Learning the UK system

Andrew Darby, fourth from left, and his UK colleagues from Premier Estates.

Being offered an opportunity to work in the United Kingdom in the residential block management sector (strata management equivalent) doesn’t happen everyday. Offered the chance of a lifetime, Andrew Darby jumped at the chance with the blessing of his family and colleagues.

Last August Andrew, a strata manager in his family run business in Wollongong, Chris Darby Strata, packed his bags and headed to London for two months following an offer from a UK business associate, to get some international experience.

“I hesitated initially as I needed to be able to do some work for my clients here in Wollongong but the whole office pitched in and were able to help out, making the trip possible,” Andrew explained.

“I also had the support from my bosses and parents Chris and Jenni, to experience what happens in another part of the world. I had a laptop and after work in London I would log in and catch up on my work in Australia.”

Andrew worked for a business leader in the UK, Premier Estates, gaining both insight into their operations and an understanding of the basics of the UK leasehold – freehold system.

Premier Estates employs about 120 people plus on-site staff and manages around 30,000 properties. Head office is in Macclesfield south of Manchester with another office in London.

“Although I spent some time in Macclesfield, most of the work I did was based in London so I lived in Notting Hill in west London”

“The transport in the UK was terrific and while it could take two hours to travel to a meeting, in that time you could be halfway to Scotland which was hard for this Aussie to get his head around.’’

Some time ago, the UK Government introduced the concept of commonhold, a title system like strata title. It failed to be adopted by property developers. Instead most flats in England and Wales are subject to a long-term lease and pay a small ground rent to the freeholder who owns the land and physical buildings.

In many instances the freeholder controls the management company to whom lessees pay service charges (levies) and in these circumstances the freeholder appoints the managing agent.

Andrew noted that property managers in the UK have a lot more physical contact with the block which are in many ways like NSW practices in strata and building management.

“There’s a team of people who pitch for new business, both for new developments and taking over from an existing manager.”

“New business is initially managed by a specialist ‘on-boarding team’ (a process that lasts for around a year) and is then handed over for regular day-to-day management.”

“The on-boarding process is intense and might be viewed as over-servicing but seems to work well and there is an almost zero business attrition rate.”

Andrew was also interested in the approach some of the people he met in Britain take when approaching the work/life balance conundrum.

“Everyone at Premier Estates works really hard and puts in long hours but the nature of the work meant that some of my colleagues were able to live in Spain and commute to London to work for two days a week. The rest of the time they can remotely log in and manage everything from where ever they happened to be.”

Andrew came home with some big ideas and has set some goals but mainly he said the best thing was enjoying the journey he undertook to work in another country. The trip home via Spain was also a pretty sweet deal.

“All of it was 100 percent worthwhile,” he concluded.