly meeting and talk about contractors. If there are problems, we’ll try to get matters resolved and make sure the work is satisfactory. If not, we have a number of other contractors we can appoint to the position.” Controls over contractors also apply to health and safety, with Crabtree having a Health and Safety Compliance Officer to deal with internal and client matters. All new properties have communal areas surveyed to identify possible hazards and


FMTODAY: THE CRABTREE PROPERTY GROUP

“WE’RE LOOKING TO DEVELOP THE WAY WE DO THINGS SO THEY’RE EASIER AND QUICKER, NOT JUST FOR OURSELVES BUT TO CONTINUE TO IMPROVE THE SERVICE LEVEL TO OUR CLIENTS.” TERRY WHITE CHAIRMAN

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other issues while health and safety conformance is an integral part of contractor pre-qualification. It’s important for clients due to the possible consequences but has cost implications that sometimes need to be explained to persuade clients of the necessity for expenditure. The overall cost is crucial because a big challenge is ensuring expenditure is limited to the budget agreed at the start of each financial year. That determines the level of service charge to each tenant and the aim is to avoid unexpected costs that may result in additional charges. These usually arise through exceptional circumstances, such as a problem with a roof that needs urgent attention, and can often be avoided by a proactive approach and a thorough PPM regime that identifies and averts potential problems before they arise. Unexpected one-off demands, especially large ones, aren’t good for tenant relationships and usually the answer is to build reserves from the service charge. However, some leases do not allow sinking funds or similar arrangements so an excess demand or increase to the service charge is sometimes unavoidable. One way Crabtree does try to help is through monthly direct debit payments that spread the cost rather than requiring an annual payment in full. Crabtree hosts a personalised online lessee portal providing account access, text alerts and email correspondence to allow for paperless billing and online payment facilities. Cost is increasingly affected by rising energy prices, with energy also linked to environmental

issues, and all new build developments have to be carbon neutral by 2016. That has required Crabtree to keep abreast of all equipment it comes across at new properties, such as photovoltaics and combined heat and power systems, with a constant need to research what it has to deal with and provide optimum solutions. At the same time, Crabtree has achieved carbon neutral status in its own operations, with low emission company vehicles, waste recycling and increased online services to cut paper usage. Crabtree was one of the first managing agents to achieve carbon neutral status. EXPANDING After expanding business services, there are now plans to extend legal services into conveyancing and possibly move into commercial property management. “We’re always looking at new fields and are considering some more online services at the moment,” comments Terry. “We’re looking to develop the way we do things so they’re easier and quicker, not just for ourselves but to continue to improve the service level to our clients. If we can do things more efficiently, they’ll benefit from it. I think we’re fairly innovative, as has been proved with Crabtree Law. I think we’re the only managing agent in the country that has gone down that route and it’s because we see a benefit to clients.” www.crabtreegroup.co.uk Tel: 020 8371 7070


FMTODAY

EVENTS MAY

8TH-9TH – GREENBUILD EXPO The UK's newest sustainable building and refurbishment event, an essential and informative event for the construction industry covering everything from training opportunities and renewable technologies to sustainable materials and legislation updates. VENUE: Manchester TEL: 01923 237799 WEB: www.greenbuildexpo.co.uk 14TH-16TH – FACILITIES SHOW 2013 Facilities Show is the world’s largest dedicated Facilities Management event now coming into its 14th year. VENUE: NEC Birmingham TEL: 020 7955 3790 WEB: www.facilitiesshow.com 15TH-17TH – 2013 BCO ANNUAL CONFERENCE A varied plenary and seminar programme that features a dynamic selection of world class professionals, picking up hot topics from the industry as a whole. VENUE: Madrid WEB: www.bcoconference.org.uk 22ND-23RD – EUROPEAN FACILITY MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE Sustainability is the core focus of this year’s European Facility Management Conference (EFMC) VENUE: Prague Congress Centre WEB: www.efmc-conference.com

the industry’s major manufacturers, leading operators and service companies. AVEX offers visitors the most up to date and complete range of products and services available. VENUE: NEC Birmingham WEB: www.avexshow.co.uk

positions in FM and who want to make an impact at board level. VENUE: Central London TEL: 020 7404 4440 WEB: www.bifm-training.com/ executive_programmeFS.htm

19TH-20TH – STRATEGIC PROCUREMENT IN FM CENTRAL LONDON BIFM Executive Programme - for facilities professionals working at or aspiring to senior positions in FM and who want to make an impact at board level. TEL: 020 7404 4440 WEB: www.bifm-training.com/ executive_programmeFS.htm

OCTOBER

24TH-25TH – THE 33RD FACILITIES MANAGEMENT FORUM The FM Forum will provide you with face to face meetings with decision makers who have specifically requested to meet with your company to discuss your services. This process will save you months of time and effort. VENUE: Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire TEL: 01992 374 100 WEB: www.forumevents.co.uk/forum/FacilitiesManagement-Forum/facilities-managementforum-june 27TH – WORLD FM DAY 2013 A Global FM Initiative to celebrate the importance of the FM profession raising the industry’s profile worldwide VENUE: Various WEB: globalfm.org

10TH – THINKFM 2013 (BIFM ANNUAL CONFERENCE). This conference seeks to inspire leadership action on all fronts within your role, within your department, within business and within the profession. ThinkFM is the major UK facilities management conference, delivering valuable content to our delegates VENUE: The Royal College of Physicians TEL: 0845 058 1358 WEB: www.thinkfm.com

12TH-13TH – SIXTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE CENTRE FOR FACILITIES MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT In a time of financial constraints, public sector services have to be delivered with limited resources – and FM is no exception. But even with the best planning, projects or services depend on procurement models and processes that are aligned to enable them. This conference examines how we develop processes to enable change and manage resources effectively. VENUE: Sheffield Hallam University TEL: 0114 225 5319/5340 WEB: www.shu.ac.uk

11TH-13TH – AVEX 2013 AVEX is the largest UK exhibition for vending and water. It takes place every two years and is attended by visitors from around the world. You can expect to see over 150 exhibitors including

24TH - 25TH – PROPERTY MANAGEMENT & MAINTENANCE STRATEGY FOR FM (BIFM EXECUTIVE PROGRAMME) BIFM Executive Programme - for facilities professionals working at or aspiring to senior

JUNE

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14TH – BIFM AWARDS 2013 Since 2001 the BIFM Awards have recognised the very best individuals, teams and projects across the FM. The Awards present a fantastic opportunity for winners to be recognised for everything they bring to the FM profession. VENUE: The Grosvenor House Hotel, London TEL: 0141 639 0708 WEB: www.bifm.org.uk/bifm/events/awards/ Awards2013 17-18TH – THE FMP EVENT The Facilities Management & Property Event continues to be the UK's most Senior Conference for End User Delegates from the worlds largest organisations. Focusing on Key Challenges in FM, Real Estate, Security, Sustainability, and Innovation, we aim to share knowledge and best practice with an advanced workshop programme led by the industries leading professionals. VENUE: Celtic Manor Resort TEL: 01633 225 040 WEB: www.fmandpropertyevent.com

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Crabtree Property Management