A candidate for Berkeley Town House manager visited BTH on 20 April 2010 at 6 p.m. The company is RealManage. Here is some information about it before the meeting, mostly discovered and compiled by Susie. After that are some notes from the meeting itself.
The firm emphasizes its use of information technology, and it says it offers an environmental paperless management program.
RealManage has a mix of supporters and detractors, like almost any other company. It might be informative to try to talk to the customers mentioned below before signing a contract.
An item of possible concern is the lawsuits filed by two HOAs in Texas, which alleged that RM neglected its duties and wasted money. Responding to the lawsuits, RM emailed: “We are confident that the truth will be found out on this matter and that it will be resolved quickly.” RealManage also threatened a countersuit, saying “we intend to aggressively pursue any third party who may have tortuously interfered with any of our business relationships or knowingly made false accusations to achieve other objectives”. A suit was also reportedly filed against RealManage by Northwest Austin Municipal District No. 1. We don’t know how any of these cases was resolved; it would be good to ask about lawsuits, but a California employee may not know much about Texas legal actions.
Rancho Paraiso in Walnut Creek switched to RM in spring 2008 and seemed to be having no issues with the company by fall 2009. However, it’s curious that RealManage’s Walnut Creek office doesn’t manage it; instead, the San Rafael office does. We could ask why.
Speaking of the San Rafael office, we have found three reviews of it, all negative. There are two Yelp reviews; one includes this statement: “Our HOA just switched management companies leaving RealManage behind and not a moment too soon.” One HOA that switched is Peacock Gap in San Rafael, which last year went from RM to Eugene Burger Management Corporation. The third review comes from the membership rating service Consumers’ Checkbook and is dated July 2009; this member says “It is impossible to get anyone to handle your problems. The phone often answers in Texas and they don’t want to let you speak with the manager in San Rafael. They promised to fix something for 7 months before doing so. It was broken steps leading up to the third floor! It took more than a dozen calls to get the work done. And they tell you something is going to be done that will inconvenience you (by posting signs on your door) and then don’t do it or tell you why.”
RM has seven offices in Texas and only three in California, so most of the info we have found is from Texas. A review on Yelp from April of this year stated: “Working with their Austin office is a nighmare. … Since we made the switch to a new company I am amazed at all the mistakes we continue to uncover from Real Manage’s time with us. Banking errors, misapplied assessments, budget errors. …” This review is apparently from the secretary of Block House Creek HOA.
A member in Texas blogged about “poor billing practices”, slow communications, and unresponsiveness from RealManage and got comments from others reporting their own experiences. This member concluded that RealManage unsuccessfully tries to tailor its system to each customer rather than perfecting a single system and sticking with it.
One Texas community’s newsletter from last July reported that RM was better than their previous company, especially after assigning them a new manager. But another continued to have problems with RM even after a manager change, so it eventually dropped the company. This association also claimed that RealManage refused to allow the community to terminate the contract in mid-year because of nonperformance by RealManage. Another Texas community switched from RM to another company for unspecified reasons.
A scathing anonymous review of a Texas RM office, from the employee’s point of view, says “All your hard work & effort will make the current owners’ millions grow even more….stress level for workers is very high.”
A positive review in an HOA newsletter says “RealManage has been a success…” and cites improvements compared with previous management companies. However, the newsletter’s editor is an RM employee, so it might be wise to confirm the judgment by talking to community members.
Some of the discussion about RealManage’s accounting has dealt with statement-based versus coupon-based billing for assessments. It may be useful to ask RealManage about this.
RealManage, unlike some competitors, doesn’t disclose a list of its clients to the public. We wanted to find urban clients, high-rise clients, and clients with pre-1970s buildings, similar to BTH, but we could find none. One could ask for a list of such clients so comparable references can be checked.
At the meeting, Duane McPherson presented RealManage’s services and answered questions. He said RM manages about 65 associations in the Bay Area, but won’t disclose the list of them to us or anybody else, for fear of poaching by competitors. The most similar association now managed by RM nearby is Bayview in Albany. The Walnut Creek office is mainly a place to hold meetings, not a real office, so we would be managed out of San Rafael.
RM would charge BTH $2400 per month for basic management (plus about $900 for the extra services at the start of the contract). It would also offer extra services. They include semiskilled physical-plant maintenance work in-house, for $37.50 to $55 per hour, and four-page color newsletter production, for $160 per issue.
Contrary to what we had read, RM offers a contract that is terminatable by either party on 60 days’ notice.
McPherson acknowledged that RM has been sued and criticized. He gave RM’s side of this story, without seeming unduly defensive or aggressive.
McPherson is considered RM’s CGO (Chief Green Officer). He is the RM expert on resource conservation and environmental impacts. He would help BTH evaluate energy and water conservation measures, and he is confident that solar energy generation will become cheap enough to warrant its investment in the future.
RM’s main distinction from its competitors, and McPherson’s main passion, is the use of information technology to make all activities more efficient and accountable. RM digitizes all recent records and make them available via board and member Web portals. It abstracts the governing documents, so the relevant sections can be shown where relevant. Financial transactions and maintenance management are largely automated.
RM generally does not provide or maintain ordinary Web sites for the communities that it manages, because the member portal sites fulfill many of the functions of Web sites, including internal communications.
In the beginning, RM would likely bring a computer and scanner to BTH to perform the bulk retrospective digitization. It could even do the entire collection of some 140,000 pages, at a cost to be determined. It would use the already digitized construction drawings.
Digitization at RM includes OCR conversion, so documents are searchable. However, as of now the documents are not stored in a way that permits keyword searches on whole collections. BTH or people at BTH could, however, download copies of documents into local repositories and make those searchable.
Another technological innovation proposed by RM is the replacement of the coin acceptors in the laundry room with ID readers.
McPherson expressed a realistic understanding of members’ rights to access records. His summary was that members, as co-owners, are entitled to see almost all corporate records, with confidentiality exceptions. This appears to me to be a much more correct opinion than ACI’s McCormick’s apparent opinion that nothing is available to members unless legal justification is provided.
McPherson said that he has a couple of employees in mind who he believes would fit BTH well as manager and associate manager.
In general, I found McPherson’s legal and technical knowledge more impressive than McCormick’s, and I had a much easier time exchanging information and ideas with McPherson.