If you’re a property manager, even one who’s built a bigger business and assigned out many on-the-ground operations, let this article serve as a reminder that property management shouldn’t become a desk job, and you’re never too important to physically walk your clients’ properties. And if you’re an owner, don’t settle for a company whose top brass never leaves their cozy offices. In fact, you might want to ask a prospective manager tactfully, “What did you notice the last time you were out in the field.”
When you’ve put as much of your life as I have into building a property management business, you remember the pivotal turning points, the clients whose acquisition elevated your company to the next level and brought you closer to achieving your vision. For us, one of those clients is an apartment owner who we’ll call Lydia in this article. Lydia chose to move away from her old manager and into our service ten years ago for a specific reason – she told me when we first spoke, “I don’t even remember when the head of my current management company last went to my property.” Keep in mind, this was a sizeable account, hundreds of units, the kind that even bigger companies would prefer to hold onto. Everything changed when I told her that I would personally walk her property on a regular basis. I’ve held true to my word, and she’s still with us.
Stay Current with Property
For owners, the importance of this subject rests in your manager knowing the details of your property up to the minute. You should be able to ask the property supervisor assigned to your property for details about the last vacancy filled there, and receive a prompt, in-depth answer. They should be able to tell you about all of the important repairs performed there in the last month, and what the building needs next. And if the supervisor ought to know all of this information, surely the head of your management company should know some of it as well.
For managers: don’t get me wrong, delegation is your friend. Don’t misconstrue this to be a proclamation that no property manager should allow herself to hand off any work to anybody else. I’m not advocating that you drive yourself insane by spending all week constantly visiting every property in your portfolio. But even if your rent roll grows and you can only make the trek once every six months or so, you should never entirely wash your hands of property rounds, not only because owners will appreciate knowing that their property is worth your time, but because there will always be something to learn from these trips. They will keep you knowledgeable about the properties you manage, and also show your employees that you care enough about their work to confirm that it’s being done right.
Walk the Walk
When I walk a property, I’m looking for anything that needs attention. The things that do are usually plain to see, and doing so with the property supervisor assigned to the building allows me to see their work alongside them, as well as saving me the time of having to communicate necessary improvements to them.
As a lifelong fan of music, I recommend thinking about property management the way musicians think about their instruments: the greatest players are the ones who never stop practicing, no matter how much they’ve achieved. Take the example of Flea, legendary bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He attributes his success (and the opportunities he’s had to play with jazz greats like Ornette Coleman) to the fact that he practices for forty-five minutes every morning at home and spends an hour playing scales before every show on tour. The way I see it, if we don’t practice our scales, we can’t play our solos.
In property management terms, that translates to: if we don’t honor the clients we manage for (by walking their properties ourselves), we won’t satisfy them enough to keep them and continue growing our business. If you do walk properties, you might just double your business overnight like I did when Lydia signed with us. If you don’t, you might learn this lesson the hard way, as her prior management company did. Don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk as well.
David Crown is the C.E.O. of Los Angeles Property Management Group, and has over twenty-five years of experience managing all types of income properties. A hands-on leader who has managed properties in 16 states, Mr. Crown has been asked to serve as an expert witness in property management matters, and currently serves on the Forbes Real Estate Council. He can be reached directly at 323-433-5254.