This article was posted on Friday, May 01, 2015

Interacting with the people who make our industry go is one of the most rewarding and interesting aspects of my job as Publisher of the Rental Housing Journal.  From the top executives at large management companies and apartment association leadership, to on-sites and leasing agents, to independent rental owners and industry suppliers, I’ve gleaned a lot of wonderful and sage advice about how to best run a business in the rental housing industry.

Because of my position as publisher at Rental Housing Journal, I am given the opportunity to pass much of this information along to others. 

While there are certainly complexities and nuances to being a property manager or landlord that are unique to this industry, the fundamentals of the business look a lot like any other business.   Whether you’re an executive or a newbie, it’s easy to get distracted with the background noise and circumstances of the daily grind and it’s always important to remind yourself of the fundamentals below. 

Be Organized

Organization and the tools to be organized and manage your time can be very different depending on your position and the size of your company.  If you’re an independent landlord, a datebook and a spreadsheet might be enough to keep your business straight and organized.  If you’re part of a larger organization, you probably need a more complex system.

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Regardless of what tools you’re using, I suggest using the “hit by a bus” test to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks.   That is to ask:  “If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, could someone with reasonable knowledge of your industry come in and run your business with little issue?”

We all may want to seem irreplaceable in our business and certainly nobody wants to get hit by a bus, but if your business is organized well enough to pass this test, you are prepared to run your business efficiently yourself. 

Educate Yourself

Property management is an industry that requires us to continue to educate ourselves.  Some certifications require people to earn continuing education credits, but even those of us that aren’t required to take classes need to keep up on current laws, issues and best practices.

Thankfully, there are a lot of great avenues that folks in the industry can use to keep up.  There are number of great publications and websites both local and national where you can learn on your own time, but I am a huge advocate of rental housing and apartment associations and real estate investor groups and their role in educating the industry through classes and educational events[AOA has several FREE SEMINARS for members, check the event schedule at and attend these classes!] 

Give Great Customer Service

Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that our tenants and residents are our customers in the same way that we are customers of the stores where we shop and restaurants where we eat.  It can be very easy to forget that their rent payments pay our bills, especially when dealing with the [time] and headaches involved in providing homes for people.  But, we have to rise above and treat our residents like customers in any other business.  In fact, we really need to be going above and beyond – we’re providing the most basic of human needs, after all.

Treat your residents’ concerns with your own genuine concern.  Take their needs seriously and always fulfill them within reason, landlord-tenant laws and industry best practices.  Make sure our residents know that you value them.  Never treat your residents less than you would treat your own friends and family.  It seems simple, but when residents have their needs fulfilled and feel valued, they are more likely to renew and pay more rent.

It goes without saying for property managers that your owners are also customers.  It can certainly be difficult to balance the needs and desires of both residents and owners, but a skilled, successful manager will find a way.  Your career depends on it. 

Surround Yourself with Great People

You’re only as good as your people.  How many times have we heard this business cliché?  For me, in one form or another, it’s thousands – yet, only because it’s true.

Great leaders wouldn’t be great without talented and dedicated people behind them.  If you’re an owner or manager, make sure you recruit, hire and retain people that are willing and capable to take your business where you want it to go.  Make sure that your employees are both willing and able to perform the task you give them and make your company perform to the level you want it to.  Don’t skimp.

Always work toward goal alignment within your organization.  For instance, if the goal for your company is to provide quality housing at a premium price, make sure everyone, from owner to manager to leasing agent to maintenance is doing their part and playing their role in order to achieve that goal.

The same can be said for the industry suppliers and vendors you choose to work with.  Whether you’re screening candidates, turning an apartment or installing a playground, the people you’re contracting with are representing you.  Make sure they are aligned with the goals of your business and delivering the service and image that you desire. 

Keep Your Mind on Your Money (And Your Money on Your Mind)

I’m dating myself, but Snoop Dogg had it right.  When the rubber meets the road, we’re all in this business for the money.  There may be other, more altruistic motives, but few people would take on the headaches of property management if it weren’t paying the bills.  So, work your business with the bottom line in mind.

This does not mean that you should go cheap on expenses or get greedy when driving revenue.  Your decisions on both should be measured, balancing both short and long-term benefit. For instance, you might save money in the short term by doing a minimal clean and repair apartment turn, rather than a major update of the unit. But, if the other communities in your area are new or investing in major updates, that might not be the smart play.  Conversely, if your building is already performing well, reasonably updated and the competition isn’t pushing the envelope, it might be worth rethinking the complete remodeling of your clubhouse.

Whatever you do, just make sure you’re putting thought into the short and long term effects of your decisions on your bottom line.

Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Journal Metro.