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[ Gateway ]

[ Gateway ]




ateway Property Management Corporation began as a twoperson operation in the basement of its first client’s 300-unit rental building. Founded in 1964 by Bert Ullrich, the company currently manages more than 400 buildings (over 33,000 units) across four provinces. Gateway also has 120 corporate employees in six cities and more than 500 on-site employees in 34 communities. Although Bert retired in 1990, Gateway remains a family-operated business, as his son Scott (who came to work for his father in 1983) is the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Gateway manages multi-family rental buildings, condominiums, and commercial properties for various clients, including real estate owners, property developers, and asset managers. The company provides a complement of property management services, as well as property development, consulting, and investment advice. Since its inception, Gateway has continued to fulfill its mission to work collaboratively with its clients to achieve their property goals. “Our goal is not to be the biggest property management company in Canada, but rather to provide the best service possible,” said Scott Ullrich, CEO, Gateway Property Management Corporation. “We consistently strive to achieve AAA service, and that means working with top quality employees and service providers.”

Rental Housing Business 9

[ Gateway ]

Corporate growth and customer service Gateway grew its business by focusing on the management of rental properties throughout British Columbia. As the company’s clients expanded by purchasing properties in other provinces, they would contract Gateway to manage the newly acquired buildings. Gateway expanded into Alberta, and then Ontario and Quebec, as their clients continued to move across Canada. Once Gateway entered those new markets, they would grow their property management portfolio by contacting new clients. “One of our clients is a residential property asset management company with a large Western portfolio,” said Scott. “This client also has a large portfolio in Ontario, and they contracted us to manage these properties. As a result, we have developed a larger footprint in the province, and have expanded our resource base so that we can properly service our clients.” Gateway believes that it can only provide a high level of service by working with high quality people. The company requires all of its property managers to be certified, to receive training and education on all industry issues, and to supplement their knowledge with courses relevant to their positions. Gateway also mandates that its support staff engage in a certain number of training hours to remain current with the knowledge and skills required for their respective positions. The company encourages all employees to pursue continuing education courses, especially with respect to customer service. “We see our clients as not only the owners of the buildings we manage, but also the residents of our buildings and the trades we employ to service those properties,” said Scott. “By treating all three groups of clients well, and ensuring that they are happy with the relationship, we are guaranteeing the success of our company and a healthy bottom line.” Reaching out to clients Every year, Gateway sends questionnaires to its clients to evaluate what it is doing well, and to identify where it needs to improve its service offerings. In April 2012, the company sent questionnaires via email for the first time to more than 1,300 clients. The electronic format allowed Gateway to reach more clients more quickly and directly, and to analyze the data in greater depth to pull out more measurable results. “The response rate from our clients was just over 30%,” said Scott. “Although we have just started to analyze the data, we’ve already identified opportunities to expand our service offering.” While other industries have embraced social media, property management companies have been relatively slow to venture into this area. Gateway launched a strategic plan in 2011 to use social media to promote its properties and services to potential and existing customers. The plan addresses three social media avenues, including LinkedIn (its business-to-business platform), Facebook (enabling

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residents and clients to access more company information, express their issues, and provide suggestions on service), and Twitter (currently in development). “Our Twitter app will probably be called Suite Tweets, and will highlight deals for residents that are available from neighbourhood businesses and other companies,” said Scott. “We also use social media to monitor the company’s reputation, and to maintain the reputations of our building owners.” Gateway is using technology to improve communications with clients and throughout the organization. The company partnered with the developer of an iPhone app that allows people to get information on, and arrange viewings for, properties that interest them while they are walking around the neighbourhood. Gateway has also equipped its property managers with smartphones to ensure that they can access online information wherever they are in the field, and also make them more accessible to management and building staff. Consulting services Some companies do not require Gateway’s full complement of property management services. However, they have been able to benefit from the company’s consulting expertise and knowledge. Some of Gateway’s developer clients employ the company during the construction phase to conduct research and analyze market information, and then provide recommendations on suite mix, layouts, design, and amenities. Gateway will perform due diligence for rental property developers prior to property acquisition and property management planning for existing properties. The company conducts market surveys to determine the highest and best use of properties, and helps to arrange capital to maximize its clients’ returns. It also provides information and advice on the day-to-day property management experience. In April 2012, Concert Properties purchased the Queen Victoria Hotel and Suites in Victoria, BC. The developer contracted Gateway to provide research and suggestions on what to do with the property. Options included tearing down the building for a condo development, turning the hotel into a seniors’ facility, and repurposing it as a multi-family rental building. Gateway conducted a market survey to identify the best use for the property, produced different layout and suite solutions for each option (which included analyzing the feasibility of installing kitchens and upgrading plumbing for rental suites), and determined potential market rents. The company also created capital budgets to do the work, operating budgets after the upgrade, and returns on investment for each alternative. “We worked with a developer that purchased a rental property with 302 units with the goal of building a condo with some rental units,” said Scott. “We put together budgets and a feasibility plan for the client. We also worked with existing unit renters to help them understand the process to ease the transition. We were able to move some of the

