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Every Agent Has a Story: Karmen Costigan

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This story comes from Karmen Costigan, Business Development Executive at Ray White Queensland, who shares the key lessons she learned during the start of her career in the USA.

  • Maintain strong customer service and experience, and be helpful and attentive
  • Have the ability to think on your feet: consider who’s affected and what’s the best outcome for all parties involved.

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Hi, I’m Karmen Costigan from the Ray White group in Queensland, and this is my story.

My foray into property management was a little bit different. I actually started off when I was living in Los Angeles working, or trying to be, an actor, and realised I needed somewhere to live and I needed to earn some money.

Over there at the time being an on-site manager was something that was advertised quite a bit because there were a lot of people that owned whole buildings, so your portfolio’s just one building. I thought, “Well, how hard can it be?”

So my partner and I got a job managing a building in North Hollywood. It was a little bit harder than we first thought.

Within the first week we found out that one of the tenants was actually suing the owner of the building because they had “tripped over” a piece of concrete in the common areas.

Then we found out they hadn’t paid rent for about four months and we were taking them to court anyway. By we, I mean us, and I had never actually been a property manager before.

So I did think more than once, “I really hope I get a good acting break ’cause I’m not sure what I’m doing or if I even like this job.” Nevertheless we persisted and did it for a number of years.

We took over another building a few months after that and they had obviously had an onsite manager that didn’t really do very much.

So when we first moved into the building we got the files with all of the, you know, the landlord and the tenant information in there. And we’d open up a tenant folder and find old french fries, and so clearly they didn’t pay much attention to their building. Not only that, we found out they didn’t pay much attention to the tenants.

We got a complaint from a guy on level 2 one day. Went into his apartment because he wanted to show us a maintenance issue, and at the same time happened to open up his gun cupboard, and show us the 12 guns he had there.

He was a truck driver and I think he might have been trying to be a little bit intimidating, and can I just say, it worked.

We learned really quickly about customer service and the customer experience, and really listening, because to be honest I was actually scared of what might happen. Because, let’s face it, all of these tenants knew where we lived. We lived downstairs.

In the end he ended up being a great tenant, but we did realise that he’d never really been listened to before. So that was another lesson to learn there.

Finally the last one was we ended up living in Venice Beach and managing a whole lot of apartments there for one guy.

One day we had an apartment we had to go and show, which wasn’t on-site, it was a few streets away, and I thought, “I’ll go there a little bit early to get the apartment ready, turn all the lights on, etc.” And when I got to the top of the street it was closed off with police tape.

The policeman was standing there and said, you know, “Sorry ma’am you can’t go down there.” And I said, “Well, I have to show an apartment down there.”

And he said, “No you can’t because someone has be murdered in the street so we’ve closed it off while we do our investigation.”

Of course all I was thinking of was how do I not let this potential tenant know someones been murdered in the street ’cause I really want to lease out this apartment.

So I called them really quickly and said, “I’m so sorry I’ve been held up, can we please reschedule for tomorrow?” Luckily they weren’t early as well.

So I think there’s a few really big lessons I learned over there because it was a little bit different to Australia.

[They were] really unusual situations but I did learn to think on my feet and to really try to look at things, I guess, objectively to work out: what are the parties involved here and what’s the best outcome for everybody?

Because I don’t want the crazy truck driver guy and I don’t want the police showing up at my next inspection.

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