When you ask Linda Gulabovska her top tip for property managers old and new, she gets straight to the point – phone is for conversation, email is for confirmation.
It’s an adage that has stood the property manager in good stead for the past 28 years.
“It’s something that I learned in training many years from a dear friend that owns real estate agencies on the North Coast.
“Now I say the same thing to my juniors. Pick up the phone and talk to people. They can hear in your voice what you’re trying to express.
“Anyone can interpret an email according to the way they’re feeling at that particular point in time, and if they’re already feeling down, they will feel attacked.”
Linda started in the property field as a housing worker at the Illawarra Community Housing Trust, before moving to Clarendon Homes and, finally, property management in 2003.
She says property management was a natural calling for her given she’d lived in 17 houses before she was 21.
“Then in my married life, on top of that, we rented and built a few houses so there’s probably six more to add to that,” Linda says.
“I’ve certainly learned firsthand about the experience of getting yourself settled and then having to pack up and move again.
“I have a lot of empathy because I’ve lived and breathed it.”
The Right Choice Real Estate senior property manager says her love for the industry came naturally and she derives great satisfaction from helping people find a suitable home, but her greatest pride comes when tenants buy the home they are renting and become landlords themselves.
“That’s happened a few times now,” Linda explains.
“And the fact that I was the one that managed to join the dots for them to give them that opportunity right from the very start is hugely rewarding.”
Word of mouth referrals
Linda also loves it when previous tenants recommend her as a property manager.
And Linda is the first to admit some of the former tenants that have praised her have come as a surprise.
She says one Mulgara Place, Blackbutt, tenant is a standout as she had to continually chase him to pay rent.
“He was a coach bus driver and did a lot of nights and he told me not to call him and wake him up,” Linda recalls.
“He hung up on me regularly, but I told him the solution was simple, if he paid his rent I wouldn’t need to call him.”
A few years later a new client reached out to Linda after the Mulgara Place tenant recommended her to a contact of his.
“He told them if they had an investment property they wouldn’t use anyone else but me,” Linda says.
“They said I was firm and did what it took to get the job done. This was the very tenant I had hounded to pay rent on time all of those years before.”
The sheriff comes knocking
Another memorable moment in Linda’s career came when she had two sheriff evictions in the space of six weeks.
One of the cases was particularly complex as it involved a son taking possession of his recently deceased mother’s rental property and then not paying rent on time.
With the sheriff and locksmith onsite, Linda still had empathy for the son and helped him move his belongings out of the home.
A month later, Linda received another call from the sheriff’s office and immediately thought the worst.
But instead of another eviction, the sheriff wanted Linda to manage his investment property.
“He said he dealt with property managers day-in, day-out in his job and he said the empathy I had for that situation and the way he saw me deal with all the parties meant he wanted me to manage his property.
“And I still manage that property to this day.”
The meat in the sandwich
Linda says property management can be a tough gig, with the role requiring property managers to be the “meat in the sandwich”.
But she stresses that communicating and educating tenants and landlords is the key to success.
Linda says she explains to landlords that the first application received for their property may not always be the best one and it’s better to lose an extra week or two in rent than to have a poor tenant that could cause major headaches down the track.
“What I’ve found is that my intuition has never let me down,” she says.
Similarly, Linda focuses on explaining to tenants the importance of taking care of a property and paying their rent on time because, contrary to popular belief, most landlords are not wealthy millionaires.
“Once you have that conversation, most people’s mindset changes,” she says.
“I also urge tenants to talk to me. Communicate with me about what’s going on in their lives.
“The worst thing you can ever do is not pay rent and not communicate with me.
“I understand that things pop up. We’re all human and we all live in the same world. Things happen and things change.
“If you communicate then it’s not going to be a problem because then I’ve got the opportunity to go back to the owners so they know how to reshuffle funds until the tenant can pay.”
Linda says property managers do need to be “thick-skinned” but it’s important to remember you can’t please everyone.
“If something works for nine (clients), why change for one,” Linda explains.
A battle with cancer
Her stoic attitude also came in handy two years ago when she was diagnosed with Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), a rare type of skin cancer.
The cancer developed in the same location as a scar Linda received following a fin chop accident while she was surfing when she was younger.
It caused the scar to thicken and while her GP initially thought it was a Keloid but a biopsy a few years later revealed the truth.
“I had a 14-hour surgery, with me awake, while they took a section the size of your fist, out of my leg,” Linda explains.
“I had to be awake because if they had put me to sleep, my organs wouldn’t have been able to be pushed for 14 hours.”
Linda required six weeks off work to recover but her team handled her absence perfectly, with every property and client looked after at the same standard as happens when Linda is there.
Linda says that’s proof the hybrid model she runs the department with works well.
Systems and processes
Systems, processes and checklists mean each of the eight team members knows what to do with each property.
Linda and fellow senior property manager Wendy Veitch bring in the new properties, including the paperwork, organising the photographer and getting everything set up.
The juniors show the properties and make a preliminary assessment of the applications before Linda and Wendy make the final selection and follow up at the three-month, routine inspection.
“We also do all of our final inspections and all of our vacate inspections,” Linda says.
In between, other team members look after the properties.
For those just starting out in property management Linda’s advice is simple.
“Know and understand the lease terms,” she says.
“Read the lease agreement over and over until you have an absolute understanding of it.
“And never offer advice unless you know the answer, and if you don’t know then deal with the situation and get back to the client with the answer.
“Common sense goes a long way.”