[ Gateway ]

renters into the new units, and helped to relocate the other renters in suitable buildings.” Gateway also provides consulting services to self-managing investors who are not yet ready for full-time professional property management. Some investors own only one property, or do not have adequate volume to hire a full-time property management firm. Some rental property owners want to build the business to the point where their families will take over the company when they eventually retire. In these situations, they will hire Gateway to mentor their children or other family members on what is required to properly manage the properties. Gateway also benefits from the arrangement by developing relationships with potential future clients, who will usually contact Gateway when they are ready to make use of the company’s property management services. “Many of our clients want the benefits of our property management experience, and will hire us to provide these services when they are ready,” said Scott. “We work with several associations, including the British Columbia Apartment Owners & Managers Association (BCAOMA) and Rental Owners & Managers Society of British Columbia (ROMS BC), to help their members develop knowledge and experience as property managers. As Past President and Director of BCAOMA, I know firsthand that these organizations make a significant contribution to the rental housing industry.” Using technology to manage risk Some risks are more prevalent today than they have been in the past. Health and environmental awareness are much greater than they were 30 years ago, and much more attention is being paid to issues that relate to these areas. As most apartment buildings were constructed prior to 1990, many of them have the potential to contain asbestos, which is a health hazard when not handled correctly. Landlords and property managers have to function with different legislative and monitoring bodies (including government agencies and employee protection groups) when working to reduce asbestos exposure. Gateway employs an online management tool to ensure that the company is in compliance with issues that could cause risk to its clients’ properties. As the company manages a large number of properties, it can be difficult to monitor all of their individual situations. Gateway’s intranet contains information on all of its properties, including copies of asbestos surveys and asbestos management plans. This information is available to employees and applicable government agency personnel. The intranet also provides documentation and instructions on dealing with asbestos (and other environmental matters). “We make sure to document environmental data on all of our properties as part of our role to protect our clients’ interests,” said Scott. “Our Compliance Tool ensures that relevant documents are adequately maintained to prove that environmental issues are being properly monitored and managed.”

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Gateway’s employees take training courses to acquire the appropriate licenses and update their knowledge of environmental safety issues. The company employs a full-time environmental risk officer, who ensures that staff members are environmentally compliant across the entire portfolio. The environmental risk officer also reports on green initiatives to ensure that Gateway chooses environmentally friendly products and technology (e.g., green cleaning products, LED lighting). “New employees complete mandatory environmental training within the first three weeks of their employment with the company,” said Scott. “This includes developing an understanding and knowledge of environmental management plans, occupational health and safety requirements, and asbestos awareness. Their certificates of completion must be uploaded to our Compliance Tool and then verified by the Compliance Officer.” Identifying risks to profitability Gateway operates with the mandate that it is incumbent upon property managers to maximize their clients’ profits within legal boundaries. As such, it must be consistently aware of organizational liability issues that can increase risks to profitability. The company ensures that its employees and clients are aware of relevant legislative matters surrounding rent controls and tenants, rights, employment standards and workers compensation, and human rights issues. Gateway recently created the role of Director, Regulatory Compliance, whose responsibilities includes occupational health and safety, risk assessment, management, and environmental stewardship. “Our clients, residents, and staff sleep better at night knowing that we’re doing our best to provide a safe place to live and work and to minimize any liability,” said Scott. “I will also be speaking on the various risks to industry profitability at the CFAA Conference in Vancouver this June.” Utility costs are another challenge facing Gateway and its clients. While electricity is relatively inexpensive in BC, utility rates are increasing, and rents cannot always be increased to offset expenses. To deal with rising utility costs, the company continuously looks for energy efficiencies and ways to reduce utility usage. Pursuing energy efficient solutions contributes to Gateway’s objective of being greener and more environmentally friendly. Gateway works with utilities to take advantage of incentives to implement and install energy efficient products in its managed properties. The company also conducts property assessments so that it can apply for government grants to fund projects (e.g., LED lighting, geothermal heating) that increase energy efficiency and produce reasonable payback for its clients. “At the end of the day, our energy, our time, and our business are entirely focused on our clients’ real estate assets,” said Scott. “Their real estate assets are as important to us as they are to our clients.” RHB

SCOTT ULRICH - Gateway  

RHB Magazine - May/JUne 2012