Highly Charged: Are Londoners getting a fair deal on service charges? Andrew Kafkaris of Bruton Street Management comments

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How to get value for money from your managing agent.

Amongst all the other costs of living in London, flat owners face another expense – service charges. It’s a particularly pertinent issue right now, especially as everyone is feeling the economic pinch.

The Greater London Authority recently published a detailed report into service charges entitled ‘Highly Charged’. The publication gives some indication as to their thoughts about the issue. The subject is an emotive one and, according to the reports’ findings, and service charges are astonishingly high.

  •     In central areas such as Westminster and Kensington, the majority of people live in flats.
  •     Even the most upmarket mansion blocks are often subject to poor quality service, high charges and dismal accountancy standards.
  •     The result is a lot of angry residents who feel disenfranchised, powerless and out of pocket.

According to Andrew Kafkaris, founding Director of Bruton Street Management, it doesn’t have to be like this and residents are quite willing to pay a little more if it means good quality services. “Like everything in life there is the good and the bad,” he comments. “In our experience, leaseholders welcome proposals to improve standards, even if it means a rise in the service charge, as long as they can see the extra money being put to good use and that the expenditure is clearly accounted for,” he adds.

  •     Getting value for money

The most important thing, according to Andrew, is that leaseholders can see that they are getting value for money. “For example, with many people living alone in Central London, security is becoming increasingly important and where, in prior consultation with leaseholders, we have moved to 24/7 porterage, the change has been positively welcomed, as has the introduction of staff uniforms,” he explains.

In order to improve the situation of leaseholders, leaseholders should appoint a managing agent that has good communication and transparency.

  •     Communication and Transparency

According to Andrew, the key is for service providers to talk to leaseholders and ensure transparency at all times, especially if major renovation or work is required to maintain the standards of a building. “When leaseholders can see that the managing agent will deliver major works projects diligently, they are only too keen to participate,” explains Andrew. “It is when people are doubtful or where trust is lacking that funding and much needed works are held back, which only serve to depress property values and cause anxiety. By talking to people at an early stage you can eliminate angst and distrust. We abide strictly by the statutory consultation requirements at all times and if in doubt, we ourselves approach the Leasehold Advisory Service for an opinion. We always welcome the clarity and will react if anything needs to be corrected.”

  •     Dedicated websites

Bruton Street Management are advocating a far more transparent approach to building services, and by utilising the power of the Internet they can deliver a better quality service to their residents. “Websites such as http://www.millbankcourt.co.uk really set the benchmark for the future,” says Andrew. “There, leaseholders can see everything from service charge budgets and certificates to minutes of AGMs and up to the minute news that directly concerns them. If you inform people from the very start, the chances are that they will co-operate with you far more readily than if you go down the forced implementation route. It’s an approach that we very much advocate, ensuring that both leaseholders and service management companies work towards a better future,”

He ends, “If there was one change I would make it is to make the Right To Manage process much simpler so that more leaseholders can be in control of their blocks and fire managing agents who do a bad job.”

About Bruton Street Management

Bruton Street Management are a privately owned property services company. The founders manage the business day-to-day and have no external shareholders. The block managers are all chartered surveyors and manage a maximum of 200 units each. This young, forward-thinking company was founded in 2007, and are committed to providing a personal service and an outstanding service tailored to their customers' needs.

Contact details:

(t) Andrew Kafkaris - 0207 495 5858
Website: http://www.brutonstreet.co.uk

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Charles Boileau

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