Leave it to Jeeves

L RAMAKRISHNAN Posted: Nov 17, 2012 at 0020 hrs
Once we finally settle into that dream home, it is usually the mundane worries that take over. Haven’t we, living in high rise apartments, often witnessed that the generators are not usually turned on the minute there is a power cut, or that someone will have to shout from the rooftops to the security guard downstairs to turn the water pump on? It is teething troubles such as these, that we usually have to negotiate as part of that ‘dream home’ experience. Once settled, it is hassle-free living that anyone longs for.

This longing has translated into a huge business opportunity called facilities management that has over the last decade, grown to keep pace with the many high-rises that dot our horizon.

The concept is not new, having been in existence in the commercial realty space for a while, where housekeeping services were a necessity. In the context of residences, such services were usually understood to mean cleaning, garbage removal, a bit of landscaping and security. The operators were usually (and still are) unorganised with varying levels of service and had no clear standards or benchmarks, or even trained personnel.

ENTER, THE PROFESSIONAL

That has, however, changed with the entry of organised professionals in this space. “Earlier the concept of appointing a professional service partner was restricted to a very few residential developments and that too, if the project was done by a corporate developer focused on a niche/ high net worth individual segment. In recent years, with global exposure, demand for luxury homes and sophistication in residential construction have prompted large developers to tie-up with professional property management companies,” says Nellie Samuel, director, facilities management at Knight Frank India.

Knight Frank was the first global property services firm to make its presence in India in the facilities management space when it started the division in 1996. Today, it caters to a niche segment and manages 22 residential complexes in metros all across the country, with Mumbai accounting for the highest number.

The people who monitor the personnel and manage the facilities are highly trained and are drawn from varied backgrounds such as hospitality management, engineering and the armed forces. Personnel who handle the equipment usually have experience in handling industrial machinery. The housekeeping staff are recruited from manpower agencies and trained well to perform their job.

“Training is provided on a daily basis to the basic level staff, which includes the houseboys and security guards. Advanced training is imparted to on-site managers and executives” says Col. Ashutosh Beri, MD-Property and Asset Management, Jones Lang LaSalle India, a real estate services firm that has been active in this segment in the country since 2003 and currently manages 55 residential complexes totalling 43 million square feet across all metros.

SYSTEMS & PROCESSES

At GurgaonOne, a premium development in Gurgaon, prospective buyers were first taken to the ‘engine room’ where the generators and pumps hum. “I take great pride in our facilities, for the key to good living is in proper maintenance and upkeep,” says SK Sayal, CEO of Alpha G:Corp, the developer of GurgaonOne, and whose subsidiary manages the property. All equipment is maintained and processes followed according to a manual, in line with international best practices.

With larger housing complexes rivalling commercial spaces in modern equipment and fixtures, there is a requirement for centralised upkeep by trained personnel. Services that are the norm in office buildings are now making a presence on the home front: maintenance of pumps and generators, electrical gear, plumbing, airconditioning, water quality testing, fire safety and garbage clearance.

Facility management has also expanded itself to cater to other pressing needs. At GurgaonOne, the facilities team even checks the antecedents of a household help and arranges a substitute in case of absence. “After taking them on board, it is now difficult to imagine living an in apartment complex without these services,” says Naveneet Sahani, president of the GurgaonOne Resident Welfare Association.

It requires an army of personnel stationed at the premises to keep it in shipshape. “The deployment of property management manpower in a housing complex is based on the total saleable area of the project. In general, it consists of five security guards, four houseboys and two personnel from the technical team for every 1 lakh sq. ft. The structure of the management team varies with the property and the scope,” says Beri.

Size of the complex matters for efficient delivery. “Ideally, the total saleable area of a project should be around 3 lakh sq. ft for a mid-level housing society,” says Beri. The services are also graded to suit the budgets of a housing society. “The average rate ranges between R2-R3.5 per sq. ft across cities, while for a premium services, it ranges between R5-R7 per sq. ft,” says Beri.

CODE OF CONDUCT

Once a housing society signs up and the professionals take over, residents are expected to adhere to a code of conduct, such as no hanging clothes in the balcony, provide proper drain channels for flower pots, parking only in designated spots, no honking, no installation of air conditioners in spots other than those designated, no washing the balcony etc.

There are other guidelines in place to prevent any structural damage and inconvenience to the resident who shares a wall or a slab with another. At GurgaonOne, the residents have come together to have a system of fines for violations. “It requires a proactive approach from the residents and constant engagement for the whole initiative to succeed,” says Sahani.

It is not so easy changing mindsets, always. “In older properties, we have had resistance from residents. Many do not adhere to the rules they themselves signed. In extreme cases of non-cooperation, we had to pack up,” says Samuel.

The other plus point of having your building looking as good as new is the appreciation potential that places it a notch higher than others in the neighbourhood. “As long as we were managing a housing complex in Mumbai, it was a prized asset. The day residents decided to take matters into their own hands, the property no longer commands the same value,” says Samuel.

With buildings increasingly turning into complex mechanical entities, it may be not be a bad idea to let it be cared for by competent hands. If you are willing to pay extra to outsource the mundane, then having a Jeeves around isn’t a bad deal at all.

—L.Ramakrishnan@expressindia.com