How to Evaluate Your Property Manager The Litmus Test for Managers

Whether you're an executive of a multinational corporation or a cashier at the local supermarket, you probably receive a performance evaluation that assesses how well you're doing your job. Many property management companies may also do regular assessments of their employees’ performance. But when it comes to a board’s assessment of its manager, forget about annual performance reviews, it’s game on every month. 

“Every month when you show up at a board meeting, your performance review is done right there,” said Josh Koppel, CPM, president of New York-based H.S.C. Management. “If you are not doing your job, the board will know it pretty quickly. In this job, you can’t fall asleep at the wheel.”

For example, at the last board meeting of one fictional building, property manager Tony was given a list of things he was required to get done, including several building repairs, financial reports that needed to be written and submitted, and three estimates he needed to get for a capital improvement project that the board was contemplating. One month later, Tony sat down at the meeting and only had a few of those items crossed off his list. He still had not finished several repairs, including one minor plumbing leak that, due to his neglect, had gotten worse and caused additional property damage. 

In the meantime, the board is not happy and now has even more things it wants to add to Tony’s ever-growing list. In this case, the board doesn’t need to wait a year to assess Tony’s performance. It’s clear that he’s not accomplishing his workload and is chronically behind. The board decides to make a change. 

Don’t Prejudge

Jeffrey Friedman, president of Vintage Real Estate, Ltd., agrees that a managing agent is evaluated all the time, but says that a board should not follow through with a sudden personnel change unless there is a real problem with the manager’s performance. 

“Unless there’s an issue that comes up that indicates a manager hasn’t done their job, then there isn’t really any reason to look around for something better,” he says. “If it isn’t broken why fix it?”

Criticism of a manager’s performance can actually be a learning experience for all involved. Even Winston Churchill touted the benefits of criticism and performance by saying, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

“Boards have to be real and come to the manager and the person who runs the management company and tell us what you’re not happy with,” says Koppel. “Criticism is welcome, it makes you better. Managers also have to be open minded. You can learn from the porter and the doorman and pretty much anyone. Any way it comes to you, look at it and digest it and turn it into a learning experience.”

Critiquing Performance

When a performance review is completed, whether it be a formal, annual review or an on-the-spot informal monthly critique, and there are potential red flags and sub-par performance, the issues should be addressed between the board and the management before any final management changes are made. 

“If I have a board who is not happy with an agent, I find out what the board’s issues are and I speak to my agent and correct them,” says Koppel. “Let’s try to work it out as a team and, if that fails, we will then replace the agent. If we can’t sit down and work it out maybe there’s a personal issue. But until you sit down and work it out and see issues, you don’t know. The only thing you can do is communicate.” 

However, communication about job performance should begin way before the manager even begins to manage, and not at a performance evaluation. A board should make certain that the manager has a clear indication of the board’s expectations when she begins the job so it will help her to actually do the job. 

At the same time, it’s important for the board to articulate their needs too, so the manager can meet those needs and perform well. Friedman remembers one colleague’s story of one a board that wanted to change managers, but they didn’t say why, leaving the colleague’s management company befuddled as to how to fix the problem. 

“The management company was told the board wanted something new, but what?” says Friedman. “Was it something high tech and the company couldn’t provide it? Was it something else that the management company could fix or find out how to do for them? Who knows? Sometimes the heat is running and the roof is not leaking and that’s still not enough to say that the manager isn’t doing his job. Sometimes it even starts off as something personal, but the board has to articulate what the problem is with the performance.”

Ideally, expectations for managers should be laid out and agreed to during the hiring process, such as 'expected time of response for calls or emails.' What does 'same day' mean? What if someone calls at 4:30? Most boards agree that a 24-hour response time is reasonable, unless it's an emergency but it definitely pays to make that expectation explicit, and to put it in writing. 

Personalities Sometimes Clash

Outstanding performance results from a combination of factors. Perhaps the most important of those factors is simply knowing what is expected. “Giving a manager guidelines and expectations is important,” says John Colella, president of YES Property Management Group, LLC, based in Nutley. “We make sure they’re being proactive and doing daily reports. It helps if they know they have to get ‘x’ amount done each quarter.” He also suggests documenting and gauging an on-site manager’s performance to show gains or descents, which can help an agent see his or her strengths and also determine where improvement might be possible.

“Personality is a big part of communication and performance,” agrees Koppel. “If you can’t speak to a board member, where’s the relationship? There’s no teamwork if you can’t communicate and then everything will fall apart.”

To prevent this from happening, Koppel says it’s key for managers to just stay on top of their to-do list and forget about the evaluations. “When you go to a board meeting and leave with a list of 30 things to do, don’t wait for the next board meeting to get them done,” he says. “Get them done the next day, otherwise you forget and then 30 things turn into 60 and then 90 because it’s nonstop. I work like a dog and I’m on top of my stuff and I enjoy what I do, so it’s easy and I like to get things done.”

“My director of management requires that each property manager submit a meeting report after each board meeting so we can properly monitor the activities of that building,” says one management exec. “It addresses any major issues that are happening in the building; concerns regarding interaction with board members. Major projects are broken down, and any issues related between three major departments; my bookkeeping department, my legal department and my management department. Those reports are submitted along with the minutes within 24 hours of a board meeting. Upper management reviews them and meets with the property manager on any issues that need to be addressed.” 

Other firms require their managers to generate regular reports, conduct monthly walk-throughs of their properties, and compose detailed action lists of all the items they are working on, with status updates for anything still pending. These reports and lists are submitted to the manager's supervisors, and progress is overseen by senior management.  

In an ideal world, managers should strive to perform optimally at all times out of a sense of professional pride. However, some management companies offer pay bonuses to their employees to encourage them to meet specific performance benchmarks. Others give extra time off, educational reimbursement, or other perks. 

In addition to incentives, there are other methods and resources that managers can use to perform better on the job and improve their skills. The New Jersey Cooperator provides informational articles and a database of previous issues that cover everything property managers need to know to do their job well, and hosts its annual Condo, Co-op & HOA Expo, with hundreds of vendors and service providers, as well as educational seminars on every aspect of running a community association or building. 

There are also trade organizations such as the New Jersey chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI-NJ), the Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley chapter of CAI (CAI-PADELVAL), the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has two chapters, Chapter No. 1 and the Southern New Jersey Chapter No. 101, and schools that offer continuing education classes and conferences. These resources help managers to learn new skills, improve old skills and ultimately improve performance on the job. Then, no matter when the manager is under the scrutiny of a performance review, the manager will be ready.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.

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