Kate Boyes has been letting and managing property for 15 years. Kate has a first-class honours degree in Land Management from the University of Reading specializing in Investment & Finance, and trained at Nelson Bakewell (now Capita Symonds), a Property Consultancy, in London. She qualified as a Chartered Surveyor in 2004 and is a Fellow of ARLA. She became a Board member of ARLA in June 2015. Chartered Surveyor and property manager.
Kate channeled her experience into designing Resident which launched in 2014. In the interview below, she explains how complex her business is and describes a way to better efficiency. She also reveals the secret of her success.
It all started at Alexandre Boyes company. Can you tell us more about your family business?
It is a second-generation family firm started in 1998 by my father and uncle. It is still the family name above the door, and I am immensely proud of that.
24 years later an Alexandre Boyes is a multi-disciplined professional firm regulated by RICS with teams in residential sales, residential lettings and estate and block management. All our fee earning staff are members of an industry body e.g., RICS, ARLA, IRPM. I believe in a combination of genuine professional knowledge and values, innovative marketing, and the personal touch.
Your first professional area was letting. What was your most beneficial experience from this period?
First, systems and processes; secondly, energy and perseverance; and thirdly to keep learning and keep evolving.
1. I created checklists for each stage of a let for example, pitching for new business, marketing, qualifying applicants, tenancy start up, renewals, deposit returns. Each time I learnt something, made a mistake, saw something that could be useful I added it to those checklists. I developed templates and processes that all staff members could eventually follow minimising problems and freeing up time for customer services.
2. Word of mouth and a real presence is invaluable, so I networked, I advertised, wrote articles for local magazines and newspapers, introduced a regular informative newsletter and annual company magazine that was sent to our entire database. I did those early morning, late evening appointments, worked on the weekends, provided an out of hours emergency maintenance service and kept doing this all whilst I had a young family of my own.
3. I learnt so much in the early days, from the team, from competitors, from training, listening to industry leaders, from mistakes, from almost any situation I found myself in. If I received any feedback, criticism or knock backs I analysed what had happened so I could improve our services. Legislation has changed so much since the early days, we have had market crashes, pandemics, the industry does not stand still, and if you do not keep listening, learning, and developing, the industry will leave you behind.
When and why did you decide to turn into block management?
I set up the lettings business up in 2003 and by 2007 it was well established. I had already spotted a gap in the local market - no one was providing block management services. Tunbridge Wells has an electric mix of residential properties including many developments, conversions, and refurbished estates in the surrounding areas. Clients had been asking me to expand into block management for a few years, but I resisted. In 2007 the timing felt right. We won three huge clients in the first year and that spurred me to stick with it and grow the business.
Do you think block management is more demanding than lettings?
Absolutely. With lettings an agent typically has one landlord client and one tenant. Unless it is a fully managed let (or rent collect), that relationship is limited to the start and end of a tenancy, with perhaps some renewal input in between. With block management an agent typically has one client, often made up of several directors, and potentially hundreds of leaseholders per client. Each block or estate can generate multiple issues at the same time about a host of different matters.
It can be a real juggling act. It is essential to educate clients and leaseholders on the scope of the role, to have systems in place that streamline processes and are time saving for all parties, and to give access to information either via Resident, or through our newsletters, articles, blogs, and standard documents. Whilst these measures might not lesson initial demand it does help manage expectations, lesson the ongoing demand on property manager’s time, and encourage self-help.
Maybe this multidisciplinary character makes this job so interesting? Or even addictive?
I completely agree that block management is interesting. That interest can come in many guises; challenges, successes, building relationships over years, from the eclectic portfolios managed for example new builds, historic estates, Grade II listed; or from the range of issues faced (no two days are ever the same), major work projects overseen, and the people and experts you meet. There is such potential to keep learning which in itself can be addictive. No two buildings are exactly the same, or two people. I certainly know the satisfaction from taking an issue from start to finish, from getting major works over the starting line and ending with visible tangible results, from getting that call that starts ‘how are you and the family’ ‘thank you so much for everything you have done.’
On your website one can read that Resident was a child of frustration. Did something particular happen or was it a process?
By the time Resident launched in 2014, the block management department was 7 years old. 7 years of analysing where property managers’ time was spent and often wasted, what gaps existed in the systems being used to administer the role, accounts and service charges. I realised that the block management business model was not sustainable without an affordable software solution that provided genuine solutions to problems block managers and bookkeepers face every day. The profit margins in block management are tight and so began the ongoing campaign of creating a series of time saving solutions, streamlining, and simplifying processes to maximise time efficiency and speed up the communications with clients and leaseholders. Resident has evolved so much since 2017. We have listened to users and developed features such as maintenance ticketing, automated pre-sale packs, end of year pack, site inspection reports, the Data Hub and auto invoice allocation. The process is always ongoing.
Can you say more about Open Banking?
When we launched our Open Banking integration a few years ago, with hindsight, we were too early to the market. No one had really heard about it or appreciated its benefits. Now consumers are seeing it much more in their day-to-day life - apply for a loan and instead of sending paper copies of your bank statements, just click here and connect your bank to the loan company for their analysis
I heard there is an interesting story about how you met Fingo, bit like "Downton Abbey". Is this true?
Ha yes, I was watching my son play rugby at a prep school in Sussex, which happens to be Boris Johnson old school. I mentioned to another parent, who also founded an App, that I was struggling to find reliable developers and my concerns over the long-term impact this could have on Resident. He introduced me to a firm he had worked with in Poland who then introduced me to Fingo. It was a life changing, chance conversation whilst watching our sons play sport!
Resident in the very beginning in 2014 (let’s say 1.0) vs Resident today (?. 0). Can you compare these two solutions?
Same ambition. Poles apart in terms of functionality, stability, depth of features, UI, integrations....
You are now running a software development business. Do you still have contact with real-life block management?
I still own my block management business, but I am not involved in the day to day other than at high level behind the scenes stuff, and with the team. It gives me genuine insight into the struggles block managers face every day which enables me to think how Resident can create and implement solutions to those problems.
How many clients use Resident right now?
Around 200 Agents, and nearly 200,000 leaseholders.
In your opinion, how will the block management evolve in the future?
I hope that much like we saw happen to the lettings market in the 2000's and teens we continue to see more independent agents enter the market in response to demand from leaseholders looking for a more personal, local service. Professional qualifications and client money protection must become mandatory to raise standards and increase consumer protection and hopefully encourage PI insurers back to the market making premiums sustainable, and the insurance market will soften.
The imbalance between scope, expectation and fees will come to ahead (it needs to) and a sensible debate can be had on what needs to be done to increase fees to reflect the role, reduce portfolio size and stress, and increase consumer appreciation and satisfaction.
Your career is founded on an impressive education in property area. Did you think of academic career in order to raise new generation of managers?
To be honest I thought my degree would take me to London where I would embark on a career in Commercial Property - I wanted to work in asset management. I ended up working for myself because I was not suited to the corporate culture. I could not have built my own businesses without my professional qualifications, but I do not believe that formal academic education is the only pathway into the industry.