A poor mixture of lack of training and mentoring, systems, procedures, portfolio size, company environment and salary mean the average property manager will be in the industry for around nine months writes Clare Verrall.
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Blogger: Clare Verrall, senior real estate recruitment consultant at Melbourne-based Design & Build
I recently read an interesting blog post by Infolio director, Lauren Staley titled “the average life span of a property manager” according to this post the average time a property manager will stay in a job is nine months. As an ex-property manager who now recruits for the Real Estate industry I found this post particularly interesting. I completely agree with Lauren that property management can be a thankless job, as she said they are often stuck in the middle and despite their best efforts any problems tend to be blamed on the long suffering property manager. Landlord refuses to repair something? YOU ARE THE WORST PROPERTY MANAGER EVER! Tenants three days late with their rent despite calls and text reminders? YOU ARE THE WORST PROPERTY MANAGER EVER!
It certainly takes a certain type of person to be a successful property manager.
As a real estate recruiter I meet around 10 property managers a week seeking new opportunities, a number of candidates I meet a week have been horribly burned by their property management experience and never wish to return to the industry. So why is this happening? Personally, I think it comes down to a mixture of lack of training/mentoring, systems, procedures, portfolio size, company environment and salary.
Throwing inexperienced PM’s into the deep end
So many agencies hire young kids at minimum wage and throw them into a full portfolio of 200+ properties without any property management experience whatsoever. The candidates accept the role thinking they are very clever for skipping the step of being an assistant property manager or receptionist which is a huge mistake. As any property manager will tell you; most of your property management knowledge comes from learning on the job under a strong mentor. The basic agents representative course gives you the bare bones, the legislation and not much more. These inexperienced property managers quickly fall behind, make mistakes, hide their errors which quickly snowball and spend most of their days getting abused because they don’t know what they are doing. Landlords and tenants don’t trust them as they can’t answer questions quickly quoting the correct legislation, they are quickly overwhelmed and most quit within three to six months having lost a large number of properties from the portfolio due to poor management. Those that do stay within the industry continue on for many years bumbling along providing poor service, making mistakes, constantly putting out spot fires, not returning calls and giving all property managers a bad name.
This really isn’t all the fault of the inexperienced property manager; it is the fault of the employer who obviously doesn’t see the value in their property management department. By trying to save a few dollars these employers have actually cost themselves thousands in lost managements but many of them never seem to learn and continue to throw inexperienced property managers into the deep end.
Portfolio size is another huge issue for our industry. End to end management of portfolio’s of 300 properties may have been maintainable in days of old when the demands on property managers were not as high but in today’s world a portfolio of over 200 properties is impossible to manage in a proactive manner providing quality, high level service to your clients while protecting yourself from legal threats which are thrown around like candy these days. Even the world’s best property manager will become overwhelmed and start to make mistakes if the portfolio is too large. Then properties will start to be lost which will usually result in angry meetings with directors who are often sales focused and don’t understand the demands of property management. The property manager will start to hate their job and will leave.
Training a must
Good systems and procedures are also vital to keeping good property management staff, this also links into training. Maintaining detailed systems is often the difference between a clean portfolio and a mess. I was incredibly lucky to work with a wonderful mentor when I started my property management career who worked in a highly systemised manner. She taught me to put everything in the database we used, if it wasn’t in the database, it didn’t happen. I learnt to record EVERYTHING, every phone call, every email, every inspection, copies of every letter. Sure, it was a bit of a pain, but as my experience grew I certainly saw the value in it. If I was away anyone could sit at my desk and see everything I had done. She stuck 3 letters on the top of my computer screen to remind me to maintain that database, ‘CYA’ (Cover Your Ass!). Database management, good systems and procedures puts a stop to tenants or landlords trying to blame you for things that were clearly not your fault. You need to be able to prove everything you do.
Company environment is probably one of the biggest contributors to high staff turnover. Property managers are often very nurturing personalities. Unlike many sales people, they will take things very personally; they wear their heart on their sleeve and like to be liked. For this reason team ‘clicks’, even minor workplace bullying (going out to lunch with everyone but this one person etc), being yelled at or told off publicly will really affect a property manager and is often the reason they leave a role. Bullying is a problem in property management departments however I find it is rarely discussed. I have dealt with a large number of candidates over the years who have been ‘ganged up on’ at their work place and made to feel like an outsider reminiscent of the High School bullying so many of us hoped we had put behind us. This is unacceptable. It is each team members responsibility to provide a nice team environment for everyone they work with, this starts at the top but is important for every level of the department.
Management of Gen Y
In her post Lauren discussed Gen Y as they have a reputation for not staying in roles long term, ”they want everything for nothing. They call in sick every other day, they don’t want to work weekends and most things get put in the too hard basket”. Lauren’s point about Gen Y is an interesting one but I don’t think it is that straight forward. I know I’m probably going to get ripped apart for this but here we go; Gen Y are demanding higher wages and a more flexible workplace but is this really such a horrible thing? Maybe it’s time employers learn to manage Gen Y better? Maybe if we stop resisting them, labelling them as ‘lazy, entitled, job hopping slackers’ we might actually be able to embrace their ideas and better the industry! Currently property managers are overworked and underpaid, it is so terrible that this age group is demanding better? Why should property managers work for $40K a year struggling with outdated systems/databases, being overworked, undertrained, constantly abused and also be expected to work long hours and weekends? To me this cycle is why the industry has such a bad reputation and high staff turnover. Sure, some Gen Y’s are just complete fools who I would like to strangle, but so are lots of Gen X and even baby boomers! There are fools in every Generation. Gen Y actually have a lot they can bring to the table, they believe in working faster not harder, have much stronger IT knowledge than previous generations and their belief in work/life balance isn’t a negative.
I’m currently working with a fantastic agency that have decided to stop fighting the Gen Y attitude and instead chosen to embrace it. They have sent all their staff to extensive database training which they have embraced as they have grown up around technology. This allows them to provide proactive service to their clients which results in less abuse from clients, they have introduced performance based pay increases so their staff know that by achieving set goals they will be financially rewarded, they have slashed the portfolio sizes to 160 properties, they have sent their Department head to extensive management training so she can mentor and manage the team while creating a positive work environment. Best of all these property managers never work weekends as they have two leasing consultants who have a day off during the week and work every Saturday. But how does the business afford this you cry?! Well, they are providing excellent service as they have a fantastic team of happy, long term employees so they grow and grow and grow. They have gone from 700 properties to 1,200 in 18 months since they implemented these changes and not a single staff member has left.
I think the industry can’t continue to put all the blame on property managers for ‘job hopping’ and instead needs make changes so people want to stay in this fantastic industry.
About Clare Verrall
Clare Verrall of Design & Build Recruitment is a real estate recruitment consultant based in Melbourne. With seven years' experience as a property manager, Clare's technical knowledge, passion for property and interest in social media allows her to provide her clients with consultative advice in addition to recruitment services. Clare aims to help individuals realise their career potential and her uncompromising commitment to find quality staff for her clients. You can connect with Clare via her Twitter feed (clare_verrall) or her Facebook page.
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