image of happy lady in front of a computer

How to Succeed as a Property Manager

Updated | 3/29/2022

Many property managers stumble into their jobs unintentionally. They were hired by a friend of their mother’s as a leasing agent. They were looking for a new apartment and came away with a job instead. They were desperate for work and accepted a position in a new industry. While fortuitous circumstances can lead someone down the path of property management, it takes more than luck to succeed.

AppWork has compiled the following seven tips, taken from the property managers who helped us build our maintenance management app.

Start with the Right Attitude

Whether you’re managing your first property or your hundredth one, the right attitude will always be the foundation of your success. A property manager who is positive and proactive will have the ability to overcome obstacles while constructively interacting with residents.

Motivate yourself by setting professional goals. Reaching goals will keep you feeling capable and accomplished. Your goals can cover a wide variety of subjects, like:

  • Reducing apartment turnover time
  • Improving renewal rates
  • Increasing service technician retention
  • Earning a new professional certificate
  • Reducing resident complaints
  • Lowering new resident acquisition costs
  • Increasing operational efficiencies on-site and in the office

The key to setting goals is measurability. You need to know your current numbers before setting goals for new numbers. Good property management software offers in-depth reports and analytics.

Once you have base numbers, you can set long-term and short-term goals. Being successful leads to feeling successful. That brings more success. Since you want to build on your accomplishments, it’s better to have smaller, achievable goals versus large, daunting ones. Don’t set yourself up for failure.

After setting your goals, get right to work. Don’t procrastinate. Be prepared for each day. Many successful property managers get up early so they can be ready before their team arrives. If you’re a night owl, prepare the night before. Preparation can include:

  • Knowing which vendors are coming and when.
  • Assigning work orders to both on-site technicians and third-party vendors.
  • Knowing which vendors and technicians are the best for each work order.
  • Following up on your service technicians’ work orders.
  • Catching up on your paperwork (see below for more details)

Check out our tips on increasing efficiency in your work order management.

image of a desk with a computer and papers

Sweat the Little Stuff

The most successful property managers tend to be extremely organized and detail-oriented. Little things can make a big difference. If you violate a city code, you might be facing expensive legal problems. If you ignore a small maintenance request, it can quickly grow and cause massive damage to the property.

To avoid scary legal fees and large renovation costs, you have to stay on top of your paperwork. Every little detail matters. Some of the paperwork property managers need to keep in order:

  • The signed lease agreement
  • Maintenance service requests
  • Rental payments
  • Notifications about lease violations
  • Property inspections
  • Insurance policies for the property
  • Records of security deposits, fees charged, and money refunded
  • Any legal records from the city or state, including documents about property taxes

Ideally, most of these documents should be digital and stored in a cloud-based platform. Whether they are physical or digital, keeping them organized is essential.

Also, when it comes to multifamily maintenance management, a tiny issue can create big problems. A leaky faucet might seem minor, but if left it can create extensive water damage. A broken doorknob is easy to dismiss, but that might be part of why a good resident moves out.

Even if you don’t have any training or experience as a service technician, you can still spot-check your technicians’ work and communicate with residents, making sure they are satisfied with the upkeep of their unit and the property in general.

Being a property manager means being in the middle of everyone, with pressure coming from the property owner, the service technicians, and the residents. You are the keystone of the property’s operations.

Prioritize Communication

Communication doesn’t start after a lease agreement is signed. You also need to communicate well with potential residents. Did someone start filling out a lease agreement online and stop halfway through? Or maybe they visited your office but never finished filling out an application?

Don’t lose your leads! Call them back and see if they need help finishing the application. Send them an email and offer your assistance. By reaching out and communicating with potential residents, you can reduce vacancies and spend less time marketing your property.

Once they’ve signed a lease agreement, keep communication channels open. Start with asking how often they want to hear from you and what’s their preferred communication method.

If a resident contacts you at any time, provide a prompt response, even if the only response at the moment is, “I got your message, and I’m going to start working on it.” Every time you get an update, pass that update on to the resident.

Make sure communication is a two-way street. Get feedback from your residents regularly. This can be done by offering the ability to rate maintenance calls or just by making a habit of asking each resident, “What’s important to you? What do you feel is missing?”

Get Good Residents

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s critical to your success and not always easy to accomplish.

Providing the amenities people want will increase your chances of getting quality tenants. Keep your properties clean, tidy, and up-to-date. Residents will always prefer a modern-looking and well-kept property.

Create a system for screening prospective residents. Depending on state laws, make sure to check out:

  • Employment
  • Income
  • Criminal records
  • Previous evictions
  • Credit history
  • References (personal and professional)

Warning signs of a troublesome tenant:

  1. They have a history of not paying their rent or not paying rent on time.
  2. They have caused significant damage to previous units.
  3. Their pets have caused significant damage previously.
  4. They needed to be evicted in the past.
  5. They have a history of fighting with neighbors.

