Welcome to BOMA International’s new advice column, where industry experts answer questions from BOMA members. The questions for this first column were collected at the 2019 Winter Business Meeting and have been answered by the industry’s top property pros: the BOMA Fellows. BOMA Fellows are selected because they have displayed exemplary and sustained contributions to the industry, their profession, the community and BOMA at all levels and have continually answered the call to leadership and service throughout their careers. And now, they answer your questions!
We’re revamping our common areas and adding a dedicated lactation room and meditation space. What elements can we include to make it as welcoming as possible?
—Designing a Not-So-Common Area
Answered by Susan Engstrom, BOMA Fellow, FMA, RPA,
Main Street Real Estate Advisors, Phoenix
Realistically, a lactation room has completely separate needs than a meditation room or wellness space. The temptation to combine them is understandable, since a building may not have very many nursing mothers at any given time. It is certainly possible to create a room to serve both needs. However, making the space available as a lactation room should take priority over its use as a meditation space. Work with your tenants to see who needs it before opening it up as a meditation room for all tenants. A space won’t feel welcoming to a nursing mother if it’s not available when it’s needed.
Melding the two uses into one can be a challenge, but the first step is to figure out what the two rooms have in common. They both need quiet. They both need to be distraction-free. A mild wall color and a simple patterned carpet would be a good start. A meditation room has limited needs. The user will need the ability to shut the lights off in the room. A comfortable chair and room to spread a mat on the ground are essential. If there are windows, make sure there are blinds that completely block the view into the room.
With a lactation room, you need a comfortable chair, a small desk, a sink area to wash equipment and a small refrigerator to store pumped breast milk. When the space is being used as a lactation room, it may be best to restrict the use of the refrigerator to breast milk only. You don’t want mothers struggling to find space among other people’s snacks and drinks. Make the signage on the room very clear, so that people aren’t barging in while someone is pumping. In fact, a lock on the door may be necessary as well.
Remember, the user will not be nursing the baby in the room. Most likely she will be taking a break, but she may be on a conference call or working on a deadline and need to have a desk and power outlet for her laptop.
A well-equipped lactation room can make a big difference to a working mother, and many occupants will love having a meditation room. I’m sure your tenants will appreciate your efforts!
I’m concerned that my property team and I got off on the wrong foot with a new tenant. What’s the best way we can strengthen this relationship?
Answered by John G. Oliver, BOMA Fellow,
Managing Principal, Oliver & Company, Atlanta
This is a great question and, unfortunately, something that has happened to most of us in commercial real estate. We have the best of intentions and plans, but something just goes wrong with getting a new tenant into their space. There is an old business adage that tells us it’s much cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one. This is certainly true in commercial real estate leases. Tenant improvements and commissions vary by market, but many landlords are prepared to invest 12-18 months of rent into a new lease.
So, why does this happen? Usually, it comes down to communication and setting expectations from the beginning. With a new lease, a property manager is dealing with a building owner, a tenant, brokers, an architect, a construction firm and local officials in trying to meet the tenant’s needs. And, yes, occasionally a property management team might just have a bad day! This creates many opportunities for miscommunications or unrealistic expectations.
So, what can you do?
- Start by just showing up—not by email, not by phone—in person. We all know the real estate business is a relationship business. A typical lease may run for three to five years. So, the property management team is going to work with a tenant for a long time.
When you show up, apologize for the issue right away. It’s amazing what an impact that will have to calm the situation. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is…what matters is that the tenant had a set of expectations that were unmet.
Bring the facts, take the emotion out of the conversation and be prepared to discuss the solutions. Depending on the situation, you might need follow-up meetings to fully resolve a conflict, but it’s important to be in front of your tenant early and face the issue together.
Make a statement that this is not how your company conducts its business and make a commitment to see this through to final resolution.
Then, follow up with your team to get the issue resolved and remain visible to your tenant until its conclusion.
And, remember the saying by Mark Twain: "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest!"
For the past couple of years, I’ve had a great assistant property manager on my team who I had come to rely on. She’s recently found a new job that’s a great opportunity, and I’m really happy for her. However, I have no idea how my team is going to manage without her. How can I find someone equally great to replace her?
—Seeking CRE Superstar
Answered by Laura Ragans, BOMA Fellow, RPA,
Regional Property Manager, MB Real Estate, Orlando, Florida
The BOMA network is the perfect place to start. Contact your BOMA local association and let them know you have an open position so they can help you spread the word. Send an email to all your colleagues, particularly your BOMA connections, to see if they know someone. BOMA International’s Career Center is another great resource that can help you cast a wide net. And, don’t forget to post on LinkedIn!
