Tuesday 23 Jul 2024
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This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on July 17, 2023 - July 23, 2023

Many in the real estate fraternity were puzzled when The Edge Malaysia rolled out Malaysia’s Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards in 2017. This is the only award that celebrate the state of a real estate’s heart and soul rather than its bells and whistles. Few fathomed the need for a national benchmark of sustainably built and maintained property.

Fast forward to the present, discerning real estate investors are favouring projects with future-proofed design and construction and which can be maintained sustainably.

This year’s awards have achieved a new milestone. We received entries from government-owned buildings — Menara Majlis Bandaraya Johor Bahru and Wisma Darul Iman in Terengganu. Kudos to the authorities concerned. The act of submitting their property management practices for audit is testament to their strong commitment to excellence and sustainability. Both buildings bagged Special Mention in the Specialised category of the awards. We look forward to seeing more government-owned buildings participating in the awards.

Being involved in The Edge Malaysia Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards since its conception has given me a front-row seat to the Malaysian real estate landscape in a holistic manner. The verdict is clear — excellent property management, the pertinent last mile in the real estate ecosystem, is sorely missing in most buildings.

The property management culture in Malaysia is poor. Somehow, property managers have been relegated to discharging unglamorous chores everyone else takes for granted. It is worrying how poorly managed affordable housing and even high-end strata homes, offices and retail units are.

How well a building is managed is erroneously being measured strictly by the aesthetics of its façade. The hallmark of an excellently managed property, seriously, must be a lot more to its looking like a prized trophy!

Quality property management practice has in place a strong safety and security system, financial sustainability and preemptive maintenance — a reactive response to issues is not good. The team must be equipped to respond immediately and appropriately to all kinds of emergencies. At the same time, the team members must possess soft skills to deal effectively and harmoniously with people-oriented issues expected in community living.

Living conditions are changing. Considering the current erratic climatic conditions, when properties sit on elevated ground, inspections must be made regularly for soil movement and slope stability. Covid-19 has driven home the importance of quality indoor air while global warming demands a rethink of energy use. In conclusion, just ticking the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of property management is pathetic and unacceptable. Good property managers are those who move with the times.

To be fair, how simple or complex (read expensive) it is to manage a building rests significantly on its design, construction and amenities provided.

Responsible developers would care about the long-term interests of their buyers. They would not peddle frivolous and over-the-top designs just to achieve quick sales. They would not hand over a building that would cost an arm and a leg to manage. So, the next time you are out shopping for a property, stop and picture what the project might look like 10 years down the road before jumping in.

Quality property management practice has in place a strong safety and security system, financial sustainability and preemptive maintenance — a reactive response to issues is not good.” — Au

Legislation compliance alone isn’t enough

Compliance with legislation is pertinent but it is still not good enough. All building-sector stakeholders need to understand the spirit of the law. It is only with such insights that spaces designed and built would ultimately be relevant to users.

One of the key findings in this year’s judging is the market’s general lack of understanding of and unpreparedness in the upkeep of integrated strata developments.

Integrated or mixed strata developments are fast gaining popularity, thanks to the convenience offered. Depending on size, these projects typically offer a diverse range of properties such as residential, retail and, sometimes, office units in a cluster.

Whether these components sit on a single land title or multiple titles is central to the building’s design from a successful property management standpoint. For example, maximising net lettable floor area at the expense of providing adequately equipped back-of-house services is not wise.

Back-of-house services are typically housed in tucked-away areas. These are out of bounds to unauthorised visitors. These are definitely on judges’ to-visit list during site inspections.

We have seen fire control and service rooms not wired for quick response or have faulty connections. Some water-cooling pump rooms inspected needed upgrading.

One potential dispute among owners of integrated strata development would be the demarcation of common and limited common areas. Property management issues get more challenging if affordable housing is a component of the mixed-use development.

All said, the role of property managers must be recognised at the start of a project. As a key industry stakeholder, their input from the onset of the project is crucial to its success.

Time is of the essence

Property development and construction is a major contributor to the country’s economy. Globally, the sector is fast evolving, pushed by changing lifestyles post-Covid-19 and green challenges. We must stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive. Playing catch-up equals opportunities lost.

The legal and regulatory framework must be shaped not for the current times but in anticipation of challenges to come.

