Olney Court is a block of 10 flats based in central Oxford and built in 1975. The landlord managed the site until 2004 which is when they transferred the management to the leaseholders when they purchased the freehold. The leaseholders self-managed for two years, however, this proved unsuccessful. Despite the good intentions of all leasehold owners to contribute, the reality of busy lifestyles meant that many tasks were not being carried out. In 2006 an external managing agent was appointed. The agent was London based and although their knowledge and experience was good, the inability to visit the estate regularly was detrimental. Scheduled works were delayed or not carried out due to the agent’s inability to meet contractors on site. The agent did not have links with local contractors and so additional travel expense was incurred when using the agent’s London-based contractors. In October 2008, Common Ground was appointed as the Managing Agent and this case study is the story of how we substantially upgraded the site over a five year period under budget.
Planning and Preparation
Olney Court had suffered from years of under-investment. Whilst the leaseholders had enjoyed low service charges the site was suffering from more than 30 years without a pro-active maintenance policy. A surveyor was appointed to prepare a dilapidations report and from this a five-year maintenance and budget plan was developed. The budget and maintenance plan was discussed with the leaseholders and a revised service charge was agreed.
Many of the leaseholders were non-resident owners and had a desire to see where their service charge was being spent. Common Ground provides all of its clients with access to all records of expenditure, latest news and developments. This allows clients to verify all items of expenditure and also provides re-assurance that invoices are not being “marked up”.
Common Ground took care of all the administrative duties pertaining to the estate. This includes:
- Preparation of budget and cash flow reports
- Collect service charges from individual leaseholders in accordance with the leases
- Chase arrears in accordance with a pre-agreed arrears policy
- Preparing job descriptions and specifications for contractors
- Ensuring compliance with the terms of leases and Board policies
- Attending to leaseholder/resident enquiries
- Organizing insurances and administering claims
- Attending and arranging the AGM
- Advice on major contract work
- Performing company secretarial duties
- Organizing staff training
- Reporting on significant lessee/resident communications
Gardening and Landscaping
The area in the photograph below had not been touched by a gardener for more than 10 years. The area was overgrown and an eyesore to residents and visitors. Common Ground liased with residents to establish what they would like to do with the area and contacted three recommended contractors to quote for the work. Common Ground met with all three contractors checking references and that they were fully insured. The contractor offering the best combination of value for money and quality of service was selected.
Health and Safety
Common Ground ensures that any estate under its management complies with all required legislation including:
- Electrical safety legislation
- Health and safety legislation
- Gas safety legislation
- Asbestos legislation
Common Ground liased with the county council to implement communal waste disposal & re-cycling areas within Olney Court. This replaced the individual bins that residents had outside each flat that were in contravention of health and safety legislation. During one of Common Ground’s site visits it became clear that the drains were not working effectively during sustained rainfall causing large puddles to appear in the car park. Common Ground investigated further and arranged for the drains to be cleared. This demonstrates the importance of regular site visits enabling Common Ground to quickly identify any problems and fix them before they escalate.
Three of the flats at Olney Court were burgled in quick succession and the residents wished to improve the security. The site was surrounded on three sides by private property and it became clear that the security weak point was the gate, which had no access control. Common Ground met with several potential contractors and created a specification list, which was presented to residents. A specification was agreed and all contractors were re-contacted for their final quotations. A suitable contractor was appointed having first been vetted by Common Ground. All residents were made aware of dates of construction so as not to cause unexpected disruption to residents’ routines. Upon completion of the project, Common Ground trained all residents in the use of the gates focusing particularly on safety and emergency situations. For example, Common ground ensured that an emergency services override was fitted to ensure access in emergencies. Finally, Common Ground committed the contractor to a maintenance schedule and contract to ensure continued operation.
Emergency Repairs and General Maintenance
Residents had been reporting problems with the roof for 2 –3 years but nothing was being done due to budget constraints. It was agreed with the previous agent that the work would be done in stages due to the expense. Upon appointment, Common Ground identified a recommended contractor who completed the work a year ahead of the previously agreed schedule and at half the price. The saving was more than £4000. The fencing around Olney Court was in a poor state of repair due to lack of maintenance. Common ground arranged for replacement fencing and, importantly, created a maintenance schedule to ensure the longevity of the new installation. The exterior paintwork was in a poor state of repair making Olney Court look particularly shabby. Again, previous quotations put the costs at around £4000. Common Ground met with three contractors ensuring each knew the full scope of the work and letting them know that they were in a competitive tender situation. The work was completed at more than £1000 below previous quotations.
Pro-active Improvements to The Estate
The original aluminum windows installed at Olney Court were single pane, ugly and prone to condensation. Common Ground sought contractors with a previous track record and were aware of other issues e.g. the requirement for planning permission. This ruled out most of the well-known firms as none even mentioned the planning requirement and were unwilling to assist with the planning application. A firm was identified that was prepared to work with Common Ground to ensure that the windows fitted were appropriate, complied with planning regulations and health & safety legislation. The residents of Olney Court had been trying to seek mutual agreement on where to place bicycle racks for years with no progress. Common Ground found existing bicycle racks that had been buried for more than 20 years. These were cleared and the problem was solved. We know that the bike racks had been overgrown for this long as during the clearance food packaging with a sell by date from the 1986 was discovered!
Adding Value to Property
In summer 2009, two owners reported difficulty in selling their properties due to the poor state of repair of the communal stairwells. Repair of the stairwells was always in the initial 5 year plan to re-vamp the entire estate, however, several owners reported that they were looking to sell so it was agreed to bring this project forward and Common Ground were challenged to fulfill the project on a budget reduced by £1000 from the original budget. Common Ground was able to get two stairwells redecorated and re-surfaced with safety flooring for just under £3000 a clear £1000 below the original budget. Two flats were placed on the market one month after completion of the project and both sold at asking price. Both estate agents agreed that the stairwell refurbishment added value to both properties and stated that it made it easier to sell the flats.