With multifamily buildings, who is in charge of the property and how well those people are trained are critically important factors in the successful operation of the community. Board members are a part of this management class, which is often shepherded by a competent property manager. But all property managers are not equal in their abilities and knowledge, and the smarter ones try to bridge the gap.
The best property managers stay current in their industry by keeping abreast of new developments in building technology, administration and communication. While networking with other professionals is a way to stay up to date and reading industry publications like The Cooperatoralso helps, few things are better for a manager’s professional development than taking continuing education courses.
Opportunities abound, since there are many classes and enrichment programs available to New York City’s property management professionals, who are not required to have a license. New York does not have its own licensing program for property managers. These programs not only help improve one’s professional skills, but they also can help advance careers. And maintaining certain professional accreditation with industry associations also necessitates taking such classes.
Among the organizations in New York City that offer courses for property managers, board members and others who want to know more about best practices of property management can reach out to the New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM), the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), and the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives and Condominiums (FNYHC).
NYARM serves multifamily building managers who are employed or experienced in the property management field through its property management school. The organization is not a trade school, teaching entry-level property management to individuals looking to become employed in the industry, but it does offer a property management certification known as the New York Accredited Realty Manager (nyarm) which is recognized by the city and state.
NYARM’s certification education is in various disciplines pertaining to areas of the job. The organization instructs in topics including courses on ethics, which explore pertinent ethical issues and give students the skills to evaluate situations and make smart ethical decisions. Through NYARM, managers can receive instruction in the fundamentals of financial management, in which they learn how to read and interpret balance sheets and financial reports for multifamily and commercial buildings.
Property managers must wear many hats in their jobs, and this means having at least a basic understanding of legal issues pertaining to multifamily communities. Through NYARM, managers can learn about the law and courts, gaining an understanding of contract law for construction services, and landlord and tenant law.
Experts often say the single most important characteristic of a good manager is people skills—a trait that is considered by many to be an innate characteristic, but which can be learned. NYARM offers a course in people skills, covering tenant/owner and occupant relations, as well as managing and supervising employees.
Property managers often serve as top leaders in their organizations and hence, must be generalists who have a broad understanding of many issues. Among those areas of expertise are local laws/administrative codes and managing building systems, in which NYARM offers instruction regarding the successful operation of a building’s systems in compliance with existing laws. Through these classes, participants learn about the building’s envelope and exterior systems, as well as about its mechanical and interior systems.
Because managers must have diverse skills that involve psychology, organizational understanding, financial acumen and more, NYARM’s instruction in expenditure budgeting can help. Through the course, managers learn about a community’s fixed costs and variable costs, as well as learning how to decipher actual to budget comparisons. In addition to understanding the aforementioned areas, a property manager must have good judgment and good communication with members of the community, says NYARM executive director Margie Russell.
“If a manager doesn’t communicate to the building’s operations team, how can the team be expected to reciprocate with the right information?” Russell says. “Only the person who sees the fullest picture of what is going on, at any given moment in time, is truly equipped to make these judgment calls. So, NYARM includes the importance of judgment and communication into their monthly programs.”
For Gregory Carlson, RAM, NYARM, executive director of the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives and Condominiums, certification and education of property managers is just another part of the property manager’s job. “Even your barber, who cuts your hair, has to go through training and have a license,” he says.
Carlson is the national chairman of the Registered Apartment Managers program, which enables property managers to be certified nationally. In addition to NYARM and RAM program certifications for managers, the Institute of Real Estate Management and the national certification program for Registered Cooperative Managers (RCM), offered by the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC), also provide higher levels of training. There are also many professional education courses for property managers that can be taken through the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate and its Graduate School of Education. The New York Real Estate Institute (NYREI) also offers property management certification courses and the New York-based Real Estate Education Center (REEDC) also runs a property management school for managers and superintendents.
IREM provides education to those in property management with two designations: Accredited Residential Manager; and Certified Property Manager. The CPM designation requires more time, and is more focused on property and asset management. Asset management looks at the operational management and the income side of the property, determining how to get the highest return.
The courses work, says Michael Hammerslag, president of education for the New York City chapter of IREM.
“We feel standardized education is extremely productive for organizations, so they know their employees have training in practices and ethics,” Hammerslag says. “[In a property manager] you want someone with the basic knowledge to operate a building or HOA. They’re usually an asset that’s in the millions of dollars.”
