As with all evolutionary paradigms, those management companies unable to keep pace have disappeared, either going out of business or being swallowed by more advanced concerns. By contrast, those forward-thinking organizations that have made the necessary investments in technology and personnel have survived. And those few that have risen to the top of the class are setting the new standard within the industry, and are being rewarded with the patronage of the most discerning client base.
Making this most successful list is Cooper square Realty, Inc., recently recognized by The Cooperator newspaper as the #1 Mid-Size Residential Management Company in New York. This distinction, and a cadre of other honors both recent and past, are the result of what Cooper square owner/president David Kuperberg, CPM, RAM, says is his company's commitment to providing "the professional advantage" to a portfolio that is defined by many of New York's most distinguished residences.
Founded in 1908 by Kuperberg's grandfather Max and today headquartered in 9,000 square feet at 6 East 43rd Street in Manhattan, Cooper square currently manages more than 75 co-ops, condos and rental properties, many of them among the city's most luxurious and amenity-rich, boasting addresses on Fifth Avenue and Sutton Place, and in such upscale neighborhoods as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hill, Murray Hill, and Battery Park City.
Since assuming the company's stewardship from his father Mike in 1978, David Kuperberg has cultivated the firm and its reputation for upscale, white-glove service through a deliberate plan of measured growth and a tri-fold philosophy of professionalism, innovation and goal-setting.
Kuperberg himself is a model of this philosophy. A Certified Property Manager and Advanced RAM (Registered Apartment Manager), he is also treasurer of the National Board of Governors of the Registered Apartment Managers and Chair of that body's State Licensing of Property Managers Subcommittee. He is also a member of the National Association of Home Builders (for which he recently authored the book, Licensing of Residential Property Managers: A Study of State Licensing Requirements), an active member of the Institute of Real Estate Management and the Real Estate Board of New York's Residential Management Council, and was elected this year to the Board of Directors of the Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York. Kuperberg is an Adjunct Professor at New York University's Real Estate Institute, has been published and quoted in The New York Times and other publications, and has appeared as a multi-family real estate authority on Court TV's nationally-broadcast Legal Cafe. He also has earned for Cooper square the coveted credential of AMO (Accredited Management Organization), making it one of very few management companies nationwide to be so designated, and the only AMO in New York to specialize in luxury residences.
Innovation-wise, Kuperberg has established Cooper square as a technology, information and communication leader. He personally created a proprietary in-house computer program for preparing properties' financial reports which presents not only immediate data, but also trends, changes and comparisons with industry standards, all with accompanying color graphs and charts.
"Asset management is among the most important services full-service professional management can provide," says Kuperberg, and he ought to know, since Cooper square's clients comprise an impressive aggregate asset value of $1.2 billion and annual collections of $55 million. "Because navigating a property's finances is a complicated and sometimes daunting exercise, the quality and presentation property management software of the information is as important as the information itself. To the extent that we can present this vital information in a way that's clear and easy to read, we make the job of the building's board or owner that much easier."
In 1995, Kuperberg began publishing Cooper square's quarterly Professional Management newsletter. Two years ago, he introduced a program of producing staff performance guidelines manuals and residents' handbooks of policies, procedures and guidelines for his portfolio clients. And this January, he announced Cooper square's new RAP (Rapid Applications Processing) Program, which guarantees a 48-hour turnaround of sales and rental applications for all Cooper square-managed co-ops and condos.
Kuperberg also has developed a program with a national insurance carrier to provide coverage to eligible cooperative and condominium homeowners and renters at discounted rates, and a similar program for the properties under his company's management. He has been instrumental in fostering uniquely cooperative relationships between sponsors/investors/converters and the boards of his properties, and, calling upon his other professional credential as a civil engineer, he consistently brings construction industry standards to capital improvement projects in the properties he oversees.
A lieutenant of the volunteer fire property management jobs department in his own home community, Kuperberg also uses this expertise to actively promote fire safety throughout the properties he manages.
When it comes to setting and achieving goals, Kuperberg is unequivocal. "No professional management company," he says, "can manage effectively without first understanding a property's goals. My approach is to start with the larger picture, and then manage down to the details. 'Make a plan' is always Job One."
Take, for example, the Murray Hill co-op which Cooper square literally snatched from the jaws of financial insolvency in 1997, and which earned Cooper square its second Leadership in Management Award from Habitat magazine.
When Cooper square took over the co-op, it was so deeply in debt that it could not pay its bills. But under the company's management, a serious arrears problem was addressed and turned around, recovering $18,000 for the property and enabling it to complete major capital improvements that resulted in significant insurance savings. Cooper square also assisted in mortgage refinancing which lowered the co-op's debt service, introduced income-producing strategies that put the property in the black, settled a long-standing labor dispute, and got the property back on its feet from every operational and financial standpoint.
"We don't wait for boards to tell us what their problems are," says Kuperberg. "We identify the problems ourselves and then come up with viable plans and workable solutions. That's what we're being paid to do."
Although it's clearly Kuperberg's vision and integrity which direct his company, he is the first to admit that his Cooper square colleagues are his most valuable asset. "You hear a lot of talk about what a company can do as a whole," he says. "But the truth is, it's the individual people within any organization that make the defining difference."
Company Vice President Dan Wurtzel, RAM, is a case in point. A licensed real estate salesperson and experienced account executive, Wurtzel has been with Cooper square since 1987, and has won for himself and for the company several industry awards, many for his acumen in financial oversight.