You won’t know about any of these problems if you aren’t careful to call references and follow up on the information provided in the application. Be patient and thorough. It’s much easier to avoid a troublesome resident than to evict one.

image of a nice looking balcony in a multifamily apartment building

Focus on Keeping Good Residents

Engage with your residents and keep them engaged with you. Put residents first and truly care about their feelings. Residents need a property manager who is available, responsive, and reliable. Residents want someone who is friendly and takes a genuine interest in their lives. According to Anita DiPietro, CPM, regarding property management as a whole, “at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships.”

Your lease renewal workflow should include early outreach. Contact residents to see if they intend to stay or not. See if there are some minor fixes they would appreciate. Ask questions about how they feel regarding their apartment and the property as a whole. Even if a resident is leaving, you should be upfront about charges. Otherwise, you might find yourself experiencing an ugly move-out experience.

Warning signs that a resident is thinking of leaving:

  1. They have been complaining a lot. They appear unhappy when you speak with them.
  2. You don’t know how they feel because you haven’t spoken to them in a long time.
  3. You don’t know how they feel because they have been ignoring you for a long time.
  4. They have been fighting with neighbors.
  5. Their financial situation has changed for the better or worse. Someone making more money might be ready to buy their own home. Someone making less money might need to move to a more affordable property.
  6. Their life situation has changed. They are getting married or divorced. They got a new job in a different state. They have an aging parent elsewhere that needs more time and attention.

While some of these circumstances are out of your control, some of them are not.

The following are the top reasons why residents leave, and some tips on how to avoid them:

Maintenance

If maintenance requests are not resolved quickly and efficiently, residents will leave. It’s far more expensive to replace a paying resident than to hire a plumber. Also, it’s more expensive in the long run to pay for wasted water than to fix the leak promptly. Maintenance includes the upkeep of HVAC systems and keeping units pest-free. If you make sure your rentals are kept in good condition, you will have a much better chance of retaining your preferred residents.

Increased Rental Prices

Are you charging far more versus comparable units in the same area? Have you noticed other properties aggressively promoting? Are you planning on a large increase? Have local rental prices decreased? Pay attention to trending rental prices. If residents can find a similar apartment for less, they’ll move.

Poor Communication and Broken Promises

If you prove rude, unprofessional, or unreliable as a property manager, residents will not want to stay. Be careful about making guarantees, if you won’t be able to back them with action. Even if you keep 95% of your promises, your residents will likely only remember the 5% that you didn’t.

Lack of Amenities; Not Pet-Friendly

While many amenities might be something out of your control, it’s not always possible to put in a pool or build a new gym, you can still come up with different ways to make your property more appealing. For example, you might be able to change your property’s policies regarding pets. Yes, animals can cause damage to your property. In most cases, it will cost more to attract and sign a good resident versus the cost of fixing damages caused by a pet.

Size of Apartment

They might need more space or less space. In cases like this, ask yourself, “Do I have another unit that might be perfect for them?” If you have a good rapport with your residents, then you should be able to work out a solution that benefits everyone.

Bad Neighbors

Like a rotten apple ruining a bushel, one unsavory resident can destroy a community. A thorough system for screening potential tenants should go a long way in alleviating this problem.

Turning over a unit and advertising to find a new resident is costly. If you have a resident who pays their rent on time, gets along with their neighbors, takes good care of their unit, and only lodges genuine complaints, that resident is worth their weight in gold.

Never Stop Learning

As a property manager, you need constant awareness of what’s going on and the knowledge of how to fix it. It’s essential to learn and keep up-to-date on local, state, and federal laws that impact the property management industry. This includes the fair-housing act, landlord-tenant laws, and current knowledge about the surrounding rental market (including your competition, local rental rates, and the best vendors to use).

While there are no online courses on how to have empathy and be more patient (although there are some relevant Ted Talks), it’s possible to learn or enhance your communication skills, such as:

  • Written English
  • Spoken English
  • Negotiation skills
  • Building better work relationships

Additionally, many other online courses are teaching technical skills for property management, including topics like:

  • The Fair-Housing Act (take a course when you start and then yearly to keep up with new legislation)
  • Marketing (such as building a brand, generating leads, advertising)
  • Risk Management (to stay on top of compliance)
  • Maintenance (it helps if you can perform basic maintenance tasks in case of an emergency)
  • Continuing education credits
  • Certifications from the National Apartment Association: Certified Apartment Manager (CAM), Certified Apartment Leasing Professional (CALP), and Certified Apartment Portfolio Supervisor (CAPS)

Acquiring and maintaining industry knowledge will ensure your long-term success as a property manager. Know how to cover all your bases and be capable of predicting future issues.

Finally, Think Like an Investor

The success of your property will be measured by how profitable it is. Luckily, if you are positive, organized, detail-oriented, communicate well, careful about new residents, prioritize the happiness of current residents, and continue learning you should be well on your way to a triple win. The property owners will be happy with the ROI. The residents will be happy with their living situation. You will enjoy your job more and feel accomplished.