No matter what the size of their portfolio, a property manager must wear a great many professional hats: human resources pro, administrator, mediator, organizer, social director, project manager, sounding board—sometimes even therapist. An on-site manager has more than his or her share of responsibilities.
“We are busy, even when residents don't see it,” says Brian Weaver, director of business development for Wilkin Management Group in Mahwah. “Even when we specifically are not handling projects for their association, someone in our company is working for them (resale department, administrative assistants, accounting staff, mail room, etc.)”
A manager is responsible for everything, say, from a leaky pipe at 123 Apple Blossom Lane to producing and balancing a $1,000,000 budget.
“I wish that people realized that the manager has to take direction from the board and get approvals from the board, and that can take a little time,” says Bonnie Bertan, principal and president of Association Advisors in Red Bank, NJ. “Owners get frustrated and sometimes take it out on the managers. Remember, there are a lot more residents than the manager and you are always outnumbered.”
A property manager touches every aspect of a community, in many ways on a personal level as well as a professional level. It is both constant with day-to-day operations and varied with unexpected issues that arise and become a priority.
“We are on call 24/7 for emergencies all year. Generally, 98 percent of everything goes smoothly, but there are times the two percent that is missed or delayed becomes the focus to some members in a community,” says Pat Boyce, Community Manager for Covington Village Condominium Association in Lakewood. “I encourage my residents to get involved in the community and to become educated about the industry to promote appreciation of the scope of what property management involves.”
The Day-to-Day Routine
While no day is typical, Weaver explains what life in a perfect world might look like for a manager.
“The manager arrives at work around 8:30 a.m. From then until 11, he will check and respond to voice mail, email and regular mail. Then he will try and tackle any tasks that can be done in a few minutes or less in order to clear the plate,” he explains. “The rest of the day is designed for all other tasks that require substantial time and schedule them over a few hours of the day.”
These are considered proactive tasks and include preparing annual budgets, meetings with vendors on site, handling conference calls with boards/ professionals, handling annual meeting preparation, negotiating contracts, preparing manager packages
for their associations, dealing with insurance claims, and speaking with board members to keep action items progressing.
“A manager builds ‘time cushion’ into the daily schedule in order to accommodate all incoming, unplanned tasks throughout the day,” Weaver says. “I consider these reactive tasks since they are on the fly decisions that I need to make in order to put issues to bed. Examples include dealing with an angry owner concerning their personal issue, initiating work orders, writing a violation letters, dealing with internal team members, etc.”
From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., a manager would travel to their association for evening board meetings, sometimes as many as four times a week.
As an on-site property manager, Boyce is required to be at her association from about 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each weekday. “I am involved with all the day to day operations of the community as well as obtaining proposals for services like landscaping, snow removal, maintenance, specific projects as they arise and the budgeting process,” Boyce says. “My average day in the morning hours would consist of checking messages, emails and responding to individuals with the appropriate information or action be it a work order, inspection, correspondence etc.”
Next up for Boyce is attacking her “to do list,” which can include following up with vendors, obtaining information that has been requested by a board or committee members or a myriad of other administrative chores.
“Generally, mid-afternoon, I will do any inspections of property or buildings or other facility amenities i.e., indoor spa, pool, etc., to monitor or generate an inspection report,” she says. “This is interspersed with any committee meetings or board workshop meetings that are scheduled during the week. At the latter part of the afternoon, again checking messages and emails and reviewing and modifying to do list for next day.”
Atypical is Typical
According to Bertan, when you are a manager, “you don’t set your day, your day sets you. Nine times out of 10, something unexpected will happen.”
There’s no such thing as “normal” when you are talking about a manger’s role.
“At 2 a.m. I could get an emergency call. I turn on the light to read the emergency book for that association, and make any necessary phone calls and take any necessary actions to properly address the emergency,” Weaver says. “Then I go back to bed because it is all going to start up again in the morning.”
Some other recent examples of non-normal occurrences Weaver gives includes:
* Post-Hurricane Irene site inspections, insurance claims, and related tasks that override any plans one had for the week after the storm.
* An owner that forgets to take his/her medications and becomes belligerent and disruptive, requiring police assistance and lots of involvement.
