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How to Succeed in Property Management

Susie Rice
Looking for a new niche? Consider property management. Here, an expert on the subject shares her best strategies on how to succeed in a market in which she’s worked for 17 years.

Property management isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it an opportunity that smart sales associates can afford to overlook in today’s highly competitive residential real estate market. Armed with the right mix of personality (for working with tenants), tenacity (for finding clients) and perseverance, sales associates can pave their way in territory typically reserved for commercial agents.

At RMC Property Group, we lease and/or manage more than 8 million square feet of real estate space in West Central Florida. Properties under management include strip shopping centers, some mixed-use properties and some residential (within those mixed-use facilities). Our portfolio makeup has evolved since I got into the business in the late 1980s, soI’ve had hands-on experience with most property types. Early on, for example, we managed 4,000 apartment units in the Southeast. I started in leasing and evolved (along with my company) into different aspects of commercial real estate.

From these experiences, I’ve learned the ins and outs of succeeding in property management, and what it really takes to make your way in this industry. Here are four key principles that everyone should follow before entering this worthwhile niche:

1.  Educate Yourself
The biggest barrier for new property managers is that the field is highly specialized. It’s not enough to simply call yourself a property manager. To be successful, you have to select one or more specific areas of the market (apartments, strip centers, industrial space, etc.) and immerse yourself in it. Talk with other property managers working in those sectors about the challenges and pitfalls they’ve encountered, and learn from their mistakes. Get out into the market and learn about the products, the people or companies who own them and the tenants who lease them.

Take property management courses through groups like the International Council of Shopping Centers (www.icsc.org) or the National Association of Residential Property Managers (www.narpm.org). The latter organization offers designations like Residential Property Management Professional (RMP), Master Property Manager (MPM), Certified Support Specialist (CSS) and Certified Residential Management Company (CRMC).
 
2.  Get Yourself Some Clients
Property management isn’t a “one deal and you’re done” industry, so be sure to seek out only clients with whom you can envision yourself working for the long term. Look for synergies between yourself and potential clients, and make sure there’s a clear agreement on what the owner wants and needs, and what you can provide. How can you tell this? Sometimes it happens right at the time when you negotiate the management contract. If you and the owner aren’t coming to terms on the length of the contract or scope of duties, for example, then it’s probably time to back away and find another client.

Many property managers find their clients by referral, but newer ones will have to hit the pavement to shore up those initial contracts.

Pinpoint buildings and facilities where you think your abilities are needed, and approach those buildings’ and facilities’ owners with a presentation that highlights your experience, knowledge, expertise and abilities. Emphasize, for example, the manner in which—and how often—you’ll communicate with the owner to report positive news (a new tenant signs a lease for five years, for example) or negative news (a costly repair needs to be made). 

3. Become a Mediator
Property managers walk a fine line between giving their clients (the owners) superior service and keeping tenants happy. Residential tenants, for example, may call on you frequently for small issues (such as a sink that doesn’t drain properly or a damaged window), while industrial tenants generally require less attention. Retail tenants (in strip malls, for example) also need a lot of support, as the appearance, cleanliness and functionality of their space can make or break their business.

Meet and greet your tenants on a regular basis so that when a problem does arise, they will be easy to talk to and will realize that you’re not going to run away and hide from the problem.

Maintaining good relationships with property owners is equally important, since these folks will comprise your client base (and generate your income).

Good communication (via phone, e-mail or another mode) is important, particularly when there are problems to address with a particular property. If, for example, an expensive repair is needed on a building, you should call the owners to discuss the estimate you received from contractor(s) regarding cost, time and work involved with getting the job done right.  

At RMC, we have a maintenance team that handles, in an expedient manner, everything from pressure washing to repaving to fixing up other physical aspects of the properties we manage in a way that keeps both the owner and the tenants content. 
 
4. Develop Managerial Skills
Every good property management engagement starts with a strong plan. We call it our “property management and leasing plan,” and we stay focused on it and execute it throughout the relationship. Developed early in the relationship and reviewed at the start of each fiscal year, the plan comprises a property budget (for income and expenses), the marketing strategies used to lease the facility, a close look at the current tenants and a listing of maintenance issues that need to be handled over the next 12 months.

In preparing the review, we look very closely at the tenants who are renewing and any new leases that have resulted from vacancies. Our leasing and property management departments then work closely with our accounting departments to devise a plan for property maintenance, asking themselves these questions: What needs to be done to the property in any given year? Is it capital improvements? Is it aesthetics? Is it something else? Everyone then works together to come up with the best possible plan for a particular property based on cash flow on an annual basis.

Now is a good time to consider the state’s property management opportunities. Many big public companies and real estate investment trusts (REITs) are getting into the Florida market, and they need good property managers to run them. If you choose this route, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty!

Susie Rice is vice chairman of RMC Property Group in Tampa. Involved in Florida real estate for 17 years, Rice oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, whichoffers full-service commercial real estate leasing, management, acquisition, development and redevelopment. Rice is an active member of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), and she sits on several boards, including that of the Corporation to Develop Communities and the St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation.