Whether you live in an active adult community, a gated, resort-style neighborhood, or a downtown high-rise condo, your community needs someone to coordinate the financial, physical, and mechanical upkeep of your property. Your managing agent handles all of these responsibilities—and if he or she is like most in the management profession, probably handles a lot more than that.
A "typical day" for a property manager could mean quiet hours of paperwork done at a desk, or it could mean a whole day spent in galoshes, slogging around a construction site. It could include a mediation session between two neighbors warring over a mistreated shrub—or it could mean finding temporary housing, clothing, and other necessities for a family who just lost everything in a fire. Few professions offer as much variety (or pose as many day-to-day challenges) as property management.
The Daily Grind
Jaime J. Raskulinecz is co-owner of Rainbow Property Management in Verona, a management firm that manages about 1,000 units spread throughout six different properties. In business since 1994, her firm's portfolio in New Jersey ranges from rental housing to community associations, townhouses, condos, and high-rises.
"There probably isn't a 'typical' day, because you are at the mercy of what happens at your properties," says Raskulinecz. "In general, in the morning, I try to handle e-mails and phone calls, but more often than not, there is something waiting in the fax machine or in an e-mail that requires immediate attention. That could be anything."
Alfred Ojejinmi is a regional director for the Wentworth Group, one of the largest property management companies in the country. Managing over 900 associations and communities spread across nine states, this organization is responsible for the smooth running of over 165,000 homeowner units. He is also the current president of the Institute of Real Estate Management, New Jersey chapter (IREM-NJ). His local region manages about 50 associations, which amounts to about 15,000 homes.
Ojejinmi agrees with Raskulinecz. "Anything can happen that can alter the day, but we do work with an action list of things to do for the day, and the week. It keeps you on track, keeps you focused, and makes you more organized."
After the outstanding issues from overnight or early morning are taken care of, a property manager will often have a staff briefing, to go over anything left over from the day before. The property will also be inspected—especially on Monday mornings—to make sure that the facilities are operating the way that they should be, that the landscaping is being taken care of, and that the contractors are clear about any work that is to be done.
Next, there may be a meeting with the investor owners or the board, which is one of the most important duties of a property manager. "Whenever [our firm] is called in as a replacement, I always make a point of finding out exactly why the previous firm was unsatisfactory," says Raskulinecz. "The top complaint is lack of communication or follow up. The board may not have known what was going on because they were not being informed, or they may not have been kept in the loop if difficulties had arisen."
"The manager should facilitate the board," says Ojejinmi. "We provide the industry expertise to advise the board about the best interests of the homeowners that we serve."
One of the most important things a property manager has to do is to prioritize. Time management is a crucial component of a successful day. The best laid plans and schedules must have room for flexibility, in case something comes up.
A typical day for a project manager doesn't usually follow any strict schedule, says Raskulinecz. "It is more of a juggling act. The only thing that I consistently do in the morning is e-mailing and phone calls. The rest is filled with pending projects, follow- ups, client correspondence, and then there is the fitting in of the daily interruptions and emergencies as they come in."
Ojejinmi recommends a system of checklists for his agents—an action plan to help them keep focused. "Organization is very important," he says. "Keeping notes and the use of computer software helps the manager to prioritize."
The list of categories for prioritizing tasks runs from low, medium, high, to urgent.
"Certain things have to be done on a day to day basis, says Ojejinmi. "Anything that could cause danger or damage the building, like a leak. Anything that will minimize risks is urgent. You also want to keep the homeowners happy. If a homeowner has to call a second or third time, that reflects poorly on the manager."
"Ongoing projects can get pushed to the back burner," adds Raskulinecz. "You can't be too invested in your schedule because you may have to take care of emergencies," which can include things like water leaks, fires, heat issues in winter, hot water, and air conditioning issues in summer.
Because they have to deal with so many different kinds of tasks and situations, a property manager benefits from having a few very useful professionals skills, as well as some specific personality traits. Aside from the basic computer skills necessary to manage schedules, finances, and follow-up, there are a few personal skills that can separate the good from the not-so-great.
At Wentworth, the managers face evaluations: "A good manager is basically someone who leads properly," says Ojejinmi, "someone who gets things done, someone who can motivate the team to perform, someone who is not sloppy, someone who asks questions. You will know that a manager needs more training when that manager gets phone calls about things not getting done, when things seem to fall through the cracks, when work orders are not being used, and when procedures are not being followed. Leadership and customer service are crucial. Great attitude and ability to deal with people. Liking people is essential because this is a job about serving people."
On a personal, specific level, managers should also have good communication skills, honesty, and integrity, adds Raskulinecz. How can you tell if a person has these qualities? "You can check for experience to verify. We look for affiliations like Community Associations Institute or the Institute of Real Estate Management. It is an added bonus if that person or company has taken the extra step to gain those designations."
Another useful attribute of the good property manager is the ability to delegate authority and responsibility. If the property has a maintenance staff, the manager will need to oversee activities, more than handle them personally. The wise use of other professionals is also important to good property management. "Good managers make good use of the lawyer the accountant and the engineer. These are key professionals that help managers to keep things running smoothly," says Ojejinmi.
Don't forget levity, says Raskulinecz. "Keeping a good sense of humor to get you through the challenges of the day. Having a laugh occasionally can help with the pressure."
With so many responsibilities, it might seem like every individual HOA would need its own full-time manager to handle everything that comes up in a day, but that's not the case. Good managers are able to multi-task—and not every day holds an emergency on every site. So how many units can one manager realistically manage? Well, like most things in life, it depends.
Raskulinecz believes that "If you are managing mostly smaller properties, say under 100 units, that might not have on-site staff, and you are dealing directly with owners and vendors, you will be able to handle less properties. You have to be more hands-on. If you have properties that have a staff, then you are able to concentrate on follow-up, and on making sure that everything is running smoothly. In those cases you can handle more."
Ojejinmi agrees: "The size of the community will determine how many a manager can handle," he says. "One property with 500 units, plus another smaller property—say one with 21 units—ends up being a good balance. You don't want a manager managing too many properties, because he or she will become burned out. It can depend on the skills of each manager."
"The manager is the captain of the ship," according to Ojejinmi. "As the captain you should know everything that is going on, but you should not be doing everything. You should build a team that can handle the various responsibilities on a property. You have checks and balances to make sure that work orders are completed, make sure the foreman tells you the news of the project, and make sure that the board stays informed."
More often than not, people come to be property managers via a haphazard route, rather than a direct line. Helpful coursework for would-be managers includes real estate, organizational behavior, mathematics, accounting, finance, logic, psychology, and public relations, but "Most people that I have talked to have come to the career by accident, explains Raskulinecz. "I have seen business degrees, accounting degrees, and people who work their way up through experience."
"I am a very strong advocate of education," adds Ojejinmi. "One should know the basics of how condos run, how boards operate, human resource management, and for high rises, you can take courses on elevators, boiler, roof vents and that sort of specific knowledge. The operations, mechanical and otherwise are crucial."
Colleges and universities are beginning to recognize the need for specialized education in this type of real estate career and there are a growing number of programs available. Continuing education is often handled by the associations to which smaller firms belong, and can be handled in-house by larger firms.
At the End of the Day
The action plan concludes for Ojejinmi, with a short list: "At the end of the day, a review is necessary. I ask questions. How did the day go, what could have been better, what did I do right today, wrong? I try to live in the present, learn from the past, and use that as a gauge for the future: making a difference in anybody's life."
Denton Tarver is a freelance writer living in New York City.