A review of the Malaysian Strata Management Act (SMA) 2013, which came into force in 2015, is long overdue. If you recall, the initiative to amend SMA was mooted in 2019 followed by the government’s engagement with industry stakeholders. The amendments were targeted for rollout in 2020 but Covid-19 disruptions got in the way. It is not clear when those amendments will materialise. Seeing how rapidly the strata property market is evolving, the amendments are needed urgently. Time is of the essence.

At the same time, the government’s engagement with industry stakeholders must continue. Invaluable lessons can be gleaned from other parts of the world and adapted for local relevance.

About the awards

The Edge Malaysia Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards has been described as a very laborious exercise for both submitting parties and the panel of judges.

Besides meeting to deliberate on several occasions, judges visit all shortlisted entries for a briefing, a question-and-answer session followed by an inspection of the site, in particular, the back-of-house areas.

We also recognise the significance of landscapes that are planned, designed and executed for sustainability. These outstanding green spaces must be purposeful and inclusive. Besides aesthetics, the selection of trees, flowering plants, shrubs, foliage and water features, for example, must take into consideration their biodiversity values and, most importantly, sustainable upkeep.

This year, we have two past winners taking home another Gold. Well done to The Binjai On The Park and Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre! (All Gold winners are eligible to resubmit their entries for consideration after three years. However, all others can send in their submissions for a re-audit any time. All entries are free of charge).

The Binjai On The Park (Gold in the 10 Years and Above — Multiple-owned Strata Residential in 2017) and Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (Gold in the 10 Years and Above — Specialised in 2019) are managed by Henry Butcher Malaysia (Mont Kiara) Sdn Bhd and Convex Malaysia Sdn Bhd respectively.

The fact that these past Gold winners have volunteered themselves for another scrutiny of their property management practices and standards is highly commendable. It speaks volumes of the passion and commitment of the owners and property managers.

The Binjai On The Park and Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre also bagged this year’s Editor’s Choice Awards for Malaysia’s Outstanding Residential Strata Development and Malaysia’s Outstanding Specialised Development respectively.

We also have a surprise and outstanding winner in the town centre of Kluang, Johor. The Kluang Mall debunks any notion that only mega shopping centres located in high-profile locations are worthy of recognition. The mall was awarded Gold in the 10 Years and Above — Non-strata Retail category.

It is through the awards that we hope to raise the bar on Malaysia’s property management culture and practices.

Malaysian Developers’ Hall of Fame

The Edge Malaysia Responsible Developer — Building Sustainable Development Award honours developers who are visionary and committed to sustainability.

Winners are chosen by The Edge Malaysia based on their track record of building in a sustainable manner. This recognition seeks to both inspire and encourage developers to act in a responsible manner towards not only Mother Nature but also to their customers.

All winners are automatically inducted into the Malaysian Developers’ Hall of Fame. Like last year, there is no winner this year. Current members of the Malaysian Developers’ Hall of Fame are S P Setia Bhd, AME Development Bhd, Paramount Property Development Sdn Bhd (2018); ParkCity Group, Sunway Bhd Property Division (2019); Gamuda Land, Tanah Sutera Development Sdn Bhd (2020); Sime Darby Property Bhd, Matrix Concepts Holdings Bhd and EcoWorld Development Group Bhd (2021). After three years, all past winners are eligible for another bid for the award.

Valued support

The awards would not be possible without the support of leaders and key industry stakeholders in Malaysia and Singapore. All the experts are represented in the panel of judges led by The Edge Malaysia. They comprise the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda), Malaysian REIT Managers Association (MRMA), Association of Property and Facility Managers Singapore (APFM), Malaysian Institute of Property and Facility Managers (MIPFM), Building Management Association of Malaysia (BMAM), Architect Centre and Chur Associates.

We are also privileged to have the support of the Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia (ILAM) for The Edge Malaysia-ILAM Sustainable Landscape Awards.

All judges have signed non-disclosure agreements. Those with interest in any of the award submissions have abstained from casting their votes accordingly. The awards is audited by Deloitte Malaysia.

Au Foong Yee ([email protected]) is an editor emeritus of The Edge Malaysia. She conceptualised and is the chief judge of The Edge Malaysia Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards.

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