Podcast: Will exposure drive away office-bearers?

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Imagine you are the chair or secretary of a strata scheme.  You can cope with fielding a reasonable number of messages via the strata manager or building manager.

It’s a mixed bag, some of the messages are simple and straightforward, some are well-intentioned if occasionally ill-informed, and there’s the odd one that’s abusive and ignorant.

It’s all part of the cut and thrust of strata living and one way or another it lets you know what people in the building are thinking.

Then one day, you start getting angry phone calls on your personal phone and your private email inbox is swamped with abusive emails and spam.

That’s when you might decide enough is enough.  Keeping your hands on the levers of power is not worth the hassle and personal abuse to which you are suddenly subjected.

That’s the nightmare scenario dreaded by some strata professionals, and it’s one they fear will see competent and experienced strata office-bearers give up when NSW’s new strata Hub comes into being at the end of next month.


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From June 30, strata committee office-bearers’ email addresses and phone numbers will be available to all owners and residents, including renters, as well as rental agents. We kick that around on this week’s podcast.

We also look at the challenges real estate agents face when they are trying to sell properties in blocks that have been allowed to go to seed, or apartments where the vendors are determinedly living in the past.

And we pick up on a Forum question about whether or not strata owners are legally obliged to maintain a TV aerial on the roof of their building.

That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast.

TRANSCRIPT IN FULL

Jimmy  00:00

Have you heard of the strata hub?

Sue  00:02

Oh, vaguely, but it was a while ago that I last heard about it.

Jimmy  00:06

Right. So this is the thing that was set up; originally, it was Victor Dominello’s idea to have a central repository for all the information about every strata scheme in New South Wales. It’s all going to happen on June the 30th, so we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about buying and selling and what you see when you go around, looking at apartments. We’re going to talk about TV aerials, and strata lawyers (a lot, actually). Another day when we thought we had nothing and now, we discover that we’ve got too much. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

Sue  00:46

And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.

Jimmy  00:49

And this is the Flat Chat Wrap. So, the strata hub; a new regulation. Interesting, reading it. For a start, it’s confusing (of course), because it’s Australian law, so it has to be confusing. This is information that strata schemes have to give to the secretary, with a capital S. Who would you assume the Secretary was?

Sue  01:28

The person who was nominated to be the secretary, by the rest of the strata committee.

Jimmy  01:33

No, it’s not them. It’s the Secretary in the Department of Services. Not Community Services; Services New South Wales. So, they’ve got a capital S for this Secretary, but of course, you’re reading it and you’re going, so if you’re giving this to the Secretary, who’s the Secretary? It’s a different Secretary.

Sue  02:01

Because my second guess, when you asked me that question, would have been the strata managing agent. It would never have occurred to me; the Department Secretary.

Jimmy  02:09

No, there you go. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up, or caused more confusion. This is what your strata secretary has to provide to the government secretary; the strata plan number, the date of registration of the strata plan, whether or not it’s part of a community scheme, whether or not it’s part of a precinct scheme. The address, the total number of lots, the number of lots in the strata scheme used for residential, retirement village, commercial, utility lots and other purposes.

Sue  02:46

Wow! I can see that being put onto the bottom of the pile, of a lot of busy people’s to-do lists.

Jimmy  02:51

And whether it has a neighbor’s rating, your NABERS… If an interim or final occupation certificate has been issued, if an annual fire safety statement has been issued within the meaning of the Building Code of Australia, the number of storeys above ground level in the building…

Sue  03:05

Wouldn’t all these questions be much better answered by the strata manager?

Jimmy  03:16

We’ll get to that. This is where it gets interesting…

Sue  03:19

Oh, thank god!

Jimmy  03:20

The details of the secretary of the owners corporation; their name, telephone number and email address. The chairperson; same. Name, telephone number and email address. Strata manager; name, telephone number, email address and their licence number. Building manager; full name, telephone number, email address, and an emergency contact; somebody who’s agreed to be the contact in an emergency. I suppose that’s for schemes that don’t have strata managers or building managers. There may be somebody nearby. I’d imagine small schemes could kind of say well, look, we will be your contact, if you’ll be ours. Once this is all gathered together in the hub,  the people who are able to access this information include fire and rescue, the local council, the secretary of the owners corporation, the members of the committee of the owners corporation, and anybody on the strata roll.

Sue  04:24

For their own building.

Jimmy  04:29

We’ve known in the past, committees where the chair and the secretary didn’t want their information to be available to other owners, especially  their phone number and email address.

