Through providing “knowledge and experience you can trust” to property owners and developers since 2008, Sydney-based Strata Management firm Pristine Living has developed a reputation as a reliable local supplier of quality Strata Management services, setting it apart from its competitors.
As the company points out on its website, “Strata Management can sometimes be complicated and confusing,” and as a result of the contractual nature of the arrangement between the Strata Owners and the Strata Manager, the business requires longer-term business development strategies.
Pristine Living believes its unique selling point is its ability to deal with Strata clients in a clear and concise manner, regarding communication and attention to detail as the company’s main areas of focus.
Pristine by Name
Pristine Living’s Managing Director, Danielle Marchand, first became involved with the complicated business of Strata Management in the 1980s. She began by working for Robert Andrews Real Estate, where she was employed for eleven years.
After taking a long service leave from the company, Ms. Marchand decided to move out of Strata Management, and returned in search of a new opportunity. At this point she turned to Property Management, and found herself beginning an affiliation with Australia’s largest residential apartment developer, Meriton.
“The job I landed was with a company that was doing project marketing exclusively for Meriton,” Ms. Marchand says, “for the first six months that their building came on the market.” Though never working with the company directly, Ms. Marchand established herself in the industry by renting out apartments built by Meriton.
In 1996, Ms. Marchand began working for a company called Grants Strata Management. After a successful period of almost a decade with the company, Ms. Marchand and her daughters—Guylaine Senat and Sandrine Markov—bought the company in 2005.
“We thought about how we would change the company, and give the company a much better image, an image that we would like. So effectively it took us about the best [part] of three years to get that together.”
For those years, the company continued to run under the name Grants Strata Management. In 2008 the company changed its name to Pristine Living Management, moved premises, and the current incarnation of the business truly began.
On the back of such an impressive career in the industry, Ms. Marchand was invited in 2011 to join the board of the Strata Community Australia (SCA) for New South Wales, the leading professional body for the Strata and Community Title sector. The resignation of a former board member meant that no election was necessary, and Ms. Marchand quickly took her seat, holding it for the next four years.
“It was a good learning curve with them,” Ms. Marchand explains. “I’m not with them anymore, because of a lack of time, with my schedule being very heavy at the moment. So I just resigned from my position last year.”
During her time with the SCA, Ms. Marchand worked closely with a group of Strata Managers as part of the Strata Management Chapter, which is now known as the Professionals Chapter.
At the time, the chapter was responsible for liaising with the government in order to see better industry laws passed and implemented. Within the next year or two, the new laws Ms. Marchand had a hand in writing should be coming into effect.
“We were very much at the forefront of discussions,” Ms. Marchand says, “and our group was working on better ways to manage and better ways to get our clients to understand what goes on in the industry… it was very interesting, in the sense that you were there at the discussion that would essentially at the end help those laws to be changed.”
Pristine by Nature
After purchasing and renaming the company, Ms. Marchand and her daughters set about redeveloping the business by targeting more boutique, up market properties around the city fringe, including the North Shore and Inner West suburbs.
After engaging in research on the properties already held by Grants, the new owners found that there was a large demographic divide between many of them. Consequently, it was established that some of the properties in certain areas were not the right fit for the high standards associated with the name Pristine Management.
The company began to move away from certain types of properties, intending to give the same quality of service to every building on the books. After engaging in a strategy to push the price up in these properties, to raise the level of its management service to be in line with other locations and improve the whole aspect of the building, the company saw several existing clients decide to move on.
“Then gradually, what we did was put our name out there and started to look at buildings very close to the Inner West, or within the Inner West, and decided to target those buildings rather than go into areas that we feel did not have the sort of buildings we wanted.”
On the flip side of that coin, a number of the company’s clients stayed with them as Pristine developed, some having been there since before 1996. For Ms. Marchand, the reason for this retention is simple, as the high level of service given to these buildings has stayed at the same exemplary standard from day one.
“We need to make sure that our philosophy is always on improving the value of [the client’s] property. In doing that we make sure that we have policies and procedures in place; sometimes we double check and triple check things to make sure that they are being done the way we want, and it does take more time.”
“We are happy to say that we are not one of the cheapest Strata Management companies, but if we can provide the service to go along with the dollars we are actually charging our clients, then there is no reason for them not to be satisfied. What they’re paying is what they’re getting.”
Another key element of the business model is the employment of high quality and trusted suppliers to undertake work on Pristine Living’s behalf. Company policy ensures that suppliers understand from the start that nothing less than their best work will be accepted.
“The moment we find that our suppliers are not abiding by what we tell them,” Ms. Marchand says, “then straight away they are spoken to. And if it persists, then we take them off our books… at the end of the day, when we get someone to go and do a job, they are the face of Pristine.”
