As jugglers of multiple and oftentimes complex tasks, property managers must be adept at mediating between board members and unit owners, as well as resolving all manner of maintenance and legal issues. To this end, property managers don’t have 'typical' days, but rather varied and challenging ones that are often complicated, and require a particular skill set to navigate.
“A working relationship with the board is important, and being a conduit between them and the residents,” says Randolph Bell, CEO of BeacCorp Property Management in West Palm Beach. “You’re the person residents vent their frustration to. You have to have negotiation skills. Being able to draw up an action plan, you go to the board and they say they need this, this, and this. You try to identify the problem areas, and draw up a definition and get it structured. It’s being able to coordinate, articulate and execute on the direction of the board, and do it as quickly as possible,” he says.
The Juggling Act
In order to do their respective job well, managers require a wide array of both concrete skills and specific personality traits. And while the size of the property dictates a manager's involvement and responsibilities to a large degree, there are a few traits that are common to any good manager. These professionals understand not only how to deal with boards and residents, but vendors and the ever-changing status of the property–whether it’s due to the environment, a lawsuit, dishonest contractors or changing board members. In the end, it is the board that ultimately entrusts the property manager to make the right call regardless of the situation.
“Being a good listener as well as having a lot of patience are important property manager traits,” says Bill Worrall, vice president of client relations and business development for the Hollywood, Florida-based FirstService Residential, one of the nation’s largest property management firms. “A manager needs to spend time with the board and unit owners to know their issues and understand the community lifestyle they bought into.”
“One of the most important duties of the manager is to educate their board members. These members are volunteers and don’t receive any compensation for their efforts aside from the satisfaction of contributing to their community,” says Dixie Carlotti, director of association services for Ruskin-based SouthShore Property Management. “A great manager will do everything possible to educate them on the governing documents for their association, as well as the Florida statutes that are applicable so that they are able to make informed decisions and choices that are productive in moving their community in a forward direction.”
Since the role of the board is essentially that of policy making, board members must take a team approach when working with a property manager. To this end, Worrall says board members must read all reports, attend all meetings and make decisions that are in the overall best interest of the community. But getting a buy-in from board members in all this requires some skill on the part of the manager, he says.
“Communications skills are critical—both written and verbal. They ways in which a manager relates to board members, on-site staff or contractors are critical because you need to be able to relate to all of them,” says Worrall. “A manager must make sure that he or she is 110 percent prepared to discuss all issues that are key to making a good impression on the board and the residents.”
The Personality Test
Lorne Michaels, creator of TV’s Saturday Night Live, once said, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” For property managers, 'show time' is a continuously-moving target. As such, they have to be producer, director, actor, editor and cameraman. In short, they require a personality that can assume any of the 'hats' needed to wear on any given day.
“A manager, by law, must possess at least a basic skill set in upholding the applicable Florida statutes,” says Carlotti. “A good manager will be able to read and decipher all governing documentation and work to implement it effectively. They will have some basic understanding of the various trades that practice within their communities, such as landscaping, plumbing and painting, and will be able to actively oversee these activities.”
Carlotti adds that a great property manager exceeds the aforementioned functions by possessing strong organizational skills and the ability to multitask effortlessly. “They will also have a more advanced knowledge of the trade professions and will work to educate their community volunteers as much as possible.”
Whereas a property manager might have a background in construction or be well-versed in business software operating programs, having the 'right' personality for the job is not easily taught. In some cases, it can’t be taught at all. It’s more so an inherent gift.
“Property managers are judged on how they interact with board members and unit owners,” says Worrall. “They are there to present solutions. So if a new project is on the horizon, such as a pool resurfacing, the manager has to be able to clearly communicate the time, cost and why the project is required. He or she should have answers to all related questions.”
The ability to function calmly and effectively in adverse circumstances is also key for managers, notes Worrall. Located as it is in the path of hurricanes—many of which that have devastated communities on both coasts—Florida is a state that knows something about such circumstances. “Conflict resolution is a big issue for our managers. As a result, we have a lot of training on hurricane procedures,” says Worrall. “And, recently we have been dealing with the whitefly infiltration. These are both annual issues we have to deal with, and are different than other areas of the country.”