Sue  04:43

Because they were always afraid that they might be pestered by people.

Jimmy  04:45

Yes.

Sue  04:46

And you kind of think, why are you taking that position, if you just don’t want to be ever contacted by any member of your constituency?

Jimmy  04:53

That’s what we think, but other people think, well, I’m prepared to give up my time and do the work. I don’t want to be harassed by people. I mean, I think it’s an unreasonable point of view. I agree with you; if you’re putting yourself up to take control in a building, then you should be responsible… You should be accountable. The strata manager who sent us this; he’s concerned. He said it’s hard enough to get good people onto committees in the first place and he reckons that having this information out there will just deter a lot of people from even putting themselves up.

Sue  05:35

That’s a good point, isn’t it, really? If people are a bit shy, they don’t want their name and their phone; well, they don’t want their phone number and their email address… If they can suddenly be contacted by anybody in the building, that might be a real deterrent.

Jimmy  05:50

There is the whole privacy thing about email addresses; whether or not they should be on the strata roll and this is all going to be submitted,  probably by the strata manager, if there is one. This guy is saying that some strata managers have a thousand schemes. It just seems that it’s not very well thought through.

Sue  06:11

What would be a better way of doing it then?

Jimmy  06:12

If people are concerned about their personal information being available to the owners in the building…

Sue  06:21

They should have an option of giving their names and all their details and stuff, but they also should have an option of saying “we don’t want this known by all members of the scheme.”

Jimmy  06:31

Well, that kind of undermines the whole point of the thing, in a way. What I think they should have, is the ability to create a separate email hub for that building and a separate phone number, that can take recorded messages and pass on messages, so that even as the chair and the secretary change at an AGM, the constant number and the constant email address is there.

Sue  07:01

That’s a good idea!

Jimmy  07:02

But you know, a lot of strata schemes; the chairs and secretaries wouldn’t even know how to set up that kind of… I mean, it’s quite easy to do, actually, but they wouldn’t know how to begin. I think that’s where the government has really fallen down on this;  saying, ‘we’re demanding that you do this,’ without really offering much assistance.

Sue  07:23

Because they could actually offer an inducement to strata managers, to do it for their buildings. That’s a really good idea. I mean, I can understand why they want all this information and it’s great to be gathering this information, because suddenly, we’ll be able to know how many buildings are falling down in New South Wales… How many buildings are well run. How many buildings look as if they’re going to need a big injection of cash in the next few years, to renew their fabric or renew their lifts, that kind of thing. So it’s good to have that all on the database. I guess the big step is just getting it there in the first place.

Jimmy  07:55

I think getting the information is a good thing. Handling the information is another issue, especially for people who are not… Among the people who can access the information once it’s in the hub; there’s all the people connected, like the secretary of the owners corporation. There’s people who are on the strata roll, members of the committee, and the building manager. There’s also the strata manager (obviously), but then things like Fire and Rescue. One of the things I think strata managers are worried about, is that other strata managers will be able to access this information, either legitimately or otherwise, and use it to poach clients.

Sue  08:46

Well, the thing is, they’d only be able to poach clients if those clients are unhappy with their current strata managers. Otherwise, it would be too much hassle to move strata managers; it’s like moving bank accounts, isn’t it really?

Jimmy  08:58

But there are all sorts of reasons why people are unhappy with their strata managers. One of the most common reasons is that owners in the building are unhappy about the amount they have to pay the strata manager in levies, not realising that most of the money gets passed on to pay bills and things. They just want somebody cheaper. So you could get a good and well-established strata manager, being poached by somebody who comes in and offers to undercut their fees. If you’ve got somebody in the building who has access to the address and phone number of the chair and secretary, then they can pass that on to their preferred strata manager.

Sue  08:58

But there’s always going to be a downside of new projects like this and I guess really, the downside is going to have to be outweighed by the good that it will do.

Jimmy  09:51

Yes, I mean, I think Victor Dominello is a pretty smart guy, and he is also a bit of a data geek. He wants to know; at some point, this will include how many lifts there are in the building, whether or not there’s a swimming pool, how many parking spaces there are, so that  they’re able to plan for the future, and say to councils “we realise that you’ve got all these buildings, with all these parking spaces in them. If you build another one like this, then it’s going to increase the amount of traffic in a certain area;” that kind of thing. Information is good, but I think the way they’ve gone about it; it’s probably going to be patchy. I mean, there are fines for not doing it; for not providing the information.

