Perhaps more than any other profession within the co-op and condominium industry, managers experience the most frequent real-time challenges. Those challenges require managers to stay up-to-date with the latest innovations in the field – not just products and services, but best practices and even overall trends in residents’ tastes and expectations. Staying on top of management methodology as a whole can be achieved with one word: education.
Plenty of professions make continuing education a priority. Real estate brokers and salespeople are required by law to renew their licenses, and must complete coursework to do that. That is not the case with property managers. They are not required by state regulations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois or Florida to take continuing education classes, though some professional designations do. Many managers complete continuing education by choice.
Barbara Polychronis is a property manager in Bridgewater, New Jersey for FirstService Residential. “I have a CMCA (Certified Manager of Community Associations credential) and an AMS (Association Management Specialist credential) ,” she says. “I do work with CAI-New Jersey as well.” Community Associations Institute, or CAI, is an organization that promotes and educates managers and residents of residential communities, including cooperative corporations, condominium associations and homeowners associations. “There are educational requirements to keep both of my designations up-to-date. We have a minimum level to complete. You’re supposed to complete 16 credits to keep up, but I always do more than what’s required. Information is always changing in this business. New laws come into play, like the new bathers’ code in New Jersey that pertains to pools and public bathing. CAI gives workshops and classes, some can be for two days. The company I work for also offers classes to help managers. I find this to be a very positive experience.”
Stuart Halper is Vice President of Impact Management, a co-op and condominium management firm with offices in Manhattan, Westchester, and Long Island. He is also the president of the local chapter of CAI. “We promote and provide services for managers, board members and other interested parties in the industry,” he says. “Last month we did a seminar about new city requirements for co-ops and condos to disclose their smoking policy. That regulation goes into effect in August of this year. What is the essence of it and how do you comply with it? We need to learn about these types of things. Whether it’s required or not doesn’t make a difference in terms of education. We as managers have to be on the cutting edge, not only from a physical aspect of how to do things, but also from a regulatory standpoint in an ever-changing landscape. For instance, we also recently did another seminar on the disclosures that board members must now make on a yearly basis as to whether or not they are doing business with their condo or co-op.”
Halper explains as well that CAI is an important component in the process of managers obtaining designations. Many of the seminars and workshops offered by the organization fulfill continuing education required by the certifying body for management designations. “Continuing education is a positive experience, and we recommend it for our managers,” he says. “We encourage them to get involved with CAI, or wherever else they can learn. It’s a changing landscape, and you have to be on top of it to get work.”
David Levy, President of Sterling Services, a property management firm in Holliston, Massachusetts, says: “Managers of condos and HOAs have an array of options. CAI-National is the primary source of ‘official’ education. The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) fills that same role for apartment managers. Both organizations have accreditations that allow new hires to quickly obtain some industry knowledge, and the educational opportunities continue all the way to the pinnacle of certifications of Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) for condo/HOA managers and Certified Property Manager (CPM) for apartment building managers. CAI and IREM conceptually cover the same areas of property management, with CAI having a stronger orientation on the importance of creating a sense of community – primarily through communication, transparency, and team building. IREM focuses more on financial management – in other words, rent levels, cap rates for investors, and other issues important to owners.”
Other go-tos for continuing education offered by Levy are as follows. “Reading New England Condominium and attending their annual Expo in Boston are very helpful to augment, not replace, the training done by CAI and IREM. Classes at nearby colleges, both in classroom and online, are also excellent venues to improve one’s skills. Reading articles and books in areas of interest also help create an orientation of ‘lifelong learning.’ Since communicating well is critical to success in business and life in general, I strongly recommend that all professionals consider attending a class or organization focused on public speaking. Toastmasters is a nonprofit organization with clubs around the globe, that provides low-cost training on public speaking, and also helps improve your listening skills.
“Once you have been blessed to have reached a reasonable skill level,” Levy continues, “you should consider giving back, as a volunteer. This can be at CAI, as it has local chapters, or it can be totally unrelated to managing communities. By volunteering in a trade group, you build your professional network. By volunteering in a personal passion, such as a food pantry or an animal rescue, you open up your heart, which adds empathy and perspective that are needed not just in community management, but in fact needed on your journey in life.”
Danette Gusanders-Smusz. a property manager with Foster/Premier in Romeoville, Illinois, says there are many ways for community association managers to obtain continuing education. According to her, “The Chicagoland Cooperator has many informational articles that I read and offers credit hour trainings and seminars. The [Cooperator] Expo every May is a wonderful opportunity to meet new vendors, renew past contacts, and see what is innovative and trending in the industry. I also attend classes and seminars offered by CAI throughout the calendar year, and their publication has great articles as well.”
Gusanders-Smusz also cites CAI’s annual trade show in February as a good source of information and further training. “Both of these sources do a great job involving many different topics, presenters and locations,” she says. “We have scheduled seminars from leaders in the industry that qualify for educational credit hours in the office. This is a great way to get important information to the staff in a group setting just a few steps away from our beloved desks, phones and computers. We enjoy outings where we can see how equipment works, how their office and crews are set up and dispatched, and tours of their facilities.”
Furthermore, Gusanders-Smusz says: “It’s important to remove yourself from the daily grind of the office and spend some time bettering yourself professionally. You almost have to make a very conscious effort to leave the office at the office, to attend training, and get the most out of it. It is motivating and inspiring to spend some time with others and share experiences. Property management is not for the faint of heart, and it is easy to get caught up in the deep, dark hole of negativity and complaints. Getting out, educating yourself, sharing stories, learning new processes, and ways to help our clients will benefit all parties.”
Marcy Kravit is a property manager in Broward County, Florida. She too has had very positive experiences with both continuing education in general and with CAI in particular. “CAM licensees in Florida are required to complete 20 hours of state-approved continuing education courses prior to the expiration of their license. The total 20 hours can be completed in the classroom, online, or via correspondence courses. Trade shows and larger management companies offer continuing education courses as well. CAI and several other industry-related organizations offer continuing education courses.
“Education is so important,” continues Kravit, “and vital to continued success in this business. Our industry is constantly evolving with new technology, new laws, proposed legislation, and information. In order to increase the level of confidence with your boards and associations, it is essential that you consider taking the initiative to join CAI and furthering your education. I read somewhere that if you read four articles related to your profession a week, shortly you will become an expert.”
“The CAI, PCAM, and CFCAM (Certified Florida Community Association Manager) experience,” says Kravit, “has given me the opportunity to meet experienced professional managers from all over the country who have demonstrated their commitment to taking the profession to the next level. Networking has been one of the most important factors of the experience. In a small group setting, as managers, we are able to share ideas, stories and best practices. Managers have a commitment to dedicate their time to acquire the necessary skills to meet the demands of our challenging profession. It was gratifying to see that there were other managers that are as passionate about the business as I am.”
Perhaps the best advice for managers comes from President Dwight D. Eisenhower by way of Kravit: Plans are nothing. But planning is everything. And part of that planning, if you’re in the property management business, is to take the initiative and commit yourself to enriching, updating, and broadening your own professional education.
A.J. Sidransky is a staff writer/reporter for The New Jersey Cooperator, and a published novelist.