You need to satisfy yourself in respect of the following;
Standard agreement: Ask for the proposals to use the latest version of the Strata Community Association Strata Agency Agreement.
Comparisons: Convert the Schedule B charges to $per hour (as they are often presented in units of 15min or 30 mins) so as to more easily compare and calculate your expected total costs.
Travel costs: Check to make sure that travel to your building (if that is where any meetings are to be held) is covered or at a specified rate and that that rate is acceptable to you.
Copies of by-laws: Check to make sure that issuing copies of your by-laws is dealt with at a stated rate whether as an Agreed Service, Administration Service or Additional Service.
Free website: Check if this is available for the strata including owners' log in, strata details, comments sections etc
Insurance commission: Many strata managers are paid an insurance commission for the placement of your building insurance. This commission is included in your insurance premium. So in reality ‘you’ are paying this commission to your strata manager.
When comparing different strata management fee structures be extremely careful about how each management company treats insurance commissions. As it is generally quite significant, if one strata manager does not quote the amount in the headline management fee but as a commission, then their fee amount will be lower than one who does not charge a commission. It is best to ask for quotes to exclude any insurance commissions for easy comparison and this must be disclosed in the agency agreement in NSW.
The commission in some strata management contracts is up to 20% of the total premium. For larger buildings this commission can amount to a significant sum. Often the strata manager just rings a broker who organises the quotes and also take a commission. Commissions also cover the managing agent completing insurance claims of a fixed duration stipulated in the agency agreement.
The 2015 Acto now requires strata managing agents to provide no less than 3 quotations from different providers for each type of insurance proposed by the agent to the owners corporationor provide written reasons to the owners corporation if less than 3 quotations are provided.
You do not have to pay a commission to the strata manager for placing your building insurance. However, the strata manager usually takes this commission amount into account in their management charges. This commission is often viewed as a ‘subsidy’ to your strata management fees but in reality it is not a subsidy as you pay it whether it is classified as a commission or as a direct charge for management. So if you ask your strata manager to stop claiming it or to use a different broker to whom you have no obligation to pay a commission (see Strata Management Agreement Schedule C) they may well have an argument that the fee they charge for management should be increased by the amount of the commission they are giving up. However if you select an insurance broker where the agent has no authorised representative arrangement or distributor agreement, then the strata manager cannot deal and arrange your insurance policy. They can only undertake insurance claims which would be charged at the stipulated rate.
One Community Association of 4 stratas and approx 550 lots) appointed an insurance broker themselves to look after their combined insurance portfolio which resulted in substantial cost savings as well as much better quality of cover. They pay the broker a fixed fee, so the broker is completely impartial on their recommended cover, and the premium and add on costs such as fire levy and stamp duty, which are both quite substantial, are calculated on the net premium rather than on a premium inflated with a strata manager’s rebate and brokerage commission.
Gerry Chia, Owners Corporation Network
It is more transparent to have the strata manager’s fee to exclude insurance rebate.
Insurance commission must now be disclosed in the agenda of each annual general meeting.
Total management costs become far more transparent as they are explicitly included in the correct accounting line item i.e. Strata Management Fees, - rather than have a hidden and confusing cross-subsidy. If you can’t or don’t want to get out of paying an insurance commission – at the very least ask for the commission to be explicitly estimated and stated on the front page of the schedule. Also ask for it to be paid on the premium calculated before Fire Services Levy, Stamp Duty and Broker Commission.
Hidden charges: Do not assume that just because you ask for a ‘fixed price’ quote that you are getting one. Even with a fixed price proposal, some proposals may have additional charges on top of the fixed price.
For example, if your strata has over 100 lots and there are admin or allowance charges or $5 - $10 quoted that are applicable on a per lot per month basis - you can see that tens of thousands of dollars can be charged over and above the supposed ‘fixed price’ that makes the headline.
You need to read your schedules and ask explicit questions about anything that is not crystal clear. For example look out for additional charges in both variable and fixed price quotes:
- Storing boxes of records (per box per month)
- Admin fee per lot per month
- Producing reports from the financial system
- External Agent costs
- Insurance commission
- Access Key administration fees
- Risk assessment reviews
- Micreo-encoding cheques or levy notices
- Archiving boxes off-site
- Digital imaging of records
- BAS /Tax preparation
- Strata Committee Meetings and General Meetings
- Insurance claims
- Fixed Disbursement Allowance (per lot per month)
- Printing (per lot per month)
How are records stored? Do you understand and are you happy with the costs of records storage, boxes, files, scanning, computer access and ease of electronic searching?
How often is archiving done? Where are the archives stored? How long will it take to access them if needed?
How often is scanning done? Are the documents destroyed? How are the electronic archives structured and accessed? How do owners get a copy (print-out cost per page, electronic data stick transfer)?
A non-owner building manager whose management company is trying to introduce serviced apartments in a residential building and who is not supported by many owners used his proxies and influence to get a close relative appointed as the building’s new strata manager. No disclosure was made of the relationship at the time and many owners were understandable unimpressed. The new strata manager seem unfortunately far too interested in this strata’s EC decisions and consequently, whether unfairly or not, is now under a cloud of suspicion.
Gerry Chia, Owners Corporation Network
What computer system is used? Can it produce one-off reports (e.g. accrual)? Can it produce the reports you want? Do the accounts show dollars including or excluding GST?
Conflicts of interest: Surprisingly, potential conflicts of interest do happen in the appointment of a strata manager. Like any service provider appointment do not consider them if they have financial or personal relationships with a strata committee member or significant owner or service provider. Of course, there may be established friendships or recommendations from owners in other buildings, which are genuine. But the manager still needs to go through a tender, proposal and evaluation process. Even more scrutiny needs to be applied if there is any personal link. For example, if your strata manager was related by family ties to your building manager – it could create actual or perceived conflicts.
Strata Schemes Management Act 2015
Section 166: Strata Managing Agent to obtain insurance quotations