EPMEPM: Productivity

Where Do We Go From Here: Sarah Bell

The end of another calendar year is a chance to hold a mirror up to the zeitgeist of property management and wonder, ‘Where do we go from here?’

If we look at the disruptors and the insatiable appetite that customers have for the more and the now, I believe that property management needs a check-up.

As we move into 2017, we are no longer in the business of property management, or even people management. While tenancy and financial administration are at the core of our service function, we have infected property management with the ‘relationship management’ label. It wasn’t until my bank started doing ‘relationship management’ and making life hard one day that I realised we were all sick with management.

Watching my youngest child start to push back on her older sister’s ‘managing’ her at play, it has become obvious to me that at some point after we depart toddlerhood feeling managed by someone is at odds with the human desire to be an autonomous human being.

Being an adult placed under management cannot be an experience that people are happy to pay for in the modern era.

Here is why. The 21st century is the age of the individual; for the last decade, we have enjoyed the prevailing hipster subculture and its central doctrines of self-expression, specialness and uniqueness. Behind the beards is the cardinal belief that we are all free and capable of choosing to identify who we are and what we need to be happy.

The proliferation of the smartphone since 2011 is testimony to our craving for real-time, self-serve, non-interruption communication. The rise and rise of social media and microblogging platforms like Instagram and Snapchat strongly support the notion that we, the people of ‘now’, want to be the authors of our own destiny. All of this is grossly out of sync with being managed and the notion of surrendering our relationships to someone else for ‘management’. No. No. No.

We need to try to find a new word. In the education space, the qualifications we achieve to become real estate agents come from the training package for property services. ‘Property services’, unlike property management, is starting to sound like something people might want. ‘Professional property services’ is starting to sound like something for which landlords might be prepared to pay a professional fee.

Ours is a service industry and, like all service industries coping with the threat of disruptive forces, we are in the throes of an identity crisis. As we have increased automation and standardised, template-heavy communication, what our ‘service’ actually is versus the ‘product’ we administer can be difficult to identify at times. Most property managers use realestate.com.au, have the strictest arrears process possible and perform comprehensive routine inspections, so all of our brochures start to look the same after a while. Given that we all deliver a similar product, service is really the only competitive battleground of the future.

So what is ‘service’? No one would confuse the service a doctor provides in diagnosing a medical condition with the medicine that is prescribed to fix it. The diagnosis is the professional service and the medicine is a product. Our processes and procedures, the protocols we have for responding to both routine, emergency and novel circumstances, are the medicine that we have available for the ails of residential tenancy.

No one would confuse the service a doctor provides in diagnosing a medical condition with the medicine that is prescribed to fix it. The diagnosis is the professional service and the medicine is a product. Our processes and procedures, the protocols we have for responding to both routine, emergency and novel circumstances, are the medicine that we have available for the ails of residential tenancy.

No one would confuse the service a doctor provides in diagnosing a medical condition with the medicine that is prescribed to fix it. The diagnosis is the professional service and the medicine is a product. Our processes and procedures, the protocols we have for responding to both routine, emergency and novel circumstances, are the medicine that we have available for the ails of residential tenancy.

But, we are more than just our processes and procedures. The elements that constitute professional service are the same, whether we are talking about a professional physician or a professional property manager.

Listen. If a doctor handed us a bottle of pills before we had the opportunity to describe the symptoms, we couldn’t be confident that those pills were correct, or even safe to take in our circumstances, because no two patients are the same. The same goes for property management – no two situations are alike, so if you listen well in the first instance you will be in a better position of trust to recommend the best course of option.

Test. There are two sides to every story and in a situation that requires the compliance or cooperation of another party, such as a tenant agreeing to fix some damage, it wouldn’t hurt to do some proactive liaising to ensure that you have the right end of the stick.

Diagnose. This is where you identify the issue and the options that are available to respond and treat it. If you missed any of the previous steps, you may recommend the wrong treatment and end up causing harm or losing trust.

Consult. I have always found it bizarre how PMs take ‘instructions’ from landlords, although I understand it is the correct use of the word. It seems strange to ask a client what to do next. Instead, lay out the options, explain the risks and get your client to take up one of your professional recommendations.

Treat. This is simple – you administer the medicine. If there are arrears, send the remedy notices.

Follow Up. Like a good doctor, follow up and see how the treatment is progressing, and be authentic; a good bedside manner (or desktop manner in our case) is important.

If we are, as I say, sick with management, behaving like a doctor might be the medicine we need.

Climbing onto the soapbox now, I want to finish with the words of the esteemed contemporary philosopher, Dave Grohl, “This is a call”. A call for all PMs to stop managing people and to give a professional service, with a desktop manner that you would be prepared to pay for.

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Sarah Bell

With a background in research and investigations, Sarah Bell married into the real estate industry in 2009 and has found a passion for both the business and its people. Sarah is the Editor of Elite Property Manager magazine and also a regular contributor to both Elite Agent and EPM Magazines. Contact Sarah [email protected]

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