All in a Day's Work The Life of a Property Manager

All in a Day's Work

Property management, in the broadest of terms, is defined as the operation, control and oversight of real estate. Most property managers would agree that definition is just a starting point.

There are many facets to the demanding profession of property management, including managing the accounts and finances of the real estate properties and participating in or initiating litigation with tenants, contractors and insurance agencies. Litigation may be considered a separate function, set aside for trained attorneys, but a property manager will need to be well informed and up to date on applicable municipal, county, state and federal Fair Housing laws and practices.

One major role of a property manager for condominium properties is that of liaison between the board of directors or board of managers, the property owners and residents and the personnel required to keep a property attractive, safe and functional. Good communication is a must for this “thinking-on-your-feet” position, which also requires understanding the processes and systems utilized to manage all aspects concerning property including acquisition, control, accountability, responsibility, maintenance, utilization and disposition.

In the Beginning

Property management as we know it today is a relatively new profession. As the feudal system of land ownership in Europe gave way to the industrial revolution, the beginnings of the real estate business we know today began to emerge. By the middle of the eighteenth century, land ownership in Europe and in England particularly, assumed a different significance. As cities grew, land and buildings became a favored means of investing, and it wasn’t long before America’s shores and emerging industrial cities encouraged investors to cross the Atlantic.

Initially buying, settling and reselling land masses in this country was stimulated by increased population and immigration along with the European market demands for more and newer products. As the industrial age spurred tremendous growth, America’s newly formed cities, stores, offices and rental properties increased to meet the needs of a thriving labor-driven economy. America was a goldmine for property investors, and the real estate industry we know today began to take shape. Property management was not far behind.

John Jacob Astor was already a millionaire from fortunes amassed in fur trading when he turned his interest to real estate in the middle 1800s. His motto concerning land and real estate was “buy and hold, and let others improve.”

That mindset was shared by many investors, who purchased land and property and hired others to manage and maintain those investments. This new class of wealthy Americans sought assistance in the management of their real estate assets as multi-apartment buildings and a high rental boom ushered in the new century.

During the Great Depression (1929-1939) financial institutions recognized the experience and knowledge of property investors and managers, and relied on the combined expertise to help bring about stability in the marketplace. After the Depression, the size and scope of property management developed rapidly to become the well-defined professional arm of real estate we rely on today.

The Day-to-Day

There are many avenues into property management. Most property managers come to the field from another profession, as there are only a handful of colleges that offer coursework in the field. The Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) requires that a management company have a real estate broker’s license. Key components of property management (renting and leasing) are considered a real estate activity under existing Florida real estate licensing laws. A property manager needs a broker license if he or she is paid a commission, and is handling rentals and leases for others. No license is required for managing personally-owned properties. But, managers of community associations must be licensed by the state, if they manage an association of ten or more units or handle a budget of $100,000 or greater.

Florida’s property managers can turn to several very active chapters of top-tier professional organizations: the Institute of Real Estate Management’s (IREM) South Florida Chapter in Apopka and the Community Associations Institute’s (CAI) Suncoast Chapter in St. Petersburg; the Gold Coast chapter in Boca Raton; the Southeast Florida chapter in Cooper City; and the West Florida chapter in Sarasota, all provide opportunities for education and continuing education and accreditation. Some of the professional designations awarded to property managers include IREM’s Certified Property Manager (CPM) and Accredited Residential Manager (ARM) and CAI’s Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM), Association Management Specialist (AMS), Large Scale Manager (LSM) and Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA).

A background in business and financial administration also translates well to this multi-faceted profession. Law firms, real estate schools and professional organizations such as IREM and CAI offer CAM training throughout Florida via an 18-hour course. For additional information go to www.myfloridalicense.com.

Regardless of the training there are character and professional traits all successful property managers share, starting with time management.

Property manager Dale Mason, co-founder of Premier Management Services, Inc. (with offices in Wellington, Gainesville and Weston) typically begins his business day checking emails on his smart phone. He is personally responsible for seven of the 23 properties his firm manages, and he knows others are counting on him to keep operations running smoothly.

Mason co-founded Premier Management as a partner in 2010 and he manages a diverse portfolio of properties with a wide range of duties. Before joining Premier Management, Mason spent 23 years in the corporate and commercial banking industry. He understands the importance timeliness has on the bottom line and on the attitudes of residents and boards waiting to resolve important issues. It is one of his goals to help boards realize they do not always see the behind-the-scenes interaction with residents and vendors required to get things done. Due process may take more time than realized. “But to be effective, you do have to get things done,” he states.

