Financial Year 2021 – Building management expertise in-house

Technical building management with a focus on quality, safety and energy efficiency at Allreal

Allreal entrusts a team of seven to manage and oversee the maintenance and operations at many of its commercial properties. The Building Management team checks the technical systems and coordinates external service providers. There’s no stopping these dedicated employees – no matter how many new challenges they find themselves faced with every day.

It’s a foggy Wednesday morning and Fabian Graf is taking a walk around the Center Eleven in Zurich Oerlikon, a residential and commercial property in Allreal’s portfolio of yield-producing properties. Coop is the main tenant at the Center Eleven, where it has no less than one of its signature supermarkets, a DIY store, a restaurant and a pharmacy. The quality checks on Fabian Graf’s walk around are an important part of his work as one of four property supervisors at Allreal. 

Once a week, he checks the sprinkler system and tests the fire alarms and building control system at the Center Eleven. When it comes to the sprinkler system, he has to make sure that the water pressure doesn’t fall below a specific limit. If it did, the system wouldn’t have enough pressure to activate the top sprinklers in the event of a fire. The fire alarms always need to be able to communicate via two different channels – GSM and the internet – to ensure that the fire department can be notified if a fire does break out. 

The building control system maintains a water temperature of between 50 and 65 degrees Celsius with the exception of once a week when the water in the pipes is heated to above 65 degrees to kill off all the legionella and other bacteria in the system. Once a month, Fabian Graf visits the Center Eleven to perform a thorough check. As part of this, he has to test out all the levers and switches belonging to the sprinkler system – after the fire department have deactivated it to avoid him triggering the fire alarm. 

“I enjoy my work because it’s varied and I have to be prepared for anything. No two days are the same. I never know what’s just around the corner.”

Fabian Graf,
Property Supervisor at Allreal

Allreal is providing a valuable service by guaranteeing safety and tenant satisfaction through these quality checks. “Safety is a top priority for us at our buildings, as owner liability is always brought up in the event of an emergency situation. We never want to be at fault,” says Fabian Graf.

Allreal outsourced all its building operations work until a few years ago, but that set-up never quite worked. The company always had to listen to what the external service providers thought and had no choice but to trust that they knew what they were talking about. With little relevant expertise amongst in-house staff, there was no way of checking that a ventilation system did in fact need to be serviced or a bulb did indeed need to be replaced. Not keen on being so dependent on external contractors, Allreal made the decision of principle to create an internal technical building management department around three years ago.

The company has been reaping the benefits of that move ever since. First and foremost, the company has access to experts internally now, putting Allreal on a level playing field with service providers like engineers, electricians and caretakers. Not to mention that Allreal has always been keen to get closer to its customers, the tenants in commercial and residential properties. 

“The idea was to open up direct and efficient communications with our customers, so we can be proactive in our responses to what they need,” says Mathias Knellwolf, Head of Building Management at Allreal. A qualified carpenter with a degree in Facility Management, he heads up a team of seven: the Head of Building Service Engineering, two property managers and four property supervisors. 

“The idea was to open up direct and efficient communications with our customers, so we can be proactive in our responses to what they need.”

Mathias Knellwolf,
Head of Building Management at Allreal

Technical building management at Allreal

Building management is closely linked to portfolio management and facility management. Whilst the Facility Management team mainly focuses on the business side of things, the Building Management team is responsible for the actual technical systems in the buildings. They do sometimes need to coordinate with specialists if a problem falls outside of their capabilities. 

Any properties covered by Allreal’s technical building management services are categorised as complex or straightforward. The Real Estate Management department works with external service providers to keep the more straightforward buildings ticking over. Meanwhile, the property managers devote their time and attention to the more complex cases like the Toni site on Pfingstweidstrasse in Zurich-West or the Lightcube on Lindbergh-Allee in Glattpark. The technology in these buildings is more sophisticated, with the challenges relating to the temperature and control systems far exceeding those in a standard home owing to the size of the properties. The Toni site has no fewer than 1,300 measuring points. “The more data we can collect and analyse, the more precise and effective we can be with our optimisations,” says Mathias Knellwolf. When it comes to the most complex issues, the property managers can rely on support from the Head of Building Service Engineering.

Unlike the property managers, the property supervisors are always on the move in their Allreal company cars. It’s their job to communicate with tenants and find out what exactly they want and need. They understand the technology in a building, know how the heating and ventilation systems work and can even take care of most of the work that comes up themselves. “A lot of the time, we’re dealing with little things our tenants need a hand with. Not long ago, an elderly lady asked me to replace a broken lightbulb for her. It goes without saying that we will happily help out in situations like that – even if it’s not really our job. After all, it pays for us to deliver service with a smile,” says Fabian Graf. 

By moving building management in-house, Allreal has boosted customer satisfaction and streamlined workflows since no time is wasted on having to brief someone else on a problem and book appointments. On top of all that, the property supervisors have lightened the workload for the Real Estate Management department because most of the problems can be addressed quickly without having to call in any external service providers. 

Allreal’s decision to create its own Building Management team internally has more than paid off. The department is now fully integrated into the business model and is here to stay!