Tips on Dealing with Snow and Other Seasonal Woes
Whether you consult the meteorologists at Live Weather Blog and The Climate Prediction Center or rely on the oracles at The Farmers’ Almanac, the winter of 2015 does not look like a pretty picture (unless you’re a fan of those old Currier & Ives prints of snow-covered New England villages). Though the outlooks from the professional weather watchers vary in terms of just how tough things will get, they all agree on one thing: snow is in the future for many areas of the US, including the Northeast, home to most of Levin’s managed properties. Many of us have already gotten a preview of what could lie ahead and we’re concerned about just how much havoc upcoming winter storms will wreak on real estate property management budgets.
Managing Snow Removal – The “Wild Card” in Retail Real Estate
Our own EVP Bob Carson said it best in a recent article in Commercial Property Executive that projects property management costs for 2015. After offering a number of insights on cost centers and controls, he concluded, “The real wild card in the retail business tends to be snow removal.” And then he predicted that for this essential service “overall costs will increase over last year, but the rates will stay the same.” Good news and bad news. (Reader Alert: Check out “Price Tag Preview” in Commercial Property Executive for a roundup of industry viewpoints, including more from Bob Carson at www.cpexecutive.com/property-types/office/office-costs-at-a-glance-2/1004105832.html)
After more than 60 winters of real estate property management in the Northeast, Levin has learned a few things about snow management. And we’re ready for 2015. As a leader among retail real estate companies, we know the importance of keeping the properties we manage accessible to shoppers and our walkways safe (note: insurance coverage for slips and falls are on the rise). Here are a few of our proven strategies for managing the challenges of the cold season.
A Winter Weather Model for Predicting Costs
Be your own local forecaster. Our property maintenance and management team tracks local snowfall over five-year periods and uses those statistics to create a predictive model for the upcoming winter’s accumulations – and for our budgeting. It’s not exactly meteorology, but we’ve found it a useful (and surprisingly accurate) planning tool.
Even Though It’s Winter, Don’t “Bundle Up”
Typically, decision makers in real estate property management bundle services such as landscaping, sweeping and snow removal into a single contract. It’s one-stop shopping, and generally it saves money. What’s not to like? Plenty. Our experience has shown that few if any suppliers excel at delivering all three of those key services. It’s worth spending a bit more, we’ve found, to get peak performance in each category. Levin’s ultimate goal is to balance cost savings and quality, and bundling tends to compromise quality in favor of cost, which, in our view, is a bad bargain. Our properties weathered last winter beautifully because we had individual contractors working in their areas of expertise.
Having multiple contractors delivers another advantage: the critical eye on the ground. The different vendors servicing our properties keep a competitive watch on another’s work and let us know if something is not up to our standards, often spotting potential problems before we do.
One last thing about contracts: get them finalized at least six months before you’ll need the service. For example, we renew or award our landscaping contracts in January and begin planning spring then. The same time frame applies to winter services. Lead time allows you to make your selection with a minimum of pressure and sometimes with less competition for top-quality vendors.
Remember: It’s Not Just About Snow
Sure the white stuff has to be plowed and disposed of, but keep an eye on the condition of the entire property in the winter months. Your maintenance squad needs to keep roof drains and water outlets cleared to avoid ice floes. Sprinklered vacant spaces need sufficient heat to avoid frozen pipes and flooding. Our property maintenance and management team and our contracted suppliers monitor these throughout the winter season, especially after big storms or during periods of intense cold.
Winter 2015 may deal more than one wild card your way. Planning and preparation are the best ways to come out with a winning hand.
About Robert Oliver
Bob Oliver ensures that the operation of each property entrusted to Levin meets the highest standards and remains within its operational budget. He directs the day-to-day activities of property managers at Levin’s 95 shopping centers (totaling more than 13 million square feet). He oversees the team’s training and professional development, aimed at providing superior procedures, direction and support for clients and tenants. Bob joined Levin in 2002 as a Property Manager and was elevated to his current position in 2013. With more than 27 years of industry experience, he previously oversaw property maintenance at South Street Seaport and Manhattan Mall.