Hitting the Books Managers Go Back to Class for Career Advancement

Hitting the Books

These are hardly the best of times for those who manage condo and homeowner association buildings, charged as they are with overseeing financial well-being, maintenance goals, legal issues and an almost unpredictable kaleidoscope of other daily concerns, in an economy stressed by many months of lean times. On the positive side: When has there been a better opportunity to acquire the kind of experience only challenging times can provide?

In what has become a sometimes-complicated scenario, property managers and building community leaders are seeking broad-based, in-depth training for the many hats they wear. Some have concluded that the trenches aren’t always the best classroom, and are heading for more organized venues. Membership organizations and colleges have responded, offering a variety of options ranging from bachelor’s degree studies to continuing education certification programs. The industry itself offers well-tooled programs to deal with the problems facing managers, as well as offering advanced levels of certification for those making a career of residential property management.

Nationwide Learning

The nationwide Community Associations Institute (CAI) based in Alexandria, Virginia, oversees a system of state and regional chapters, each providing managers with course opportunities and peer contacts. Published materials and continually updated classes are available as well. Frank Rathbun, CAI's vice president of communications and marketing, says the group's certification courses delve into increasingly specialized challenges, critical for career growth among managers—but equally important to those who reside in housing communities.

Ann-Marie Johnson, director of education operations and credentialing at CAI, says residents also have much at stake in having certified managers. “For homeowners, it’s knowing that the manager has the fundamental knowledge in any situation (when to call an attorney, how to handle an emergency)—and that he has to abide by the CAI’s Code of Ethics.”

“There’s no question that most [managers] are doing a very good job,” Rathbun adds, “but clearly those who have taken specialized courses can bring something additional to the table.” Training based on experience provides the foundation for better performance in difficult situations, he continues. “Running a community association is not easy; it’s a professional job that requires many types of skills and different kinds of knowledge. It’s a complicated job, and we have to make sure our courses keep up with the trends.”

The costs for CAI’s or similar training programs are often borne by the management companies or community associations employing managers. Some of these courses may be taken online or at home, at the individual's own pace. Others are offered in regional venues.


The Professional Management Development Program (PMDP) offered through CAI consists of three levels of courses designed to give new managers a knowledge base and experienced managers a deeper understanding of all aspects of association management. Courses focus on such topics as insurance, finance, leadership, governance, and communications. The skills and contacts made in this program helps fledgling and veterans alike to maintain their competitive edge and increase earning potential. Earning professional designations in community management starts with the PMDP—and can result in higher salaries, respect from clients, and a bright future in a growing field.

One course in particular, the M-100, is for new board members or managers. It covers the fundamental elements of management and serves as an ongoing guide. Property managers looking for their first designation will often will take the M-100 and the follow-up examination to achieve the CMCA (the Certified Manager of Community Associations), AMS (Association Management Specialist) and, ultimately, the PCAM (Professional Community Association Manager) designations.

New Jersey's own chapter of CAI does offer periodic courses to its membership through the PMDP program. CAI-NJ's 2011 schedule is as follows: March 3-4, 2011, M-205: Risk Management, at the Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, NJ; May 12-13, 2011, M-340: Managing Large-Scale Communities, Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, NJ; M-204: Community Governance, September 22-23, 2011, Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, NJ; M-100 The Essentials of Community Association Management, October 20-22, 2011, Sheraton Edison Hotel Raritan Center, Edison, NJ; and M-201: Facilities Management, December 1-2, 2011, Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, NJ. Please contact Kyle Hammerschmidt (kyle@cainj.org) or call 609-588-0030 for further information.

Courses through the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM)’s chapters are geared to real estate professionals managing all types of properties. IREM also offers certifications: Certified Property Manager (CPM), Accredited Residential Manager (ARM), Accredited Commercial Manager (ACM), and the Accredited Management Organization (AMO), which is awarded to property management firms.

IREM’s New Jersey Chapter No. 1, Southern New Jersey Chapter No. 101 and Delaware Valley No. 3, all offer a flexible schedule of courses annually. To accommodate managers’ busy work lives and lifestyles, IREM’s education programs includes classroom courses across the United States, online courses, home study courses, and customized private in-house training. And, keeping up with the advances of technology, IREM also runs a number of webinars facilitated by IREM members and other industry experts, combining the convenience of learning via the Internet with the benefits of peer-to-peer interaction. Webinars run 45 to 60 minutes and cover a variety of timely industry issues as well as live demonstrations of useful real estate management tools.

IREM-sponsored courses include: ETH800: Ethics For The Real Estate Manager, February 16, 2011, at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, Atlantic City, NJ, offered by IREM 1, 3 & 101; RES201: Successful Site Management, March 10-12 & 17-19, 2011 in Harrisburg, PA, offered by IREM 3; the CPM Capstone Track, March 21-25, 2011 MPSAXM – Management Plans Skills Assessment – March 21-24, CPM001 – CPM Certification Exam Preparation Course – March 25, and CPMEXM – CPM Certification Exam – March 25, at the Marriott Mt. Laurel, Mt. Laurel, NJ, offered by IREM 1, 3, & 101; Fair Housing and Beyond, April 6, 2011, AAGP Office, Bala Cynwyd, PA, offered by IREM 3 and AAGP; ETH800: Ethics For The Real Estate Manager, May 12, 2011, at the Interstate Realty Management offices in Marlton, NJ, offered by IREM 101; and CID201-Common Interest Developments: Managing Condominiums, May 12-14 & 19-21, 2011, in Central NJ location, offered by IREM 1.

Bringing it Home

Curt Macysyn, executive vice president of CAI-NJ in Mercerville, says that at this point becoming a property manager isn't considered a concrete career path, but that with the proliferation of various training programs and even courses that could be offered by community colleges, more people will be attracted to the profession. For those already involved in the industry, Macysyn says, "The whole premise behind the accreditation program is to allow managers to gain professional development, which will allow them to be better in their positions." That benefits associations as well, because they will be more comfortable hiring someone who's gone through the professional development program and thus possesses the proper training and techniques. "The idea of the training is to assist managers in becoming well-rounded leaders in their own community," Macysyn says. Those who take advantage of it, he continues, represent the upper echelon of managers in the industry.

College-Level Studies

Looking at more traditional educational tracks, prospective property managers in the Garden State are also taking college-level courses. Locally, Monmouth University in West Long Branch and Montclair State University in Montclair both offer a bachelor of science in business administration with a concentration in real estate. And Mercer County Community College with campuses in West Windsor and Trenton offers a non-credit certificate program in property management.

Across the river in New York City, the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University offers a Certificate in Property Management program that covers both residential and commercial property management and includes topics ranging from marketing, leasing, accounting, and investment analysis to building systems and maintenance. NYU also offers graduate level degrees in construction management, real estate and real estate development. The Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute at Baruch College, City University of New York, also offers a Real Estate Management Certificate covering facilities, construction and sustainable property management, along with legal and administrative issues in multi-dwelling properties.

The More You Know...

Even if you've been managing properties for decades, there’s always more to learn; new technologies, better practices, and innovations in everything from energy conservation and green development practices to staff management make the job of property management dynamic and ever-changing. To keep up with the pace—and to best serve the communities in your portfolio—continuing education and enrichment can be well worth the price of tuition.

Ann Connery Frantz is a freelance writer. Pat Gale, associate editor of New England Condominium magazine, a Yale Robbins’ Publication, contributed to this article.

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