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Confessions of a Property Manager

Hi, I'm Lisa and in my blog I'm going to be spilling the beans on what it's really like to be a property manager in Spain looking after other people's properties. Your wouldn't believe some of the things that I see and happen to me. I'm going to be telling you all about it!

What has happened to common courtesy?
25 March 2008

We are having a very busy time at the moment, the owners of the apartment with the “intento a robo”  “attempted break in” were over and were having the run around with the crime line. Anyway, managed to sort that out and have spent some time today dealing with their insurance company to arrange a viewing with the surveyor. We have to book in time to go to Estepona to pick up the crime report – another few hours waiting around!
 
I am also trying to deal with a maintenance problem with my own house – now you would think that running a property management company that maintenance men would be on time and try to prove themselves to me so I can recommend them to my clients – I wish – I had one company forget to send me someone and the reasoning was that they had a drink and forgot!  I had a guy turn up today who was supposed to be here at 10.00am yesterday, he didn’t contact me at all yesterday and I refused to call him. He expected to be able to arrive a day late, without phoning and do the work today.  I told him he should have been here yesterday and why did he not call? His response was – sorry my mate had a stag do and I didn’t get in until 12.00 midday yesterday. I was astounded that he thought this was an ok excuse! Why not phone me Sunday and let me know he couldn’t make it, a simple call to make sure I wasn’t waiting in for him Monday morning would surely have been courtesy! Needless to say I have told him not to do the job. I think he was quite shocked about that – obviously other people must accept that as a viable excuse – well what is a day really – only a lot of organising and arranging on my behalf – thank you!
 
What has happened to timekeeping and respect, do these people really think they will build up a good reputation like that? We have been through so many maintenance men who have this attitude, luckily we have found some good workers but boy is it a headache when they go on holiday!!


Like 0        Published at 22:19   Comments (2)


Casares Del Sol - attempted break in
19 March 2008

My mother Joy went to an apartment we have at Casares del Sol with our cleaner to check the property and have it prepared for the owners arriving tomorrow only to find that the patio door had been damaged where someone had tried to break in.  Luckily the door held and they didn't get in to the property. There were fingerprints all over the glass.  It makes me sick to my stomach, we have two apartments on the complex and the other one has also had an attempted break in.  Same thing - door attacked with a crowbar or the like. 

We were hoping that the fingerprints could be lifted off the glass so I phoned the Casares police only to be told that I had to contact the Sabinillas Civil Guard as they were the ones who would lift the fingerprints.  I phoned the Civil Guard to be told that they could not do anything until we had made a Denuncia.  There is a crime number which is very good for reporting all types of crimes - 9021021112  they speak English and you tell them what happened, they then put it in the system and transfer the report to the relevant police station.  You then go to the police station to collect the crime report.  However in our experience (from the last attempted break in) it is more complicated to report a crime on someone elses behalf.  The last time Joy had to plead with the Estepona Police to get them to give her the report - they like to deal with the owners direct.

We took photos of the damage and sent them to the owners, luckily or unlucky for them the owners are arriving tomorrow and now will have to deal with this.  I was so annoyed today because the police did not come out to at least try and lift the fingerprints, now it has rained and there will be no evidence at all.  Why is it that before the police can do anything the owners have to file a denuncia? This works if you are living here but it is a little more problematic when they are in another country.   I have been watching too much CSI and expected Horacio to come waltzing in with his powder take it back to the lab and have the criminals behind bars withing the hour!!  But seriously this is becoming such a big problem.  We currently only look after two apartments in this complex and both of them have had attempted break ins.  It makes us very nervous every time we check them as you just don't know what you are going to find when you open the door. 



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Babel Fish
18 March 2008

Speaking of European clients I have been having a few enquiries from the French these last few days. In fact I managed to do an entire booking with the help of good old Babel Fish. Although I learnt French at school it seems that my brain can only cope with one foreign language at a time and since learning Spanish it has completely wiped out the French. The French lady does not speak any English, so now I have to find someone who can translate all my driving instructions into French because if she gets lost I will be no use to her! I am also going to translate all the apartment instructions - it will at least look like we have made an effort in making her feel welcome and she might return!  I also managed to do an entire enquiry in Spanish although the client is a little nervous and wants to see a signed copy of the comprobante (I had to look this up – it is the bank receipt)  
 
Some popular UK holiday sites will offer to promote your site on other European sites however sometimes there can be a charge for this.  Still it would be better to find the top sites per country and sample them to see how many enquiries they bring in. I did try this with an Irish site last year – apartmentsdirect.ie  - but to be honest I have only had one enquiry from them so will not renew the contract. 
 
