A Matter of Style Different HOAs Require Different Management Plans

A Matter of Style

When visiting different doctors, have you noticed that they all have different personalities? One doctor is friendly and talkative, but another is the polar opposite—he forgoes the chit-chat, completes a thorough examination, and says goodbye, matter-of-factly reminding you to make an appointment for your next visit. One doctor is timid and reserved while the other one is aggressive and loud. And they all have their own ways of getting the job done.

Property managers are no different. You’ll find property managers with different management styles and personalities that are used with the staff, tenants, vendors and contractors. These personality and management styles help them to handle problems that they encounter along the way. Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Pairing the right personality and management style to the right building can make the difference in having a successful management relationship.

Finding the Best Fit

Joel Garson, president of Hillcrest Property Management in Lombard, oversees more than 20 property managers. He says the placement of managers starts during the interview process when personality and style are determined. “Personality and style of the manager is very important,” he says. “And when an association interviews us, we’re interviewing them to see the personalities of the board, whether they are active or passive. Then we pair the right manager with the right association.”

For example, Garson says, a board that is involved in every aspect of the property would probably be paired with a less aggressive manager while a board that serves just as a board would be paired with a stronger manager.

At Property Specialists Inc. in Rolling Meadows, president Tracy Hill says that he absolutely looks at personality and style before pairing up managers. “There are exceptions, but if I have an older building, I don’t usually put a younger person in to manage it,” he laughs. “Certain communities require a more patient, more understanding approach.”

Other management companies don’t consider personality when first assigning a manager to a building. “We look at the dynamics of the building and how much time and energy each building takes and make sure we don’t assign all the tough buildings to one person,” says Beth Swaggerty, assistant executive director for Oak Park Residential Corp. in Oak Park.

Diana McKay, owner of Executive Property Management in Homewood, says that she matches managers based on where they live. “So when they go to meetings it’s closer to their homes, especially since meetings take place at night,” she says.

However, once they are on the job, managers must still use a variety of management styles to get the job done. Some business management experts define the range in zoological terms. For example, a shark-like manager is more forceful or aggressive, while a turtle takes his time solving a problem or sits back and allows others to work it out on their own. A dolphin is more cooperative, while a lion is more competitive.

And every beast has its downside. “I can see someone being a duck and ducking responsibility or being an Amarillo and ignoring the world, but I don’t really think of my managers like this,” jokes Hill. “If anything you have to be caring, nurturing and empathetic and yet strong enough to move forward and get things done.”

Management style may depend on the size of the staff and the building. For example, a larger staff comes with a higher chance for conflicts. A smaller building lets the manager know more about the personal lives of the staff and residents, but knowing each others’ business can lead to potential conflicts. Even in a building where the manager flies solo, he still needs a style since at some point the manager will work with vendors, contractors and residents.

“I can’t say that each property manager has a unique style, but personality does play into it,” says McKay. “The manager has to get along with the board and the residents. The best trait a manager can have is broad shoulders to take the criticism and to diffuse the tension. It’s a stressful job.”

For example, if Mrs. Jones is a quiet, reserved elderly woman, a manager wouldn’t aggressively interrogate her when asking her about a conflict she’s having with a neighbor. Management style and personality may conflict with your staff if they are the polar opposite of you. A good successful manager learns to work around that problem.

“The key to property management in the condo industry is that we train managers to be more sensitive and to listen to the board and the homeowners,” says Garson. “This way we know the tone and the approach we should take to solve a problem. Anyone can be a real estate manager but to be a condo manager you have to have the sensitivity to listen and respond in a proper way.”

When Personalities Clash

Personality conflicts may occasionally arise between boards, residents and managers. For example, a younger manager managing a senior community for the age 55 and over crowd may find it difficult. Jaime Soderland, a senior manager at Florida-based Management & Associates says that when their company is pairing managers with their properties—which range in size from 18 to 750 units—they look at education, demographics and experience. “We understand the manager needs to be more patient with an older board,” says Soderland. “A younger board doesn’t need as much pampering.”

If a complaint comes in about one of his managers, Hill says he looks into it. “If it’s one person complaining on the board, I don’t worry about it and I check with the other people,” he says. “If it’s a general situation, I say make a change. I don’t want to have my clients angry at me and that individual is representing our firm. I also don’t want my manager abused, so make a change and make everybody happy.”

When problems arise, the manager should have a place to turn for help. Start right inside your own company. “There’s no way it can be a one man show and that’s something we bring up in our bi-monthly management meeting,” says Soderland. “With everybody having different ideas, someone will come up with something that will work.”

Property managers have also turned to Internet advice columnists with readers who write in asking specific questions. Tenant resource websites can help you to find information on various subjects related to your residents or tenants. Some sites offer free explanations of legal issues such as leases, evictions, deposits, multiple tenants, environmental issues, rent increase and control, repairs and discrimination and may give you the answers you are looking for. Organizations such as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also have information on public housing topics.

If you are a member of any trade organizations, such as the Community Associations Institute (CAI), which has many chapters nationwide including Illinois, or the Chicago-based Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), these organizations have resources, including back issues of their publication articles, which are available to members on their website. Perhaps there is a particular problem that someone in the organization has either experienced or can help you with.

The More You Know...

To help managers cope with various on-the-job situations, companies keep up on training. “We keep them up-to-date on all the new changes,” says McKay. “There are seminars here they go to and I go to a few workshops and bring back information so they are apprised.”

Keeping up on management training is vitally important as all Chicagoland property managers, who oversee community associations larger than 10 units must be licensed, pass an examination, and complete training and continuing education. Unlicensed activity will be a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses. Licensing rules took effect October 1, 2011. Anyone performing the services of a community association manager must be licensed by October 1, 2012.

If there is a personality conflict, Soderland says that she tries to resolve the problem. “We give our managers another chance but sometimes if there is a personality conflict, the board wants a change. Although we don’t change too often,” she says. “We always try to find a resolution to move forward to what they want to do.”

Swaggerty explains that fixing a problem with the board would depend on what the problem is. “If the manager is not doing his job then, like any other employee, they’ll go through constructive discipline,” says Swaggerty. “If they aren’t returning phone calls, they will be talked to, given an oral and written warning, and it might impact their employment but we do the best to remedy this rare situation.”

Garson says that he goes back to the association after the first three months and talks to the board to find out how his managers are doing. “We’ll sit down with the manager and accounting person in our company and with the assistant and get an idea before we even call the board. We try to do a 3 month callback to see how we’re doing. “

If there’s a problem, it’s addressed, but if at any time the management wants to change the property manager, it’s done. “Sometimes associations don’t realize that they don’t need to change the management company, they just need to change the manager and when they ask that, there’s no ifs, ands or buts. We don’t try to fit a round peg into a square hole. If a board is not happy with the manager, we make the change.”

You don’t need to be a psychologist to figure out someone’s personality—simply listen and watch. Management styles change depending on residents, tenants, employees, and what’s working. Remember that good communication with your employees, residents and tenants is key, regardless of your personality and management style.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. Associate Editor Liam P. Cusack contributed to this article.

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  • I'm a board member if an eight unit Lincoln park building. Any suggestions for a Management company? Need to find one. Thank you.