Sue  10:40

But that document sounds like it will take a good couple of hours to fill out.

Jimmy  10:47

I mean, will they just leave it to the strata manager to do it? That’s the other thing. Look, it’s a start, but I think there’s going to be a few rumblings before we get there. When we come back, we are going to talk about buying and selling and house-hunting, flat-hunting, and the things you see and the things you don’t see and the things you don’t want to see. That’s after this.

Sue  11:16

It’s really interesting, I’ve got a few friends at the moment, who are looking for apartments to buy and their experience is so different, wherever they go. I feel quite sorry for them, really, because it sounds exhausting. One person is a first home buyer, and she’s looking for something and every auction she goes to, the apartment goes for $200,000- $300,000 more than the actual price guide. She’s really losing heart, even though prices are meant to be softening now. You kind of think that those first-time buyers will have a better deal and a bigger chance of getting into the market. Another friend has been a renter; something like 34 years in the same apartment, and he loves that apartment. He’s never really had anything to do with the owner; he’s always dealt through the agent and the agent I think, is a bit lacks on… Well, he feels the agent is a bit lacks on following up on anything he wants. He said his oven is now so old, it barely works and he keeps asking for a new one. The agency says the owner isn’t interested in doing anything to the apartment. Our friend has come into his inheritance and he would love to buy that apartment and the apartment was last bought by the owner, 34 years ago, hence the age of the oven. He’s never been able to contact the owner and he says often to the real estate agent “could you contact the owner and say ‘look, I’d really love to buy this property,'” and the agent says “no, I don’t think he’d be interested,” but he never agrees to actually contact to the owner.

Jimmy  12:49

Well, you know why that is? I mean, we don’t hold rental agents in very high regard here, but if he passes on the information that our friend wants to buy the apartment, he could lose the rental roll.

Sue  13:06

Absolutely.

Jimmy  13:07

What’s probably more likely is, he can’t be bothered.

Sue  13:10

But you had a really good idea. I mean, I looked him up on Price finder; I found the name of the owner, but there was no address there. But you had a really good idea, didn’t you? Yes. You spoke to a real estate agent and said to her “why don’t you contact our friend who wants to buy the apartment, and organise to contact the owner,” because she will have access to the strata roll, where the owner’s name and address will be, and then she could broker a deal, if it’s possible and obviously, just take a little bit in commission. It was a good idea of yours. But it is very hard, I think, when people that are involved in apartments don’t really do their job as well as they possibly could. So this longtime renter has been going around lots of apartment buildings and he’s been around to some of the top buildings in Sydney, and he was saying that in one of them, he was walking around and there were puddles everywhere on the ground; you know, in the common areas. He mentioned this to the agent and the agent said “oh, yes, there’s been lots of rain lately.” Two weeks later, we went back there and there was still the same puddles. There had been no rain; it just really wasn’t being well-maintained and this is a building with an extremely good reputation. But he said it’s really becoming dilapidated, because many of the owners are quite elderly; presumably are on fixed incomes and they don’t want to spend any money on repairing and maintaining the building. It’s really obvious to anyone who comes in and is looking to rent, or to buy for the first time.

Jimmy  13:20

Did I?

Sue  13:31

And of course, these older residents; they don’t care if the price of the value of the property is being damaged by this, because they’re not planning to sell. Well, that’s probably true.

Jimmy  15:03

So they want to keep the levies low, and they don’t care about the value of the property so much.

Sue  15:09

And that is a real problem, isn’t it?

Jimmy  15:11

Well, what it takes is somebody who is an owner in the building, to identify things that should be done, and basically take their own owners corporation to NCAT and get orders. Because, you know, there are certain duties; the owners corporation has to maintain and repair common property and if they choose not to, they’ve got to pass a special resolution, saying ‘we’re not going to do that.’ They can only do that if it doesn’t affect the safety, or the appearance of the building. Now, if they’ve decided that they don’t want to get rid of the puddles, well, somebody could say that’s a safety issue.

Sue  15:55

Yes, that’s true.

Jimmy  15:56

But what it takes is one person in the building to make themselves very unpopular and force the owners corporation’s hand, but it’s a shame with these things.

Sue  16:06

Absolutely, because you think, where’s the strata manager?Tthe strata manager should be saying to the committee “you really should be keeping your building up; you’re losing value all the time.” But maybe, they’re just not listening.

Jimmy  16:18

I know, the strata manager of that building.

