There are literally tens of thousands of property managers, ranging from national operators and disruptive start-ups to regional companies and individuals. It's a field where you can't necessarily judge contenders by their client list and work samples, nor can you rank them based on education and certifications. Property managers come from all backgrounds, and depending on how big the company is, they may perform only one role or all of them.
That said, there are certain attributes that all property managers must have, because there are responsibilities that all of them must cover. Beyond that, finding the right property manager for your rental property (or properties) is about identifying the individual with the particular skills and traits you value most or finding a company that specializes in what you need.
If you're looking for more than the qualities and qualifications discussed in the following section, you're probably looking for a specialist -- either someone who can be present in the building, like your proxy, or someone who can take a very proactive role in maximizing your profits. Engaging a firm would give you access to many different specialists, but most landlords seeking a specialized property manager are looking for one of two types:
- An onsite property manager
- A marketing-focused property manager
We'll explore what to look for in both types after we go over the attributes that all good property managers have in common.
Universal attributes of a property manager
They'll manage everything from rental activity and vacancies and showings to money collection and repairs and maintenance. To do this, they'll need to be very comfortable with spreadsheets, databases, and project management tools.
If half a property manager's time is spent in paperwork, the other half is spent dealing with people, showing units to prospective tenants, meeting with maintenance professionals, and servicing existing tenants. No one expects to be ignored or met with a scowl or a "Who are you again?"
It's a property manager's responsibility to collect rent and fees and to pay or arrange for the payment of the property's bills.
This is a job with a thousand moving pieces. Typical day: Five prospective tenants want to see a unit, the pool pump goes out, and road construction is blocking the entry. The property manager needs to deal with the known, the unexpected, and the necessary workaround -- every day.
Whether chasing a specialty contractor who no-showed or answering emails from prospective tenants, a property manager needs to stay on top of communication.
The ability to be firm when needed
As the person to screen tenants, collect payments, and keep vendors/contractors on track, the property manager should have a winning smile and nerves of steel for unpleasant conversations about funds owed. Because those conversations will have to happen.
Comfort with industry technology
While real estate is slow to adopt disruptive technology, certain changes have fully penetrated. For example, property listings are always distributed and promoted digitally. Invoicing and collection, on both the vendor side and the rent management side, are also often handled through programs like QuickBooks and apps. No one should rely on paper systems anymore, although it's good to keep hard copies of financial documents.
Attributes of an onsite property manager
While standard business hours may be the norm, this job gets plenty of off-hours requests as well as urgent needs during business hours that require patience and a helpful attitude.
Basic knowledge of building systems and major shared appliances
They need to be observant enough to notice that something has broken and call in the proper repair specialists before anyone else in the building notices.
Astuteness at evaluating contractors and vendor bids
This will be a blessing and a boon, not only to the property but also to your balance sheet.
A strong network of trade contacts or the ability to build one quickly
A handyman, pool service, tree care service, and carpet cleaner are just a few contacts they should have in their files.
When inspecting common areas or doing walk-throughs of units after tenants vacate, this person needs to spot damages or potential problem areas right away -- and have a plan to fix things within the day or even the hour.
A proactive stance on security
We've come a long way since the days of deadbolts and bars on windows. Tenants will ask about smart locks, doorbell videos, proximity sensors, and more. A property manager should know the options and be able to explain what they're using to keep the building and its occupants safe.
Attributes of a marketing-focused property manager
Knowledge about marketing/listings sites
This person should know where you need to post your listing to get a quality tenant in, when the listing should come down, and how to track what channels and platforms generate the best responses.
Marketing strategy skills for digital and social media channels
If you have a lot of units, a vacation rental in a resort area, or an expensive property, you may need more than just a presence on the top listing sites. This person should be able to devise a sound strategy for marketing your property.
Photography and copywriting skills
Good photos are essential, and strong copy can make your listing appear higher quality.
Responsiveness to inquiries
After you've paid for all the marketing, there had better be someone receiving inbound leads who responds right away and takes the next step. It's scary how many property managers are advertising on social media these days and do not respond to their inbox messages. This is bad news for a landlord's marketing budget.
The ability to quickly to understand people's needs and means
It saves a lot of time for all sides when a property management professional can comprehend what a person is looking for, determine whether there's a potential fit, and walk them through it. Being able to determine whether the person making the inquiry is a good fit for the building, financially and in terms of their timeline, is also important.
Not everyone is cut out to be a property manager
It's one of those jobs everyone thinks they can do because people tend to underestimate what's needed. It's up to you to sort out those who are just passing time and collecting a check from those who have the aptitude and skills to run your investment property smoothly and maximize profits.