How Property Managers Save Time Planning for Efficiency and Effectiveness

There are only so many hours in the day - but a good property manager knows how to make the most of them.

To describe the life of a property manager as ‘busy’ is an understatement. From visiting client properties to answering board member and resident queries to fielding bids from contractors, a manager’s work is never completely done. That’s why time management is so important for management pros. By following some tried-and-true methods and using the latest tech tools, managers can save time and increase productivity, benefiting both  themselves and the residents they serve. New England Condominium recently spoke with several property managers to find out how they handle their workflow.

Planning is Key

A common refrain among property managers is the importance of planning ahead and prioritizing tasks. “Time management is critical,” says Mary Faith Nugiel, President of RCP Management in Cranbury, New Jersey. “Everybody has their own way of managing their workload, but you have to have a way of managing it. An example would be after a board meeting with a client, get all the easy stuff out of the way [the next day]. If you need to go out to bid, get it done right then. You want to make sure to not let things sit.”

For Michael Crespo, President of New York City-based Citadel Property Management, a little bit of multitasking is involved when he plans his day. “For me personally, I hit the gym first thing in the morning,” he says. “While I’m on a bike for an hour, I’m going through my emails, seeing what appointments I have...responding to inquiries and requests. There’s a lot of different things you do to try to fit a lot of things at once.”

“You have to be organized,” adds Steve Weil, President of Royale Management Services in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “That means a lot of things. There’s always going to be emergencies, but it’s also understanding the non-emergency stuff. You can’t let the landscaper dictate when he’s going to meet you out at the property. If I’m at the property on Thursday, then the landscaper has gotta meet me there on Thursday.”

When it comes to planning, Tony Nardone, CEO of the Springfield, New Jersey firm Corner Property Management creates a to-do list the night before in preparation for the next day. “When I get up, I look at my list and I prioritize what needs to get done for the client and I attack the list accordingly.”

According to Sean Jordan, Director of Property Management at First Service Residential (FSR) Massachusetts, “Our entire job is based upon a schedule. Unfortunately, it’s often sidelined because of emergencies. You have to pick your core tasks that are absolutely essential, and do them without fail: paying bills, following up with requests, and making sure that the association and the community are serviced for those essential services.”

Time-Suckers

Among the many tasks on any given day for managers, the task of checking emails ranks up there as one of the most time-consuming. “I have to put aside a certain amount of time per day just for emails,” Nugiel says. “If I miss a day because I’m out in the field, I know that if I don’t catch up that night, the next day I’m spending a ton of time on emails.” And, adds Weil: “It’s getting people – especially boards – to understand that email doesn’t always need a response – and we don’t need to be on nine responses. You end up in the trail of people back and forth.”

Still, an email or text message does have the advantage of being a definitive record of correspondence. “There’s documentation on it,” says Jim Stoller, President and CEO of Chicago-based property management company The Building Group. “We can see if someone has opened up an email that we’ve sent them, and we can also document that. In the old days people would say, “I called your office four times,” and we’ll say, “Well, no you didn’t. We only got one phone call from it.” Now we can see through computer, phone, and email logs when we received an issue and how quickly the property manager responded.”

Additionally, resident requests that seem pressing to them but are really non-emergencies can divert a manager’s focus and time away from more important tasks. “You have people who are very needy,” says Stoller, “and you have people who you never hear of from. And then you have people that have unusual requests. Often it’s just dealing with those types of unrealistic expectations and educating your clients, but it’s also helping them to understand that there are certain things they’re responsible for.”

“If it’s a non-emergency question, yes, by all means send us an email or pick up the phone and call us during business hours,” says Nardone. “There’s a difference between providing customer service and people taking advantage of that. You have to set those boundaries upfront.”

Methods and Tools

Whether it’s through handwritten notes or spreadsheets, property managers have their own tools to get tasks done in a timely manner. For instance, Nardone carries a little notebook with him. “I like writing my stuff down,” he says, “and as I complete a task that day, I strike a line through it. At the end of the day, when I look at my list, I can say, ‘Alright, so I had 10 things to do, of which I accomplished seven.’ So there’s the sense that you’ve actually accomplished something.”

Crespo says his company uses Excel spreadsheets for everything. “We use a lot of GoogleDocs that we can share internally to keep the team apprised of things. I’m always sending myself scheduled text messages because I can respond to them really quickly. I use Gmail to filter through things that are important. That that really helps out with regards to time management.”

