A property manager’s day often begins at daybreak with a flood of messages and continues at a frenetic pace until evening board meetings. But no two days are alike; each day poses a new challenge.
Managers must respond to email messages about dog poop, investigate missing mailboxes, prepare financial documents and negotiate contracts for trash removal while maintaining a cool and collected manner that instills confidence in residents and establishescredibility.
For a pay rate that may be less than what they can find elsewhere, managers must have the energy of youth, the wisdom of experience, and the patience of Job.
While many find the challenges of property management rewarding, the demands of the field contribute to a high turnover rate and a problem for the management firms that must hire the next generation of property managers.
While finding new managers may seem at times like mission impossible, there is plenty of talent out there and it doesn’t take a secret agent to dig it up.
Julie Adamen, president of Adamen Inc., reports that the majority of property managers have come from lower-level jobs in the real estate field. And Adamen should know. Her Seattle-based firm helps recruit and place top level managers; she also lectures across the country on how to recruit, train, and retain top managers.
In the current paradigm, managers might begin their careers in less prestigious jobs and work their way up to the top jobs. Case in point is Kaye Youngren, president of Community Management Inc., out of Portland, Oregon. She started her career in condominium development, marketing, sales, and warranty inspections.
She also supervised one of the first high rise condominiums in the state of Oregon before forming her own community management company. She says of her experience: “The background I received in all aspects of condominium management helped me understand what is required from both sides of the fence.”
In addition, many firms, like Youngren's, offer extensive in-house training to supplement experience. “Most of our managers receive a minimum of six months’ training before they are ever allowed to attend a [community association] meeting on their own,” she says.
While this method of training has its obvious merits (experience, dedication to the field, an understanding of multiple aspects of condo issues) and has been successful, in Youngren’s experience, “we have had our best success with bringing managers ‘up through the ranks.’ We identify potential during the hiring process, then they usually start as a Community Administrator which gives them all the basics. If they show promise, they are promoted to Community Manager.”
However, without further education, some managers do not have the bigger picture or long-term planning skills necessary for success. Youngren notes that today’s managers must be increasingly proficient in areas in which previous generations could get by with minimal training. The first area Youngren points out is in budgeting. According to Youngren, managers must have “a total understanding of financial statements, and how to work with the Board of Directors to adopt a budget that is reasonable...one that will fund the maintenance requirements (reserves) as well as the day-to-day operations of the association.” Adamen echoes this advice, noting that if managers are not able to read basic financial statements and create budgets, they are really going to struggle.
Another important area is communications. Today’s residents are becomingmore and more sophisticated and able to access information in email newsletters, blogs, on Twitter, and other social networks. Managers who can use these electronic social networking programs to distribute information and build community will have advantages over managers who still shy away from them.
Problem Solving Abilities
Pat Brawley, a management consultant outside Boston, points to another vital area: “Managers today need to know how to solve problems. They need the understanding that there may not be just one solution to the problem.” Given the pace with which the economy and technology are changing, it’s important that managers don't get flustered under pressure and can analyze the available data before devising solutions.
These skills do not necessarily come with on-the-job training, requiring groups like the Community AssociationsInstitute (CAI) to step into the void. CAI is a national organization which provides professional development courses for managers that fit their needs and fill in gaps in their knowledge base.
CAI also offers many levels of certification and accreditation for both individual managers and property management firms. By taking an introductory course called “The Essentials of Community Management” and successfully completing a subsequent test, managers can earn the Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA) designation. Further classes in communications, leadership and governance, as well as further testing, bring the manager to the Association Management Specialist(AMS) designation. Additional coursework covers special issues like “High Rise Management” and “Advanced Insurance and Risk Management,” which can ultimately qualify a manager for the Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) designation.
In addition to CAI, many property managers choose to also enroll in the Institute of Real Estate Management’s (IREM) educational offerings. IREM’scredentialing program includes the Certified Property Manager (CPM), and Accredited Residential Manager (ARM), designations awarded to individual managers; and the Accredited Management Organization (AMO), which is awarded to property management firms.
IREM’s courses cover such areas as asset management, business development, financial administration, and risk management. Its credentialing program also requires a commitment to the IREM Code of Professional Ethics.
But these programs assume prior experience and a current position. What of those who might be looking towards property and association management as a possible career path? There are a number of programs set up across New England to help introduce students to the field. Two of the most visible and successful are the Bachelor of Science in management program at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, and the real estate program at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts.
At Curry College, Brawley teaches an introductory course in real estate management. Her students (a mix of undergraduates, those working in the field, and those wishing to transition into the field) learn about a myriad of issues from insurance to risk management, assessing economic impacts, andemergency and disaster management.
The goal of the program is to provide students with a basic understanding of the field. If they choose to continue in the program, they can take coursework in advanced real estate management, economics, marketing, sociology, and writing en route to a bachelor’s degree, a certificate, or just increased credentials.
In the program at Curry College, as well as at Bentley, the emphasis is on the creative problem solving needed by great managers. Working with case studies and capstone projects offers students a chance to, as Brawley suggests, “work out solutions to real estate problems in a non-threatening arena.” So, before they are faced with a crisis, they have some framework for thinking about a problem and its possible solution.
These types of programs must be having an effect, as Youngren notes in response to a question about how the field of property management trainingis changing: “we are seeing younger people, right out of college who are selecting this as a career. With this comes the challenge of training them in a different manner than we would have ten years ago...they are [technologically] advanced when it comes to computers, email systems, and work smart equipment. They are eager to learn anything that is new, advanced, or technically challenging.”
The problem, however, is that there are simply not enough talented peopleentering these programs. This means that for many property management firms, recruiting can involve looking around at other firms to see what talent they can lure away.
Before Adamen discusses new places to look for prospective community managers to fill the gap, she thinks it is important to note just what makes a good community manager. In addition to the skills listed above, she claims the most important characteristic of a manager should be “the ability to understand customer service and provide it professionally and continually in the community environment.” Or, to put it more succinctly: “Let’s go beyond the notion that community management is rocket science. First and foremost, this industry is a service business.” In an article titled “Top Traits of Great Managers,” Adamen puts communication skills at the top of her list: “Great managers understand the power of effective communication, and are very effective communicators.”
With that in mind, management companies can move beyond the usual corridors and look into other sectors for suitable recruits. Rather than looking to recent college graduates, who she describes as not “having the depth of experience yet to properly handle the service aspects of the job,” she outlines various areas that might bemined for those looking for a second career: downsized industries with service components, the hospitality industry, and education.
In Adamen’s experience, managers in these industries can bring the organization, maturity, communicationskills, and general experience that more than make up for their lack of property management experience.
Property management firms lookingfor new managers can recruit service-oriented personnel of shrinking industries by using targeted ads that speak to their situations. Adamen recommends placing ads in local newspapers and websites to avoid candidates from out of the area that may not want to relocate.
Recruiters may also find good candidates by simply contacting the human resources departments of local companies that are downsizing. They may be more than happy to act as a conduit for their former employees.
Although Adamen and others correctly acknowledge that the current economic crisis will eventually abate, the landscape will look a bit different for the foreseeable future. With layoffs across many industries and employed managers reluctant to leave their positions, there will be less movement in established communities. In addition, there are significantly fewer units coming online than just a few years ago. These factors spell out increased competition for the best positions.
On the upside, Adamen believes that the industry will remain relatively free from outsourcing. “The very nature of our intensely people-oriented industry says you have to be there, developing and maintaining relationships,” she says.
Good property management simply cannot be done from a call center in Sri Lanka, and as long as people live in communities, skilled community and property managers will be in demand.
Robert Todd Felton is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to New England Condominium magazine.