Condoboss Q&A #7 with Brandon Eberhardt: The Secrets to Stress Free Condo Association Capital Improvements Revealed!
Brandon Eberhardt is the Director of Property Services at Chicago Property Services. He is a Senior Construction Professional with a proven track record of maximizing the talents of a team while maximizing profits for p & l centers and individual projects. Brandon has a high energy level, strong work ethic and a drive to succeed. These qualities motivate and inspire Brandon to obtain the peak performance from him and his team members. He has a passion for property services, construction industry, and developing people within the industry.
Brandon is a safety conscious leader who relies on honesty, integrity and a will to succeed in all aspects of his life. His core competencies are in: Project Management/Operations, Business Development, Cost Control, P/L and Budget Leadership, Risk Management, Contract Administration, and Scheduling and Estimating. Brandon has grown up in the Chicago construction industry, his father was a General Contractor for over 40 years and his Grandfather was the head of the carpenters union. His wife of 17 years and he are passing on their excitement for living life to the fullest to their three children.
Brandon’s contact information is:
E: [email protected]
Condoboss (CB): As the Director of Property Services, what are the top challenges vendors face when working on projects at condo associations? What are the typical challenges that you face when working with condo associations?
Brandon Eberhardt (BE): The top challenges vendors and project managers, like me, face are similar, and in most cases, exactly the same. First is that a condo association is a collection of individual home owners. This is basically having multiple supervisors with multiple sets of expectations. Vendors and Project Managers are always striving towards exceeding the customers’ expectations but in most cases that is a small handful of people who are completely involved in the process and the expectations are known upfront. When dealing with condo associations it is very different as everyone has their own expectations or understanding of what the outcome should be and those are not always the same.
We also deal with the challenge of working around areas that have people coming and going at all times in areas with personal property. It sometimes makes securing an area and keeping everything free from damage very difficult. This is not unlike most construction projects, however, when you are dealing with a condo association you have to communicate to a large group who are not all intimately familiar with the project.
(CB): What are the most typical mistakes that board members and property managers make when undertaking a small, medium, or even large scale projects?
(BE): Understanding the scope of work is the biggest mistake made when undertaking any project. Most board members and property managers are not experts in construction or electrical or painting or plumbing or etc. When the idea of fixing or rehabbing something comes up most people look at what they want the outcome to be and how it will look or function. While this is not a mistake, and in fact is exactly what should be done, they don’t ask the next set of questions.
Let’s take the example of painting the common areas. That sounds simple but if we don’t look at the details and the scope of work we may not get to the desired outcome. Are we talking about painting just the walls? What color? Do we want to paint the trim? What color? Should we paint the ceilings? What color? What about doors, windows, base boards, etc? Do we need to incorporate any other projects to avoid having to re-do work? For example, are the doors and windows in good shape, or do they need to be replaced? Once the decision has been made to do a project, all of those questions and a lot more should be asked and in many cases are not.
(CB): What are the key steps to ensuring a highly successful project for condo associations?
(BE): Completely funding, scheduling and implementing the project are the three basic steps to ensure a successful project for anyone. Understand what the costs are and what some of the unexpected issues that could affect that cost are is huge. It’s never as simple as getting a quote (or quotes) and that’s it. In many cases for any size project there are unexpected but very possible issues that can arise and how those might change the budget. Asking those types of questions to the contractor are very important in understanding the total price of doing any project.
Next is scheduling and that doesn’t just mean how long will it take. This step is the most important step that should be taken once a projected budget has been determined. Many condo associations don’t have tens of thousands of dollars just sitting around. We have to take into account how long it will take to raise the money, when during the year this project can be done, how desperate is the project needed and then how long will it take.
Last but not least is implementing the project. This starts with a proper scope of work, hiring the RIGHT contractor, and determining who will manage the project. Those sound basic but are glanced over far too often. If we don’t manage the right contractor doing the right work, everything beforehand was for nothing. This is where a good project manager comes in very handy. We don’t just show up on job sites once the project is there; we help in getting the expectations to the right contractors to ensure once we do show up everything will go as smooth as possible.
(CB): How much does supervision play into the success of a project? Shouldn’t the vendor supervise their own work?
(BE): Supervision is key to the success of any project. The vendor will supervise the work gets done but someone needs to be on site to make sure it is getting done to the customers’ satisfaction. This goes to the nuances of someone understanding the expectations and asking the right questions up front.
We can use painting again as an example. The vendor will make sure that the area is painted well and the right type of supplies are used, but someone needs to supervise when it will get done, informing the homeowners when it will be done, and how that may affect them. Someone also needs to make sure the right color is being used and the staff working on the project understands what the outcome will be.
(CB): What are the best practices for the bid solicitation process for condo associations? How can board members ensure they are getting fair and transparent bids and bidding services?
(BE): This goes back to scope of work, using the right contractors for the job and getting a good sample of prices. Some contractors are not used to working in or for condo associations and that can cause many problems. There are a ton of skilled contractors out there but some have never had the pleasure of working for a condo association. As described above there are challenges to working with condos that don’t exist in other areas. Selecting a company that has done work for associations similar to yours will make the project go much smoother.
That is not the end of the equation. We have to be able to express our wants to the contractor so that they can use their skills in the right way. Having a good clear scope of work benefits everyone. Picking good contractors will only take you so far. To get fair and comparable bids we need to ask all of the contractors to do the same thing and make sure they know there are other contractors being asked to give pricing.