As is the case with weather-related events, property managers have to understand the different needs and expectations of the different associations in their portfolio. Some may be comprised of residents who come from different cultures and speak multiple languages; others may be home to many older residents who have special everyday needs, as well as considerations in times of crisis.
“I believe that people who are patient and detail-oriented are more successful in this industry,” says Carlotti. “Managers are faced with many cases where homeowners are upset for one reason or another. It is rare that we receive communication from people just to say, ‘thanks for all you do and I hope you’re having a great day,’ It’s more likely you’re receiving a call because someone got a violation notice or a delinquency letter, or maybe their roof is leaking. You have to be empathetic when you receive those calls and be patient with the caller, try to be understanding of their situation, but yet still be firm in enforcing the guidelines that they are restricted by.”
Poet Laureate Robert Frost once wrote, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” This sentiment holds true for property managers, all of whom benefit from the various programs designed to further their respective careers.
“While there are a few key components to defining a good property manager, such as communication skills and experience, a manager must also be financially-proficient, and be able to explain a financial statement to the board,” says Worrall.
FirstService Residential is one of the largest firms in the state, overseeing roughly 1,600 community associations totaling more than 350,000 units. Worrall points out that depending on the size of the property and allotted budget, a property manager might have as many as 10 properties in his or her portfolio. Conversely, some of the firm’s larger single properties have a property manager and an assistant manager. With each association having different needs and challenges, keeping abreast of industry standards, protocols, and best practices is crucial for any manager, regardless of their portfolio.
One of the other many hats that property managers have to wear involves an engineering and maintenance background. Bell says that especially in this arena, property managers will sink or swim when it comes to honesty, integrity and reliability. “When you start to get into repairs and maintenance, and an outside person says they need to redo, say, a whole section of plumbing, when really it was just the indexing valve that broke because it was installed improperly. Somebody with knowledge would’ve said all you need is a new two-dollar valve, and the problem is fixed,” says Bell.
One of the industry leaders in education is the Community Associations Institute (CAI), which has several programs specifically for managers—CAI’s Professional Management Development Program (PMDP). The courses, which can be taken in a classroom setting or online, are designed to enhance skills, knowledge and job opportunities. “I personally am very active in CAI and find it to be a very useful organization,” says Carlotti.
Florida property managers are required to hold a Florida Community Association Manager (CAM) license. Requirements include being at least 18 years of age and completing at least 18 hours of pre-licensure education from an approved provider. The Florida Real Estate Commission, which administers testing, states that managers “must be of good moral character; must have a background check and submit fingerprints.”
The license exam fee, which can be found online, is $73 and the license fee is $105. “We assume the cost, but it is the manager’s responsibility to get the training and go through the approval process to receive their CAM license, which includes continued education,” says Worrall.
Many firms provide in-house training on different topics such as human resources, contracts, OSHA and work-life balance. Aside from CAI, of which there are multiple chapters serving the Sunshine State, firms may also take advantage of courses and seminars provided by professional organizations such as the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), multiple law firms and approved education providers, as well as seminars hosted by The South Florida Cooperatoritself at its annual Expo.
Checks & Balances
And while it is critical for property managers to continue their respective education as a way to better serve unit owners, boards need to have a system of checks and balances in place in order to ensure successful management practices are being carried out.
“Some of the main things that are looked at by boards and owners in communities are things that are obvious to them. To the average homeowner in a single family home association they look at landscaping,” says Carlotti. “They often determine whether or not we are doing a good job by how well their community is kept. If the landscapers are not doing a good job and we have not done something to address it, then we are not doing our jobs.”
Carlotti says boards also often look at delinquency rates as a way to measure performance. “A community that has high delinquency means that the owners that are paying their dues have to pay more in order to account for the lost revenue on delinquents. Therefore, being completely on top of the status of each delinquent account is key to making sure that you are doing your part to keep the community as financially stable as possible.”
This also tends to be one of the more difficult aspects of a property manager’s job. “You have to do the tough calls, and that’s calling up on assessments,” says Bell. “You might have an older woman who’s been delinquent, and you have to charge her the penalty because you have to treat everybody equally, even though you know she’s struggling. You have to be responsive and personable.”
So, whether a manager handles just a handful of boutique properties, or devotes 40+ hours per week to managing a single large development, communication, personal commitment to the job, and to professional enrichment are what separate the so-so from the super when it comes to management.
Brad King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator.