The Art of Saying No as a Property Manager

By Anthony Ing
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Saying “no” is probably one of the hardest things for a property manager to do. Property managers receive requests all the time – from board members, unit owners, and regional managers – and it can be really difficult to know when to say no.

However, if you take on too many commitments, you may stretch yourself too thin. This can manifest in lower productivity, less focus, and higher stress. That’s why it’s important to say no sometimes.

That being said, many people aren’t trained on how to say no. Here are five different techniques to use when you want to say no:

1. Lay It on the Table

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As a property manager, no one understands your condo as well as you do. Board members and other stakeholders generally do not have encyclopedic memories, and therefore before making decisions, it is appropriate for you to provide full transparency on thing such as:

  • • Your current backlog of work
  • • Financial position
  • • Reserve fund schedule
  • • Cost
  • • Value
  • • Problem being solved
  • • Trade offs

Laying it on the table helps to start an open conversation about the potential impact of certain decisions. During the conversation you can have a deeper discussion about your capacity given your backlog of projects/tasks, your corporation’s financial ability to support a project, and how a project will help to solve a key problem (or is it even solving a key problem?).

2. Consider the Larger Implications

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Sometimes ideas are proposed that may sound simple on the surface, but may turn out to have much larger implications. There are always a number of potential side effects to consider before saying yes or no to any idea.

Consider the side effects of the often-proposed idea of installing video cameras in the parking levels:

Implementation Cost – How many cameras would need to be installed for the initiative to provide full coverage? How much would it cost to install each camera?

On-going Costs – How often do these cameras need to be replaced?

Maintenance Fee Increase – By what percentage would the overall common elements fees increase in the next budget if this project were to be implemented?

Trade Offs – Will this take the concierge’s attention away from monitoring other key areas in the condo?

Switching Costs – Are there other new equipment costs or new processes that need to be implemented?

3. Not Now

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Not now is not a direct no, but it’s saying that we should wait to do it later. For example, “Let’s wait until we renovate the lobby before upgrading the concierge desk so that everything adheres to a consistent design style.

Be sure to have a mechanism to track items that are deferred to a later time. Saying “not now” with the hopes that everyone forgets or without intending to return back to the item is a good way to slowly erode trust with your stakeholders. If you already know that something isn’t going to get done, then it’s better to be clear about this from the outset.

4. Start Small and Test Assumptions

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In the condo industry, we often like to think of projects as large, expensive, temporarily disruptive and requiring significant change. Often times, projects are based on uncertain assumptions and future projections, which entail some risk. Certainly, condos must sometimes make decisions with some level of risk and uncertainty. Waiting for more certainty can sometimes introduce other risks (e.g. waiting too long to have certainty that the foundation is deteriorating could lead to irreparable damage to the foundation).

However, what if you could get more certainty by implementing a “mini-project” or by running an experiment? Starting small and getting real owner/tenant feedback early and often can provide a stronger rationale for go/no-go decisions.

Start small – “Before retrofitting all parking levels to support electric vehicle charging, why don’t we first release a survey to ask about owner appetite for electric vehicles? If owners show a preference for electric vehicles, then we could install an EV charger in a common area like visitor parking to see how often it gets used. If the EV charger gets used frequently over a two year span, we can start thinking about implementing EV charging more broadly.”

5. Provide Options

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Before coming back to the table with a no, provide options and review the pros and cons of each option. This can really help to put a project into perspective and spark a discussion about trade offs

Here is an (self-serving) example:

Option 1: We can use Condonexus. They will manage the whole end-to-end hosted virtual meeting process. They will handle electronic notice delivery, digital proxy collection and host a virtual meeting with live voting.

Option 2: We can do it ourselves. The cost of printing & mailing all notices will be $X, already more than the cost of using Condonexus. We will likely need the Board to knock on doors to collect proxies to reach quorum, which will likely take Y hours. Also, we do not have the technology to seamlessly provide CAO compliant live voting, such as properly accounting for owner-occupant votes or multiple unit ownership, at the meeting.

Option 3: We can delay the AGM? However, the Condo Act requires that each condominium hold an AGM within six months of the end of each fiscal year. Also, there is no certainty that unit owners will feel safe attending an in-person meeting even once it is permitted.