Archive for February, 2011

RealManage: My Verdict

Friday, February 25th, 2011

RealManage (a property management company that specializes in common-interest developments, a.k.a. homeowner associations or HOAs) became the manager of Berkeley Town House, a senior housing cooperative in Berkeley, California, in July 2010. I live there. In my opinion, RealManage has shown itself to be a bundle of strengths and weaknesses.

Good things about RealManage:

(1) When a resident reports something out of order, RealManage sometimes dispatches a contractor to examine the problem as soon as the next day, then within a couple of weeks gets the repair made competently.

(2) RealManage has a Resident Portal, a website where we can see records, such as minutes of board meetings. RealManage digitizes records and posts them there. This is much more efficient than responding to individual record requests.

(3) RealManage permits payment of monthly assessments via ACH.

(4) Some RealManage personnel (particularly Aletha) show genuine concern about doing a good job for customers.

(5) RealManage has a round-the-clock emergency response service.

(6) RealManage often replies to emails fast and informatively.

(7) RealManage sometimes fixes bugs in its information system reported by users.

Bad things about RealManage:

(1) RealManage has a buggy information system that it has sometimes failed to fix even months after being told about its bugs.

(2) RealManage has no issue-tracking system visible to customers. If you report a problem, you get a blank issue ID number (see example below). There’s no place to look up the status of an issue. If you’ve noticed something that needs repair, you can’t see whether others have reported it yet.

RealManage website bug

(3) RealManage emptied our office of its files, taking them to its offices. Months later RealManage reported that several of our association’s most important documents, such as major improvement contracts, had vanished. When asked for details, RealManage did not respond.

(4) RealManage has left some problems unattanded for half a year or longer. In July a dozen residents complained that the elevator emergency signal and telephone were inoperative and there were no instructions on how to use them. For half a year RealManage didn’t attend to this, and people got trapped in the elevators more than once, unable to summon help.

(5) RealManage has skimped on the records it makes available to residents. The board president asked RealManage to post everything possible on the Resident Portal, but for months thereafter there was no documentation on income and expenses. Finally, some recently appeared (for the last two months), but it discloses only gross categories of expenses, such as $6006 for maintenance and repairs. How can we owners be expected to evaluate the quality of our board and manager with that level of (non-)information about how they’re spending our money?

(6) RealManage’s standard contract states that the management fee does not include the service of giving shareholders access to corporate records. The law requires the corporation to let shareholders see records, but if they ask for that right then RealManage turns on the clock and charges the corporation $75 per hour for whatever time it takes to extract the records from its files. In summary: You pay RealManage a monthly fee so that you can pay RealManage an hourly fee to let you see your own records.

(7) RealManage allocates inadequate time and attention to its job. Its personnel are well-meaning, but they don’t have the time, and possibly don’t sufficiently care, to learn the basics of the customer’s bylaws, rules, building, regulatory environment, etc. The main manager of our community also manages 8 other communities, so how could he have time to manage any of them thoroughly?

(8) RealManage’s contracting for “maintenance” is quite dysfunctional. It offers to perform a range of services that existing janitorial and other contractors are already performing. Its personnel assigned to the building then (according to a recent report by one of our members) denies that RealManage is responsible for the tasks listed in the contract, and spends some of his time on-site in recreational activities instead of work.

(9) RealManage began running board meetings with minimal shareholder participation, limited to a pre-meeting “Homeowner Forum”, with any comments prohibited after the official board meeting was called to order. Later RealManage claimed this was merely a recommendation to the board. Even if so, it reflects a goal of restricting shareholder participation, when a much healthier orientation would be to encourage more shareholder participation.

(10) RealManage has made serious accounting errors, resulting in overcharges, refunded after they were discovered by us, but they weren’t discovered by RealManage’s own quality-control system.

(11) RealManage helps the board of directors comply with its legal obligations, but unfortunately also helps the board break the law and infringe on shareholder rights. It participates in secret board meetings, which violate the Open Meetings Act. It has refused requests for some records, violating the bylaws. It has insisted on conducting board meetings without the required 4-day notice of the topics to be discussed. When a shareholder objected, RealManage said “The law wasn’t intended to regulate unimportant matters like appointing a new member to the board of directors, and, even if it’s illegal, there’s no punishment, so go ahead and sue us if you want.” RealManage has also assented to the hiring of an unlicensed contractor to do major maintenance work, and has recommended an uncertified contractor to remove asbestos-containing material from the building, which would be illegal.

Verdict

RealManage could be great. Its idea of an automated Web platform to track information about a housing community and make it instantly available is superb. But that concept is part-real, part-vaporware. And RealManage’s view of the rights of shareholders ranges from grudging acceptance to outright denial. RealManage’s potential is far from fully realized.

Are there great alternatives to RealManage? Our community didn’t find any when it conducted its management search. If you peruse the information published by the Center for California Homeowner Association Law, you’ll get the impression that the industry is basically pro-board, anti-shareholder. Caveat emptor.

PostScript, July 2011

I was elected as a director in May 2011, and entitled to training as a new director under the RealManage contract. RealManage failed to provide (or to offer) any training to me.

The Elephant in the McGovern–Clinton Room

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Today the Internet is full of comments on the arrest two days ago of Ray McGovern at a speech by Hillary Clinton.

The vast majority of comments sympathize with Mr. McGovern and attack Clinton as a human-rights hypocrite for letting a peaceful, silent demonstrator be manhandled and ejected during her speech defending freedom of expression. A few allege that he was blocking others’ views and was asked to sit down before he was ejected.

But let’s suppose that McGovern and most commentators are correct: that his demonstration was pure undisruptive speech and his arrest was unprovoked and unnecessarily violent. If so, then what’s important about the reaction at the scene? The reaction of Ms. Clinton, continuing to speak and doing nothing to stop the assault on Mr. McGovern, merited the disgust that it has provoked. But this incident occurred in a crowded auditorium. There were hundreds of people around, many of whom must have had a clear view of Mr. McGovern’s protest and the assault on him. I have not found a single report saying that even one person in the audience did anything to oppose the arrest. Nobody else stood up, nobody shouted, nobody tried to block the officers from escorting Mr. McGovern out. It might have taken only a few intervening bystanders to change the outcome completely to one in which the people, including those who disagreed with Mr. McGovern, rose up and successfully defended his freedom of speech, putting Ms. Clinton and the security thugs to shame.

It’s fine to be cynical about the hypocrisy of top politicians. But why not be aghast at the folks in the audience, too? If we want our civil liberties, we can’t simply count on our rulers and their enforcers to respect our rights. We probably need to train ourselves in large numbers to respond instantly when anybody in our midst is oppressed. One iconic precedent for this is the Berkeley incident on 1 October 1964:

Police arrest Jack Weinberg for operating a CORE table on Sproul steps, and crowds of students spontaneously surround the police car and prohibit it from carrying away Mr. Weinberg.

More symptomatic of intervention culture in the United States, however, appears to be another legendary incident, the Kitty Genovese murder:

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. … Not one person telephoned the police during the assault ….

Bystander intervention training seems to be effective in some domains, such as school anti-bullying programs. So it could probably work against attacks on dissenters, too. And, if one wants it to be part of mass culture, what better place to begin it than in elementary and secondary schools?