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Property Manager 2.0: Rachael Byrne, Jean Brown Properties

RECENTLY AWARDED REIQ’S Property Manager of the Year, Rachael Byrne of Jean Brown Properties, at the northern end of Queensland’s Gold Coast, is convinced that a focus on tenant services is at the core of a new and better direction for property management. Sarah Bell caught up with Rachael to find out more about her brand of positive property management and the modern approach of Property Manager 2.0.

RACHAEL’S ENTHUSIASM FOR A POSITIVE property management approach is palpable. Coming into the industry and having her own perceptions of PM from the vantage point of a tenant, Rachael was curious to explore what she saw as a cloud of negativity in a sector that had the potential to positively impact all its stakeholders. I had worked in property management once before and I came from a company where I wasn’t happy at all.

I learned QCAT and dispute resolution… I learned what not to do; I just had to learn it in the most horrible way. I actually took a year off. Jean, who is the Principal of this company, was actually my [own] property manager, and I saw that she did things differently.”

While acknowledging that keeping owner clients happy is imperative, Rachael soon realised that the value she was providing for owners was to be of service to tenants. To Rachael that simple realisation about putting tenants at the centre of property management was a revelation.

“It was quite simple. Tenants were unhappy because things weren’t being done and the communication was so poor. So if a tenant was reporting maintenance and that maintenance wasn’t being completed, it’s understanding the effects that has on a tenant with no cooking facilities, no air con facilities… things that they need for their day to day life not working. I’m busy, they’re busy and if it’s then being detrimental to their enjoyment of the property then that’s going to have a negative effect on their relationship with us,” explains Rachael.

An understanding that owners are clients engaging a professional service but that tenants are the end users of that service just makes sense. Owners engage property managers to create a calm and well-managed tenancy and to provide a service to tenants on their behalf. That is the essence of Rachael’s Property Manager 2.0 and it is paying dividends.

“I didn’t click to a lot of that until our referral business started coming from our tenants,” says Rachael. The agency is expanding and outgrowing their current offices, almost purely from their referral business. “The fact is that we’re not marketing, we’re not advertising, we’re just trying to keep up with the referrals! [We’re] being referred from a tenant basis, from our suppliers, electricians, plumbers, handymen … Our suppliers are all referring business through to us. We’ve even had our software developers be like ‘Hey, I’m really happy with my property managers but I think I’d be happier with you guys.’

Rachael’s background – working in an investment company developing property for landlords – gave her a unique insight into what goes into the purchase of an investment property. Empathy and insight regarding the position of a landlord in their investment journey is an important feature of Property Manager 2.0.

“There is a general consensus that if you own investment properties you must have a lot of money. A lot [of landlords] are tenants, they are parents, they are grandparents and they are just trying to get ahead in life by doing the wealth creating, setting themselves up for retirement,” says Rachael.

“A big part of our market is brand new investment and dealing with those type of clients, so being able to use that relationship as well; but for me it’s understanding what our owners are going through. That might mean sympathising with owners in bad situations when they don’t have the money to do repairs, or tenant rent situations, but just going through the whole process and making sure they’re set up and following your risk management. I don’t want those owners to lose that house or struggle because a tenant has missed two or three weeks’ rent.”

On learning more about Rachael’s approach to property management, the gravity and the responsibility of the task begins to imprint. The impact that property managers have on owners and tenants is enormous. Taking a long-term approach to relationships and a transparent approach to information sharing is a hallmark of Property Manager 2.0.

Rachael says that there are practices that have eroded faith in the property industry across all sectors. “Developers, marketers… selling properties to people who really can’t afford it. Over-appraising properties and the owners not getting a second or third opinion, not jumping onto realestate.com.au and seeing what it’s worth… that there’s 400 houses available in that pocket and people are dropping rent. Then seeing owners lose houses, not achieve their rents, not being able to service their loans from not having that information.

“A big thing for us with owners now is telling them: ‘Do your research. Pit me against somebody else or get three others to appraise it as well; make me put my money where my mouth is and test what I know’.”

Rachael feels Property Manager 2.0 needs to adopt better and more positive language to describe the specific tasks and activities of property management. “What we do is quite archaic, really, calling ourselves ‘property managers’, we’re actually tenant relationship managers, we’re owner relationship managers, we’re creating relationships. When people say ‘property manager’, well, they just manage property – but it’s so much more. Routine inspections? Oh, it’s just a routine… No, it’s an asset protection inspection. It’s trying to look at it in different ways as well.”

Adopting better and more positive language to describe property management tasks allows Property Manager 2.0 to be purpose-driven and to understand the ‘why’ behind the action. Rachael confesses, “I don’t like doing routine inspections, but I understand the importance of them”.

A mature appreciation for the stakes of property management is the final quality of Rachael’s embodiment of Property Manager 2.0, with a proactive and restorative approach to conflict. “I’ve been asked to speak at a conference about QCAT and how to build a strong case [for Tribunal]. I feel that’s not really my platform… As property managers, why are we being taught how to build a strong [Tribunal] case when we should be staying out of it?” says Rachael.

Finally, Rachael believes that good systems are freeing. “I actually found when I broke it down it was a really simple process. It’s so, so simple, you’d think it was almost idiot proof. So many people over complicate it and put systems on top of systems,” she says. “Get your systems in place and be authentic in everything you’re doing. Stick to your word; don’t overpromise and under-deliver. Do what you say you’re going to do.”

A platform to exchange and share knowledge is a must for Property Manager 2.0, as is a keenness to continually learn, reflect and develop new ways of doing things and redefine success in property management.

“Can I be successful? Can I do this? Seeing women who have had it 10 times harder than I have and then managed to rise above that, I think it’s the influences around me. It’s not so much the real estate conferences; it’s outside of that. I see some great speakers and, every conference I go to, I can probably pull one or two stand-outs that really speak to me. I’ve always been driven by successful people and curious [about them], ‘Well, why are you so successful? What did you do differently? What makes you so special? How have you done it?’”

A natural leader, we have no doubt Rachael is well on the way to joining them as she continues to spread the mission of the modern property management.

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