After 4 years of managing investment properties, it’s time to call it quits. I’ve learned a great deal about real estate, and for that I am grateful. However, if you think this industry is for you, there are some things to consider.
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After graduating from college, I did a few jobs that I realized were not for me. Ultimately, I landed in property management because I had interned at the company and truly enjoy real estate. In fact, I started REthority.com for this reason.
In the beginning, I loved the job. It was challenging, stimulating, and I was able to visit properties regularly. I managed 350 homes alongside two other mangers. While the workload was cyclical, it was manageable. There were always angry tenants or owners, but every property manager knows this is inevitable.
Our company was unique in that there were multiple departments (maintenance, leasing, customer service, and property management). I essentially tied them all together by acting as the owner’s point-of-contact. If something got out of wack, I’d determine the reason and work with the managers to fix it.
Aiding me was a virtual assistant working remotely from their home. They would monitor my inbox, contact tenants, and dispatch maintenance while I was in the field. When this system was working, it was working great.
In fact, it worked so well that I took 5 weeks off to travel the world, and things churned along nicely while I was gone. Fortunately, my boss was kind enough to find a way for me to take a trip like this.
However, by my third year, I’d been through two assistants and the constant negativity of owners and tenants was catching up with me. To compound this, my portfolio grew by 150 units for a total of 500 single family homes.
I couldn’t keep up with the workload, and the pay was just not enough to warrant working more than 50 hours per week. After all, the work-life balance is what drew me to this job in the first place.
I was starting to feel down at work and constantly being told you’re not doing a good job (by angry owners and tenants) really started to weigh on me. Things that I’d let roll off my back in past years were staring to affect my happiness.
At this point, I knew it was time for a change. Fortunately, with my unique skill set, I was able to make this happen, striking out on my own to run this site.
Property Management Considerations
If you’re thinking about a career in property management, there are some things to consider. First and foremost, what type of portfolio will you manage? There’s a big difference between apartments and single family homes.
Apartments live and die by a budget, and as long as expenses are reasonable and units are leased, your interactions with owners are both brief and pleasant. Single family homes (SFHs), on the other hand, are an entirely different animal.
SFHs are great investments, but they can be difficult to manage. Most of my owners were “owners by default,” meaning they moved out of state or couldn’t sell the home.
These owners can be difficult because they hold the manager responsible for any sort of expense, and their home “didn’t have these problems when they lived there.”
That said, a good deal of my owners were a joy to work with. However, the common factor that soured many relationships was when they got into a financial bind. If their tenant gave notice to move out or there was a large capital expense that they couldn’t afford, I was at fault in their eyes.
Be prepared to be a punching bag for owners and tenants when they are stressed out. I lost count of the times that someone would call me for an unrelated issue just to vent frustration, and I was often the target. I have thick skin, but I don’t like being talked down to, which brings me to my next point.
To a professional investor, you’re viewed as an asset to a business. You’re a partner on their team, and they rely on you to make good decisions and to keep them informed. These are wonderful clients, as they trust you to help build their business.
On the other hand, there are clients who see you as scum of the earth. You are considered “the help” and you’re always wrong, even when you’re right. I found that most “type-a” personalities thought this way, and any professional success they had only compounded this viewpoint.
As a manager, be prepared to be talked down to. You are the path of least resistance and the client knows you’re a professional, so you will be professional in your responses. This leads to abuse, and you have to remain calm, but firm when you hear things like:
- “You’re a nobody”
- “You’re just the property manager”
- “You f*****g suck”
More often than not, the person saying these things is only doing so because they’re stressed. They are backed into a corner, meaning that they have no money and getting upset is their only way to vocalize the stress they feel. Unfortunately, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ll still bear the brunt of their frustration.
Another consideration is your overall position as a third party in a disagreement. If you side with the owner, the tenant will be upset. If you side with the tenant, the owner will be upset. And if you split it down the middle, both sides will be upset.
It’s a no-win situation, and strong logic, empathy, and good people skills are a must-have. Being a property manager is a thankless job, so it’s very important to work for a company who values your efforts.
My boss is a close friend, and he was great about livening the mood when things got stressful. He’d say things like “just so you know, you’re doing a great job” on a daily basis, and I truly enjoyed working for him.
My Advice for Property Managers
Regardless, the stress ultimately caught up with me and starting going home each day wondering why I was still doing this job. Perhaps I’d have lasted another few years had I not taken on an additional 150 units.
If you’re considering this business, make sure to set boundaries. There’s a difference between being a team player and being taken advantage of. Trust me — if you’re a good employee, the company will take everything you have to give.
During my time as a PM, I set boundaries. I set the up-front expectation that I did not work nights or weekends. If I had to get caught up on things, I’d stay late or log in on the weekend, but I told every client and employee that I can’t be reached after hours. This way, it was never expected.
Even though it may seem like working late makes you a team player, regularly working outside of business hours can easily become the norm and your clients and coworkers will abuse this.
If you’re getting paid $45,000, but working 80 hours a week to cover your workload, you should weigh the pros and cons of this job. After all, there are many other things you can do with your skill set that pay the same or better.
Ultimately, property management is an extremely stressful job. As a third party, you’re in a position to lose one side of an argument, regardless of who you side with. And it’s not for everyone.
Good property managers have thick skin, high stress tolerance, and a way to channel frustration from their day. It’s no coincidence that good property managers are hard to find, so don’t forget the value you bring the company.
While the company I worked for was ethical and valued a work/life balance, many firms don’t share this same quality and will take whatever you have to give. Know your worth and don’t be afraid to set boundaries up front. Trust me, it’ll help you down the road when you end up with more work than you can handle.[ratings]