Ask the expert regarding casting doubt on service charges

Ask the expert regarding casting doubt on service chargesMohanad Alwadiya

- I have some concerns regarding my apartment's service charges. Is the owners' association (OA) obliged to provide me with information I require?

I am assuming you have a fully operational and registered interim OA board that is currently representing you and all the other apartment owners in your building. Attending the OA meetings and requesting service charges details would be a logical place to start. Your OA comprises and represents all the owners of your apartment building and is registered as an official entity with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera).

Remember, the purpose of the association is to manage, operate and maintain the common areas such as hallways, lifts, stairwells, recreational areas, building systems and other shared elements of the building in question on behalf of all the other property owners within the building.

They do this by appointing contractors with the expertise to carry out the required tasks and set a service charge that all owners must pay to cover the cost of the contractor services.

The association elects a board, whose role is to act on motions carried by the OA, in addition to managing contractors, budgets and capital provisions, enforcing rules and organising items such as insurance.

The association is a not-for-profit business entity in its own right, with the power to open a bank account, sue or be sued, purchase, own and dispose of assets and enter legally binding agreements. You can request and view the financial statements of the association to ensure the service charges you are paying are justified and correct.

I encourage you to get involved in your association and even consider holding a position on the board.

- I am facing troubles dealing with my mortgage provider. What should I do and who should I approach?

A lot will depend on the terms of your mortgage contract. You will need to know if you can exit the agreement before its expiration and determine the penalties if you decide to exit. In some cases, a hefty fee is required to exit the existing contract.

If there are no problems in exiting your current agreement, then the answer is yes, but only if it makes financial sense. You don't want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. There are some very attractive mortgage products with rates as low as 3.49 per cent.

Also consider how long you will be guaranteed this rate. A 3.99 per cent interest can be replaced with a significantly higher rate after a few years.

You may also have to pay establishment fees for your new mortgage contract, but with the mortgage market becoming competitive, you should be able to have such fees waived.

- How can I determine if my property consultant is giving me the right advice?

If you have a feeling that your property consultant is not representing your interests, I suggest you set a meeting and request a justification and rationale for the recommendations and advice. You should also do some research yourself to verify the veracity of the claims and assertions.

If you are still nervous about the quality of the advice, find an alternative, as there are plenty of property consultants to choose from.

Look for experience and passion. You want people who really enjoy what they are doing. The best way to find such professionals is to ask around. Seek out friends or peers who have recently conducted a real estate transaction and ask. Seek out the positive stories as well as the negative.

Look for a consultant that exhibits breadth and depth of industry knowledge and expertise. This is important. When conducting initial meetings, make sure you assess how much the agency or its brokers actually know.

Look for longevity. Those that survived the recent recession must be good. Look for a strong network of corporate, government and industry contacts.

The consultant or agency that has good relationships with key industry stakeholders, including major developers or authorities such as the Dubai Land Department, Rera or Dubai Economic Department, will be able to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Finally, look for an agency that has received some form of industry or peer recognition. These are the hardest plaudits to get.

- Is there any information about property management fees in Dubai?

It will vary by provider. It may be anywhere between 3 per cent and 6 per cent of the rent and some will have an administrative fee as well. You need to understand what you can expect from your property manager, as the depth and breadth of the services can vary greatly from one agency to another.

You can negotiate a fee structure based on your actual requirements. We have had many clients who went with the cheapest offers, which had ill-defined scopes of services. Predictably, they had very poor experiences and had all sorts of tenant problems, maintenance deficiencies, missed revenue and generally poor advice with regards to marketing and obtaining the best returns.

A competent property manager will provide an assessment, strategy and activity plan designed to harness the true financial potential of the property. Considerations include history, current market factors and risk factors.

Depending on the size and complexity of your portfolio, as a minimum you should have a rolling five-year activity plan, which covers pricing and marketing, tenant, policy and cost management and maintenance schedules. A competent property manager will also provide you with communications and review schedules, status reporting formats and regular financial reports.

Ask for referrals and make sure you follow up with some existing clients to get an appreciation of the agency's level of efficiency and professionalism. Ask to see examples of client reports so you can have an idea of their completeness, continuity and timeliness.

Remember, it's your investment and you need to ensure it's in good hands, providing you with the returns you expect with as little hassle as possible.

Source: Mohanad Alwadiya, Special to Property Weekly

Mohanad Alwadiya is Managing Director of Harbor Real Estate and advisory board member and instructor at the Dubai Real Estate Institute, the official training and certification arm of the Dubai Land Department.

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