This leads to getting a good sample size of prices to compare and usually three bids will do that. If a contractor knows that they are competing for this work they tend to sharpen their pencils a little more and really give you the best price possible. Using three also gives us the end result of a low, medium and high bidder.
(CB): Does price matter? Should boards always automatically disqualify the lowest price bidder?
(BE): Price does matter in that we can only afford a certain amount of money. Does this mean we should disqualify anyone from the process…no. The term I like to use is “the most responsible low bidder.” Price does not mean a contractor is good or bad. It only means that is what they can do the job for and still stay in business. Disqualifying a very low bid without asking how that got to that number is very short sighted. If the contractor is someone who has excellent references, understands the scope of work completely and can meet out timeline for completion then most times that is the contractor to go with.
A lot of people assume a low price means low quality and vice versa. Price has nothing to do with quality in and of itself. There are tons of factors that go into quality and what a company is charging you is only one. Now obviously there is a certain responsible number for every project. If the materials alone you are specifying be used cost $10,000 then a bid of $9900 cannot be considered.
(CB): It seems some property managers and association board members bring in engineering companies and add to the overall expense of certain projects when unnecessary. When is it necessary for condo associations to involve architects and engineers? Or is it better to simply involve an engineer to oversee all types of repairs?
(BE): Engineers are very valuable to engage when the time is right. Most engineering companies have great employees who have a ton of engineering knowledge that a general contractor or project manager does not have. This does not mean they should be used on every project. Engineers should be used when changing a structure to the point that its physical soundness comes into play. If you are talking about the replacement of a roof on an average sized building, an engineer is not needed. A responsible roofing contractor is more than capable of knowing what is safe and meets code and what doesn’t.
However, if we are talking about changing the pitch of the roof drastically, adding structures to the top of the roof or using a completely different type a roof, then an engineer should be consulted. Overall, the scope of the work being done will help determine if an engineering firm is needed. Involving an engineer to oversee all types of repairs would be a waste of money and that engineer’s time.
(CB): Since capital improvement projects are the biggest expense for condo associations, what advice do you have for condo association boards to ensure they are getting the most cost effective price and experience?
(BE): I can’t say it enough…scope of work and planning. If you get accurate pricing for the exact same work and plan for the entire experience, it should end up being a very satisfying event. Having work done to improve your association should make you feel good about the job you’re doing as a board member and should make everyone feel better about living there.
(CB): What are the pros and cons of condo association boards running their own projects (i.e. self-managed project), especially if a member of the board has the time and the willingness to do so?
(BE): There are a lot of pros and cons to self-managing a project. The biggest pro is that it will cost less not having to hire someone. This leads to the biggest con which is not having someone who is trained to manage a construction project. There is a lot to managing a construction project at any level and even more when you are talking about condo associations. The management of a project is not just being on site to watch what is going on. The project management starts before the contractor is hired and doesn’t end until after the contractor has been paid.
This can be very time consuming which is a con for the person tasked with doing it but is also very gratifying when the project is completed and meets everyone’s expectations. Meeting everyone’s expectations is, as we have talked about, the hardest part. Making sure everyone knows what, when, how, why and by who the project will be done takes patience, time and skill. I would recommend not taking on more than you are able to and hiring someone to help with what you are not.
(CB): What are the benefits of having a project professionally handled by an experienced project manager like you?
(BE): A project that is completed on-time, on budget and meets the groups’ goal is the biggest benefit. Project managers are trained to deal with contractor issues such as pricing, scheduling and cost over run issues. We also have experience with dealing with diverse groups of clients and exceeding their expectations. It may cost a little more to hire a project manager but the outcome is well worth it.
About the Authors:
Salvatore J. Sciacca aka “Condoboss” is one of the nation’s leading experts in the community property management industry. He is also the President and Founder of Chicago Property Services, Chicago’s #1 community property management company specializing in management and operations of condos/townhomes/HOA’s of 100 units and under.
Salvatore is also the founder of managemycommunity.com (MMC), which is a state-of-the-art online support portal for community associations. With over 20 years of industry experience, Salvatore is recognized for his extensive knowledge of capital planning, preventative maintenance, cost-saving measures and community building techniques.
He holds industry stature as a Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA), the designation of Association Management Specialist (AMS) and is fully licensed as a manager (License #: 261.001386) through the State of IL.
Salvatore can be reached at: 312.455.0107 x102 or [email protected]
Brandon Eberhardt is the Director of Property Services at Chicago Property Services. He is a Senior Construction Professional with a proven track record of maximizing the talents of a team while maximizing profits for p & l centers and individual projects. Brandon has a high energy level, strong work ethic and a drive to succeed. These qualities motivate and inspire Brandon to obtain the peak performance from him and his team members. He has a passion for property services, construction industry, and developing people within the industry. Brandon is a safety conscious leader who relies on honesty, integrity and a will to succeed in all aspects of his life. His core competencies are in: Project Management/Operations, Business Development, Cost Control, P/L and Budget Leadership, Risk Management, Contract Administration, and Scheduling and Estimating.
Brandon has grown up in the Chicago construction industry, his father was a General Contractor for over 40 years and his Grandfather was the head of the carpenters union. His wife of 17 years and he are passing on their excitement for living life to the fullest to their three children.
Brandon’s contact information is: