Manor House Traditions
On well-maintained estates or in families with more than one residence, there was an honored tradition of stewards, or estate managers, who would oversee the details of almost everything. Not a butler or landscaper or carpenter or electrician or housekeeper or painter, but more of a CEO; knowledgeable about all of those jobs plus experience in finances and management to ensure owners were not being taken advantage. Part mechanic, part general contractor, part fees and tax negotiator, and 100% loyal, a traditional property manager would save time, money, and stress in service to a noble tradition.
In Great Britain, an estate manager on the great estates was also sometimes referred to as a farm manager. No matter the official title, the estate manager’s first responsibility was, and still is, to ensure all the needs of the owners are considered and completed.
The objective is to fashion a stress-free situation where owners do not have to worry about competence, pricing, mistakes, day-to-day operations, or security of the properties. As one estate manager put it in an article from Estate & Manor Magazine,
As ‘CEO’ of the household, you have a lot on your plate ensuring all runs smoothly. As a result the House Manager resides at the top of the chain of command, just after the owners. Being this person I set all standards of service and I am trusted by the owner to hire/release staff, pay household bills, organize repairs, keep records of household administrative activities and care for valuable possessions such as antiques, wines, silverware, china, paintings, classic vehicles among a lot of other responsibilities.
Often estate managers will be responsible for finding and dealing with tenants and ensuring a tenant property is operating at a profit or that non-income properties are operating at maximum efficiency.
Where a dwelling (vacation home, second home) is only periodically occupied, the property manager might arrange for heightened security monitoring, house-sitting, storage and shipping of goods, and other local sub-contracting necessary to make the property comfortable when the owner is in residence (utilities, systems operating, supplies and staff on hand, etc.).
In today’s internet driven world and economy, the traditional estate manager has become a fractured amalgamation of housekeepers, house painters, landscapers, and “as needed” laborers and contractors. Entire industries and, unfortunately illegal work forces, have sprung up to replace the traditional estate manager.
The nightmare scenarios are many but even the most benign involve substandard work and unethical behavior that typically seems to cost less but ends up costing home owners a great deal more than they thought and puts the burden of uninsured workers and unlicensed contractors on Connecticut taxpayers.
The traditional, honorable estate manager hires qualified, known, and properly licensed and insured individuals and organizations. They manage budgets, if the estate owns animals and livestock, the estate manager is even responsible for overseeing agricultural activities, and liaising with external employees such as vets. They are also expected to ensure that the land is being used to its full potential.
According to Greenwich Property Management owner John Hone, estate managers have to be trusted that each and every detail will always remain private and confidential. “Most owners,” he explains, “have extremely full lives between work and social responsibilities, so their homes need to be a sanctuary. Our role is to create calm. We ensure everything is efficient with extreme attention to detail.”
In addition, says Hone, “the people we work with typically have big hearts. They are people who give back to the community and others. A big part of our job is to protect them and make sure they are not being taken advantage of.”
The ideal estate manager seems to be a jack of all trades; someone professional, personable, and polite, who isn’t afraid to get his or her hands dirty, with a financial mind for budget management. Many recruitment firms place candidates in global locations like London, Monaco, Moscow and Dubai and these individuals work exclusively for one family.
Today, the cost of hiring a full-time person is shared through companies that serve many estates and know the local area and government intimately.
Hone has been running properties for over three decades and he says the key to success is finding people with the kind of expertise, efficiency, and effectiveness that only a specialist in a particular area can provide being managed by a jack-of-all-trades; able to oversee security, plumbing, roofing, facilities, leases, finances, event planning, electricity, ventilation, etc.
In Europe, one estate manager says he “had one position where the homeowner had absolutely no interest in the details pertaining to the daily running of the house. I just had to make the decisions myself. This meant that I had zero excuse if something wasn’t working or wasn’t up to standard when my employer would arrive.” In another situation he, “had to report each day for every single dollar spent.”
So it seems another key to success in this honored profession is flexibility.