With a history dating back 50 years, ELM Group, which includes the Retirement Leasehold Housing Association and Ethical Leasehold Management Ltd, provides a comprehensive property management service to all sectors of the residential property market.
Having spent a number of years working in the property management industry and being envious of ELM’s pedigree and reputation, Lorraine was delighted to join ELM in 2011. Since joining the company, her strong leadership and progressive business strategy have led to a business-wide improvement in ELM’s working environment and in both employee and customer satisfaction, setting the bar for the level of service in the property management industry.
Entitled, ‘The ELM Way,’ Lorraine’s business strategy brought her much-deserved recognition as a ‘Champion of Change’ at the Women in Business Awards in 2016. In the same year, ‘The ELM Way’ training programme was shortlisted as a finalist in the people management awards organised by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for the Human Resources industry in the UK and worldwide.
We questioned Lorraine about ELM, its history and background, the benefits of ELM’s estate management service, what the service charge covers and the tasks carried out by ELM’s dedicated team of Estate Managers.
ELM has its origins in the Retirement Lease Housing Association, conceived in the late 1960s and formed in 1970/1. At that time, the only developments with managed communal facilities were council-run but RLHA’s founding trustees believed that retirees who were not eligible for such developments would appreciate the benefits of communal living with well-managed facilities.
With the support of Coutts Bank, RLHA was set up as a charity and in 1973 completed work on the UK’s very first leasehold retirement estate – Vicarage Close in Ringmer, which is managed by ELM to this day.
The Vicarage Close residents were freed from the worries and challenges of property maintenance; all communal facilities were maintained by RLHA and the costs were covered by service charges.
Between 1973 and 2007, RLHA grew from strength to strength and, in 2007, created a wholly owned subsidiary called Ethical Leasehold Management Ltd (ELM) largely to manage non-retirement estates. During this time, following the 1991 Housing Act, its status changed from being a charity to having charitable status whilst still remaining a not-for-profit organisation.
In 2014, RLHA rebranded, changing its name to ELM Group to cover both RLHA and ELM Ltd. Today the ELM Group is still a freeholder of many retirement estates as well as a managing agent.
Since the early 1980s, the organisation has been managing developments for other developers as well as for leaseholders, private landlords, Right to Manage Companies and Housing Associations. By the end of 2018, the Group was managing 2,500 properties on 90 estates, 40 owned by RLHA and 50 by other organisations and individuals and this has increased considerably since then.
The agreement between Beechcroft and ELM was signed on 1 May 2009. At that time, Beechcroft was looking for a thoroughly ethical organisation to be a managing partner. The partnership has worked well – and we have always been able to uphold and maintain ELM’s ethical way of operating.
The service charges cover all the communal facilities on a development rather than anything within the private homes. This means that home owners don’t have to worry about buildings insurance, external window cleaning, maintenance of electric gates, security cameras and video entry systems, lighting and heating of the communal areas including those in the communal lounge and guest suite and the upkeep of both the landscaped setting and private gardens. All the running costs associated with the estate are covered - as well as a sum for future maintenance which may include refurbishment, decoration of the communal areas or roofing. ELM carry out maintenance as and when it is required as well as having a programme of planned maintenance
Every estate has a financial year end in April and so, more than three months prior to this, each Estate Manager and Area Manager talk to contractors about increases or changes in services and the associated costs. The Area Manager looks at the larger costs – insurances for example, and then the Estate Manager and Area Manager meet and come up with a budget for the coming year which is shared with Beechcroft. A residents’ meeting is organised and the management team will go through the budget and explain the reasons for any increases or savings. This means that when the service charge payments are due, there are no surprises for home owners. At the annual meeting, residents are able to ask questions, make suggestions and discuss what they would like to see in the future. These meetings are much appreciated by the residents who have an opportunity to see what funds are available and to plan for the future. Everything we do is based on good communication – and the meeting provides peace of mind for those residents who genuinely worry about rising costs.
Creating a safe and positive environment is a priority for all Estate Managers but aside from health and safety, each Estate Manager focuses on providing ‘softer’ services – being a good neighbour and creating the best working environment for contractors and for homeowners. This includes managing contractors who carry out work – ensuring they work quietly and understand which residents don’t want to be disturbed. During the pandemic, it was fantastic to see what the Estate Managers were doing – from bringing in newspapers so residents didn’t have to go out to setting up facebook groups and being the point of contact for the community. Rather than ‘controlling,’ the Estate Managers are on hand in a professional capacity, to provide assistance and help residents create their own community.
The services that we provide to Beechcroft owners remove the stress and worry associated with property maintenance. Many Beechcroft residents have moved from amazing properties that they may not have been able to manage or maintain as well as they would have liked or can see the future costs of this rising. They buy lovely Beechcroft homes, which they are able to furnish and decorate and enjoy life in a beautiful environment where they don’t have to worry about a thing. The setting of each Beechcroft development will look just as good in the future as it does on day one. If something goes wrong, residents know that someone else will deal with it, leaving them to walk away and relax. The estate management service is also extremely useful for those home owners who travel or holiday abroad, whether for a few days or for six months. Having an estate manager call in and check the property, water any plants and ensure that everything is in good order is not only an insurance requirement, it means that home owners have the peace of mind that comes with knowing someone is keeping an eye on things whilst they are away.
We receive some outstanding feedback from Beechcroft owners. Over the last two months alone, residents have commented on the level of communication, on the fact that accounts are clear and easy to understand, on the skills of the gardeners and handymen and on the helpfulness of the Estate Managers. The following comments from Beechcroft residents are just a few samples of the type of feedback, revealing not only the quality of the people we employ but also the opportunities we provide for Beechcroft residents to influence decisions.
‘Andrea has been with us for almost six months now and is a hard-working, enthusiastic estate manager. Her office is always open at 8 am and residents are warmly welcomed at all times. Her many past working experiences reflect her ability to deal with all situations within her remit. She takes her responsibilities willingly and has an excellent working relationship with workmen, the public and residents. Andrea is always cheerful, her countenance is a great boost for us. Since she came to be our manager, our spirits have continually risen. We cannot sing her praises highly enough. She has worked tirelessly and cheerfully since her arrival despite any problems she has had to deal with.”
“Dear Lorraine, I write to say that Louise and the HR team (at ELM Group) have responded brilliantly to our request as a Residents' Association to be involved in the replacement of our Estate Manager. Our views with regard to the Job Description and Person Specification have been fully taken on board. We have also had the opportunity to meet an applicant and forward our observations to our Area Manager Jonathan Parsons.”
“The appointment of our new Estate Manager has been widely welcomed and he is proving to be a real asset. Mike is an excellent Estate Manager, works hard, looks after residents well. Nothing is too much trouble and he is caring and reliable. If I need any help, he always comes promptly and does what is needed.”
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