* An elderly person that is now extremely forgetful calls you again the 10th day in a row for the same request, not realizing that this is their 10th time requesting the same item while we provide the same answer each time.
Bertan recently had to settle a dispute between two seniors fighting over a hotly contested game of bocce—something that certainly wasn’t in the “manager handbook” when she started.
Boyce says that any given day can wind up funny or tragic. She recounted one incident of a resident waiting at her door to inform her that his pet parrot had flown away.
“I ended up trying to help him catch his bird, and as we wandered through the property more and more residents became involved. It became a community affair with parrot spottings and a lot of good humor,” she says. “The resident did eventually manage to retrieve the parrot with the enticement of Oreo cookies, which were apparently its favorite snack.”
On a sadder note, Boyce received a call that there was smoke coming from one of the condominium units on the first floor and immediately called 9-1-1 since the caller decided to call her first.
“Unfortunately, the family that resided there had recently gotten a puppy and the resident had left a candle burning on a table and ran to the store, the puppy had knocked the table over that the burning candle was on and set the unit on fire,” she says. “The fire department was able to put out the fire (and saved the puppy), but the family lost everything, and two other units were affected by the smoke damage and water damage.”
Boyce organized a donation drive for the family in the unit within the community for clothes, and household items because they had no homeowner insurance. This of course added a new dimension to her work schedule to get that unit and two others back to living condition.
The Perfect Property Manager
A good manager must be of solid character and personality, and possess traits of honesty, sincerity and integrity. Other important assets to have are good organizational skills and discipline. It takes planning, follow through and a proactive approach to successfully accomplish the job. Juggling dozens of responsibilities is no easy task but the most adept managers can make it seem rather easy. If one were to create a super manager, taking all the best pieces from all the different managers out there, it would include bits of organization, leadership and dedication.
“A good manager must be organized. This business comes at you fast and furious. If you are disorganized, it will expose you and cause you to drown,” Weaver says. “A good manager must also be disciplined. Like working out at the gym, no one ‘feels’ like getting up and putting issues to bed. But, the choice remains to either tackle the day ahead of you, or allow it to tackle you.”
Management is defined as “obtaining results through the efforts of others.” This is something that is not possible without a good team, as a manager relying on just his or herself could be a recipe for disaster.
“A good manager must be a leader and be able to steer a board and membership appropriately,” Bertan says. “A good manager must have thick skin in order to take complaints from some who are ignorant that we do not make the decisions, but carry out the decisions of the board.”
A successful property manager is a combination of several things that can be learned through education or experience but if one does not sincerely like or enjoy working with residents and boards, may not be successful in the long run.
“There are not many times you get a thank you or great job for doing a good job; many times doing a good job is not going to win a popularity contest,” Boyce says. “A successful property manager will truly care about providing their residents with good management services, and will be effective working with the residents and board members that are cooperative as well as the ones that are difficult.”
Other important aspects are good organizational skills and discipline. It takes planning, follow-through and a proactive approach to successfully accomplish the job.
“Education is also important. Knowing the industry and staying informed and up to date on what is happening what is changing and how to do things better,” Boyce says. “A successful property manager will incorporate all of these things into their job every day, continually learning and growing more knowledgeable and experienced for the present and the future.”
The best managers are the ones who juggle all these functions behind the scenes, quietly getting the job done without a lot of fuss or drama. If one has all of the professional traits listed above, they are half way towards juggling their responsibilities.
“The other 50 percent comes with a good team of support staff and a management company owner that does not give a property manager way more than they can physically handle,” Weaver says. “At some point, even the best of the best will sink if they consistently have more on their plate than is physically possible to handle.”
Managers should stay current in the administrative aspects of the job, so they do not lose control when the unexpected happens, have procedures in place, know when something is a priority, and don’t get caught up in the details of a project or process to the point that they become ineffective in obtaining results.
“Being well-organized and very proactive is essential in juggling all of my responsibilities, not to mention a good common approach to issues and a good sense of humor,” Boyce says.
Making a Difference
When a community is run well, a manager will handle the day-to-day services working in the background one day and being front and center if there is a disaster the next day.
“Being in property management is a rewarding career, but it is not an easy job. I have been in the industry for over 22 years and I still love it,” Boyce says. “There is a sense of truly making a difference to a community and to all the people living there.”
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.