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Female managers do it their way.

Leslie Berk and Donna Hunt learned early on that it doesn't take a miracle to correct problems facing a building. It just takes a good manager and personal service.

After deciding they could manage buildings effectively by raising standards, Berk and Hunt last September launched Prism Management, their own comprensive property management firm that serves building in all five boroughs. In doing so they joined the growing number of women entrepreneurs in real estate management. This trend, Berk and Hunt believe, is helping to improve management services.

"We're not afraid of work," said Berk, a former director of management at a Manhattan management firm. "Management requires constant attention to the board of director's needs, and to the needs of the entire building."

The two women stressed that Prism Management Services provides handson personalized services so board members no longer have to deal with the headache of failing boilers, unbalanced budgets, leaking roofs and a managing agent who promises immediate results but never seems to return phone calls.

"We are informed about our buildings because we are there at least once a week, something that many management companies promise but do not deliver," Berk said. "If there are problems, we spot them, document them, explain them to the board in detail, and immediately implement solutions."

Berk and Hunt acknowledged that they complement each other professionally and perform as a quality team. Hunt and Berk met at a time when they were both frustrated working for others and they decided that together they could start a property management firm that could make a difference.

"We saw a need we could fill," said Berk. "Working for someone else I was not able to make the changes that were needed. My hands were tied and it was very difficult for me."

Hunt agreed, noting that both women learned not to make the same mistakes that they witnessed others committing over the years.

"We knew we could do better," Hunt said. "Our paths crossed. We were both frustrated and it was time to move on. We were fortunate, we have a lot of referrals through attorneys and accountants, which is unusual."

Berk and Hunt realize that no two buildings are alike, and, as a result, Prism Management tailors services to a building's individual needs, which may include mortage refinancing, sponsor defaults or capital improvements.

"We are quick on the draw, putting emergency procedures in place before small problems become large ones," said Hunt. "Our experience and expertise allows us to efficiently handles crises that occur in the boiler room and on the roof, as well as legal and financial problem."

In fact, Prism Management has hired an in-house attorney, a feature that many property management firms do not have. Marc A. Schwartz, an attorney with several years of corporate, financial, business and real estate experience, has joined forces with Prism Management to provide legal assistance to clients.

"We now have our own attorney for our buildings," said Berk. "It's a big advantage, not [only] as a legal counsel for our clients, but as a second opinion. "

Communication and education are two of the keys in running a successful property management firm, according to Berk and Hunt. The two professionals note that even the most sophisticated board or building owner needs a constant flow of information. Prism Management Services carefully instructs board members and owners step-by-step on issues ranging .from the basics of governing a building to the latest legal decisions and regulations.

As testament to their professionalism, Berk and Hunt have been recognized with six "N.Y. Habitat Achievement Awards." "Leslie Berk turned our building around," Bruce Hamilton, board president of an Upper West Side building, told N.Y. Habitat. "She gets action on every matter she is asked to deal with."

In Hamilton's building on West 100th Street, Berk confronted and resolved problems including a sponsor default, deteriorating elevators, leaking roof and several unpaid bills.

Hunt received similar praise from Gerald Kirschner, board president of a condo on East 61st Street. In four years, Hunt was credited with solving a host of problems, including finances, local laws, staff and union, the roof, and even lighting.

A native of Long Island, Berk originally studied journalism at New York University before discovering that real estate management was her true calling.

"I thought I was going to be Brenda Starr," she quipped, "but my hair was too dark. I fell into real estate and never looked back."

Berk entered real estate 12 years ago as a sales broker and one day asked another professional in the industry, whom she respected, what he did. When he answered that he was a managing agent, Berk realized that was what she wanted to do.

"I happen to love what I do," Berk said. "The industry is constantly changing. There are similarities but everything is different and unique. It's the only thing I could think of doing and it's reflected in my work."

Hunt, who was born in Brooklyn but raised in Queens, was 16 when she was hired for her first job in real estate, working for a lawyer who owned real estate.

"I worked there for two years and vowed I'd never go back into real estate," Hunt said with a smile, noting that three years later she was back in the profession to stay.

"Nobody says they want to grow up to be a property manager," she said, "but I fell into it and I love the diversity and the hard work."

Berk and Hunt both feel that women are detail-oriented and organized and that successful management businesses should be run that way. Hunt added that when she first entered the field of property management 10 years ago, as a woman, she was greeted with skepticism, but that is no longer the case today.

Still, women real estate professionals can have similar experiences, and, as a result, Berk founded WIRE'd (Women in Real Estate), a group for real estate women.

The group, started last summer, has nine core members who attend monthly meetings and it sponsors five open meetings a year with keynote speakers. About 40 women attend these gatherings.

"Basically, it's a get-together to network," Berk said. "I started it because a lot more women are in the profession."

At Prism Management, Hunt and Berk are committed to each building they manage and are prepared to nurture properties along so they operate as best as they possibly can.

"Our basic premise is that we will return every phone call and take care of every problem right away," said Berk. 'That's because we know that if we don't, a minor problem can quickly become a major crisis and we simply won't let that happen."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Hagedorn Publication
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:profile of Prism Management executives Leslie Berk and Donna Hunt
Author:Alger, Derek
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 2, 1993
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