Which processes, procedures, and best practices keep a successful older estate at the top of its game? Marina Martinique – a unique Cape-Caribbean-style estate consisting of 384 residential stands and 475 units in group housing developments – is built around a lake and seven kilometres of constructed canals that lie three metres above sea level, and whose water is pumped in from, and flows back into, the ocean.
Given its beachside position bordering the resort town of Jeffreys Bay, and its age (construction on the first phase having started in 1990, and on the second in late 2003), the estate is both a home for permanent residents and a playground for holidaymakers from elsewhere.
These factors – and the usual considerations like the maintenance and provision of security and bulk services, and the requirements for sound financial management – present the homeowners association with an unusual set of challenges that demand unusual solutions. Marina Martinique’s HOA is a Section 21 company that owns the entire infrastructure of the estate, including the roads and the canals.
‘We really have two major issues at the moment,’ said Johan Strydom, a semi-retired international management consultant who works from his home in the Marina, and who is currently the vice-chair of the HOA.
‘The first concerns the behaviour of short-term tenants who ignore the rules, for example, when it’s permissible to make a noise, how fast you can drive a boat on the canals or the lake, and so on. And the second is how do we build a community in an estate that caters for everybody?’
Johan said that the large number of group housing units presents the biggest problem when it comes to short-term lets, which are managed by individual owners, and marketed through platforms like Airbnb and booking.com.
‘Holding the owners accountable seems to be the best solution, but the diversity of people who live here, and who visit the estate, brings with it its own set of problems: in particular, how do you communicate with everybody in a way that makes sense to each of them?’
Short-term solutions include the use of formal messaging services like SMS and email, as well as more informal platforms like two different WhatsApp groups – one for general, social communication (special offers at the Marina Wharf restaurant, an invitation to an event that’s open to all, items for sale, etc.), and one for the serious issues of estate information (water management, electricity shut-downs, refuse collection, and so on).
But, said Johan, the longer-term, more permanent solution will happen – and has begun to happen – organically. It will become embedded in the lifestyle of the estate as the sense of community becomes established and grows.
Generating this sense of community is important, too, because of the changing demographic of the residents, a number of whom have established their families here, but continue to commute to the larger centres for work during the week.
‘It’s mostly the husbands who work away, and the wives and children who remain behind, and it’s very important for the people who leave to know that they’re leaving their families in a safe, nurturing, protective environment – that they aren’t isolated, and that the community will have their backs whenever they need it.’ This, said Johan, is the essence of community.
But the big question remains: how to draw everyone in, and support them.
The estate’s solution began with the creation of a nine-member lifestyle committee headed up by a member of the board of the HOA. Although this committee (which was founded only this year) has no voting rights on the HOA, it works closely with the board through the various portfolio subcommittees that it has established – subcommittees that attend to the social life of the estate, the management of estate infrastructure (from ‘smaller’ issues, like the positioning of street signs, to the macro issues of the estate’s environmental policy), the provision of amenities, and, of course, internal communications.
‘Amenities is an interesting one, because the residents have begun to show a definite appetite for the establishment of a clubhouse, which is also an indication to us that the work of the lifestyle committee has begun to pay dividends,’ said Johan.
‘There’s one major factor that’ll determine whether an estate like Marina Martinique will succeed, though,’ said Johan, ‘and that’s the character of its estate manager. We need someone,’ he continued, ‘who’s totally involved and totally dedicated – it’s certainly not a typical nine-to-five job; someone who can learn at a fast rate, and not be scared to roll up their sleeves; someone who can deal with a variety of situations – often at the same time – and who isn’t intimidated by difficulties; someone who knows and understands finance and financial management.
‘And,’ he adds, ‘someone who has the backing of a strong and capable board of directors.’
The challenges here, though, are that such people are rare indeed – although Marina Martinique’s current estate manager, Vernon Heunis, certainly fits the bill – and also that they’re difficult to replace. There needs to be at least one understudy waiting in the wings.
‘It’s actually all about risk assessment,’ said Johan. ‘When you identify the risks, you pay attention to them, and our solution to ensuring a smooth succession in the longer term – while remaining sensitive to the person in the job – is to employ financial, technical, and admin managers whom he can train, and who can capture our practices, policies and procedures, both as a record of Vernon’s institutional knowledge, and in order to fulfil our fiduciary and other responsibilities.’
In the end, of course, every estate’s success will always revolve around its ability to create a sense of community – and for developments like Marina Martinique, which are attractive to residents and visitors alike, the ultimate test will always be how warmly it’s able to welcome its visitors, without making its residents feel intruded upon.
‘But it’s always about the sense of belonging,’ said Johan. ‘Which is why Marina Martinique’s slogan is “My marina, My home, My lifestyle”.’