Where do property managers learn their stuff? They're not born knowing how to broker peace between feuding neighbors or who to call when the storm gutters are flooded, so they must learn their trade from other experts. There are a number of organizations across the country that specialize in training management professionals, either through institutional curriculum at universities and community colleges, or through independently-run programs that allow current and future property managers to work toward professional accreditation.
One such organization is the Institute of Real Estate Management, or IREM. IREM was founded in 1933 as a "source for education, resources, information and membership for real estate management professionals." According to the group's literature, IREM has 17,500 individual members spread across 82 U.S. chapters, eight international chapters, and several other global partnerships.
IREM's main mission is to promote ethical real estate management practices through its credentialed membership programs: Certified Property Manager (CPM), Accredited Residential Manager (ARM), and Accredited Management Organization (AMO) designations.
Since property managers are not required to be licensed in many states, IREM's professional credentials confer what the group's leaders hope is a standard of professionalism, ethics, and experience. IREM credentials let consumers know they're dealing with someone committed and capable, who's affiliated with a reputable organization with more than 70 years of institutional history.
According to Steven Friedman of Westgate Management in Trenton and former president of IREM Chapter 1 covering northern New Jersey, "Having someone in your company who has the CPM designation validates a level of professionalism throughout the real estate community."
Educating for Success
Many property managers today come into the business with full credentials, while others have been working as successful managers for years, but wish to add professional credentials to their job title. Still others are just starting out, and need to cover the basics before tackling the finer points of modern property management. Whatever the level of expertise, IREM has several options that can be tailored to fit the professional's personal needs and schedule.
IREM's courses are taught by certified instructor who are IREM members themselves and have earned the group's CPM designation. Depending on a candidate's level of experience, IREM offers fundamental, intermediate, and advanced courses. According to the organization, "Fundamental courses are entry-level and focus on property management terminology and basic skills. Intermediate courses build on fundamentals and teach the essentials of property management skills and techniques, and advanced courses apply concepts and techniques learned in previous courses and help take your skills to the next level."
"IREM advances industry competence through education and training, promotes local offerings of basic and advanced IREM educational courses, and holds technical seminars for chapter members and others in the community," says Friedman. "We try to sustain ourselves as the leading professional organization in our field, and promote increased recognition of CPM, ARM, and AMO designations as hallmarks of property management excellence and outstanding professional achievement."
New Ways to Learn
Recognizing that not everyone can drop everything and drive to a university campus to take a course, IREM has expanded the ways CPM/ARM candidates can earn their credentials. One way is through home study, or online via IREM's website.
To successfully complete an IREM online course and receive the passing grade needed for IREM credit, students must complete all readings and activities within the lessons. Activities may include e-mails, discussion board postings, chat room sessions, quizzes, self-tests, and webquests. All work must be submitted by the last day of the four-week course session, and the course facilitator will make the final decision as to whether a student has met all requirements and passed the course.
Home study is another viable alternative for many busy managing agents, as well as certification candidates already working as full-time managers. Home study candidates register for courses just like any other student, but all course materials are shipped to their home or office, to be completed at their own pace and returned to the instructor for final grading.
A Strong ARM
As an example of how IREM lays out its educational options, let's use the ARM designation as a study. After CPM, ARM is the newer of the two individual credentials, and was launched in 1969 to address a growing shortage of well-trained residential managers across the country. There are four ways a management professional can earn ARM certification, depending on how much time he or she can devote to study and coursework at any given time.
According to IREM, the most time- and cost-efficient path for many candidates is the "Successful Site Management" course, which typically covers the management of one's entire property from A to Z in one course. Managers can take the course in an actual classroom, or via online home study, and take the ARM Certification Exam on their own whenever they're ready. Once students have successfully completed the site management course and passed the certification exam, they're fully-vested ARM certification holders.
For managers and management students who don't have large blocks of time to devote to study, there's a second option for ARM certification: completing it one course at a time. Courses are available in classroom, online and home study formats. The courses ARM candidates are required to take cover a range of subjects relevant to their work in a residential real estate setting. For example, candidates must take courses in financial operations and human resources. Other areas of study include marketing and leasing, maintenance operations, and risk management. A third option is easy for candidates who've already earned an undergraduate or graduate degree in real estate or property management—they've already fulfilled the ARM education requirement, and have only to pass the exam to gain their credentials.
Finally, a manager can satisfy the education portion of the ARM requirements by already being a Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) through the National Apartment Association, a Certified Residential Manager (CRM) through the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, a Registered Apartment Manager (RAM) by way of the National Association of Home Builders, or a Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) through the Community Associations Institute (CAI).
Continuing Education and Professional Development
Learning and professional enrichment don't stop with the final exam, of course. For those who already have earned ARM or CPM certification, IREM offers a changing roster of continuing education programs. According to IREM, these mini-courses—classified as continuing education or "Professional Development Seminars," cover issues that are especially relevant to executive-level managers, and draw attendees from a wide range of residential real estate disciplines. Past seminars have included presentations like "Leadership for Today's Real Estate Manager," and "Maximizing Profit: Growth Strategies for Real Estate Managing Companies."
On the continuing education front, IREM offers classroom courses taught by industry veterans in convenient one-day or two-day formats. In states with licensing requirements for real estate managers, taking IREM classroom enrichment courses can often satisfy those requirements. Continuing education courses cover subjects ranging from asset management to legal issues, with stops at ethics, fair housing, and marketing along the way.
Managing a single multi-family building is no small task—and most managers handle multiple buildings, or even entire developments. Having the skills and know-how to get the job done is what separates the great managers from the not-so-greats. Through organizations like IREM that are devoted to and focused on improving the integrity and professional profile of the real estate management industry, managing agents—both novices and old hands—can add to their store of knowledge, improve their job performance, and inspire confidence in themselves and their product.
Hannah Fons is Associate Editor of The New Jersey Cooperator.