A property manager of more than 20 years, Laura Valenti is an REIQ board director and the founder of Solutions Property Management in southeast Queensland. With a focus on addressing domestic violence and a passion for empowering women, Laura was named the AREAs 2020 ‘Most Influential Woman in the Property Market’.
Speaking with Samantha McLean, she shares her vision for how the real estate industry can step up and play a role in wider community issues.
Early in her career Laura Valenti was given a seminal piece of advice: back yourself, because if you don’t, who will?
It’s a message that has stood her in good stead throughout a 20-year real estate career and one she seeks to share with her growing property management team.
Personally, it has also allowed her to venture outside her comfort zone, embrace opportunity, and step up when the need arises.
Most recently, this commitment to empowerment and purpose has seen her focus shift to the role that property managers play in identifying and addressing domestic and family violence in the wider community.
SUITED TO PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
Laura explains property management was a role she “fell into” decades ago.
At the time her husband had his real estate licence and she was a flight attendant with “no ambitions to enter the industry”.
When the couple decided to buy into a real estate franchise, Laura thought she might “help out a bit” in the property management department when she happened to be in town.
“It kind of took control of me,” she concedes.
“I really found that it suited my detail-oriented mind and my affinity towards structure and processes, so I tended to be good at it, I guess.
“The more I delved into it, the more I learnt, and the more I loved it.”
In 2008, the couple decided to concentrate on property management and went out on their own.
They opened Solutions Property Management in Burpengary, Queensland, with about 70 properties under management.
GROWTH THROUGH GOOD SERVICE
Thirteen years later, Solutions Property Management has about 18 staff, with a head office north of Brisbane and a subsidiary office to the south.
They now have more than 1000 properties on their books courtesy of a commitment to working with both tenants and landlords.
Part of their approach sees Solutions Property Management view tenants as the clients of their owners. This shift in thinking has resulted in Laura and her team looking at common tenant pain points and seeking to reduce them through improved communication and processes.
In some cases, it’s as simple as reviewing language in the knowledge people will act as they are treated. For example, a ‘tenant induction’ is now a ‘tenant welcome appointment’.
In other instances, it’s about ensuring the tenant feels heard and valued. For instance, if a landlord takes longer than seven days to approve a maintenance request and it is within the property’s set repair limit, Solutions Property will authorise the job.
Laura notes this mindset shift within the business ultimately keeps tenants happier, means less disruption for owners and consequently creates more productive and financially beneficial relationships.
In the process, it has also reduced rent arrears, lowered the number of disputes going to tribunal, and improved the relationship between property managers and tenants, with 50 per cent of the agency’s 5-star Google reviews now coming from tenants.
“When we treat our tenants as clients, everything else just falls into place,” she says.
ADDRESSING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
As a property manager, Laura says she and her team are often privy to what goes on behind the scenes inside someone else’s home.
It is partly this reality and the recent spotlight on domestic and family violence that has resulted in Laura becoming an inadvertent industry champion of the cause.
Noting domestic and family violence is a community problem that is much more widespread than many realise, Laura has witnessed the fallout first-hand with tenants needing to break a lease under extremely stressful circumstances.
“Even before it became a hot topic in the past couple of years, we’ve always sought to represent the tenant in going to the owner and asking if they can perhaps leave early, and explaining the reasons behind it,” she says.
Some owners are sympathetic, but others are less so, she explains.
In Queensland that previously meant the tenant would then have to go to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) to officially end their lease.
“I just can’t imagine if you’ve been through that trauma of domestic and family violence to then go through another trauma of trying to break your lease and go to QCAT and represent yourself,” Laura says.
When the COVID emergency response legislation came out, Laura says she totally supported the proposed changes on domestic and family violence, which allowed tenants to break the lease within a week if they could prove domestic and family violence was occurring.
“Don’t get me wrong. There were quite a few of them that we objected to, but the one on domestic family violence we totally supported and were totally behind it,” she says.
THE ROLE PROPERTY MANAGERS CAN PLAY
In the interim, Laura was also invited to join a roundtable on the issue of domestic and family violence at the local council.
Noting she’s never suffered domestic violence herself, Laura says the conference provided the opportunity to hear from survivors about how their lives had been changed by people who assisted them to get out of a relationship.
“As property managers, we are privy to what happens behind closed doors merely by the fact that we go and do our routine inspections,” she notes.
“So, I thought we could look into how we can just do our little bit to assist.”
Laura took the information and tools available back to her office and sat down with her team.
Together they discussed the resources available and the ways they could assist.
Meanwhile, as a board member of the REIQ, she acknowledges the industry body also has some great resources available, including a domestic and family violence toolkit that’s now being heavily promoted.
“We’re not asking property managers to be counsellors because that’s not what it’s all about,” she explains.
“It’s just about being community-minded and looking out for your fellow female.”
PART OF THE TRAINING
In the future Laura hopes the real estate industry will do more to draw attention to the issue of domestic and family violence.
“I think, fundamentally, this is a community issue. And in order for everyone to have that awareness, why can’t this be part of our initial real estate registration course?” she asks.
“Why can’t one of those subjects be how to recognise and deal with possible domestic family violence in tenants?
“What a great thing that would be for our industry if everyone who then starts in real estate has this at the forefront of their minds.”
Long before Laura took on the issue of domestic violence, she had her focus firmly set on empowering the women around her.
While ABS statistics indicate about 60 per cent of real estate professionals are women, Laura explains that figure increases to more than 80 per cent when it comes to property management.
In her business, it’s no different, with a predominantly female team of highly experienced PMs.
“The biggest problem is often ourselves as women who don’t perhaps have the self-confidence that they need to actually push forward and realise the goals that they have,” she says.
“I find that a lot of my training and coaching with women in my team is just to get them to build their self-confidence and their self-esteem.”
Laura also notes property management tends to attract people who are content to work quietly behind the scenes, do their job, and go home.
“Property managers don’t tend to seek the limelight, but it’s not about that,” she says.
“It’s about knowing that you’re doing a great job and perhaps being a role model for others who could progress in their career, if only they had that confidence in themselves.
“So, a lot of my coaching is building confidence in the team and letting them know how valuable they are and that they can achieve what they set their minds to.”
Laura says she received news of her recent AREA win by email and was both honoured and grateful to be recognised on a national level by her peers.
“It means that perhaps what you’re doing is going on the right track,” she reflects.
“Not just with what I’m doing in my business, but other things in the community.”
On another level, she notes it’s a great win for property managers in general, most of whom are women.
“I like to think that I perhaps represent female property managers and hopefully we can move towards being recognised for all the fabulous work that they all do.”
Interview: Samantha McLean; Words: Cassandra Charlesworth
Listen to Laura Valenti’s episode of the Elevate podcast here
This feature article first appeared in the Autumn 2021 edition of Elite Agent Magazine. Elite Agent Pro subscribers receive a copy of our award-winning quarterly magazine delivered to their door, as well as a weekly members’-only email and detailed monthly action guides to accompany our podcasts. Subscribers also get exclusive access to free short courses and access to Elite Agent’s subscriber-only resources. Click here for more details.