Residential FM roles: Overlooked and undervalued

by FM Media
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Why residential managers are remunerated poorly compared to their commercial and retail counterparts is questioned by JACINDA DOW, managing director of Sage Building Management Services.

Where commercial, retail and critical site managers need to deal with building management systems, high level security and shared facilities, the role of the residential manager can encompass these and much more. On any given day, they need to play concierge, maintenance contractor, security guard, negotiator, supervisor and sometimes even carer or nurse.
Current facilities management jobs reveal that a residential building manager in New South Wales can typically expect an income of about $55,000 to $75,000 per annum, whereas a facilities manager can expect about $70,000 to $120,000 per annum. Some may say that this is because a facilities manager oversees more entities within an overarching entity, but many residential building managers also juggle multiple strata or shared facilities. You may also suggest that facilities managers are more likely to have a trade or formal qualification; however, this can be just as true for residential building managers.
The Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA) describes the role of a facilities manager as someone who organises, controls and coordinates the strategic and operational management of buildings and facilities in order to ensure the proper and efficient operation of all its physical aspects, creating and sustaining safe and productive environments for residents. In residential buildings, this is typically conducted at all times of the day, every day of the year.
There doesn’t appear to be a description of ‘facilities manager’ or ‘building manager’ that would help us to ascertain why there would be such a distinct difference in salary expectation.
With about 80 percent of strata lots in Australia being residential and the rate of multi-residential developments expanding by the day to cope with a growing population, why is the role of residential building manager so overlooked and undervalued? Generally, managers have a passion for the role, but they also have a high level of responsibility and liability, which most often goes unrealised by the client. I am sure that most managers will agree that the majority of clients still have little to no understanding of the role of their building or facilities manager, but perhaps there should be a bit more equality between the salaries expected on different types of strata.

The old residential caretaker in overalls with a screwdriver in the back pocket has long been replaced with a savvy suited manager, often with an iPad in hand. But, the modern facilities management world still seems to perceive residential managers as glorified caretakers. The reality is that these managers often still require the same knowledge as a commercial or retail manager. They still need to manage compliance, legislation, current trends, finances, contracts and workplace health and safety (WHS).
So, why is it that a residential manager is remunerated so poorly compared to their commercial and retail counterparts and why is it such a leap to be considered for facilities manager roles if your past role title was building manager? There are many theories, but I suspect this stems from multiple sources including:

  • traditional titles such as ‘caretaker’ and the use of these in strata legislation
  • the need to identify different levels of management in more complex schemes
  • roles where one person may manage multiple sites, and
  • the broad use of the term ‘building’, which has a variety of connotations, including one structure, one entity, an entire site and even construction.

The modern professional world has so many requirements and conditions that facilities managers could spend their entire day navigating a sea of paperwork and red tape. Out of all the issues faced by facilities managers today, what is the most critical, and yet the most intangible, of all? Compliance? Sustainability? Financial management? These are all current ‘buzz’ issues and are all important ones that need to be considered, but in reality the most common and complex challenge of all is the ‘human element’.
After all, what and who are they working for? Ultimately, their buildings need to be safe, comfortable and functional places for people. It is these people who drive the need for their roles as managers and the residential building manager faces a big challenge in trying to balance client needs and site needs.
Just like most roles these days, residential management involves an element of politics. In a residential environment, issues that may seem like a simple decision (and generally would be in a commercial or retail environment) can often turn into a political nightmare encompassing meetings, resident surveys, trials and continual reanalysis.
A residential manager doesn’t simply need to make sure the lifts are running and the air-conditioning is the right temperature; they have to navigate a battlefield of emotion, opinion and requirements that are often unrelated to their daily duties.
The challenges faced by residential managers are many, but the human element introduces another level of complexity to otherwise basic tasks. In residential developments, they are the manager of someone’s home. This is the occupant’s personal space. This is where their friends and family come, where they sleep, eat, love, entertain, relax and fight. Now introduce dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of other people also living their lives with an ever-changing dynamic of personalities, lifestyles, beliefs and habits. The manager in this scenario is surely up for a challenge.
Daily people management always seems to take the focus off that report on the pump failures or the fluctuating carbon dioxide levels in the car park, but isn’t it that human element that makes the job interesting? The residential manager is never bored. They never know what their day will bring and they get to meet interesting people along the way. Some of their main challenges include:

  • the need to be skilled at a variety of tasks – not just operating technical equipment – including customer service and conflict resolution, and to provide all of these services concurrently
  • a closer and more frequent liaison point with the building users, often stationed at a front desk
  • financial limitations as residential committees often assess expenditure and budget in a more personal way than commercial entities
  • a lack of understanding by residents as to what the role involves and the difference between a building manager, strata manager, concierge and property manager
  • real estate agents relying on them too heavily for information and service
  • personal attachment or dislike by residents
  • perceptions of special treatment or personal motivation by residents
  • seeking approval for practical, compliance and operational costs when finances are normally directed to more aesthetic works
  • being at the ‘coalface’ as the messenger for decisions made by the associated committees
  • language barriers with limited or non-English-speaking residents
  • no escape from duty, day or night (for live-in managers), and
  • resolving issues effectively while still maintaining the privacy of those involved.

So, spare a thought for the residential manager. They are still relevant, they are still good at what they do and, after all, we will only need them more and more as Australia grows. Perhaps, in time, there will be greater realisation of the pivotal role they play and adjustment in the remuneration they receive for tackling the challenges their role brings.

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