EPMEPM: First Person

Still Got a Long Way to Go

Once upon a time, Property Managers routinely rode around their suburb or town on their bikes to collect the rent. While technology has changed the industry for the better, there are still many improvements that can be made – including a consistent and national approach to legislation.

Young or new property managers couldn’t be expected to know how far our industry has advanced over the last ten or even twenty years, just as when I started managing property, I had no idea that some years before that property managers routinely rode around their suburb or town on their bikes – to collect the rent. So the wonderful world of property management has improved and developed better and bigger ways of providing good service to landlords and tenants, as well as introducing much better ways of managing a rent roll or portfolio.

And that’s how it should be! I’d hate to think that we’d gone backwards. I’d also hate to think that this is where we stop improving and developing better ways of completing property management tasks. Our industry must continue to improve and we must continue to add new initiatives. We must also continue to embrace the new technology that is now available to us.

Years ago, the only technology that a property manager had was a typewriter and an adding machine!
In the middle of our last end of month disbursement, my team asked how a Trust Account was maintained before we had the software programs that we now, fortunately, have. This developed into a lengthy discussion on how we took receipts, recorded payments on tenant and landlord ‘cards’, handled maintenance, reported on routine inspections and checked tenant arrears. It was very interesting to see the reaction on the faces of the younger team members, who automatically assumed there was always a technological solution to all every day property management tasks. Years ago, the only technology that a property manager had was a typewriter and an adding machine! Scary stuff when we consider what is now available – we’ve certainly come a long way!

What would we do now without a mobile phone permanently attached to our ear? What would we do if we couldn’t call the office while out showing property or conducting routine inspections? The only technology available years ago was the two-way radio, and before that I guess a property manager had to find a handy telephone booth!

What would we do if we couldn’t email our clients? How much time is saved and how much more efficient have we become, as we can now find facts and respond to requests from clients almost instantly. Gone are the days of typing a letter every time we needed information or responded to a question from a landlord, and then relying on snail mail to deliver the communication. Being the email ‘queen’, I couldn’t imagine my life as a property manager, trying to do my job without the availability of the simple email!

Years ago there wasn’t even legislation to provide the boundaries within which a property manager worked. So while the current legislation we need to work with isn’t perfect, we still should be grateful that we do have guidelines, and boundaries are set.

So – where to from here?
I know that our industry will continue to improve and develop. With the wealth of talent available through young property managers entering the industry, it must continue to improve. Our younger people have the technology skills that we older property managers had to learn – sometimes kicking and screaming as we were forced to use Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media options, or even just to learn how to use a computer!

It’s very pleasing to see that so many younger people are looking at property management as their career of choice – it’s not just a job they were thrown into because they’d served their time at the front desk; they want to experience the satisfaction of caring for investment property and helping tenants find their next home.

What do I want to happen in this next stage of property management evolution?
I sincerely hope that our Real Estate Institutes are able to come to some agreement in relation to establishing a truly national set of legislation to govern the national property management industry. How confusing is it now for a landlord from New South Wales who buys an investment property in Western Australia, when they are given a Management are different in every State and Territory and that really doesn’t make any sense at all.

Our industry has to do more to embrace the technology that is now available to property managers. If it’s going to help us be more professional and efficient, why aren’t we using it more? The mobile phone actually took a while to become an accepted part of our working lives, but now we can’t live without it – it certainly helps us to be more efficient, and it’s great for our personal security! So perhaps it will be the same for the iPad and our use of social media. It will happen; it’s just taking a while.

I actually know of offices that are still using a manual system to run their trust account; other offices who still have a DOS software program; some that only allow property managers to email through a central office email address; and other offices who persist in allowing rental payments to be made in cash.

How easy is it to do all these things, just by allowing the technology we have at our finger tips to do the job for us? How much easier is it to run a rent roll with the great software programs that are available now? How much easier is it for everyone to have their own email address so they can respond to clients in a more timely manner? How easy is it not to take cash any more! How safe is it not to take cash any more!

Our industry has to learn that a well-run property management department is truly the ‘engine room’ of any real estate agency. 
We’ve come a long way, certainly, but we’ve still got quite a way to go, as it’s still really only lip service. The rent roll is a business owner’s only asset – not the sales made or anticipated. It’s that regular and continuous income that is so important when sales are down or slow. It’s also the ‘listing bank’ that adds to the sales team income in lots of ways – landlords selling/ buying/ upgrading their portfolio, and tenants do actually buy their own first home or purchase investment property. It’s time to honestly acknowledge the contribution that any property management department makes to keep real estate agencies viable and profitable.

I changed my job last year after 35 years with a franchise group. I worked on the corporate side of that franchise group for five years and before that I had a franchised office for 30 years. When I sold, we had a rent roll of approximately 1,000 residential properties under management. We had a very traditional approach to building the rent roll – we only took properties that were in our ‘geographic’ area. Most agencies still operate this way; most of the properties they manage are within their suburb or neighbourhood. It may be considered illogical or unprofitable to take on property outside the geographic area.

I hope this wonderful industry that I still absolutely love does embrace the need for change in the way we do things. Not just change for change’s sake, but to look at what other options we have to deliver quality service and efficient management to our valued clients and customers. Property Management has become a profession, and it’s an important part of the real estate industry – let’s keep growing and improving.

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Jan Malmstrom

Jan Malmstrom has had 35 years in the real estate industry, always with a specific interest in property management. Jan is currently Head of Property Management at Investors Direct. For more information visit: idfg.com.au