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.
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.
“We have to be psychologists many times. We have to be psychologists for staff members and we have to be psychologists for board members,” says Jeffrey Friedman, president of Vintage Real Estate Services Ltd. in Manhattan. “I have been in property management for 34 years, and if I’ve learned anything in this job, it's that more than anything else, people want to know that there is somebody they can pick up a phone and call who will listen to them. That’s the key to being a successful property manager; being able to listen to people. People have told me many things over the years that have nothing to do with the co-op or condo they live in because I listen. Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to.”
“It helps to be organized, you should be honest and you should be responsive,” says Josh Prottas, president of Manhattan-based Working Realty Ltd. “It’s a given that you have to be a good communicator.”
“Being a good businessman is extremely important for a property manager,” says Jeff Heidings, president of Siren Property Management in New York City. “I call co-ops and condos a business with a social twist. When you are running or managing a business, your goal is to maximize revenues and minimize expenses. 95 percent of revenues come from unit owners or shareholders. There are certain other things that generate revenue like laundry, parking and gyms but it’s on the expense side that separates the talented from the not-so-talented property manager. In other words you have to grind through every line on the expense side and you have to negotiate very cleverly with all vendors to get the best price and most efficient for your property otherwise you waste money and learning how to do that takes time, effort and character.”
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.
The New York City area’s property managers can turn to several very active chapters of top-tier professional organizations: the New York Association of Real Estate Management (NYARM), the New York chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) and the local Community Associations Institute’s (CAI) chapter in Long Island, all provide opportunities for education and continuing education and accreditation. Some of the professional designations awarded to property managers include NYARM’s nyarm certification, 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 York’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
“Today for example, I went from home to two properties that we manage in Brooklyn and spent several hours in each one; and in the afternoon I went around to several Manhattan properties,” says Friedman. “I deliver the payroll. It may sound silly that the president of the company delivers payroll, but I’m also a property manager, so it’s my way of going to each building. It gets me on the properties on a weekly basis. On Tuesday mornings I’m in the Bronx. On most Mondays I start out in the office. When I’m in the office I answer emails, do paper work and pay bills. I’m also reviewing proposals, handling shareholder issues and complaints. I don’t just return calls from my office I return calls all the time from my cell phone. I couldn’t live without my BlackBerry.”
Picking up checks, reviewing projects, and working with vendors are all in a day’s work for a property manager.
“My average day consists of attending to mundane tasks that are required to keep everything in the many buildings that I manage running smoothly,” says Giro DeSimone, a property manager and president of Village Dwellings Inc. in Manhattan. “Most days are riddled with phone calls to and from supers, repair men, owners/boards and occupants to make sure things are getting done timely, properly and cost-efficiently. A large portion of my day is also spent pouring over computer generated reports to ensure collections are up to date, reviewing and approving invoices for payment and monitoring the cash flow of the buildings I manage. I also make a point to get out of my office to inspect each of my buildings personally at least once a week.”
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, to a massive storm. “After Superstorm Sandy I went into Brooklyn and surveyed my Brooklyn properties—one of which had no flooding and lost power for only four hours. They were lucky,” says Friedman. “On the other hand, I cannot tell you the devastation in three of my Sheepshead Bay buildings that have no basements, but main lobbies a little bit below ground-level. In two of the three lobbies they had four feet of standing water that flooded and destroyed their boilers. It flooded their elevators, and they had no power for several days. It was a bit of a nightmare. The first thing I did was get the boiler company in there to start surveying damages then the power came back on and then the boilers came back on. One by one, they came back online—but it took forever. We are still working on those buildings. We have an insurance claim that’s in the multi-millions of dollars. It’s an ongoing situation to this day.”
“We were hired recently to handle a condo in Long Beach that suffered some Hurricane Sandy damage,” says Prottas. “We are going through the step-by-step in replacing heat and water lines. We put in a new laundry room. It’s a process. We also had a building downtown after Hurricane Sandy that had an awful lot of damage, and it was only about two weeks ago that we got a check from the insurance company and it was 75 percent of what we were expecting.”
“An unusual day for me might be spent in housing court,” adds DeSimone. “Unfortunately the nature of this business sometimes requires judicial intervention, either because tenants fail to pay rent or breach other provisions of their lease. Most landlord-tenant proceedings are settled without the need for me to make a personal appearance in court, but once in a while I must appear and testify at a hearing. This is never a pleasant task, but it is one of the many responsibilities of my job that owners rely on me to do for them.”
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.
“I think boards have to let managers with expertise in certain things handle those issues and not be so nitpicky about things that aren’t important,” says Prottas. “The aesthetics they should have 100 percent control over, but small projects under several hundred dollars shouldn’t require multiple bids if the property manager already knows a contractor they trust. That just creates more work than is necessary. If the manager is a good manager he will know the right vendor for the job.”
“It’s imperative for boards and property managers to work together,” says Friedman. “In order for me to succeed my building has to succeed. It’s the success of my building that ultimately shines on me; it’s not me shining on it. When we interview for buildings I say we’re the eighth board member. We get involved. We take calls on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon because the people we work for, we want them to know we are there for them. I manage at least eight buildings that I’ve been with for more than 20 years. That to me says a lot.”
“We are all in the same boat,” adds Heidings, “We all want to improve quality of life for residents within the property.”
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 Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.