An industry veteran with 25 years in the property management sector, Eleni Roumanous is as passionate about growing her rent roll and her PM team today as she was on her first day in the job.
For the Century 21 Eastern Beaches Maroubra principal, the secret to that success is all about the people who work for her and the people they serve.
“There’s been one thing that has helped me more than anything and that is over staffing so that I can over service and so that I can grow,” Eleni explains.
“Over staff, over service, and then you get referral business.
“Everyone is so happy to refer someone to you when you’ve been a breath of fresh air.”
Eleni has used this technique with great effectiveness during the COVID-19 crisis this year, by doubling the size of her leasing team.
With residential sales slowing down, Eleni says sales staff were moved into the leasing division so that they remained employed, the property management department avoided burnout during a stressful time, and clients’ needs were met at the highest level.
“Our area covers the University of Sydney, so we had a lot of international students who just up and left in those first two weeks (of March),” she says.
“We had a huge amount of properties dumped on our doorstep, and we had furniture and belongings all left behind.
“We had to organise the clean up of all of that and then we had about 200 requests for a rent reduction.
“Every time a tenant called there would be tears … then we would call the landlords and there would be tears.
“It was all very daunting and it was a huge task at the time.”
With a lot of rental rates now cheaper, Eleni says there’s a lot of movement in the market, with tenants previously unable to afford living near the beach now able to.
She says the apartment market won’t hit its previous stride until all of the international students return, but with tenants keen to secure a better property for better rates, her team has never been busier.
“The past three months our numbers have been bigger than ever,” Eleni explains.
“We’ve had record months every month for the past three months because of the sheer volume that we’re doing.
“If I’m renting a unit in a building and I’ve been there for two years, my rent is probably $800 a week.
“But now the same unit has become available next door and, because there are 250 units for rent in this suburb, those owners are maybe asking only $600.
“So it’s busier than it has ever been, but the prices are lower.”
As well as over staffing and servicing, another key arrow in Eleni’s bow is to train, upskill, challenge, and support the four members of her property management department.
But rather than divide the doors under management into portfolios, Eleni prefers to carve up the workload according to the different tasks a property manager performs.
That way, each team member is responsible for specific tasks across all properties and they become experts in those areas.
“If one person has a portfolio of 300 properties, there’s no way any property manager can be good at everything,” Eleni explains.
“This way, the person that is doing repairs is a gun at repairs and they are all over every piece of legislation and the regulations.
“They have really good relationships with the tradies because they deal with them day-to-day and they don’t have to drop everything to go and show a property, because repairs are their focus.
“The person that is doing trust accounting is focused only on trust accounting, and the person doing arrears is focused on arrears.”
Often the property managers will be responsible for two or three tasks each and Eleni says that if they do get bored or frustrated with their allocated tasks, they can swap.
More often than not, the system works well and property managers work hard to excel at the tasks assigned to them.
“Once they get their role they do really embrace it and don’t want anyone else touching it because they’ve perfected it,” Eleni says.
The benefits of this approach include greater job satisfaction, reduced risk of burnout, and low staff turnover.
All of which is good for business.
For Eleni, real estate runs in the family, with her mother, father and brother all in the industry.
Her family owned Century 21 Fairfield and, when Eleni was 14, she started working on weekends to answer the phone.
She switched to full time after she finished high school and completed her bachelor of economics at university at the same time.
“I started in leasing and worked my way through all areas of property management,” Eleni recalls.
“I completed my bachelor of economics degree and focused solely on the management and growth of the property management department at C21 Fairfield, with 1000 managements and nine property management staff.”
Looking back on her early career, Eleni says one of the most rewarding experiences was assisting refugees and new arrivals to Australia to find a home after they left the Villawood Detention Centre.
“It was real estate with a purpose,” she recalls.
“There was a strong humanitarian focus and that was really rewarding.”
In 2002, Eleni went out on her own and bought the boutique agency Scott Ritchie Estate Agents in Surry Hills, which had a 360-property rent roll.
In 2005, Eleni returned to Century 21 Fairfield to grow and develop the business further and, in 2008, she and her husband George opened a second office, Century 21 Bonnyrigg, which they owned for 10 years and built the number of doors under management to 550.
The desire to work closer to home saw Eleni join forces with her brother-in-law and business partner, Nick Papas, to buy Century 21 Eastern Beaches Maroubra in 2015.
Since then Eleni has worked to build the rent roll from about 40 properties under management to 400.
Eleni says despite property management having a reputation for being “a headache”, she wouldn’t work in any other field.
“I love the energy of property management,” she says.
“I love the excitement and I love that no two days are the same.”
One of the most rewarding pieces of the puzzle for Eleni is building long-lasting relationships with clients and helping investors to start and grow their portfolios.
Eleni says while some property management businesses focus solely on finding a tenant for a property and getting a leaking tap fixed, she thrives on being able to aid landlords in getting the most out of their investment properties.
“We’re helping them increase their wealth,” she says.
“I love sitting with clients and working out what we can do with a property to increase its return.”
Eleni is also clear on what she looks for when hiring a new property manager, and having the right attitude will put you at the front of the queue.
“I look for personality, 100 per cent,” she says.
“If you come in here with no skills I’m not fazed at all because I can teach you.
“Attitude and personality are not things I can teach. So I’m looking for someone that is positive, outgoing, and happy.
“I want someone who is proactive and enthusiastic. The rest I can teach.”
The first thing Eleni says she teaches new property managers is the importance of making everyone they deal with feel important.
“I don’t care if they are tenants, if they’re landlords or if they’re tradies, just make everyone feel that they have your undivided attention for the time they’re dealing with you and that they’re the most important person,” she says.
“If you are putting out positive energy, and you go above and beyond to help people, you’re going to get that back.”