PROFILE -- Big picture property management

Real Estate Business spoke with the director of First National Palm Beach, Dorothy Hamilton, about the reality of managing property

FROM WALKING in on people having sex to dead pets, drive by shootings, fires and dead bodies, award-winning property manager Dorothy Hamilton has seen it all.

But, she deadpans, “that’s just property management.”

“There is a side to property management that not many landlords consider when they enlist our professional services,” she continues, “a side that deals with the best and worst of humankind.

“Property management is a people business, so a lot of interesting stuff will happen,” says Ms Hamilton, who is director of First National Palm Beach, NSW.

Over the course of her 23-year career she has encountered natural disasters in which entire homes have been swallowed up in a landslide and has been first on the scene after a tenant committed suicide. The mother of two has dealt with the aftermath of homes that have burned down and an accident that saw a semi-trailer truck ram through the middle of a property.

When it comes to dealing with these “everyday” occurrences, Ms Hamilton says, you need to have planned for the worst.

“You have your procedures; you know it is going to happen; you plan for the worst and expect the best,” she says. “For example, if a tenant’s rent is in arrears and that is unusual, our girls will call them. If there is no answer then they’ll ring again. If there’s still no answer then they will call the next of kin.

“If they haven’t heard from them, then they get me,” she says, “and if I feel something is amiss then I just get the police.

“A couple of times, we haven’t got that feeling and, unfortunately, we’ve had tenants who have passed away.”

Property managers need to deal with these occurrences as part of their job, says Ms Hamilton, but she knows it is important to protect her staff – who are predominantly young and female – with the right training.

“We do training on personal safety, we screen our tenants at the beginning very thoroughly, and we go on gut instincts,” she explains.

“When the girls go to do inspections they are told to keep their car keys in their hand and they have an ‘in case of emergency number’ in their phone.

“We also have a script that they use if they’re not feeling very safe. They just call the office and say, ‘I can’t get back to the office for another hour’ which means ‘I am in trouble – send someone out now’.

“It is procedure that every inspection or meeting throughout the working day is in their Outlook diary so someone can drive out there if need be.”

According to Ms Hamilton, there are other things property managers can do to keep safe, including never parking in the driveway so they cannot get parked in and never assuming they are entirely safe just because they’ve been to the property before.

“Mental illness is another issue we are coming to terms with as property managers,” she says. “It is a lot more prevalent than before. We have been trying to do some training around dealing with mental illness, with things like bipolar and dementia on the rise.

“Obviously it is not our job, but we do some basic training to better equip ourselves.”

Ms Hamilton is adamant that property managers do not get the recognition they deserve for the job they do.

“I think property management is very underrated,” she says. “It is a special sort of person who does our job and when you start analysing their talents, they are grossly underpaid. Unfortunately, the industry does not support the remuneration [property managers] should be getting, which is a shame.

“That is why I call it the accidental occupation – people sort of stumble into it through retail and other jobs, unsure of what the job actually requires.

“Landlords have so many demands and then they simply say, ‘I pay you to do your job’. But if they were really to consider the little they are paying us, well you wouldn’t get a monkey to pick peanuts for it.”

Ms Hamilton stumbled into the real estate industry more than 20 years ago after working for a tour company on the Gold Coast, driving a double decker bus and pouring beers at the local pub.

She entered the industry as a rent collector, then moved into property management where she met her husband and business partner, David.

Ms Hamilton grew the property management division and within three years they began taking on staff. The office now has 34 staff members, including nine people who make up the property management division.

In 1991, however, she was diagnosed with Lupus, an auto-immune disease that causes body tissues to become inflamed. While some days are worsethan others, Ms Hamilton says she suffers symptoms of fatigue, muscle soreness and swelling, ulcers and headaches.

“Sometimes in this job it can be very hard, but I try to get over the top of it,” she admits. “I don’t think I’ve let it hold me back and I don’t use it as an excuse, but the tiredness and fatigue just destroys you sometimes.

“It can be hard to put your feet on the ground in the morning.”

Despite the challenges she faces, Ms Hamilton’s positive outlook on life and the support of her family get her through.

“I just try to keep a smile on my face and try to put on a happy front, because if I don’t, how can I expect other people to?” she says.

Taking each day as it comes and being organised are the two ways in which she deals with her huge workload – and remains happy with what she has.

“I did an online questionnaire the other day and one of the questions that kept coming up was, ‘Are you happy with your life?’ ‘Are you satisfied?’ And every time I’d say, ‘Yeah, I am’.

“That is a lesson I have learnt: If you are not happy with your life, then change it. I have a very positive outlook on life – because what’s the alternative?”

Ms Hamilton’s positive outlook has seen her through one of the toughest Queensland markets she has experienced in her career

“Yeah, I’ve felt the tough market,” she says, sounding somewhat exhausted, “but don’t be so down about it. We’ve had the great times, we had the huge boom up here, but it was never going sustain itself.

“Here we are, we’ve got we’ve got and we have to do the best with it.”

“We have been lucky because we have had the resources behind us to keep us afloat, but I feel sorry for those whose don’t.”

According to Ms Hamilton, the tough market has affected not just the sales in her office but also the property management division.

“We feel our owners get very sensitive through the hard times,” she says. “They are under incredible financial strain and they transfer that strain to us. Landlords put property managers under a huge amount of pressure to ensure that if a tenant is put on notice, another one is in their place straight away.

“We understand that pressure and we have strategies to fix it. We get notices as quick as we can, and we are very proactive.”

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