EPMEPM: Case Studies

Esther Nilson: Rentwest, WA

After more than 20 years in a variety of administrative roles, including 15 years within the Government legal system, Esther made the move to real estate – first in sales and now in property management. Her high standards and busy lifestyle, both in and out of the office, mean little time for relaxing, but her hard work has paid off. In the last few years she has won numerous awards and will be speaking at LPMA 2016.

How did you get into property management?
I started as an assistant property manager, having come from a real estate sales background. I love real estate and after exiting the sales market I was reluctant to leave the industry completely. I then decided to take a sideways step into property management, rather blindly I must admit, but after doing so have never looked back.

As a property manager, what are the biggest challenges you face?
I manage properties in Western Australia, from up in the hills in Roleystone, through the south-east metropolitan area, down to Wellard in the south. The travel is a challenge to some degree, although I am very proactive about scheduling appointments when in the area.

My biggest challenge is maintaining the very high standard of communication and level of service as my portfolio increases. I am reluctant to let this standard slip at any stage, so I find it increasingly challenging to be able to dedicate the time and effort required for each client. I set high standards for myself and I’m my biggest critic. However, I have learnt in the last couple of years to allow myself to be proud of what I have achieved; I have to give myself credit where it’s due and cut myself some slack from time to time.

Tell us about any of the awards you have won and what they mean to you.
I was awarded LPMA Rising Star 2013, LPMA Property Manager of the Year 2015, Employee of the Year 2015 (Rentwest, peer voted) and Finalist, Property Manager of the Year 2015 (REIWA Awards for Excellence).

These awards mean a lot in that they validate what I do, but I try not to let them define me. Whilst they give me credibility and acknowledge all the hard work I put in, in turn they simply create a higher benchmark for me to attain. In some ways I’ve created a rod for my own back, but that’s okay. Onward, forever onward!

What do you love about property management?
I love the diversity of people, the different conversations with different demographics; the opportunity to create futures for people just starting out, to enhance current lifestyles, to achieve financial security for all stakeholders. Property management has been an amazing leveller and forced me to be more patient. It has made me a better person and communicator; I can reflect on where I was to where I am now and I’m amazed how I have developed personally and professionally. Every step in my life has led me to where I am now, and I also have a clearer understanding of my future, which excites me.

What is one thing that makes your agency unique?
We are an exclusive PM agency. We pride ourselves on our high level of communication which sets us apart from other agencies. Rentwest won the Communications Award 2015 at the REIWA Awards for Excellence. This was a great achievement for us; it recognised the efforts of every staff member in keeping all parties informed at every step of the way in a very challenging market in Western Australia. This endorsement is a common thread in comments we receive from clients new to our agency, as well as current clients.

What was the most memorable property you have ever managed?
I have an 83-year-old tenant with cancer. She is frail of body but strong of mind. She has gone through several chemotherapy treatments and uses a walking frame. But the property she rents is immaculate and she does all the cleaning and gardening herself. She puts every other tenant to shame and is worried she will not ‘pass’ her routine inspections. She rang me recently, very excited because she’s now been given the all-clear for her health. I was so happy for her! Betty is an inspiration; if only we all had her positive outlook and strength of will to never give up and just keep on. I’m blown away by her attitude and only hope I can have her mental fortitude, if I’m lucky enough to live that long!

What’s the best advice you have been given?
Don’t sweat the small stuff; don’t overthink things. At times I can get bogged down, so I sometimes need to pull back and look more at the overall picture than the minute details. By doing this, I can manage time and portfolios far more effectively. Taking advice on board is at times hard, but upon reflection it has always been positive.

What are your most important values?
Honesty. Integrity. Loyalty. Three values I hold very highly and will not compromise for love or money. If I believe in something, I will give it 120 per cent.

What are the key features in maintaining healthy relationships with landlords and tenants?
Confident and effective communication is paramount to maintaining positive relationships. Also the ability to be firm and assertive without being aggressive is vital. Secondly, provide full disclosure to all parties. Honesty is always the best policy; there’s no point in hiding anything. It will just come back to bite you in the end!

Do you have a mentor, or someone who inspires you?
Our Director, Suzanne Brown, has been my inspiration since I started at Rentwest. I have known her for some years prior to this. She is an incredible woman, business owner, friend, mentor and philanthropist. If I can achieve 10 per cent of what she has achieved in property management I’ll be happy! Suzanne is well known in the industry in WA and runs a very successful agency at Rentwest. She understands the business as well as how to keep a large group of women happy working together – no mean feat! Suzanne is not above jumping in when help is required, being hands-on at the desk, even after 20-plus years. This is what makes her so approachable and realistic; she never puts herself above others. I cannot speak highly enough of her.

Our General Manager, Michelle Rigg, has been with us for just over 12 months. Michelle is also well known in the industry and has incredible knowledge of legislation and experience in training. She’s always willing to share what she knows and help out; I’ve learnt a lot from her regarding practice and procedure, and she’s been amazing in helping me achieve my goals.

I have great regard for these two incredible women in business who have strongly shaped my attitudes and career – as you can tell!

How do you relax outside real estate or maintain a work/life balance?
Relax? What is this word! I have a husband and two children who keep me busy with all their needs and sporting schedules, so I have very little personal downtime. I should take more time for myself, but unfortunately I don’t and I need to work on that. We love our footy (go Eagles!) and I’m dedicated to watching my sons play their sport of choice, whether it is AFL, cricket or soccer.

I do love travelling overseas and have done so since a young age. I’ve worked hard to make this achievable on a few occasions for my family these last few years. Showing the boys countries and cultures beyond our own opens their minds to life beyond our four walls and our lucky country. I love the simplicity of Asian culture and their life philosophies. If only it were that simple here – I think they are far richer in some respects than us. I also dream of visiting the Greek islands one day.

What changes do you see happening in property management in the next year?
I see the industry moving towards more electronic communications and greater use of technology and outsourcing for administrative functions. But none of these can replace the lowest common denominator which is human communication, and this is the area we excel in as an agency.

What’s next for you – do you have any goals or plans for this year?
Training staff to the level required is a huge issue. Too many people enter the industry without adequate training. I’ve identified this area as lacking and this is something I’m progressing into … watch this space!

What advice would you give someone starting out in property management?
The advice I would give to someone starting out is to hang in there. You have to work through the hard times; the better times will come.
Property management is challenging but rewarding. In due course you’ll develop a number of people and communication skills that you can apply to every aspect of your life. Remember: when the going gets tough, the tough get going! Don’t ever give up.

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