Sue  16:20

Oh, do you?

Jimmy  16:20

Yes, he’s an idiot.

Sue  16:25

Don’t hold back there, Jimmy! And at the same time, I know an agent, and she’s trying to sell an apartment in a building that I know really well. She’s despairing, because the owner is quite elderly again, but they do want a good price for their apartment, but they’re absolutely refusing to change anything about the apartment. So I went in there the other day and had a look and it’s kind of got really old people’s furniture. When I’m talking old people, I’m talking… I mean, I have no idea how old the owner is, but it’s the kind of furniture you’d expect in an 80-year-old’s house, or a 90-year-old’s house. This is an apartment, and it’s got big furniture, which is taking up all the space. You kind of look at it and you think “oh, this is a really small apartment,” where it’s not really, but I just don’t have the imagination… If the place is crowded with furniture and ornaments, and glass cabinets full of stuff; you know, vases and little trinkets and things… I don’t have the vision to see what it really could look like. Lots of people I’m sure, are like me, and this agent is dispairing and she’s saying to the owner “please, can we just take out some of this stuff, and style it really well to appeal to people?” I mean, it would appeal to younger buyers, but also, downsizers are huge; they’re coming into apartments in a really big way. But those downsizers; maybe they’re 50, maybe they’re 60 or maybe they’re 70, but they’re really smart people and they’ve got a much sharper idea of style than this very elderly owner.

Jimmy  17:57

They could trick it with some… There’s some pretty neat software around. One of them (I can’t remember the name of, but I’ll put it in the show notes), you load this onto your phone, and then you start taking pictures of a room, or a whole apartment and it tells you ‘okay, move and take a picture in this direction, and then move and take a picture in this direction,’ and then you feed it into the software and it knits it all together. Then you can take out items and replace them with other items. So you could actually completely modernise the apartment, without moving a stick of furniture.

Sue  18:36

They are actually doing that. They’re printing out the pictures and they’re showing them to everybody who comes through; I think that’s what the plan is. But they’re worried that the people who see the ads and see these nice, fantastically styled images…When they actually come to the property, they’re going to be in shock; they’re going to feel really tricked and they’re not going to believe that agent ever again.

Jimmy  18:59

I think you’ve got it make it clear on the pictures; this is an artist’s impression of how the apartment could look.

Sue  19:06

Yes, but then you start thinking oh, maybe they’ve made it bigger than it really is; that kind of stuff.

Jimmy  19:11

That software I was telling you about; once it’s all knitted together, you can go on your computer and walk through. You can actually walk up to a window and see what the view is and go through doors…

Sue  19:25

That’s fantastic.

Jimmy  19:26

Yes, it’s amazing.

Sue  19:27

You know, why are we not using software like that, Jimmy? We bought an ottoman the other day.

Jimmy  19:34

Is that the plural of ottoman; is it ‘ottomen?’

Sue  19:38

We now have two ottomen, neither of which suits our apartment. But I’ve never bought an ottoman before and it hadn’t even occurred to me…. Waited six months for it to be delivered and when it arrived, it is massive, and it just dwarfs our apartment. It’s much bigger than our sofa, even.

Jimmy  19:54

Not quite; it’s higher.

Sue  19:56

It’s higher than our sofa. So we really should have… Firstly, we should have just bloody measured the thing, when we saw it in the shop and then kind of come home…But that kind of software would be wonderful for looking at furniture, wouldn’t it? The second ottoman we went out and bought yesterday (at enormous cost, yet again), doesn’t really suit the apartment either.

Jimmy  20:19

So we’re onto ottoman three.

Sue  20:22

And we’re now facing the trauma of having to try and take the other two back and see if we can get some money back.

Jimmy  20:28

Anybody want to buy an ottoman? It’s a big circular thing; it’s giant… It’s huge!

Sue  20:33

But it’s fantastic!

Jimmy  20:34

It is great. It would suit people with impeccable taste, and  intelligence. When we come back, we’re going to talk about a couple of things that have come up on the forum. And, we’re going to talk about strata lawyers. So an interesting little thing came up on the forum and I’m not sure what the answer is… Somebody’s written and said they live in an old building, where the antenna on the roof, has daisy chain links all the way down the building. It’s a 1970s building.

Sue  21:16

 For TV?

