A broken pipe? Call the property manager. Questions over receipts and reconciliations? Call the property manager. Sourcing a new tenant or negotiating bulk rates with a supplier? Again, the property manager comes to the fore.
But the business part of property management raises a new set of questions. We all want a well-developed reputation for service but need to be mindful of over servicing. The trick is to develop processes around a structure that is efficient; a goal that is unsurprisingly easier said than done.
There are two essential approaches: building a team from specialists to offer efficiencies, or developing multi-faceted property managers to take a portfolio responsibility.
Building task specialists
Creating a team of specialists has certain advantages to the business. Tasks are efficiently undertaken and the benefits of bulk processing can be measured. Maintenance crews, lease negotiators, supplier managers all develop a body of experience that make the next call more efficient – but also better utilise a quickly-growing body of knowledge and experience.
Then there are the downsides.
The people we exist to serve, our clients, can all too easily be confused or frustrated by dealing with multiple people for different purposes. There are likely to be four people involved in the management of each property – a number that increases when one staff member is sick or is on annual leave.
This approach presents a real risk of high staff turnover as staff become bored undertaking the same task every day, and then stressed as they deal with inquiries about the property that are beyond their responsibility. A good structure will have a designated property manager responsible for everything but handing off to specialists.
Their success is dependent upon a high level of team communication, but also risks the property manager either not seeing the property or reliant on second-hand descriptions.
So what is the alternative?
Developing a portfolio approach
A portfolio-based approach to property management requires property managers be on top of everything happening to a property and able to balance multiple demands. There are distinct advantages to this approach, both to employees and the business.
Property managers are likely to enjoy their jobs more and stay longer. They have a variety of tasks, are frequently challenged and so have a day that is often full and engaging. They are also more likely to have a closer relationship with the landlord and tenant, which is likely to translate to a perception of better customer service. The property managers who succeed in this environment are better able to manage their workloads through effective time management – after all, they have a certain amount of control over their portfolio and so can schedule their demands in a way that is effective across a large number of clients.
One particular advantage is the relationship between property manager and tenant. It is a relationship that begins with tenant selection from the first open inspection but delivers real results to the landlord and the business.
I struggle to find a downside to the portfolio approach. It could be argued that the lack of specialisation leads to inefficiencies – but it may be the case that transferring to specialised taskmasters involves more communication and less background, robbing the approach of it main advantage.
Which is a better business approach?
Every business owner has their own preferences borne of necessity or preference. But property management has a very clear measure: are clients being serviced and their investment returns maximised? Business structure may seem removed from this question, but it will determine the answer.
Business structure ultimately determines the level of customer service your business is able to provide. I have undertaken landlord and tenant surveys for many years and the feedback has been consistent: clients only want to talk to one person. They want a professional to take responsibility for their investment, and one point of contact.
Our clients pay the bills, bring the business, and make our business a success. And that is why the portfolio approach wins my vote – and more business.
About Suzie Hamilton-Flannigan