Property management, in the broadest of terms, is defined as the operation, control and oversight of real estate. Most property managers would agree that definition is just a starting point, however.
There are many facets to the demanding profession of property management, including managing the accounts and finances of the real estate properties and participating in or initiating litigation with tenants, contractors and insurance agencies. Litigation may be considered a separate function, set aside for trained attorneys, but a property manager will need to be well informed and up to date on applicable municipal, county, state and federal Fair Housing laws and practices.
One major role of a property manager for condominium properties is that of liaison between the board of directors or board of managers, the property owners and residents and the personnel required to keep a property attractive, safe and functional. Good communication is a must for this “thinking-on-your-feet” position, which also requires understanding the processes and systems utilized to manage all aspects concerning property including acquisition, control, accountability, responsibility, maintenance, utilization and disposition.
Real estate experts agree that good communication skills are vital for a property manager but there are other character and professional traits that are equally important.
“It’s important for a property manager to have patience, time management skills, poise under pressure and knowledge of the association’s governing documents,” says Denise Lindsey, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, vice president of business development for Signature Property Group in North Brunswick. “Every day these skills are applied while speaking with residents, boards and vendors or while managing the daily activities of the site, such as the pool or social clubs in the clubhouse or when discussing matters with legal counsel or the auditors.”
“Patience, organization, common sense, industry knowledge and most of all a good sense of kindness are mandatory traits for a property manager,” says Mary Faith Nugiel, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, CPM and president of RCP Management in Monroe. “It is not easy to deal with issues surrounding someone’s home. Managers should always realize that they are dealing with a very personal part of someone’s life. Managers are not dealing with units, they are dealing with homes.”
Attentiveness is also key, says Paul DePetro, CMCA, AMS, the president of Monticello Management in Matawan. “It’s important for property managers to pay attention to detail. We treat everything like it’s our home. If a contractor does shoddy work we make sure they redo it because if they don’t do it right the first time it’s going to cost more to do it the second time. I have a background in construction and maintenance that comes in handy,” he says.
In the Beginning
Property management as we know it today is a relatively new profession. As the feudal system of land ownership in Europe gave way to the industrial revolution, the beginnings of the real estate business we know today began to emerge. By the middle of the eighteenth century, land ownership in Europe, and in England in particular, assumed a different significance. As cities grew, land and buildings became a favored means of investing, and it wasn’t long before America’s shores and emerging industrial cities encouraged investors to cross the Atlantic.
Initially buying, settling and reselling land masses in this country was stimulated by increased population and immigration along with the European market demands for more and newer products. As the industrial age spurred tremendous growth, America’s newly formed cities, stores, offices and rental properties increased to meet the needs of a thriving labor-driven economy. America was a goldmine for property investors, and the real estate industry we know today began to take shape. Property management was not far behind.
John Jacob Astor was already a millionaire from fortunes amassed in fur trading when he turned his interest to real estate in the middle 1800s. His motto concerning land and real estate was “buy and hold, and let others improve.”
That mindset was shared by many investors, who purchased land and property and hired others to manage and maintain those investments. This new class of wealthy Americans sought assistance in the management of their real estate assets as multi-apartment buildings and a high rental boom ushered in the new century.
During the Great Depression (1929-1939) financial institutions recognized the experience and knowledge of property investors and managers, and relied on the combined expertise to help bring about stability in the marketplace. After the Depression, the size and scope of property management developed rapidly to become the well-defined professional arm of real estate we rely on today.
There are many avenues into property management. Most property managers come to the field from another profession, as there are only a handful of colleges that offer coursework in the field.
New Jersey’s property managers can turn to several very active chapters of top-tier professional organizations: the Garden State’s two chapters of the Institute of Real Estate Management Chapter No. 1 and IREM’s Southern New Jersey Chapter No. 101, both based in Riverton, and the New Jersey chapter of Community Associations Institute (CAI-NJ) based in Mercerville, and the Pennsylvania-Delaware chapter (CAI-PADELVAL) based in King of Prussia, PA, all provide opportunities for education and continuing education and accreditation. Some of the professional designations awarded to property managers include IREM’s Certified Property Manager (CPM) and Accredited Residential Manager (ARM) and CAI’s Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM), Association Management Specialist (AMS), Large Scale Manager (LSM) and Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA).
A background in business and financial administration also translates well to this multi-faceted profession. It has been a hot button topic for years, but New Jersey’s property managers do not have to be licensed in the profession. However, if they collect rent and handle tenants, they need a real estate broker’s license.
A Not-so-Average Day
Regardless of the training there are character and professional traits all successful property managers share, starting with time management.
“There is no such thing as an average day,” says Lindsey, “Unless you want to define average as never the same day twice. Most manager’s start their working day even before they get into their office. Emails are checked, sites are visited and phone calls are returned to vendors. Once in the office, homeowner calls are retrieved, researched and returned. Invoices are verified and coded, status reports are given to board members and administrative tasks are returned. Invoices are verified and coded, status reports are given to board members and administrative tasks are attended to. When you are in the middle of making headway on a task, the phone rings and there is an urgent matter to attend to immediately.”
Picking up checks, reviewing projects, and working with vendors are all in a day’s work for a property manager.
“A good manager will know his or her property like the back of their hand,” says Nugiel. “If the manager is dedicated to a specific property, he or she should start the day with a quick drive around the property just to check things out. You would be surprised how much a manager can see in just a few minutes driving around the community. My average day consists of site inspections, supervising contracts, interfacing with homeowners, preparing reports for the board, keeping abreast of violations, architectural applications and other issues and being a liaison to the board’s committees.”
A property manager’s job is anything but average and duties can range from breaking up a rowdy house party to an unexpected breakdown of building equipment.
“As a manger can plan their time, they need to expect the unexpected,” says Nugiel. “This can range anywhere from a problem with a construction project to a pipe break that needs immediate attention to an emergency such as a fire to Superstorm Sandy. When a manager’s planned day is interrupted that manager needs to think and act quickly. It is good to have an emergency plan in place for each scenario: who to call and what to do.”
The responsibilities of property managers include a wide range of duties, from the physical to the administrative but one of the most important is working alongside board members to provide a harmonious environment for all residents.
“It’s important for boards to remember that property managers are not doormats,” says Lindsey, “they are human beings that have a job to do, even if it means alerting someone of something unpleasant such as a violation of the rules or a delinquency matter. Most property managers pride themselves on being problem solvers who look for ways to assist residents with their issues in a kind, harmonious way and not in a combative or confrontational way,” she says.
“For the boards and residents to know how dedicated they are and that their properties are a part of them, and they are very proud of them. The property’s success is their success. All days are busy days, and boards and residents need to be respectful of their manager’s time. They need to realize that adding items to their manager’s to-do-list without prioritizing them beforehand does not gain them more value from that manager.”
“A well-educated association will make things go a lot smoother for both the manager and the board. Many homeowners think that the manager is responsible for all the decisions for the property,” says Nugiel. “It is important for the membership to understand how decisions are made for their association. It is important to realize that associations are like mini-towns. Associations are a very democratic body. The board is elected by the homeowners. The board (which consists of homeowners) makes decisions based on behalf of the membership. Just like small government—for the people, by the people. Unfortunately, many owners do not understand their part in the government of their own community.”
“It’s best for everyone if boards and property managers work together so everybody knows what the other person is doing,” says DePetro. “We do a monthly management report for our boards but we also update them weekly with an email so they are aware of who is coming and going—it really avoids confusion.”
A tough job can be made a whole lot easier when you love what you do, and most successful property managers usually love their jobs. And even a superhero can attest that helping people can invariably make a positive difference in the world around them.
Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.