At IREM, class participants are drawn to many subjects, including marketing, finance, and asset management.
“Our one-day course in sustainable real estate management looks at all the green initiatives out there,” Hammerslag says. “We also offer a one-day course in fair housing. You learn the rules and regulations necessary to provide fair housing to people.”
Most of IREM’s courses are two-day affairs, and at the end of each class there is a test for participants. Each course is priced for members and non-members. People who aren’t property managers—such as board members or other residents interested in learning more about building operations—also are welcome to attend IREM’s courses. The classes are listed in an educational calendar on IREM’s website.
You’ll Be Tested
Larger management companies also offer their own in-house instruction or greatly encourage their property managers take continuing education courses. Some companies will pay for the certification or continuing education of an employee; others won’t. Whether or not the company requires the coursework, board members should recognize the importance of a property manager being certified and knowledgeable in his profession. Some larger management companies require employees to get a Certified Property Manager (CPM) accreditation.
Keeping one’s membership current in professional organizations such as NYARM, IREM, FNYHC and other groups requires a member to take annual continuing education courses. Typically, these courses take anywhere from 90 minutes to a few hours. Costs for the classes range from $75 per class and up.
With NYARM, certification credit is earned both for work experience and education, so the number of classes required is based upon the applicant’s previous accrued credit. The work could take anywhere from 6 to 40 weeks. Some of the course work is completed at NYARM, and for certain subjects the nonprofit refers the applicant to other organizations which specialize in a specific discipline. The cost for the initial application is $150 and to complete the certification process, it could range from $200, if it requires only 6 weeks, or upwards to $2,000. In the latter case, it would be a situation in which the applicant is early in her career and hasn’t accumulated time in the “school of hard knocks,” Russell says.
Regardless of whether a property manager needs certification to satisfy a requirement of employment, the skills he or she will gain through continuing education in the field will be tested in their day-to-day working life. Understanding financial documents, or how to better expedite emergency evacuation of the building during a crisis such as a flood, for example, will come in handy not only for the employee but also for the board, management company and all of the residents who will benefit from the manager having a more detailed understanding of building issues.
Changing laws regarding operation of multifamily buildings also dictate the need for further training for property managers. In New York City, outdated laws are being replaced, and sometimes the changes are complex, such as with the mandated change in allowable heating oil for the Big Apple’s residential buildings.
With about 10,000 buildings currently using Number 6 heating oil in the city, the recent banning of its use, which will take effect in phases over the coming three years, is a major change. Some boards are examining the need to change to Number 4 oil, and considering the evaluation as an opportunity to possibly change to natural gas heating, because natural gas is currently cheaper in comparison to heating oil. But there is some question as to whether the two big gas distributors can fill demand in New York City, Carlson says.
And IREM courses on topics like “How To Prepare For A Disaster,” have a timeliness and relevance to the East Coast, which has suffered from debilitating freak winter storms, flooding, and just recently, suffered the wrath of Superstorm Sandy. Regardless of their topic, these courses provide a much-needed service.
“They fill the demand for knowledge in this ever-changing world of regulations,” Hammerslag says.
While many of the courses available to property managers here also are available to those who aren’t property managers, other courses are focused specifically on non-manager residents. The Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums’ (CNYC) focus is on co-op and condo board members and owners, providing classes on the responsibilities of board members, ethics for board members, workshops for building treasurers, the switch from Number 6 oil to cleaner fuels, and more.
A board member’s desire to know about how to efficiently run his community may be laudable, but it’s no excuse for the community’s property manager to not be on top the latest developments in the field. In fact, some say, the property manager has a greater responsibility to know how to best manage the building.
“Those volunteer board members do not have a real estate background. I believe management has a higher fiduciary responsibility,” Hammerslag says. “I believe in certification and continuing education, because the property management field is a profession.”
What the average property manager accomplishes regularly isn’t always obvious to some. But the scope of the work, and the eye for detail required, belies a sensitive professionalism that is attuned to both reality and politics. But the political aspects of building management can be overwhelming, Russell says.
“Often it boils down to, ‘What have you done for me lately?’” she says. “Certainly the answer is: avert disaster, calm nerves, smooth feathers, negotiate minor contracts, negotiate major contracts, follow up and manage the service providers and, all the while, walk a fine line between managing a staff usually represented by both a collective bargaining agreement and the personal feelings of the residents in your buildings.”
Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Cooperator and other publications.