What's it like being a planner?

What it's like being a long-term maintenance planner?

Thoughts from John Bradley, founder of Plan Heaven - updated July 2023

The long-term maintenance planner is a relatively new role.  Many providers have long offered "asset management services, " including long-term maintenance plans (LTMPs).  But when the Unit Titles Act 2010 (UTA) made it mandatory for all unit title developments to have an LTMP, it spawned a whole new segment.

The main difference between what was then - before the UTA - and what we have now is volume.  Before the UTA, a company might write one or two LTMPs a year.  Now, as specialist planners, we have to prepare several a week. 

We estimate that there are somewhere around 17,000 developments in New Zealand, and during the recent building boom, apartment buildings and townhouse developments were sprouting up everywhere.  While the rate of growth has slowed down recently (July 2023), the trend toward high density is expected to continue.  

We're operating in a growing market.

But the other difference with unit title developments is that the owners are different.  In the days before the UTA, the only property owners who established LTMPs were professional managers employed by large commercial property companies and the like.  Accordingly, the plans were written by - and read by - property experts and a high degree of technical language was expected and used.  Typically, on these occasions, the property managers would sit down and discuss the planned maintenance with the planners to reach agreement on programmes and costings.  Establishing a LTMP took a lot of time and typically came with a decent fee.

On the contrary, with unit title developments, the owners generally know little about buildings or their maintenance.  Also, the decisions regarding maintenance are made by a body corporate - a small democracy - and we know that decision-making in democracies can be messy.  Individual unit owners have a different attitude about costs, and many shudder at the fees building surveyors and commercial property management companies have historically charged.

Plan Heaven was born into this new environment and understands body corporate clients better than most.  We aim to build elegant, plain English, easy-to-follow documents that make sense to the average unit owner.  We want them to read and understand our plans, and when they have finished reading, say, "I get it.  That makes sense.  I guess I have to spend the money".

As planners, we get variety.  A long-term maintenance planner will get to visit many different developments compared to a QS, architect or project manager.   We see old run-down buildings that have seen no maintenance for decades, with owners who either have no money or don't like spending it.  We also get to look through sparkling new high rises in prime locations built using materials and methods so new that we have to Google them to see what they are.  We get to prepare plans for 19th-century villas, historic buildings, hotels, and upmarket resorts in the South Island lake districts.  We see buildings rebuilt after the earthquakes and others that are designated earthquake-prone.  We also see our fair share of leakers.  But these still need a plan, so we have to find a way.

Our work is interesting and challenging as no two buildings have the same issues.  We must be thoughtful, curious and open-minded for each new job.  But we must also be efficient because we often cannot command a hefty fee.  

But when we do our job well and create a plan that nicely fits our client's needs, we can feel satisfied that we have helped someone.  We also usually find that they are grateful.

Take the right attitude going into this new role of long-term maintenance planner, and you will find it very satisfying and rewarding.     

The skills required to be a good long-term maintenance planner

Building surveyors and architects are experts in the performance of those elements that keep the building watertight.  As long-term maintenance planners, we don't need the level of knowledge required to discuss remediation.  But we do need to know enough to recommend further investigation if we think it is necessary.

Also, our primary role covers much more than weathertightness.  We must help the building owner identify all possible items that will likely need maintenance.  We must discuss things such as the lift and fire protection systems right down to remarking the car parks and fixing fences.  Many buildings also have other special systems, such as car lifts and hot water boilers.  Of course, as a planner, we can't be experts in these areas, so we need to be prepared to ask others who are experts and include their recommendations in our plans.

We also need to think about and maybe provide for the future with things like building climate resilience, electric car charging and the need to replace CNG-powered hot water boilers.  And we need a basic understanding of Quantity Surveying because we have to estimate the cost of the work we recommend.  

So while Building Surveyors, Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Project Managers, and Engineers are all specialists.  So are we. 

We are specialist long-term maintenance planners.

If you have any feedback or questions, please use the Contact form.

The Plan Heaven team.

If you have any feedback or questions please use the Contact form.

The Plan Heaven team.