Blood, Sweat and No Tears

Simone Firns isn’t afraid of hard work and she has the awards to prove it. The Network Pacific Owners Corporation Manager took out the 2018 AREA Award for Excellence in Customer Service. Here she explains the unusual things she loves about her job and why she thrives on putting her nose to the grindstone.

Debt collection and resolving disputes in court are not usually at the top of employees’ most-loved work tasks.

But Simone Firns is different.

The Network Pacific Owners Corporation Manager loves the jobs others despise.

“The legal component of my role is one of my favourites,” she enthuses with genuine passion.

“I like doing debt collection and I like going to court.”

It’s this endless, genuine dedication that has seen Simone awarded the 2018 AREA Award for Excellence in Customer Service.

“In the lead-up to it I didn’t sleep I was so nervous,” Simone admits.

“Winning this award means so much to me because it recognises my hard work and that I go above and beyond.

“I feel I’m constantly under pressure, so this was a fantastic achievement.”

Formerly a legal assistant, Simone entered real estate when the company she worked for amalgamated with Network Pacific nine years ago.

Since then she’s endeavoured to learn all facets of the business, including property management, real estate sales, owners corporation management, repairs and maintenance, facilities management and compliance, and essential services.

“I pride myself on being the best I can be,” Simone says.

“I work hard to ensure that I provide excellent support to make sure we get the result we want for the client and the company.

“I am the go-to person when my colleagues need assistance, and I have performed many roles across the organisation.”

In September 2017, Simone was tasked with owners corporation management of a serviced apartment building.

The committee was so impressed with her work, they asked her to manage two of their large buildings.

“This helped secure a three-year contract worth $135,000 to the organisation,” Simone says.

“In this way my role was expanded to now also include OC management.”

As Owners Corporation Manager, Simone currently looks after five apartment buildings with about 400 lots, but she expects to take over 15 more soon.

From managing work orders and repairs to creating budgets, running annual general meetings, issuing fee notices and ensuring owners pay their bills, Simone looks after the common property, such as hallways, stairs and lifts, at her buildings.

“I’m the lucky one as I’m in charge of properties with a few more complex issues,” Simone says.

“I’ve had a couple of sewer pipes burst under concrete slabs and at the moment fire cladding and fire safety are important.

“Every day there is a new challenge and I never get bored.”

One of the critical factors in Simone taking out the AREA was the completion of what she terms her “greatest achievement in 2017” – replacing 115 smoke detectors in just 48 hours.

“The Melbourne Fire Brigade issued a building order on one of my properties requiring all smoke detectors to be replaced within two days to be compliant,” Simone recalls.

“People had been pulling them out or had damaged them and faults were showing up on the fire panel.”

Many of the residents were international students so part of Simone’s service included distributing circulars in different languages to explain the operation and importance of smoke detectors.

“At times there had been up to five callouts a week for the fire brigade and each is charged at $3000.

“False fire alarms can put a big dent in an owner’s budget.”

Another key factor in Simone’s award win was her management of a strata management committee dispute, which arose when property owners misunderstood the difference between property management and strata management.

“If there is an issue within your lot it is property management that takes care of that,” Simone says.

“People get confused between the owners corporation and property management.

“Owners corporation is concerned with common property, and they can’t attend to fix a leak within your lot.”

Simone led a team of three in calling 110 property owners to explain the issue in detail and retain both the owners corporation and property management contracts.

“Due to my strong knowledge of the Owners Corporation Act, I understood all the issues and was able to communicate this to the owners and the Strata Committee to raise awareness and successfully resolve all the issues,” she says.

“It is this thorough knowledge of the entire property management sector that has allowed me to make a valuable contribution, to streamline processes to ensure they are more efficient and to support my colleagues to relieve their workload to free their time for business development and client services.

“This has resulted in positive change across the organisation as we have attracted more clients and subsequently more revenue.”

Simone was also instrumental in Network Pacific securing new clients under its five per cent guaranteed rental return model, which was devised in response to a slumping apartment market following changes to foreign investment.

For the model to be successful, Network Pacific needed to secure new contacts, developers and investors – and to do this the agency gained ISO:9001 Quality Assurance in early 2017.

ISO certification is an independent endorsement of Network Pacific’s business systems and processes as efficient and quality-driven.

“I played a key role in assisting the organisation to implement and execute procedures and processes to achieve ISO:9001 Quality Assurance certification,” Simone says.

“I minuted all management and staff briefings about the certification process, I submitted staff police check applications to ensure staff records were up-to-date, and I populated the training schedule of the staff to meet the training standard as defined in the ISO:9001 Quality Assurance procedures.”

In conjunction with the director, Simone also helped develop an array of office processes and procedural forms.

“I’m really proud of that (achieving ISO:9001 Quality Assurance) and in Victoria, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only privately-owned ISO-certified company,” Simone says.

“This accreditation shows our clients we are all about integrity.”

The market embraced the rental return model and apartment sales doubled at one large residential development in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Network Pacific’s earnings also jumped five per cent.

Rather than resting on her laurels, Simone has clear career goals for the future.

As well as continuing to mentor younger colleagues, Simone plans to rise up the ranks at Network Pacific.

“I dream of being the operations manager for our company here,” she says.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.