Next Generation Property Management Passing the Baton

Remember Stanley Roper from the 1970’s sitcom Three’s Company? To some, he might still be their idea of a property manager—the upstairs landlord or the guy you’d call when your plumbing’s on the fritz. And indeed, when the plumbing in your co-op or condo does spring a leak onto your hardwood floors and oriental carpet, or when it’s a freezing February morning and your heat is not working, the property manager suddenly becomes the most important person in the world. Today however, property managers do much more than fix plumbing.

What do property managers really do? How does one become a property manager? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of holding such a position? Are there schools where you can major in property management? How has the role changed over the past decade? Let’s take a look.

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Clearly, the position of property manager has changed profoundly since the days of Mr. Roper. Many experts mention the ever-expanding role of technology first and foremost, but there are other fundamental changes as well. Scott Dalley, senior vice president of Access Property Management in Flemington, feels that the most obvious impact in recent years has been technology, especially with the use of e-mails and PDAs. In addition, he says there is property management software that “has really done two things. It has made it easier in some respects, but it’s also made us available twenty-four hours, seven days a week, so the pressure of the job and the availability of managers to all of their clients has made it a tougher job in some ways.” While property managers have always responded to emergency situations, with PDAs customers can be e-mailing you at all hours of the night, and some of the more empathetic managers feel compelled to respond in real time. The technology, as with so many things, can be a two-edged sword. He continues, “many of the things that used to take a long time to do, and were very tedious tasks, are now much easier because of technology.”

Larry Sauer, vice president of business development for Wentworth Property Management Corp. in Hackensack agrees that technology has changed the profession. But he stresses another factor as being even more significant: customer service. “Over the last ten to 15 years, the need to provide more quality services in the way of customer service, and the way the expectations of our clients have increased over the years, there’s just a general higher level of professionalism wanted by the clients.”

“It’s no longer just making sure the floors are swept and the toilets are clean. Now, each building is a multi-million dollar corporation,” says David Kuperberg, president of Manhattan’s Cooper Square Realty. And that increase in responsibilities has also led to an increase in educational and certification opportunities for property managers from even a decade ago.

Hitting the Books

There are several ways that property managers can be trained for the additional responsibilities of a fast-paced world. The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), and the Community Associations Institute (CAI) are two national organizations with chapters in New Jersey that have programs to further train property managers. Class topics in these programs include marketing and leasing retail properties, property maintenance and risk management, human resource essentials for real estate managers, on-site maintenance, conservation and environmental hazards, and professional ethics and property financial management. IREM has a chapter in Riverton, and CAI’s chapter is in Mercerville.

According to Sauer, “there are designations that can be earned through both of these organizations. IREM has the Accredited Residential Manager, and also the Certified Property Manager [designation], and CAI has the Certified Community Manager, and also the Professional Community Association Manager [designations].”

Dalley notes that more schools are starting to offer project management as a discipline, although not necessarily a major. He says that Pierce College in Philadelphia does offer a Bachelors of Arts degree in property management, while New Jersey’s own Monmouth University also has a program affiliated with their business administration program that covers real estate.

For those interested in online certifications on property management, there are a bevy of choices, including Devry Institute, Ashworth Institute, or even the Trump University School of Real Estate.

School of Life, or School?

Do today’s property managers really need a degree, or even certification? How do most of the property managers actually working today get their start? Sauer feels that most property managers have not come from college. “You don’t necessarily come out of college wanting to be a property manager, most people just kind of fall into it, for some reason. You don’t have to be from any certain industry or profession, you just happen to come upon the industry and try it out and, like myself, after twenty five years enjoy being in property management.”

Sauer also mentions that most of the clients he deals with are looking for seasoned, experienced property managers, so it may not be realistic for newcomers to think they can break into the industry and immediately begin to manage communities. There are a lot more bases to cover today, and building one’s skill set and experience level requires time.

“Property managers are involved extensively in finance, in asset management, in technological systems, [and] certainly in customer service,” says Kuperberg.

Wentworth has sought to prepare its managers for these extensive duties with its training facility. They often bring in potential employees from the hospitality industry, the hotel industry, or any business with a strong customer-service based background. “We mentor them,” says Sauer. “We put them through our training facility, we have a school of professional development, so we’re trying to overcome that lack of experience by bringing external experience and education.”

Dalley feels that a good property manager needs a certain type of personality you can’t always gain through education alone. Like Sauer, he stresses good customer service skills and the ability to speak with clients and their communities when issues arise. “It’s not a job,” he says, “where someone is calling you up to ask you how you’re doing. They’re calling because there is some sort of an issue, they need your help resolving something with their property.”

Dalley also points out that you have to have great organizational skills, since managers are often managing more than one community, and have to be able to prioritize what needs to get done within certain timeframes. People who come from professions where you have to be able to multi-task, while also communicating well with the public regarding problems, often make great property managers, he feels.

Cons, but Mostly Pros

As with every profession, there are challenges facing today’s property managers, whether they’re experienced or up-and-coming. It’s a 24/7 job—even without snowstorms, emergencies, and general complaints—all of which can be very stressful. Dalley also points out the need to always be available, even on a Sunday morning, and the aforementioned rising expectations from clients regarding customer service.

. The job, however, does have its definite perks. As Dalley points out, the job is almost recession-proof, especially in the tri-state area where there’s not a lot of space, and a high population density in buildings and communities. The many communities in these areas are always going to need professional management, and are not going to go away due to tough economic times. “There is always a shortage,” says Dally, “[of] good property managers.”

Sauer says he also loves the diversity of tasks and challenges the job offers. “Every day is a different day,” he says. “You have your planned program set out for the week, but no matter if you’re the president of the company or an assistant manager, it changes, it can change day by day, so that’s exciting.”

It would appear one must be a sort of Renaissance person of the real estate profession to excel in the modern world of property management. Unlike Mr. Roper, there is much more to it than checking up on tenants and their wacky living arrangements; somehow I don’t think he was an accredited member of IREM or CAI. The profession has grown more organized, and more complicated, even in the past decade.

Property management in the 21st century is evidently not the career for those lacking self-discipline, resourcefulness, and a rock-solid work ethic. Good thing Mr. Roper plied his trade during the more carefree 1970’s rather than today.

Benjamin Watson is a freelance writer living in the Philadelphia area.

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