Well, back to the search engines…..


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Rental Enquiries
16 March 2008

I have to admit the rental enquiries have slowed down lately, which can be a worry. They are still coming through but not to the quantity that I would like, some apartments are proving to be more popular than others and are really winning the race in rental weeks booked. Other apartments are seriously suffering due to location but now it seems that holidaymakers are being more specific on what they want even in the good locations. The apartments with low grade furniture are being overlooked for the ones with style.
 
So what is going on… the absolutely awful GBP/Euro exchange rate for starters… it is currently the lowest it has EVER been. 1.24 on the streets of Gibraltar the other day. I remember the days it fluctuated around the 1.4 - 1.45 rate. Also I was reading an article in the Resident paper yesterday about the Credit Crunch, how the problems in America have affected other global economies and basically banks are tightening their belts, the word is don’t spend – pay back debt.   So against the backdrop of economic uncertainty I have to find a way to rent our holiday apartments to maximum capacity! 
 
Luckily we do have a stream of returning clients – thank goodness, but how to bring in new clients when the British market has slowed down. I was lying in bed thinking about this, this morning. How sad is that, Sunday morning, should be a day off and I am contemplating how to bring in more enquiries!! I am going to research the European market – simply because there is no exchange rate issue to worry about. We have an owner who is Norwegian and she rents out her property privately as well as via us, but I have to say she does very well. We currently do have enquires from the French and very occasionally the Spanish but not enough, so agenda for next week – research!..


Like 0        Published at 13:12   Comments (16)


Counting the Euros
14 March 2008

Keeping track of the comings and goings is an absolute nightmare. I have spent the entire day doing accounts; my brain is now so fried you will be lucky to get any sense out of me!! I used to use an excel spreadsheet to keep all my customer accounts up to date, I also had to have another system for all the rental clients so towards the end of last year we decided to invest in a Sage accounting system. We bought the basic Instant Accounts Package, the front cover of the user manual states “bookkeeping made easy” yes if you have a degree in accounting. Double entry journaling, nominal codes, supplier lists and bank reconciliation – it’s like another language – in fact I find Spanish easier!
 
Our petty cash doesn’t add up so I have to go through all the invoices and find out why – probably misplaced one of the facturas from Carrefour which always seem to hide at the bottom of my bag. You have to be so careful to account for everything you spend and it can easily run away with you if you don’t keep on top of it. Light bulbs, bin bags, welcome pack supplies all need to be put in the system. 
 
The complication arises because we are technically dealing with two lots of customers; you have the rental client and then the owner of the apartment. Both are customers but one has a direct bearing on the other. We have to hold the rental income, deduct services and then pay the owners. Try putting that into Sage!   Worst thing is you can’t delete anything once it has gone into the system, so at the moment it looks as though we are dealing with thousands and thousands of euros but that was just us crediting and invoicing the same thing until we managed to suss out where it had to go!
 
At least all my customer accounts are saying the right thing! We ran a “statement run” today as all the owners need to be kept up to date with their accounts however, I have not been very good at keeping this up, I tend to try and avoid it for as long as possible and then have to spend a full week bringing them all up to date. Needless to say my owners have had statements somewhat erratically in the past. I now have a lady who comes in 3 times a week to input all the invoices/credits in the system, I am hoping once we have all the amounts in the right places that I can forget about this and concentrate on the things I enjoy – like getting the rentals in / marketing and web design.  
 
So the next stage is to check all the statements are right before we email them off, then fingers crossed this will become a monthly event. The only downside is that for some reason the description on the credit line of the statement does not show. It lists all the invoice items but not what the credit is for. This is a mystery to me and also to some others who have posted this on the Sage forum. To date no-one has come forward with an explanation. This means I have to run a rental list alongside so the owners can see which rental weeks have been credited. Have I confused you enough yet! 
 