Nugiel recommends having an annual calendar. “When you need to go out to bid for a snow contractor, it’s summer – and you’re not thinking about snow per se. So if you have it written down in the calendar, it gives you a good framework to work from. And a monthly calendar is good because you know you have certain meetings during the month, then you know when you need to get your board packages out to the board. It’s really important to work with a list of outstanding items and a calendar of items that you need to do as regular management activities. ”

To plan his schedule effectively, Jordan blocks his time. “For example,” he says, “on Thursdays I try to schedule all of my office meetings throughout the day,” he says. “That way, everyone knows I’m in the office on Thursdays. The vendors know I’m there. And then I do the same exact thing when I’m out in the field. I’ll have a day where I’ll stay at a property and try and have multiple back-to-back vendors come by throughout the day, so I can get as many things done as a walkthrough, versus driving back and forth every single day to the same location.”

Delegate!

A property manager is not expected to accomplish everything on his or her own, and probably shouldn’t try – which makes delegating duties and responsibilities crucial. For instance, Weil’s company uses a team system: “Our managers who are responsible for the physical property get bids, meet with contractors, and supervise them. But their in-house assistants do a lot of their followup. Our compliance department writes up the notices of meetings and the meeting agendas and minutes, and makes sure insurance gets updated.”

Jordan cites his company’s 24/7/365 Customer Center Center service as both a useful time-saving tool and a form of delegation. A homeowner can call the service’s toll-free number and have his or her questions resolved by a customer care associate. “[The associates] have full access to all the condominium docs, the rules and regulations, work orders – so you can look up your balance. They can help you make payments [and] can direct you in the right direction. That way, the manager and the board can focus on the bigger projects where they’re  not constantly having to answer, ‘When are the pool hours?’ ‘What are the trash days?’”

Crespo says that he has no problem letting his people at his company run with the ball. “A lot of people feel they need to control everything,” he says. “But sometimes the way to make things really work best is to give up some of that control to somebody else who can handle it. [Doing that] has allowed us to really service our properties in a manner that’s much more effective.”

Property Management Software

Not just notebooks and calendars, property managers can employ special software to shave off time from their daily routine and service their clients better. Companies such as Condo Central Center, Concierge Plus, Yardi, and App Folio specialize in property management software. General features of their software include the creation of a condo or co-op community website; resident access to governing documents; email and text message blasts; and accounting integration with resident data. “It just streamlines things,” Brian Bosscher, President of Condo Control Center, says of management software. “It improves communication and improves transparency, so that the owners are able to get what they need. They don’t have to wait on anybody.”

One of the advantages of property management software is handling service requests from residents, says Bosscher. “We like to have all of our customers get all their stuff into our system directly. So owners and residents can put the requests in themselves.  That saves management time because they don’t have to type it, they don’t have to record it. And then you’ve got everything in one spot. It makes it easier to follow up on it.”

Peter Pietrzkiewicz, Founder of Concierge Plus, says that his company’s suite of tools helps managers with tasks, as well as with accounting for their time. “One of the things that we have in our platform is the tasks module. It allows you to create the different kinds of tasks that a property manager is working on in a given month, or in a given period. They’re able to update those tasks with progress on that item, keep track of how much time has been spent on it, and then be able to print out those tasks in a really easy to understand format that the manager can include in the monthly report for the board.”

A property manager with some degree of computer literacy and training will find that management software is generally easy to use. “Whether that’s sharing files, doing residents’ email or text message blasts, keeping track of packages, amenity bookings, payments,” Pietrzkiewicz says, “all of that stuff is done in a seamless and integrated way with any kind of online property management software. We try to put complex features and functionality into a very simple and intuitive interface that really lets you get a lot done with not a lot of clicking.”

In the end, for managers it all comes down to planning, and not letting events dictate their work, says Weil. “One of the hardest things for managers is they want to make owners happy. Like, ‘So-and-so said he wanted to see me on Tuesday, but I’m supposed to be across town.’ You really have to have to set expectations as a manager, and then you have to manage the people who are, in effect, your bosses.”

“There’s an old saying: ‘Failure to plan is a plan for failure,’” says Nardone. “And that couldn’t be more true. The employees who don’t plan are the employees who struggle the most with time management.” 

David Chiu is Associate Editor at New England Condominium.

Related Articles

Why Managers Quit

When the Board-Manager Relationship Goes Sour

Addressing Management Problems

Communication, Mediation, Cooperation

What Size Management Company?

Is Bigger Always Better?