Management of any property requires a varying degree of resources and skills. Materials, capital, and personnel are required for everything from ordering supplies to the complete overseeing of a multi-unit, high rise co-op or condominium. Above all resources, human resources, are typically considered the most important asset of any business or company, and managing those living resources is an art, a science, and a very necessary skill set.
“Human resources is a department within a corporation that handles employees, concerns, insurance and benefits,” says Martin H. Laderman, CPM candidate and president of MEM Property Management Corporation in Jersey City. “The term 'human resources' is not synonymous with property management—it’s synonymous with corporations or a business that has 30 or 40 employees. The problem with management companies who have human resource departments is that the managers, the president, the vice president are not in touch with their employees, because that’s delegated to human resources—so they are separating themselves from the employee’s complaints or questions.”
“In property management, there’s an internal way of looking at human resources and an external way,” says Joseph Balzamo, president of Alliance Property Management in Morristown. “For a small firm, a human resources director wears many hats,” agrees Brian Weaver, vice president of Wilkin Management Group in Mahwah. “For a larger firm, it’s a full-time job. A lot depends on the quality of the director. Human resources will take care of things like payroll or internal conflicts. It depends on the size and culture of the company.”
Value Your People
Well-trained, motivated employees enhance the appeal and ambiance of a property, adding to both the real and perceived value. Who does the hiring, the training, and the evaluations may vary between properties, but generally speaking, the board of directors and the property management company will work together to achieve the best results. When an effective system is in place and working well, the board will communicate their expectations for staff performance to the property manager, and the manager will then develop and enforce the policies, and be held accountable to the board. The manager will generally act in an advisory capacity, before, during, and after new staff is brought on board, while the actual hiring of new employees is usually a board function.
“An association’s board should have a minimal role in managing staff. Sometimes boards get involved in managing the employees or vendors by default because the property managers aren’t doing it,” says Laderman. “But that’s what they pay us to do. They are volunteers getting paid zero, and that is not their job. If we are not doing it, then they’ll step in and get involved.”
“The role of a board or association is to provide direction to the property managers,” adds Weaver. “I would hate to see a board or building involved in managing the staff. That’s not their job, that’s the responsibility of the property manager. I don’t want to see a board disengaged from the process but I don’t want them taking on the role of property manager.”
Experts agree that it is all but certain that a board or one of its members will provide some direction to the staff. An example would be simply informing the staff of something they see in the building that needs attention. The management company should embrace this type of interaction between the board and the staff. But major matters such as communicating policies and procedures, providing feedback on job performance or discipline needs to be a joint effort between the board and the management company.
Keep it Simple
Balzamo utilizes a web-based program designed to ensure consistent customer service. His goal is to provide each company associate with the needed tools to deliver solutions for each client property. “Our website is set up to take requests,” he says. “We also have online banking on the website that gives people the ease of setting up their pay schedules or paying online There’s also a place on the website for the association to store their documents like annual reports or meeting minutes. But more and more associations are becoming wary about putting too much information online these days.”
“In this business, we don’t have a warehouse full of widgets. We don’t have a product. We are the product, so customer service is the most important thing,” says Laderman. “Without customer service, the inexperienced or inattentive manager does not listen to the resident, who is the customer. The way you speak to vendors is not the same way you speak to unit owners.”
Avoid Common Mistakes
Laderman, who has been actively involved in residential real estate property management for nearly 35 years, has seen new property managers make many mistakes. “We can speak about property managers who don’t have experience dealing with landscapers and snow removal,” says Laderman, “But the second part of that answer is the inexperienced property manager thinks he or she should wear all the hats, when they really have to delegate and rely on other professionals. So you get a property manager who thinks they should know everything about everything, and it’s impossible.”
“I think the most common mistake new property managers make is that they don’t understand how everything is interconnected,” adds Balzamo. “For example, if you’re going to work on a sewer line, and that work involves taking out the house trap, the upstairs residents may not be able to flush their toilets. You have to be mindful of all the pieces, especially when it comes to facilitating work,” he says.
“A big mistake property managers make is not reaching out to their supervisors when they should,” claims Weaver. “They don’t do it to prove they’ve got everything under control. In our firm the transition phase is pretty lengthy; it could take six months, and we have a lot of backup and resources available to that manager.”
Education and training for managers is available from a number of sources. Laderman stresses the value of peer learning, mentoring and roundtable discussions with industry experts. “You get your experience doing the actual work and a lot of it depends on who you are working under,” he says. “It’s important for those looking to gain experience to work for the right company and to have the attitude of a customer service-friendly person. If you have that friendly, appealing, trying-to-want-to-help attitude, that goes a long way and that can’t be taught.”
“There are different schools of thought on where managers should get their experience,” adds Balzamo. “Some would say that classroom experiences and certifications are really what are necessary for managing a property; I’d personally like to see some state licensing, but that hasn’t happened yet. You really need to put that book knowledge to work. There are also internships. Practical work experience is helpful.”
For education, networking within the property management arena, and leadership training, The New Jersey Cooperator—as well as the annual Condo, Co-op & HOA Expo trade show—are terrific places to start. A complete, searchable archive of Cooperator articles can be accessed at www.njcooperator.com, and more information on the Expo can be found at www.nj-expo.com. Industry experts also recommend the New Jersey chapter of Community Associations Institute (CAI) and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has a local chapter in Riverton.
The Mercerville-based CAI-NJ serves the educational, business and networking needs of community associations throughout New Jersey. The New Jersey chapter of CAI is the second largest chapter in the United States with over 1,700 members. With nearly 60 chapters worldwide offering services and programs to its members, membership in CAI includes condominium, cooperative, and homeowner associations and those who provide services and products to associations. For additional informational on CAI and its chapters go to www.caionline.org and for IREM’s New Jersey chapter, call 856-303-0190 or visit www.irem1.org.
Overall managing human resources is about providing excellent service, working as a team, sharing successes, failures, and training to continually improve performance—and of course, having a dose of humor never hurts. Humor and recognition for a job well done are both excellent teachers and motivators, and the best managers know that. When individuals learn to work together as a group, and/or a team, cohesiveness is often experienced as a result of mutual positive attitudes.
Experts agree that in the end, the only thing that matters is what should be done for the greater good of the property and doing whatever is necessary to get the job done.
Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.