Well, off to find that missing factura – this is a Spanish invoice which you particularly have to ask for, can’t put any normal receipt in the accounts – no, that would make things far too easy!
 


Like 0        Published at 22:30   Comments (0)


From little acorns…
12 March 2008

To be honest I never set out to become a property manager, I didn’t have a big idea one day of moving to Spain and setting up this business, I sort of fell into it and then took it from there. We moved from the UK to Gibraltar, my husband works for a betting company there and I decided to give it a go living abroad. I have a background in administration, health and safety and auditing. After working in Gibraltar for an eccentric millionaire – another story!! I fell pregnant and shortly after that fell pregnant again! With two small boys we decided to move to Spain. Having worked all my life, being at home with two babies was a shock to the system.
 
As I began to meet people in the area I started doing some meet and greets for some rental apartments, it was great – some adult conversation. From there I met some cleaners and slowly built up relations with contractors & local maintenance men. Before long we had about 4 properties which we rented and looked after and word of mouth began to bring us more. My mother moved over from the UK and we then formed our company. I discovered that the information needed for setting up companies and what to expect was not very forthcoming, we set it up with our local gestor but to be honest probably didn’t know what we are looking at financially. 
 
As far as I am aware there is nothing available for small businesses in Spain, you pay the same social security and taxes as a large company and there are no concessions. We set up an S.C. company which is a partnership, it is not a limited company but hopefully we will look to move into this at a later stage so I will be able to give you a step by step guide!
 
I chose to develop our business because it meant that I could work yet still be there if the children needed me as we don't have the safety net of a large family network. Joy and I manage our shifts between us, it is a set up which works for us but means that I do a lot of work in the mornings, answer enquiries in the afternoons and catch up with the rest of the emails in the evenings. Property management takes up a lot of time, in fact it can almost be 24/7.  You also have to be a mediator between rental clients and owners, have the patience of a saint when dealing with developers and learn how to smile sweetly when trying to get the maintenance guy to finish the work on time when really you want to scream at him.
 
For us it took a while to get things moving in the right direction, we would build up relations with other people, particularly maintenance men only to find that they wouldn’t even turn up to give us a quote or they would forget to book the work in – how annoying! We have also discovered that there are some problems which are simply very difficult to fix. To give an example, we have an apartment where the air con control box has a fault. There are three speeds but it only works on two of them. The company who originally installed them are based in Madrid and tend to deal on a large scale with developers only. Trying to purchase this little control box is proving to be a nightmare. The company are not interested because it is too small an item to be bothered with. All we can do is hope that our air con company will come across one when they update systems, but try explaining that to the owner who wants it fixed yesterday!  I also had to learn Spanish because on new builds if you have to deal with the local maintenance men you will be lucky to come across anyone who speaks English and sign language will only get you so far!
 
Property management is not always as easy as I think it is perceived, or should I rephrase and say GOOD property management. When the phone rings at 1.00am because the owner has forgot the time difference and needs to chat, or it rings at 11.30pm because there is water leaking from the apartment above, or it rings at 03.00am because the guests can’t sleep as there is music blasting from the apartment in the next block – you wonder why you didn’t get a 9-5 office job.


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Welcome to my blog!
10 March 2008

My name is Lisa and I own a family business in Casares Coasta with my mother Joy. We look after properties around this area, Sabinillas and Manilva, some we simply look after on behalf of the owners, others we rent out for holidays and we have recently taken on a few long term rentals.

We currently work from home, which is not always easy and dream of the day we can afford an office! My husband works in Gibraltar and we have two boys which attend the Manilva school, ages 5 (nearly 6) and 4 1/2. My mother also lives with us so as you can imagine life is far from dull in our house.

We have been slowly building up our business for the last 5 years, we have built it up from the bottom, starting out doing meet and greets, cleaning, laundry and then into property management and finally the rental side. Like any job it has its ups and downs, its frustrations and its joys.
In this blog I will be giving you "from the eyes of a property manager" Sharing the issues we face and how we deal with them. I hope it will give you an insight into what goes on behind the scenes.


Like 0        Published at 21:46   Comments (19)


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