Mason will typically answer all emails first thing, dealing quickly with the easy ones and developing a plan of action for those requiring more time or attention. Returning phone calls are generally next, but Mason points out while the duties are typical, there really is no typical day in property management. “Juggling and re-prioritizing are typical,” he points out. Water or water-related problems, hurricane warnings, or flooding trump all other issues and receive priority.”

Picking up checks, reviewing projects, and working with vendors are all usual activities. Since he travels between two offices he must also allow for travel time. “I place a high value on being professional, transparent and building trust,” he says. “A manager must be service-oriented, a good problem solver, and value helping others while remaining calm under stress.”

A recent event at one of Mason’s properties indicates his approach is working well. He received a call, late on a Saturday evening, from a concerned board member reporting what appeared to be squatters entering an unoccupied unit. The board member knew not to confront anyone but to go through the management company and the police. Mason personally took the time to check, knowing that the problem could be much bigger on Monday morning. Turns out the “squatters” were not that at all—but a construction crew that had been awarded a contract and were setting up for an early start on Monday.

Anthony Marotta of Allied Property Management Group, Inc. in West Palm Beach shares both a banking background and a desire for happy endings with Mason. While working as a bank manager in operations and finance, Marotta also served as a board member for his association. A strong desire to see an improved system in place led to Marotta opening Allied Property ten years ago, and he hasn’t looked back. He too maintains there are no typical days, but there are always consistent responsibilities, and he spends a good portion of his time educating and guiding his staff and acting as an advisor for boards. ”Education and commitment are key for those open to learning; you can’t rubber stamp this profession.” Marotta’s approach to property management includes a balance of customer service, problem solving, and good documentation using the correct forms and record keeping.

“Our job is to look for an answer to a homeowner’s concern, and treat each as an individual,” he states. Homeowners don’t always understand what we need to go through but it is not the homeowner’s job to understand. We need to take the extra thirty seconds they may need.”

Lions, Tigers, and Snakes, Oh My!

Marotta followed his own advice recently when he personally took a call. The homeowner wanted to report an “infestation” of snakes near her unit. Like most property management companies, Allied does not specifically address invasive species’ issues, but Marotta listened, and asked a few pertinent questions. He soon determined the infestation was one, possibly two black snakes, harmless to humans but deadly to Florida’s insect population. The homeowner was reassured and satisfied making Marotta’s job a whole lot easier.

Jay Mangel, the business development manager of Exclusive Property Management in Pompano Beach, had a successful career in the roofing industry before he made the move to property management four years ago. His growing company specializes in small- to mid-size properties of 150 or fewer units. Mangel has taken the client base from an initial 11 to 50 properties and its new corporate home is an 11,000-square-foot facility housing 40 employees.

Like Marotta, Mangel also served as a board member for his association during his tenure with the roofing industry and was eager to serve to make a positive difference in resident’s lives.

Mangel sees his company’s role as relationship building rather than managing. “We are in this for the long haul,” he explains. His philosophy is simple; “The difference between good and great is the time it takes to recover,” he states. Like his fellow associates in the property management arena, he finds each day a uniquely different opportunity to provide the help his communities are counting on.

Exclusive Property Management serves properties within a 100-mile radius, and maintains availability 24/7 with a unique maintenance system. “We are the only company in South Florida with a night maintenance crew on staff,” Mangel explains. When the regular staff heads home at the end of the day, the phones roll over, and maintenance is available for emergencies. Additionally, all 270 board members have my personal cell phone number,” said Mangel.

He believes the only way to accomplish his goal of relationship building is with complete transparency. Accepting responsibility, offering choices, and apologizing if and when necessary is standard operating procedure for Mangel and his team.

Mangel recently added a distressed property to the company’s portfolio. After changing management companies four times in four years, the association was without funds and in dire need of a roof replacement. Mangel relied on the relationships he had previously built in the roofing industry to assist this community in receiving new roofing before the whole infrastructure failed. “That will be great news to deliver,” he said.

A tough job can be made a whole lot easier when you love what you do, and most successful property managers usually love their jobs. And even a superhero can attest that helping people can invariably make a positive difference in the world around them.

Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator.

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