July 21, 2024

Low cost right to manage, from Urban Owners (which has done nearly 500 of them)

– Tech savvy company manages large, complex, mixed-use sites right down to conversions of two flats
– More than 450 RTMs completed for leaseholders

stevewyliepicThe latest property management company to become accredited to LKP / Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation is Urban Owners, which is an acknowledged expert in gaining leaseholders the right to manage.

It has carried out 450-500 RTMs in total, which LKP believes is more than any other organisation in the country. It is completing 10 RTMs a month, and clients include other property management companies using the service.

This could be a very attractive service for retirement sites seeking right to manage, but need hand-holding on how to do it and are wary of the costs.

Prices start at £30 a unit with a minimum spend of £450 (plus VAT). Though there will be freeholders’ fees as well (see box below). There is no obligation to engage Urban Owners to manage the site after using the RTM service.

This exceptional low price is possible because Urban Owners has become expert in carrying out the due diligence involved in RTM, and is doing so many of them that it has economies of scale.

Only just over two per cent of its RTMs end up in tribunal.

The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation warmly congratulate Urban Owners for this achievement. There is no reason at all why all sites that are eligible do not exercise the right to self-manage that Parliament has given them.

This would be particularly welcome in retirement leasehold, which – at last – has seen a flood of right to manage applications this year.

Urban Owners was set up in 2008 by Steve Wylie (right), after a career as a management consultant with US corporate giant Accenture.

Like so many founders of LKP-accredited property management companies, Steve Wylie became involved in the sector as a leaseholder, winning back £27,000 of inappropriate expenditure from his freeholder in the property tribunal and then enfranchising the site.

“After that, our managing agent told us, ‘We did all this bad stuff because the freeholder told us to. Now you have enfranchised it will all be different’,” Steve recalls. “But it wasn’t. Then we moved agent, and that was not different either.

“So I realised that there was an inherent structural problem in the sector. Management companies have built their business models around serving the third-party freeholder who does not live in the building, and who only makes money by commissions and back-hand payments.

“For us, treating the leaseholder as the client is the key to everything that we do.”

In time, Steve was being asked to sort out neighbouring blocks as well, and so the business began.

Today, Urban Owners has 23 employees, and offices in Smithfields, in the City, and a Northern office in Sheffield, which is also its main processing office. It manages more than 4,000 units, 80 per cent in the South East, 20 per cent nationwide across England and Wales.

urbanownersrtmblurbUrban Owners prides itself on its innovative technology and processes, which allow leaseholders closely to monitor and give input into the management of their site.

“I do not believe that there is any other managing agent out there showing leaseholders every invoice for a service or contractor before it has been paid,” says Steve.

As a result of this degree of technology, Urban Owners happily helps manage even the smallest sites of two units with an “Admin-Assist” service.

This means Urban Owners advises and handles matters concerning regulatory compliance – fire, health and safety, insurance, management of the funds. The other responsibilities, such as employing contractors, are carried out by the leaseholders themselves.

“I believe we are alone in providing a core solution for smaller properties, making sure that the essentials are done, and then assisting the RTM / RMC directors to administer those aspects of their site that they are capable of doing themselves,” Steve says

Urban Owners’ Admin-Assist accounts for 30 per cent of the total number of flats it manages. This is an untapped sector, as many property managers are uninterested in managing small blocks.

The rest of Urban Owners’ portfolio is made up of much larger apartment blocks, where full-on property management is required.

As with all managing agents seeking accreditation to LKP, we interview leaseholder references and question them closely. In the case of Urban Owners, these ranged from a central London conversion of three flats to 300-odd flats with commercial property in Poole.

An 11-unit, Admin-Assist site in Swindon explained how this hands-off property management service worked to the satisfaction of all. The largest Admin-Assist site is 45 units.

Urban Owners right to manage costs

Urban Owners charges £30 a unit with a minimum fee of £450 (plus VAT).

Other charges will be incurred if the dispute goes to tribunal (2 per cent of cases) and there will be the freeholders’ reasonable costs as well. This averages £25-£75 per flat, in Urban Owner’s experience.

On average, leaseholders using Urban owners pay less than £80 each for RTM.

Given that Urban Owners then helps those leaseholders save on average £300 of service charges every year this represents a rate of return on investment of 384 per cent.

In other words: for every £1 invested in RTM, leaseholders are gaining an annual return of £3.84.

Having done right to manage for sites of two units to really large sites with complex issues.

It is presently dealing with solicitors and surveyors of a potential RTM of 165 units built over a motorway. Extensive due diligence is needed here, as it is anticipated the RTM will go to tribunal and possibly on to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.