Fit for the Task

Task or portfolio management? This is a question that is continually debated by principals and their property management departments. Milton Rendell of One Real Estate in Perth tells the story of how his business evolved, and why a ‘task management’ setup has worked well across his many offices.

Property management for our company has presented the same issues facing all agencies: finding good people, consistency in service levels, and accountability for tasks being completed. We manage both residential and commercial properties (generally most offices are one or the other) with over three hundred residential and just over two hundred commercial, comprising a mixture of office space, retail and factory units throughout the metropolitan area of Perth.

In the early days, like most agencies, we had two very separate property management divisions, even to the extent that residential was downstairs and commercial upstairs. This is the model we accepted and ran with when we bought out a retiring local agency that had been in the area for over thirty years. We had built a small residential rent roll, but before we bought theirs we were new to commercial, so we accepted how they had been running for years. What a crazy way to do things! We knew no different and thought, “Well, thirty years plus must work, and they must know more than we do.”

We also inherited staff that were very set in their ways and not receptive to change or any new ideas we had. For some years we felt handcuffed in our property management division and just stumbled along, as you do. We listened to stuff, which with the benefit of hindsight, I now think was lot of crap, and even egotistical on the part of the people we had. Don’t get me wrong – we were as much to blame as they were, because we were letting it happen. Phrases like ‘my client’ and ‘this is way I do it’ were tolerated for far too long. We were afraid of losing experienced people, like many businesses, but we weren’t focusing enough on the systems and the real outcomes for the landlords and tenants.

We then conducted our first survey, and to be honest it was horrible and not the feedback we were expecting. We knew there were a few issues, but nothing as bad as we were now discovering. Like most offices, we spent more time listening to our sales division and their problems than focusing on all parts of the business. Mike, our licensee, and I had taken on a big headache when we expanded the rent roll because we hadn’t handled that type of numbers before; although we were looking for answers we were simply asking the wrong people, and we had the wrong structure and staff to make it work. After much debate we looked to simplify the model, with fewer but better skilled individuals with an open mind to technology and systems. It was a light bulb moment for us, but trying to convert people to the new ideas was always going to be an issue.

As we started to evolve the model, slowly the wrong people dropped away and we started to attract the right people. Sonia Woodhead was our first recruitment blessing. She started in office management and had seen our challenges, and also what we were trying to achieve. Fortunately she came on board for the ride of a lifetime as we slowly wound back the divisions and merged a lot of the functions. Fortunately Mike had experience in commercial and we sat down with our internal bookkeeper, Michelle, who had worked alongside me for several years by that stage and understood what our focus was. She helped us evolve our accounts and trust accounting practices to simplify them. Many property managers are not keen on figures and trust accounting, and although we hadn’t had any issues the potential was certainly there so change was needed.

Finally we settled on a specialisation model – a team of specialists in the various main tasks of property management, which we found easier to teach new staff members. Not only did they have fewer tasks to focus on, but also they were easier to replace when they left or to cover for holidays and the like. We fine-tuned the concept at a weekend retreat with the staff throwing ideas around, something we now do annually. KPI’s became much simpler to follow, and as the team started to evolve property management became a more pleasant journey for those involved.

As I mentioned, many commercial property tasks are now shared, particularly to do with maintenance. Our thought was, ‘A broken window is a broken window’, and the list goes on. Yes, who pays can vary but if you have good recording systems showing who does what, it works. Leasing for residential is done only by one person, who assists with inspections as well as doing viewings, while our service manager focuses on communication with landlords, and arrears. Maintenance goes through one person, who has a great relationship with the trades and understands the basics of maintenance, making what could be an issue calm even on the busiest days.

Communication obviously is an essential element of the model. Our financial work is only done by staff who know and love the numbers, ensuring a clean and balanced trust account. There are naturally other things to do that are shared, but we knew we were getting it right when we were receiving compliments about maintenance, arrears improved, better quality tenants were becoming easier to find. We no longer needed the ‘jack of all trades’ property manager, which in our opinion led to burn out – and we had seen plenty of them.

Our team today does not work as individuals, but together. They support each other, laughter is common and they are simply great people. We are proud of them and what they do for clients, and they add enormously to the culture of our company.

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