Degree of Difficulty

Ace Body Corporate Management

“It’s as complex as medicine or law.” explains Stephen. “Because of the huge amount of potential liability – just take occupational health and safety and essential services, for example.” Developers generally have a dangerously low awareness of the responsibilities involved. For example, the tiling on floors, the handrails on stairs, all need to conform to workplace OH&S standards because even a residential block is a workplace if workers are called in for maintenance or repair.

Once a developer has sold on their shares in the building, the onus passes to the Owners’ Corporation that becomes responsible for any trips, slips, falls or other hazards. “Any workers that attend the site are effectively the same as employees of the Owners’ Corporation and therefore have to be treated as such.”

Stephen thinks that this profession needs to be regarded as a profession and he and Strata Community Australia (the national representative body) have been pressing government for a licensing system for some time; whilst waiting for a response, they have instituted their own voluntary qualification programme. There are a lot of conflict and disputes between developers and owners or between one owner and another, or even between owners and tenants or managers. Unlike other companies, we train all our franchisees on how to mediate and deal with conflict resolution.” Understanding people, with different educational, cultural or economic backgrounds is vital because they all make demands that often cannot be met by law. Ace franchisees are trained not to rely on legal recourse or waving the big stick, but instead on building relationships of trust between the various parties to defuse conflicts.

Ace managers can in most cases generally advise and clarify whether a party has transgressed a legal boundary and may empower those involved with the knowledge required to make the right steps in the resolution process. “It is not recommended to go it alone in the resolution of a complicated dispute that poses serious consequences,” advises Stephen. “Without the right knowledge and mediation, the consequences can escalate.”

Indeed, there is always some sort of problem with an Owners’ Corporation – that’s just the nature of the job. Pets, noise, food smells, parking spaces – not to mention the all-too-frequent occurrence of defects that show up in newer buildings around about the time that the developer is winding up construction; Stephen has horror stories galore. “Sometimes the developer will not fix those defects,” he says. Unfortunately on some occasions they just cut and run – Ace is currently sorting through a situation whereby a developer moved abroad and contractors have not been paid etc, and subsequently the manager ends up being involved in the trail of destruction. In another recent instance, expensive imported car stackers installed in a new development failed and there was no one in Australia capable of maintaining or repairing them. “Within days of people moving in, they were getting stuck in their cars in these stackers.”

Not much is easy in this business, not even the terms, says Stephen, who bemoans the fact that there is no uniformity of legislation across states. “In New South Wales and Victoria we call them Owners’ Corporations; in WA they are called Strata; in Queensland they are called Bodies Corporate.” Acts and Regulations are entirely different across the states; it’s the railways all over again.

Stephen set up Ace in 1995 after leaving a high-powered but highly politicised corporate position. He quickly learned that the entire business of managing a property – whether it be large or small, high or low rise, commercial or residential – is fraught with conflict. Conflict resolution, creating a community and having an enormous amount of required knowledge is what Strata Title and Body Corporate Management are all about. The role involves approximately 25 per cent law, 25 per cent accounting, 25 per cent facility management and 25 per cent psychology. Because of the constant stress of being in the middle and the constant demands placed on the manager, those engaged in it the industry tend to move on frequently.

Knowing from personal experience the importance of good customer relations and handling, Stephen sought a better way of doing it. He came up with a franchise model that has since become extremely successful, with 95 franchised areas nationwide, each managed by a trained franchisee who is typically professionally qualified. Many of them come from a career background such as accounting, engineering or law. These people are often looking for a career that gives them more personal freedom whilst still exercising some of their skill. This type of ‘white-collar’ franchising is in fact quite rare. Ace has over 50,000 units under management and is responsible for the management of properties and assets to an approximate value of $13 billion.

The growth of Ace has seen it become the third largest management company of its kind in Australia, Ace has spread its wings as far as Singapore, where ‘community living’ (especially high-rise apartments and condominiums) is the norm, and is looking further afield still in Canada, Hong Kong and – imminently – New Zealand.

Ace handles a wide variety of properties including commercial, large estates, hotels, residential (with many student accommodations and retirement villages) and mixed-use, which can be either large or small. Examples of its current portfolio include heritage listed staged development located at Pentridge in Coburg, Victoria that will ultimately consist of more than 3,000 lots, and the Pentridge Wine Bloc, featuring wine tasting rooms; memorial garden; 197 units for use as personal wine cellars; many with climate control. But the issues and conflicts tend to be the same no matter what the building type.

Developers and construction companies should pay more attention to the pre-planning stage, Stephen says, because – as so often in the building business – there are considerable benefits to getting Strata Managers involved at an early stage. “We pride ourselves on working with developers in the pre-planning stage, before a project even physically commences. We have well skilled people that include civil and mechanical engineers. These together with others that have had a career in accounting or law help the developer (in many cases free of charge) to ensure that an Owners’ Corporation is set up to the benefit of them and their clients– ensuring that where possible costs are minimised so that the flow on effects to the eventual owners are controlled.” It’s good business – satisfied owners refer people to other developments. In fact, “really good developers we deal with often don’t even have to advertise to sell their properties,” says Stephen.

Via Ace, a developer can take a good look at all the intricate and usually overlooked aspects of what makes up a good Owners’ Corporation. Ace can assist to determine the level of fees that owners need to pay. Unfortunately many land surveyors etc often do an inadequate job in determining appropriate fee distribution, instead often opting for setting them equally. For example, in the case of a property with ten units, each unit owner would pay the same amount. But there are many other factors that must be considered. For instance, is the unit on the ground-floor and therefore unlikely to use the lift and should therefore not be charged for it? Strata Managers can assist with insurance services, as well as assisting in the preparation of documentation for an owner that acts to inform owners of their rights, responsibilities and a host of useful information on the way a property works.

The future for Ace is assured. Stephen admits nothing in life is 100 per cent guaranteed, but this business, he explains, is “virtually recession proof. It is also one of the fastest growing professions and marketplaces in Australia.” The number of people living in ‘communities’, sharing facilities such as garages, gardens and recreation facilities together is rapidly increasing. The quantum of ever increasing higher rise properties being built in the cities is growing at such a rate that by 2030, estimates have it that the majority of the population will live in community living.

The need for Strata Management – or whatever else you wish to call it – has never been greater. A bit like high-rise living itself, for Ace Body Corporate Management the sky is the limit.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

May 29, 2020, 4:28 PM AEST