Hiring a Super Super

Wanted: a rare blend of technical and personal skills.

Cody Masino, vice president of David Associates, a New York-based management firm, has been involved in real estate since 1996. In those 20 years, he has seen superintendents come and go. But, mostly, he has seen them stay.

“Most (superintendents or resident managers) never leave,” Masino says. “They stay for 20 to 30 years. It’s a legacy job.”

A superintendent can make or break a building. So when supers do retire or change jobs, the search for a new one requires extensive due diligence by managers and co-op or condo boards. Usually, the manager runs the recruiting and hiring process, scrutinizing resumes, conducting initial telephone interviews to screen candidates, narrowing the field to three or four leading candidates, and doing a walk-through of the building. Only then do the finalists go before the board.

While Masino is always looking to promote from within, Daniel Wollman, CEO of Gumley Haft Real Estate Management, says the practice can lead to problems. “A big part of a super’s job is to manage the staff,” Wollman says. “And sometimes guys can’t supervise their old co-workers.”

Managers look for a rare combination of skills when screening potential supers, including technical knowledge of building systems, ability to communicate (both verbally and in writing), interpersonal interactions, and supervisory abilities. “It’s rare to find a guy who possesses all of those qualities,” Wollman admits, adding that the importance of each skill varies with the building. In a building with a qualified handyman and a demanding group of residents, for instance, the super’s technical skills will be less important than his communication skills and personal comportment.

While superintendents have traditionally stayed with a building for decades, there has recently been more mobility within the profession. One factor, Wollman says, is that boards are becoming more aggressive about demanding high performance and weeding out incompetence. “We’ve seen more supers get terminated in recent years,” he says. “Part of the reason is the 32 BJ union is putting up with less b.s.”

Because there’s a lack of formal training for supers, Wollman prefers to hire people who have worked their way up through the staff ranks. And while a candidate’s resume is important, it reveals only so much.

“In my opinion,” says Masino, “there’s the seen and the unseen on resumes.” The resume might reveal the candidate’s level of technical skill and his certifications, but there’s no substitute for a face-to-face meeting for assessing communication skills, demeanor and, sometimes, attention to detail. “I might take them to the boiler room to see if they notice that a valve needs cleaning,” Masino says.

The candidate who nails the super’s job, he adds, is the one “who is most qualified, best presents themselves in person, and lives up to their resume.”

While it may be impossible to find the perfect super for a building, a good manager will help a board find the best one available. Asked how often he has found a super who possessed all the desired technical and interpersonal skills, Wollman laughs and says, “A grand total of once.”


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