Jimmy  21:16

Yes and over the years, various people have renovated and what often happens is, that during the renovation, they cut the cable, so that the daisy chain is broken and if the people down below, don’t use television, or don’t use that connection, then nobody notices. So now they’ve got this kind of fragmented; if you imagine like a dotted line of cable, that only actually feeds a couple of apartments. They’re wondering if they are legally obliged to keep the TV aerial? I don’t know; I don’t think so, but their strata manager says that he thinks they do.

Sue  22:00

But you’ve had a look.

Jimmy  22:01

I can’t find anything that says you must have a TV aerial. I mean, as we were saying before, you’re supposed to maintain and repair common property, but you can choose not to do that. Yes and a lot of people get their TV via the internet now, don’t they?  Yes. The only thing that we get via free-to-air, the digital service,  is stuff that we want to record. Not because we can’t get that stuff on demand, because just about every TVs’ station has an on-demand service, but when you get them on-demand via the internet, you can’t whizz  through the ads, but if you’ve recorded it onto a recorder, you can. And I have to say, that some of the online services, the streaming services, they just pump the ads in. When we were watching that show (which would otherwise be a really good show), called Something about Pam…

Sue  22:57

With Renee Zellweger.

Jimmy  22:58

Yes and it would be terrific, except after every scene, they put more ads in. Now, obviously, that’s a sign that a lot of people are viewing this thing. I think a lot of people are going to be like us and say “I’m sick of this.” In fact, I discovered you can get it on Apple TV, so if you’re already subscribed to Apple TV, watch it there. It will have fewer ads. I can’t say it won’t have any, but anyway, there is a reason for having free-to-air through digital. I don’t know if there’s a legal obligation for the owners corporation to keep their antenna on the roof. Iaf anybody knows about that, let us know; come onto the forum.

The other thing we want to talk about is a few weeks ago, in my column I wrote about what makes a good strata manager and what makes a good building manager. Somebody from the Australian College of Strata Lawyers has been in touch to say “well, why don’t you do something about what makes a good strata lawyer?” So I will be doing that, but they’ve pointed out that there is no specific accreditation, for strata lawyers in Australia.

Sue  24:21

Right. So they’re the real poor cousins, to the property lawyers?

Jimmy  24:24

Yes, I don’t even know if there’s accreditation for property lawyers. Basically, if you’ve got a law degree, you can say “I’m a strata lawyer, because I know how to Google strata law things,” whereas we know that being an experienced strata lawyer, is quite a specific skill isn’t it?

Sue  24:44

Absolutely.

Jimmy  24:44

Because you’ve got to understand not just the law, but you’ve got to understand how committees work and the dynamics and the politics, at that level. One of the things I asked them was, what do you do; at what point does a strata lawyer say to their client “this is never going to fly… You’re never going to get this through NCAT,” or whatever. The response of the lawyer that I was in touch with was, as soon as it’s clear to them that it’s hopeless, they will say to their client “you’re wasting your money; you’re wasting your time.” What’s that; the lawyer’s favourite phrase?

Sue  25:25

‘It’s a matter of  principle.’

Jimmy  25:26

‘It’s a matter of principle,’ exactly. That’s where they think “yeah, we might redecorate our rooms in six months.”

Sue  25:33

I think that’s her big campaign, for the future. We’ve seen in the past year that strata managers got their accreditation approved. So strata lawyer Amanda Farmer, she’s wanting to see strata lawyers get proper accreditation, isn’t she?  That’s right. Her point is that strata lawyers can sometimes handle for strata, which is worth  $1 trillion in assets in Australia. That’s a lot of money, really.

Jimmy  26:01

I can see complications with that, because you’d have to say “well, I’m an accredited New South Wales strata lawyer.” I mean, I don’t know exactly how they’d get the accreditation. Maybe they have to pass a test, or something. Well, there would be some sort of examine and there would be updates, as they do with strata managers. They have to keep their knowledge and accreditation going, so I imagine that would happen with lawyers, but with lawyers, it would also be a case of going “I’m an expert in New South Wales strata law and Victorian strata law,” but they might not have got up to speed on Queensland or West Australia.

Sue  26:40

Yes, absolutely.

Jimmy  26:42

But I think it’s a good move, because we have come across  strata lawyers, or lawyers who claim they’re strata lawyers, and they are no such thing.

Sue  26:52

And they’ve been giving the wrong advice.

Jimmy  26:54

A lot of cases. Okay, another podcast in the can. Sue, thank you very much for coming along and thank you all for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon.

Sue  27:13

Bye.

Jimmy  27:15

Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flatchat.com.au And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favourite podcatcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week, without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.

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