EPMEPM: Case Studies

A Day in the Life – Hayley Mitchell

WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE of a property manager really look like? Fiona McEachran, marketing manager for Console, spent a day with Hayley Mitchell from Mitchell Property Management in Victoria to find out.

Hayley, what is a typical day like for a property manager?
A typical day in property management? I don’t think there is one! You can come to work with the best intentions possible, your to-do list set out, your diary set out, and then you get five phone calls from tenants: a burst hot water service, flooding, bees in the property, whatever it might be, and your day is completely hijacked.

It comes and goes; you have those days where you just don’t get anything done, and you have other days where you come in and you don’t have a long list of things to do, and you just smash through your work. I guess a typical day is just trying to make sure that your clients are happy. Balancing the needs of both your tenant and your landlord is challenging at times. But a typical day? I don’t think I can give you an answer to that one!

Are there some tasks that have to be done every day from a property management point of view?
In property management it’s really easy to get busy. You can get busy on stuff that comes in, and you tend to react to the noise that comes in with it. The noisiest tenant will get the quickest response, when in reality you need to be able to prioritise your work, to make sure that you’re actually getting through the things that came in last week that you might not have had a chance to do.

The things that I think property managers often don’t get through are their tasks. Things like your rotating inspections, your rent reviews, your lease renewals, chasing up your maintenance. They’re the things that often people put to the side and they deal with the urgent stuff. That’s the stuff that still needs to get done, because a landlord relies on you to do that part of the business; but it’s also the part that if you get busy you tend to push, and then once you get behind it’s really hard to catch up again.

You have to have good systems in place. For me, setting up your trust account and your software correctly so that you can document everything is really important. It’s really important to track your workflow as well, to ensure that you’re getting through it. I catch up with my team once a month; we run through all the KPIs and make sure that everything is kept up to date. If you have a month where you don’t do your routines [inspections] and you’ve got twenty due, then the next month you’ve got forty due. The month after that you’ve got sixty due, and you can’t catch up. You’ve got to ensure that you’re actually doing your five a week to keep on track, because once you get behind it’s almost impossible to catch up.

What is the biggest challenge that you face?
The biggest challenges for me would be balancing the needs of all parties. At the end of the day you’ve got a tenant that wants something, you’ve got a landlord that wants something, you’re just the middle man. You can’t be the one that says, ‘Yes, I’m going to make this happen and it’s going to make the tenant happy.’ If the landlord says ‘No, you can’t do that’ then you’re the bad person in the middle. That’s probably the hardest thing, and trying to, I guess, keep people’s expectations realistic. A tenant might move into a property and say, ‘The carpet’s old, I want new carpet.’ In reality they’ve taken the property in that condition, so a landlord’s got every right to say no, they don’t want to do it. But then you’re the person saying no, it’s not the landlord!

If I am new into the role, what should I do first thing in the day to start the day on the right foot?
Have a to-do list. I use Gateway Today so I always have all my tasks in there. The first thing that happens when I open up my mobile phone in the morning is I look at my task list and see, ‘What are the things that I need to follow up?’

Then, do the hardest thing first. Don’t look at it [the list] and go, ‘I’ve got to make that call. I’ve got to make that call’, because then it will just sit at the back of your mind all day. Just do it. I love a checklist, and I love crossing things off when they’re done. For me, if I can write down a list of what I need to do, or use my Gateway Today, and make sure that I work through those items, it’s a good outcome.

The other thing is don’t be afraid to set yourself some ‘bubble time’. (We call it bubble time!) If people need some time out in the office, and they need to work for a big task, they have to put a headband on with some bubbles. It’s like ‘do not disturb’ on your phone; it’s a visual reminder for everyone else in the office that you’re having quiet time and you need to be able to work through this task, because if you get interrupted every minute you’re not going to get through it.

What qualities in a PM are most important?
You need to be tough, and you need to like people. If you don’t like people it’s not the right job. It just isn’t. People glamorise property management; there’s always these little things on Facebook that people put up that say, “This is what my friends think property management is. In reality, this is what it is.” I definitely think you need to have really strong communication skills, you need to like people, you need to have a pretty thick skin, and you need to be able to turn off at the end of the day – because if you keep taking your work home with you, it will take over your life.

I’ve seen so many fantastic property managers who have just been in the wrong roles or haven’t had the support, or haven’t been given that opportunity to turn off at the end of the day, and they’ve burnt out and left. I think the industry needs really good property managers to join it and to stay, and we need to nurture those people to try and keep them as long as we can.

How important is ongoing education?
I think it’s really important. I have always got as much education as I could throughout my whole career: any opportunity I had to go to conferences or training events, or to build myself a network of people. I’ve got a really good network of other property managers that I can ask questions to or put ideas onto, and that’s really grown me in the industry.

With our training business we try and be innovative. We’re trying to give people ideas of how they can run their businesses better day to day, so that they’re not doing the same old stuff that they’ve always done. There’s so much new stuff out there. I do training events; people go, ‘Wow, I never even knew that existed.’ And you’re like, ‘Well, it’s been around for fifteen years!’ It’s actually just getting those ideas out there and improving the industry as well.

Turning the tables a bit, what advice would you give someone on being a good landlord?
Just do exactly what your property manager says. They know best! [laughs]

When you get a new landlord you do have to train them, because they don’t exactly know yet all the intricate legislation that they need to know. In reality, you might think, ‘Oh, I want to do this.’ But it’s not actually allowed through legislation. I think that to be a good landlord you have to have a good property manager, and you have to have a partnership. If they say, ‘In reality, this is what we need to do’ then follow their guide if you’ve got full trust in them.

HAYLEY MITCHELL is a name well known in the property management industry. With over fifteen years’ experience in property management, Hayley also trains and consults for other real estate agencies and is one of the very few people who has won the title of REIV Residential Property Manager of the Year twice. Hayley and her husband, Warren founded Mitchell Property Management in Kew in 2009. Now in South Melbourne, Hayley and Warren continue to deliver their unique brand of focused service to clients all over the inner city.

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