If you personally know of others in the industry who may be interested in a change, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or send them an email letting them know you have an opportunity—even if you aren’t sure if they’re looking.
Hopefully, these suggestions will bring you success in filling your position. Good luck!
Also responding to "Seeking CRE Superstar"…
Answered by Edmund J. Mazzei Sr., BOMA Fellow, RPA, CAM, SDVOSB, Capt. USMC,
Retired President/Broker, Mazzei Realty Services Inc., Coral Gables, Florida
I want to add to what Laura said by saying your team also needs to manage without her! Consider whether you are empowering the rest of the team, or if you’ve started relying on a single team member too much. You probably will not find someone who is equally great right off the bat to replace her, but there are plenty of qualified people who can eventually become great assistant property managers.
You may want to ask your former assistant property manager to review your detailed job description for accuracy and completeness so you can represent the job accurately and find a good fit. She may also know candidates you should consider. Once you do hire someone, take the time to develop them to become just as great. BOMA has so many resources that can help you with your talent development efforts and gives those who are new to the industry a place to connect with peers who can assist them in their career growth.
Is there any way to avoid "thermostat wars" in an office building?
—SOS from the Trenches
Answered by Mark Dukes, BOMA Fellow, CCIM, RPA, Vice President,
Asset Management, Physicians Realty Trust, Atlanta
This phenomenon is age-old. Ensuring the comfort of all building occupants can be extremely challenging and, while technology advances are making this easier and more controllable, it still has to be solved with clear communication. I have found success in first identifying who has responsibility within the tenant company to request changes to this and any building process—this will probably be your main contact, but it might not be.
Show your concern about their satisfaction with the space, while also educating them on the basics of how HVAC systems work to help explain why there may be temperature fluctuations. If there are ongoing issues within the space, work with your teams to understand the solutions and communicate those with the tenant representative. Modifications to the HVAC distribution systems may be needed to achieve consistent comfort levels and can be costly. And, always consult the tenant’s lease agreement to determine the responsible party for that expense and look for creative ways to find a win-win for all involved.
Also responding to "SOS from the Trenches"…
Answered by Dan Chancey, BOMA Fellow, RPA, Senior Vice President, Asset Management,
Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors Asset Services LLC, Memphis, Tennessee
If you have ever managed an office building, you know "thermostat wars" are almost inevitable. I have found that it’s critical to focus on the empirical evidence. As Mark mentioned, what does the lease say? What conditions actually exist? What capability does the HVAC [heating, ventilating and air-conditioning] system have?
Usually, a conflict over temperature between two tenants happens because they share a single thermostat zone. If that is the case, the first thing that should be done is to limit access to the thermostat controls while resolution methods are being considered. If temperature needs to be adjusted, it will have to be done directly by building personnel. While this may seem like a great deal of trouble, it will ultimately simplify the process.
Considering the lease is very important in this case, as it is with any question regarding services provided to tenants by the building. I cannot tell you how many times I have answered a question from a junior property manager by saying, "What does the lease say we should do?" Remember that the lease is your primary informational resource and your key authority on what is expected and what you can do on behalf of the building owner.
Most full-service office leases will indicate when HVAC services are to be provided and even what temperature levels are to be expected by the tenant. For example, the lease may state that the HVAC services are to be provided from 7:00am to 7:00pm and that temperature will be maintained between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit during that time.
Next, it is important to understand what current conditions actually exist. Independently measure the temperature in the space multiple times. Sometimes, thermostats simply malfunction and indicate incorrect temperatures. It will also give complaints of "hot" or "cold" a quantifiable number and eliminate subjectivity.
If the system has been verified to be performing within the parameters of the lease requirements, then the only issue is correctly communicating that with the tenants. If after gaining direct and exclusive access of the thermostatic controls it is discovered that the system cannot maintain the HVAC requirements of the lease, some physical remedies may be required to properly resolve the issue. These physical alterations may run the gamut from rebalancing the air delivery system to adding an additional thermostatic zone to separate the two tenants systematically.
The bottom line is that a "thermostat war" can only be resolved with provable factual information to the tenants. In all likelihood, resolving the situation will not immediately make everyone happy, but it will better establish the management team as a group that governs the tenant relationship by what the lease requires, as measured by current conditions in a scientific way.
Have a question you’d like answered by a property pro? Send it to the editorial team. Then, keep an eye out: Your question may be answered in a future column.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of BOMA Magazine.