A day in the life of our property manager

Posted on Thu, 12/01/2022 - 11:30am

By Tracy Poyser

This is the third article in our series titled “A day in the life of …,” intended to provide our readers with a detailed look at the everyday tasks of those who work at Malibu East. Later articles in this series will appear on an irregular basis.

There is no doubt that the nerve center of our 500-unit vertical village is the three-room Management Office near our lobby entrance. It’s where our property manager, Violette Deschamps, helped by her assistant, Scott, packs an incredible number of actions into each workday to help keep Malibu East such a wonderful home for all of us. It requires someone with a multifaceted background, communication skills, organizational talent, project management experience, diplomacy, patience, resilience, ability to not accept “no” as an answer, and a commitment to excellence.

So, when MECA needed to find a new property manager 10 years ago, Sudler Property Management recruited Violette as a superbly qualified candidate, and the Board of Directors hired her in November 2012. Violette is currently in charge of 20 employees, including our building engineer, his assistant, janitors, front desk and Receiving Room staff. The garage manager reports to her also.

Unusual qualifications

A French-Canadian native of Quebec, Violette brought an unusual background to her position. With a degree in architecture from l’Université de Montréal, her focus as a private practician there was on social architecture subsidized by the Canadian and Quebec governments, including specially designed housing facilities for the elderly, large families and other people with special needs. In the early ’90s, she trained at the International Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) in Montreal and became a certified property manager with IREM in the United States. She further trained in Montreal in alternative dispute resolution methods, including arbitration, mediation and principled negotiation.

Violette moved to the United States in 1999, got married and spent nine months each in Alabama; Buffalo Grove, Illinois; and De Pere, Wisconsin. In 2001, she relocated to Chicago and, in 2005, purchased a mixed-use building on the South Side where she still lives. Related positions in the U.S. before MECA included five years as property manager of an industrial incubator and three years as a condominium property manager for Draper & Kramer. When Sudler located her, it offered her two properties to choose from: a property only about a 20-minute drive from home, and Malibu East. Despite the much longer commute, she opted for Malibu East because a building of our size represented a greater challenge and an expanded project management range. This December, Violette will be honored with a 10-year loyalty award at our staff’s holiday luncheon.

Property manager’s duties

Before getting into details, I asked about the scope of her job. “It’s anything its constituents and the property need,” she tells me. Asked what she likes best about her position, Violette grins and says: “Managing!” That includes the customer care of our residents, condominium owners and commercial tenants; ensuring that MECA Rules and policies are understood and followed; monitoring the financials – i.e., expenditures and billings, including assessments, work orders, etc.; staff management and human resources; keeping an eye on the building’s physical condition from the bottom on up, including the commercial Plaza, elevators, mechanical systems, roof, balconies, exterior walls and amenities; handling projects involving garage repair, major system replacement, remodeling and aesthetics; acting as a liaison with Sudler Property Management; and providing day-to-day support to the Board president, executive committee, Board of Directors, committees and task forces.

A very important part of her duties is monitoring ongoing contractor contracts, including cable TV and internet, elevators, utilities, alarm and fire safety systems, plumbing and electrical components, security and fob systems, exterior and interior landscaping, laundry operation, pest management, waste management, housekeeping, uniforms, radios, telephones, Plaza and garage building services – plus ad hoc contracts for new and special projects. And all of these services must be rebid periodically. If that sounds like a major juggling act for her and assistant property manager Scott, that’s because it is!

What a typical day entails

Variety is the spice of Violette’s life as our property manager. On a typical Monday, she dedicates most of the morning to reviewing and resolving any weekend issues flagged by her staff or via residents’ emails or voice messages. She processes the payroll every second Monday.

The most frequent weekend and day-to-day incidents involve billing questions, Rules violations like unscheduled moves or construction, elevator outages and residents’ complaints about water issues, noise or objectionable odors (cannabis, cigarette, cooking) infiltrating their units. Some incidents can be grave, such as when one of the transformers blew up, or rainwater was pouring in the loading dock from all directions when Chicago was hit with severe flash floods engorging the city’s sewer system.

Violette and Scott meet daily with building engineer Lou Colletti and assistant engineer Mike Rostescu to review day-to-day operations and ongoing projects and issues. And, with a volunteer Board of Directors involved in all aspects of our building’s operation, she meets with Board president Arthur Arfa and treasurer Joan Scholl several times a week, as well as other Board members or committee chairs, to discuss projects, concerns and inquiries and offer solutions as needed.

Violette also takes care of the Association-owned units as directed by the Board. To optimize the return on investment, MECA-owned units are thoroughly cleaned and often completely or partially remodeled before they are sold or rented. The Management Office takes care of opening and closing unit owners’ accounts, monitors sales and leases, prepares disclosures and information needed by appraisers, lenders and attorneys involved in unit sales. In addition, Violette and Scott help new owners and residents get settled and integrated in our community.

Staying focused

I asked Violette about how she manages to stay on track. “It starts with the ability to analyze a problem. That means to stop, investigate and understand the underlying issue, and promptly implement solutions.” She insists that solutions come last after the problem is thoroughly understood.

Patience, calm and logic are keys, especially in the face of anger, yelling and the gamut of human emotions when they’re involved. Addressing and solving issues in the most effective way thickens your skin, improves your diplomacy and exercises the ability to meet people’s expectations on all levels. It’s best not to sit on a problem but try and get it out of the way before it gets bigger,” she adds.

Emergencies and conflicts do happen with over 1,000 people living under one roof, and the large number of vendors and contractors involved in the life of the property.

One situation involving our residents that too often could be resolved more effectively is the wellness check. The absence of an emergency contact and the names of people who are granted access to a unit can result in delays. Secondly, loved ones often contact management to request a wellness check on a resident as opposed to calling 911. If a wellness check is indicated, 911 is contacted because emergency responders are better-equipped and trained for wellness checks. A staff member will escort the Fire Department or ambulance personnel to the unit.

Other incidents or disputes may occasionally involve dog fights, unauthorized weekend moves or car accidents in the garage. In terms of security, the occasional stranger has been reported wandering in the Plaza although no harm came out of those incidents. “When you see something, report it,” Violette advises.

By far the most frequently reported damage to property is caused by water – be it from sliding doors, clogged HVAC condensate lines, faulty water heaters, overflowing sinks, leaking toilets or broken drainpipes. “Just pay attention, check frequently under your sinks, around your toilets, HVAC and water heater closets, and invest in replacing outdated items,” Violette recommends.

Concerns, complaints

What is most frustrating for Violette? “It’s for residents and owners being unaware of or misinformed about the Rules and policies. Reading and understanding (Rules and policies) is how problems could be avoided in the first place,” she responds.

Most complaints received in the Management Office are about smoke – with cannabis ranking first since its legalization. “Smoke and odor of any kind has to be contained within the unit where they are produced.”

Noise also must be contained within the unit where it originates. Noise complaints come second – especially loud, thumping music during the night and on weekends. Violette advises owners of rental units to develop a close relationship with the people living in their units and ensure they know and understand the Rules and policies.

Hobbies for unwinding

After an action-packed workday and week that tired this writer just by listening, what does Violette do to relax? She unwinds by taking care of her two dogs, enjoying a nice dinner with some wine, gardening, traveling and appreciating nature, and tending to her sewing projects. You may have admired Violette’s one-of-a-kind wardrobe, but did you know that she’s the designer and maker of the patterns and her leather garments?

We hope our property manager will stay with us as long as possible instead of opening her own leather design business. Did I mention that she has a quirky sense of humor?