Another example of this close working relationship is the company’s preference for working with a builder from the very beginning to the very end of a build, ensuring high quality standards are met throughout. Working this way is not always easy, and Ms. Marchand admits that the Strata Manager is almost the last person builders are likely to contact during the lifetime of a project.
“The reason I prefer to work with them at the very beginning is so I understand where they want to bring the building. Whether they intend to keep some of the lots for themselves, whether they intend to sell everything, whether they are interested to retain a portion with a view of optimizing their income on that particular property. There are things that we discuss with them; we discuss also the bylaws that they want to have in place, so that makes our job easier in the long run.”
In addition to this, arrangements will be made for the division of responsibility between owners and Management Company, especially in terms of the cost and payment of maintenance and safety issues. “If we can capture these things at the very beginning,” Ms. Marchand adds, “then when the plan gets registered, it goes in with all these bits and pieces attached to it.”
When, in 2010, the SCA introduced its first industry award, Pristine Living, despite having only 5 years of experience since buying the company, decided to put its name forward for the prize. Ms. Marchand admits it was a good exercise for the company, giving them a valuable opportunity to look within the organisation and assess its achievements since she took over in 2005.
“We could see that we actually gave away some management, but we also sustained the income because of the way we were pricing and were putting ourselves in the market. So that was one positive thing. We were able to ensure that all our staff were paid properly, and at the same time we were very much targeting education for our staff as well.”
The following year, Ms. Marchand’s daughters both went for the Strata Manager of the Year awards, with Guylaine Senat gaining a nomination to the Young Strata Manager of the Year and Sandrine Markov coming as runner up for Strata Manager of the Year. The company itself won at the Schindler Strata Industry Awards for Excellence in 2010, in the category Small Business of the Year.
Improvement in Education
Like many Strata Managers at the moment, Ms. Marchand is concerned by the fact that ordinary members of the public do not tend to have a good understanding of the Strata industry, and a lack of communication between owners and managers does not help the cause.
When working with the SCA, Ms. Marchand helped put together an easy-to-use website, encouraging clients to register in order to become aware of what it takes to become a member of the Executive Committee (the body which will serve as the voice of the Owners Corporation in overseeing the running of the Strata Scheme), and to learn about the implementing of Strata laws.
“This, for us, has been something very good in respect of our Executive Committee members getting education that they need. I still feel that, at the end of the day, those who are on the Executive Committee, they do understand, or they are getting there. However, there are those who do not, and who will never be interested to get onto the Executive Committee, except if they’ve got their own agenda. They will never learn.”
The education Strata owners receive is not enough to keep them well informed. Often, for new owners moving into a block of apartments, the only thing they will know from the first day is basic facts about the facilities.
Despite paying a huge amount of money for a property, the salesperson or property manager is often interested only in getting them to sign on the dotted line, and will provide no relevant information about what they can or cannot do. This results in people buying properties for up to $2 million, and often not realising they are actually only purchasing the air space.
In cases such as these, a company like Pristine Living is on hand to help the new owners. “You can start imagining how many jaws drop when we tell that to these people… the education should start with a package that can be given by the solicitor doing the conveyancing at the very least, explaining the pitfalls. However, no-one is prepared to do this, and I can’t see that anybody will.”
Ms. Marchand believes further issues are affecting the Strata industry at present, including the lack of parking in urban areas. “The parking has always been an issue,” she says, “and will always continue to be an issue.”
In response to the parking shortage, people are now offering spaces in and around the CBD for rent, but Ms. Marchand is certain this will create more problems for the people residing in those buildings. And the problems do not stop there.
Another huge stumbling block is the level of training for new Strata Managers, which Ms. Marchand believes is often woefully inadequate, with some new managers only receiving a fortnight’s training to gain a $50k earning. “How do you give a property that is worth millions of dollars to someone that has only got a background of two weeks in the industry… they don’t have the knowledge.”
This has a knock-on effect for small businesses like Pristine Living, which struggles to find staff due to high wage demands, a response to unrealistic contract offers from larger competitors.
“Even if I do pay the dollars they’re asking,” Ms. Marchand says, “after three months you start seeing the cracks, and then the turnover of staff is terrible… these people are there with a certification, and even sometimes have a three year license, and some of them don’t know much about [the business].”
Despite these issues, Pristine Living Management continues to offer the highest quality management service, valuing its integrity and reputation for professionalism in dealing with all facets of Strata Management. With new laws being developed, the team at Pristine is very optimistic about the future of the Strata industry in Sydney.
Find out more about Pristine Living Management by visiting www.pristineliving.com.au
To read and download the full Pristine Living Management profile click on the cover image below. To read this editorial as it appeared in The Australian Business Executive magazine click here.
Editorial written by Nicholas Paul Griffin.