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‘Service became so bad that we actually had shouting matches’

Forget the needle in the haystack — a good property management company is hard to find, condo owners say.

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Delayed repairs, perpetually missed appointments, higher-than-expected fees, even limited knowledge on how to fix an issue: The list of management issues that vex condo owners can run long.


When problems big or small arise in a condo building, a property management company can plan a vital role in fixing them swiftly.

Better yet, they can prevent them from happening in the first place.

But unearthing a good management company can sometimes seem just as hard as finding one’s soulmate.

Delayed repairs, perpetually missed appointments, higher-than-expected fees, even limited knowledge on how to fix an issue: The list of management issues that vex condo owners can run long.

“The current one that we have was actually the only one who was willing to meet us in person,” said Todd Davis, a South End resident who has lived in his Columbus Avenue condo building for 31 years — much of that as a building trustee. “Frankly, many of these companies are too busy to meet, and that really carries forward if they land the contract. If it’s a problem before you start, it’ll be a problem all the way through.”

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Davis and his fellow trustees selected Newton-based Green Ocean Property Management six years ago to take over building management duties after the prior manager continually disappointed the building owners. Repair costs would come in thousands of dollars more than expected, and the building would occasionally get billed high fees for simple things like changing a light bulb, Davis said.

“Service became so bad that we actually had shouting matches with our property manager,” he added.

Some of the ire over property management companies could stem from the fact that there is surprisingly little oversight of these firms and their qualifications. In Massachusetts, real estate brokers and sales agents need a license, but a building manager doesn’t.

The website of Green Ocean Property Management even highlights the fact that there are no federal or state regulations requiring these companies to operate with a license; then, the company notes how its leader has a variety of real estate and contractor licenses, as well as education credentials.

Only eight states have some degree of regulation over community association managers: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, and Virginia, according to the Community Associations Institute — a global membership group for property managers.

Connecticut, the only New England locale on the list, calls for building managers to go through a state and national criminal background check, complete a course on community association management, and pass a test with a long and daunting name: the Community Association Managers’ International Certification Board Certified Manager of Community Association examination.

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Add up all that ire and lack of regulation, and condo owners can get a little desperate to find a viable way forward. Building trustees in a brownstone where Nadine J. Ezzie, a South End-based lawyer, rented several years ago approached her about taking over property management duties after she started her own business.

“They asked: ‘Have you ever considered adding a property management arm to your business? We would hire you immediately,’” Ezzie said. “I’m not in the business. I am an attorney, but that is so indicative of how starved people are for just quality people that they know can care for their buildings.”

There is a logic behind why the trend has been more toward less regulation in recent years, according to Dawn Bauman, executive director and senior vice president of government and public affairs at the Community Associations Institute. The idea is that various regulations and oversight were providing too many obstacles.

“We are already having an issue with people filling jobs,” Bauman said. “Should we be creating another barrier to entry?”

Licensing programs also tend to look at things like criminal activity, and there has been a push to eliminate that piece of oversight on management companies. Those people have already paid their debt to society, the thinking goes.

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If a condo board wants to find a good community association manager, they should instead look for a team with credentials or the right educational background, Bauman said. The CAI and other groups like the Institute of Real Estate Management provide various educational programs and credentials.

The CAI’s credentials range from associate management specialist, which requires two years of direct community association management experience, to a large-scale manager, which requires at least 10 years of management experience. That’s a more effective gauge of qualification than a state-mandated license, Bauman said.

“Licensure is the lowest level competency assurance in that profession,” she added. “If you want to make sure somebody is qualified to be a good manager or a qualified management company, look at their credentials and how they have gone above and beyond. If they have earned a number of credentials and they’re proud and they’re holding those out as a badge, they’re probably going to be good.”

‘We are already having an issue with people filling jobs. Should we be creating another barrier to entry?’

DAWN BAUMAN, Community Associations Institute

Although Massachusetts does not have licensing requirements for building managers, there are steps trustees can take to make sure they are handing responsibility for the property over to the right team. A lot of it boils down to vetting and interviewing potential building managers carefully.

The No. 1 thing a person can do is ask around for references and connect with a company’s existing clients, said Thomas O. Moriarty, a real estate attorney and partner at Moriarty Troyer & Malloy who was president of the Community Associations Institute’s New England Chapter.

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“That’s obviously not a regulatory or even an industry check, but if you wanted practical advice about how to find somebody that you believe is going to be competent, that would be the way to do it,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty doesn’t view the lack of state oversight as a big disadvantage.

“Every lawyer in Massachusetts has to pass the bar exam, but we know there are good lawyers and there are bad lawyers in Massachusetts,” he said. “That’s a pretty high barrier to entry from a licensing regulatory perspective, but it still doesn’t tell you whether or not your experience with this lawyer is going to be positive. Just like I would want referrals for community association managers, I would want somebody who’s worked with the lawyer. That’s the practical side of things.”

But it also appears to be a business opportunity for those willing to dive in. Never say never when it comes to the idea of Ezzie launching her own property management company, she said with a laugh.

“It’s probably just a matter of timing,” she added. “The South End is such a special neighborhood. These beautiful, historic homes that we have the privilege of residing in deserve better, deserve to be treated better, and the people that choose to live in them deserve better service as well.”

Send comments to [email protected]. Follow Cameron Sperance on Twitter @camsperance and Address @globehomes.

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