"Dan Wurtzel put our finances back in order," says Ed Siretoni, board president of a Manhattan luxury condominium whose previous managing agent was, to be kind, fiscally irresponsible. "We had no books," says Siretoni. 'Cooper square was able to pull all the strings together. We're now financially stable, we get regular reports, and we know exactly where we stand from month to month. They also do great budgets, right on target."
For this property, Cooper square also resolved a litigious situation involving the sponsor, negotiating until the sponsor was convinced to live up to its obligation to reimburse the condo for a costly structural repair. 'There was a law suit," recalls Simioni, "and Dan was able to ameliorate the situation. He's very professional."
Zahit Akunler, board president of a 164-unit Upper East Side luxury cooperative also managed by Wurtzel, agrees. "We work hand in hand with Dan" says Akunler. 'He listens to what we expect, and brings his expertise and guidance into the picture. You know, you can have a very good company, but if you have a lousy point person, it's not good. Dan, David, and Cooper square fulfill our needs and requirements. They do what they're supposed to do."
One of the things Cooper square has done for Akunler's building was to act as broker in the refinancing of the co-op's $9 million underlying mortgage, reducing the building's debt service by approximately $60,000 a year and its interest rate to 6.75 percent.
"Another important thing to mention," says Akunler, "is the attention that we get. With Cooper square, we don't get a runaround. I cannot say that I wish they were a little more this or that. Cooper square is totally professional."
Managing Director Tal Eyal, RAM, is also a licensed real estate broker whose skills as a negotiator, troubleshooter and problem-solver, combined with a meticulous eye for detail, make him the consummate manager for the residential and commercial units he oversees. Eyal complements Kuperberg's expertise with his own as a construction manager, evidenced by his recommendation to one property that the building add two full stories in order to create additional revenue-generating units. Eyal, who also has been with Cooper square for almost a decade, supervised the structural addition, which did indeed result in its stated objective.
In mid-1997, Cooper square welcomed James Heller as Vice President and Senior Account Executive. A seasoned residential real estate professional recognized as among the city's top managers, Kuperberg says that Heller's joining Cooper square "is like the Yankees getting Ken Griffey Jr., if he were ever to become a free agent."
Like Kuperberg, Heller also grew up in the industry, and today serves as a hands-on property manager and works side-by-side with Kuperberg in the area of new business development.
Among the properties under Heller's supervision is a 300-unit condominium overlooking Central Park which, prior to Heller's management, had significant unit owners' arrears. "Our previous managing agents weren't doing their jobs," recalls immediate past board president Lou du Charme. "We chose Cooper square after making a few phone calls and getting nothing but great reviews."
Since Cooper square assumed management, 98 percent of the arrears have been collected. In addition, a capital reserve study has been undertaken, the building's water filtration and intercom systems have been replaced, and an informational newsletter has been inaugurated to keep unit owners apprised of what's going on.
"We've had two major changes in management in the 10 years we've been a condo," says du Charme, "and it's like day and night with Cooper square. Of course, the board is much more educated now and they continually put pressure on management. But then again, we put pressure on the other people too, and it didn't do any good. Cooper square is great."
Rounding out the Cooper square executive echelon is Chief Financial Officer/Comptroller Thomas Smith, a Certified Public Accountant and expert Management Information Systems manager. Smith's extensive experience in the residential management field enables him to keep both the company's internal finances and the finances of its portfolio on track, while simultaneously maintaining the firm's premier position in technology. "None of the work we do for our clients would be possible without Tom Smith," says Kuperberg.
In addition to attracting and retaining some of the industry's top performers, Kuperberg is dedicated to the professional development of his property managers and support staff. A longtime advocate of industry standards, Kuperberg requires that all Cooper square Account Executives become certified, reasoning that certification demonstrates a higher level of professional commitment. In turn, Kuperberg treats his property managers as the professionals he encourages them to be, providing each with a private office ("No cubicles," says Kuperberg. "They're just not professional"), and providing to each a specifically-assigned assistant and the support of the company's full administrative and clerical support staff.
Additionally, Cooper square also commits to paying 100 percent of every employee's continuing education tuition in the fields of business and real estate; offers in-house training with measurable upward mobility; and is currently instituting an apprenticeship program to groom the next generation of professional property managers.
"Every management company wants their clients to feel that their properties are well-managed, financially, structurally, and mechanically sound, clean and well-maintained, with a staff performing well," says Kuperberg. "I would say that those criteria are the bare minimum for any management organization. But I would also say that today's residential property management is a far cry from traditional management, and that it's not enough anymore to just give added value. That's cliche. Anyone who has mastered the basics can do it, and it certainly won't satisfy our clients, who are among the city's most demanding. At Cooper square, we believe that once you've mastered the basics and gone beyond them, you can rise again to the next level. That's the level where you view yourself as a partner with each property in asset management; where you have the opportunity to go the extra mile, to provide extraordinary services, and to review what your clients' current and future needs are and develop programs to meet those needs. These are the characteristics of a truly full-service management organization. When you understand what that means and how to deliver that level of service, then you're talking about truly professional management."
If Kuperberg has his way, the residential property management industry eventually will be governed by internal standards that will require a higher level of professionalism from every company and every professional manager throughout the country. But until that day, he is satisfied to know that his own organization operates in such a way as to enable his managers to address their routine responsibilities effortlessly, so that they can turn their attention to the more demanding challenges of total property management. As far as David Kuperberg and his company's selective clients are concerned, that's what Cooper square's professional advantage is all about.