'The biggest challenge is the rising cost of maintenance'

'The biggest challenge is the rising cost of maintenance'

In a chat with Bindu Gopal Rao, Sangeeta Banerjee, co-founder and CEO, Apartment ADDA, explains how apartments can be managed to turn them into more meaningful neighbourhood spaces.

ApartmentADDA is an online software for managing apartment complexes. Their recently launched solution Buzzar is a marketplace for home service providers that offers ease of access when it comes to availing any essential household services, background verification services etc. The firm’s CEO, Sangeeta Banerjee, talks about the use of new methods for
effectively managing apartment systems.

With the focus on smart cities, how do you see the market changing?

I look at an apartment or villa complex as a microcosm of India — facing the same issues with water, security, waste management etc. as faced by a city or country on a larger scale. Today, many smart communities are coming up, where neighbours are getting together to find innovative solutions to issues plaguing them. These are small-scale implementations, which can be extended to a larger scale to develop smart cities. Many forward-thinking societies have made pioneering work in the water management space from water metering, rainwater harvesting, waste water recycling and reuse.

Initiatives run by apartment complexes in Bengaluru have later gone on to become City-wide laws. Many apartment complexes are implementing innovative ways of tackling the waste problem. Quite a few societies undertake tree plantation together; there are also many examples where neighbourhoods have formed public private partnerships (PPP) to plant trees, repair roads, develop parks etc. Many apartment complexes are doing specific welfare initiatives for domestic staff.

What is the present state of housing management in Bengaluru?

Bengaluru is one of the frontrunners in taking neighbourhood-related initiatives. It typically has a higher population of tech-savvy residents in housing societies. Therefore, they can very easily adopt and use online cloud-based housing management solutions.

Is the market ready to outsource housing management?

As far as ApartmentADDA is concerned, a lot of housing management processes are automated. So there is no need to outsource. Apartments can function successfully with minimum involvement of management committee members and a manager. However, some bigger apartments with 1000+ apartments outsource housing management to facility management companies.

There are several portals that offer housing management services. Where do you see these headed in the future?

Most apartment and villa complexes that started their association using best practice processes are now reputed and highly valued for best maintained facilities. For instance, in the enterprise resource planning space, though there are several players who provide solutions, organisations looking for a robust solution opt for SAP. Similarly, in the housing management space, apartment complexes looking for a robust, foolproof housing management solution typically opt for management services.

What are the kind of reforms you wish to see in the realty sector?

Most reforms today focus on making real estate investments more transparent and regulated. The Real Estate Bill when implemented will be a great step toward this. The same approach needs to be taken for lifetime ownership of the property as well as for redevelopment. Issues that plague apartment communities — being treated as bulk generators (same as factories) when it comes to waste management; cess and service tax being applied even on the amount collected from residents to pay common area electricity bill — are approaches that unreasonably increase total cost of ownership of an apartment and discourage apartment buyers. The Real Estate Bill must also cater to the conveyance of land to the association, which remains a grey area across the country.

The learnings you have had that others could benefit from...

Learnings have been several. From apartment management by-laws to best
accounting practices and the best way to calculate late payment interest on maintenance bills. We have also learnt much from conducting workshops for management committee members, where city administration, SMEs and also our experts share their experiences and best practices with our users.

The many challenges in housing management...

With ever increasing sophistication in amenities provided by the builder to make a property attractive, the biggest challenge is the rising cost of maintenance. To top that, many of these amenities like party hall and sports facilities are underutilised by residents and do not fetch the additional income to augment maintenance collection.

What are the new-age technologies that will change how buildings are managed?

* Usage of robust mobile apps for inclusive decision making, instead of mandating all owners to be physically present at meetings, will help.

* An online payment gateway combined with fully automated maintenance billing process eliminates manual assistance and errors. This is being done for high-value items like maintenance, sinking fund, water bill, electricity bill, piped gas bill, facility booking charges as well as for event dinner coupons.

* Usage of a robust Android app for visitor management will not only eliminate the need for bulky hardware and cameras at security gate, but also help residents participate in making the security engine more robust.

* Usage of Radio frequency identification (RFID) car stickers for automatic boom barriers will eliminate major challenges that modern apartments face with respect to parking.

* Green technologies such as in-house waste recycling and solar lamps in common areas are fast becoming popular even in traditional housing societies.

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