Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, January 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Responsibility for estate maintenance

The two responses received on this topic are probably more down to everyone being busy over the holiday season, than their not having anything to do with the maintaining of the estates they manage or work in. So the following is a snapshot, albeit a valuable and thorough one, rather than a survey of the industry, and our thanks go to the two butlers/HMs/EMs who answered the survey questions while still managing to see to the needs of their current estate over the holiday season.

“When it comes to maintenance duties, there is Operational Maintenance: Pool, electronics, electrical, window washers, pest control, snow removal and tree services. Fire extinguishers are checked once a year, and if replacement is in order, that is done. Oil is delivered on a monthly basis. Herbicide treatments applied to the groomed lawn. Sprinkler operations are checked as needed in the summer because of potential tractor damage. Also an independent security firm conducts a drive-through once a day at a variety of times.

“Schedules include daily electronic check-ups so the principle does not have an interruption of the home office. Same for the camera/security system. We have heat/cold/water monitors in the barn and all electrical rooms and two different outside security companies monitor the facility.

“There is a five-year cycle for solid waste removal: The property is only occupied six months a year. And then there is emergency troubleshooting on fixed equipment.

“Then there is Facilities Maintenance: Preventative, recurring, corrective, and preventative and emergency replacement. Farm equipment maintenance and component renewal (Equipment service needs are evaluated for deferred maintenance or replacement)—we are in the process of replacing the two furnaces in one of the six homes on the estate.

“Painting outside in the Spring. Painting inside in the winter when the property is quiet. Since we have many horses and wooden fences, the five paddocks need to be observed and maintained, especially since we have a horse that has a “Cribbing” problem—a form of anxiety— so replacement and painting of the fencing.

“Our farm has an in-ground pool which needs to be emptied in the fall and refilled in the late spring. A work order for water delivery is scheduled according to the weather. We have 17 buildings under roof and all of our water supply is from a variety of wells on the property. Water is delivered so we do not deplete our wells. The pool has to have the tile replaced and pump components, too. We have the same engineering company coming in to oversee these project renovations.

“An art curator comes in twice a year to clean our museum-quality artwork, both inside and out. There are three miles of pebble road, which also is on the maintenance list. The multiple cabinets that house the generators need proper maintenance and the service person comes out in the spring to service these units.

“One estate I worked on earlier had two gas pumps, one at the pool house and one at the six-bay garage. It was a constant source of maintenance and issues. Upkeep of the boat, pier, the boat ramp, boat house and pool house. There was a tennis court that needed maintenance and ski equipment too.”

The other respondent said that “No matter how old or new these homes are, there is always something that needs attention, whether A/C, paint touch-ups, cars, window cleaning, floor polishing, counter-top cleaning, pool set-up or closing, clay tennis-courts or hard top. A beach house can be a pain in the neck, door hardware maintained, outside painting, pool equipment serviced, pool furniture sealed, upholstery checked and washed before storing for the winter if you’re on the east coast (of the US). The more maintenance you do before closing down for the winter, the more it will save you in the setup in the late spring.”

Asked about any major difficulties that might have been encountered, and how best resolved, the answer was: “Almost daily on a 400 acre estate! I might be the facility manager’s best friend or worst nightmare. But my position is to resolve and reinforce what needs troubleshooting. What is in immediate need of maintenance and what is preventative. Right now, we are engaged in demolishing two separate outdoor dwellings. So, oversight of service people is important and making sure all work has the proper permits and safety factors are in place.”

The other respondent had this to say: “The difficulty I found is putting off ‘To do’ projects. Leaving it to spring, when everyone else was doing the same thing, was a nightmare. Take custom fabric and upholstery, for instance. Turn-around time for shipping some fabrics can be 8-12 weeks. Then making them up takes another 6-10 weeks. So plan ahead as best you can. I have my windows cleaned every month. I learned early on that if I gave my vendor a 12-month schedule in January, he knew he could count on work from me throughout the year. Having a good rapport with your vendors is essential, they have saved my biscuit many a time!”

Both agreed on what works best for staying on top of maintenance issues, as one stated: “Keeping excellent records is vital and being professional toward the vendors and outside service-personnel: They may not be thrilled to receive a midnight or Sunday service call, so giving clear and concise information is important. On record keeping, it is so much easier today with electronic schedules and reminders.” As the other pointed out, “Waiting for stuff to die, as opposed to being proactive, never works…because when it does, it’s invariably either a holiday or a weekend!”

When it comes to any last words of advice, “My father was in construction, he ran his own company for decades, my brothers also had construction companies. Advice: Hire an electrician or plumber, as projects in these fields should always be done by a professional. I have acquired some basic skills over the years, but I only practice them in my own home!”

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.