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All in a Day's Work The Life of a Property Manager

Property management, in the broadest of terms, is defined as the operation, control and oversight of real estate. Most property managers would agree that definition is just a starting point.

There are many facets to the demanding profession of property management, including managing the accounts and finances of the real estate properties and participating in or initiating litigation with tenants, contractors and insurance agencies. Litigation may be considered a separate function, set aside for trained attorneys, but a property manager will need to be well informed and up to date on applicable municipal, county, state and federal Fair Housing laws and practices.

One major role of a property manager for condominium properties is that of liaison between the board of directors or board of managers, the property owners and residents and the personnel required to keep a property attractive, safe and functional. Good communication is a must for this “thinking-on-your-feet” position, which also requires understanding the processes and systems utilized to manage all aspects concerning property including acquisition, control, accountability, responsibility, maintenance, utilization and disposition.

“All the successful property managers I know have good communication skills,” says Carey Overstreet, CPM, CCIM, and managing director of the Randolph Realty Group in Chicago. “They are also detail oriented, are really good at following up and setting up and implementing systems.”

“Communication is important but the best property managers treat the properties as if they have a personal stake in them,” says Dave Urbaniak, a realtor and property manager with Urbaniak Properties in Chicago. “The decisions you make as an owner are a lot different than you might make as a third party. I like to look at it as if I actually own the building. Yesterday, for instance, I put in a new medicine cabinet instead of having somebody else do it. I did it to make sure it was done right and in a timely manner. You should do the work as if it’s your own building, I think that’s critical.”

“A good property manager will be able to multitask, simplify, communicate, educate, deal with difficult people, problem solve, be financially astute, kind and understanding,” adds Barbara Hudetz, a property manager with Wesley Realty Group in Evanston. “Daily we are responding to problems; some of them financial and some of them building related and some of them people related. Every day is different. There is never a dull moment in property management.”

In the Beginning

Property management as we know it today is a relatively new profession. As the feudal system of land ownership in Europe gave way to the industrial revolution, the beginnings of the real estate business we know today began to emerge. By the middle of the eighteenth century, land ownership in Europe and in England particularly, assumed a different significance. As cities grew, land and buildings became a favored means of investing, and it wasn’t long before America’s shores and emerging industrial cities encouraged investors to cross the Atlantic.

Initially buying, settling and reselling land masses in this country was stimulated by increased population and immigration along with the European market demands for more and newer products. As the industrial age spurred tremendous growth, America’s newly formed cities, stores, offices and rental properties increased to meet the needs of a thriving labor-driven economy. America was a goldmine for property investors, and the real estate industry we know today began to take shape. Property management was not far behind.

John Jacob Astor was already a millionaire from fortunes amassed in fur trading when he turned his interest to real estate in the middle 1800s. His motto concerning land and real estate was “buy and hold, and let others improve.”

That mindset was shared by many investors, who purchased land and property and hired others to manage and maintain those investments. This new class of wealthy Americans sought assistance in the management of their real estate assets as multi-apartment buildings and a high rental boom ushered in the new century.

During the Great Depression (1929-1939) financial institutions recognized the experience and knowledge of property investors and managers, and relied on the combined expertise to help bring about stability in the marketplace. After the Depression, the size and scope of property management developed rapidly to become the well-defined professional arm of real estate we rely on today.

The Day-to-Day

There are many avenues into property management. Most property managers come to the field from another profession, as there are only a handful of colleges that offer coursework in the field.

Chicagoland’s property managers can turn to several very active chapters of top-tier professional organizations: the Institute of Real Estate Management’s (IREM) Chicago Chapter 23 and the Community Associations Institute’s (CAI) chapter located in Schaumburg, all provide opportunities for education and continuing education and accreditation. Some of the professional designations awarded to property managers include IREM’s Certified Property Manager (CPM) and Accredited Residential Manager (ARM) and CAI’s Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM), Association Management Specialist (AMS), Large Scale Manager (LSM) and Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA).

A background in business and financial administration also translates well to this multi-faceted profession. Law firms, real estate schools and professional organizations such as IREM and CAI offer educational training to comply with state licensing requirements in Illinois for community association managers. For more information on the requirements go to www.idfpr.com/profs /info/cam.asp and you can also go to www.cai-illinois.org for further information.

A Not-so-Average Day

“My average day is dealing with ‘housekeeping’ stuff,” says Overstreet. “Checking that assessments are paid, checking for delinquent assessments, dealing with work orders, dealing with calls from owners about all kinds of minutiae such as ‘I have 10 people coming in from out of town and the guest parking lot is too small to fit them all. How is the association going to take care of this for me?’”

Picking up checks, reviewing projects, and working with vendors are all usual activities. And, are all in a day’s work for a busy property manager.

“We offer 24 hour, seven-day-a-week emergency contact so our day never stops,” says Urbaniak. “First thing in the morning, I’ll get updated from my overnight folks if there are any emergencies I have to deal with right away, but a lot of times, if we are doing our job correctly, our day is planned and we have a schedule. But schedules get changed as often as people’s lives.”

Urbaniak manages a gamut of properties from Section 8 housing to high-end condominiums to more spread-out homeowner associations. “The properties I manage vary hugely,” he says, “I don’t know anyone else who does such a wide array of property types. There is no average day.”

A recent event at one of Urbaniak’s properties involved a house party on the South Side of Chicago in Englewood that was beginning to get out of hand and was disturbing neighbors. “A resident called me at 2 o’clock in the morning and asked if I could take care of it,” he says. “I don’t exactly blend in on the South Side so I got a lot of surprised looks when I walk into this house party at 2 o’clock and told people to quiet down. For the most part, I’m known on the South Side and sometimes I have a better relationship with the residents than the police.”

Another problem cropped up for Overstreet. “A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday night I got a call from our fire/emergency alarm contractor that we had a fire in one of our units,” recalls Overstreet, “Luckily the fire sprinkler activated and stopped the fire but then the sprinkler caused water damage to all the units below and in the hallway. You have to be prepared to deal with anything.”

Be prepared, says Hudetz. “A not so average day is a day in the field,” says Hudetz. “While we do routine physical inspections of our buildings, we are often at our buildings to meet a vendor or to inspect a project in progress or to troubleshoot an issue. Every day does not include an evening [board/resident] meeting; however meetings are an important part of our job. A lot of effort is put into getting ready for the meeting. And a day after a meeting always requires a lot of follow-up.”

Managing to Keep Current

Hudetz has worked in real estate for over twenty years in Evanston. She began her real estate career in 1989 with a private real estate group and in 1991 she teamed up with Al Belmonte when he started his own firm the Wesley Realty Group. She has worked in all aspects of real estate development, sales and management and holds a Community Association Manager license.

“Our work is cyclical on a monthly basis,” says Hudetz. “At the beginning of the month we are busy getting out reports from the previous month. This requires that all bank statements be reconciled prior to even preparing the reports. All reports are personally reviewed by the property manager. Managers email their own reports to the appropriate boards of directors using this opportunity to comment on the months’ activities.”

The responsibilities of property managers include a wide range of duties, from the physical to the administrative but one of the most important is working alongside board members to provide a harmonious environment for all residents.

“It would be wonderful if board members and residents would realize that our primary responsibility is to help them maintain the value of their property,” says Hudetz. “We are on their team and have common goals. While we are limited to the terms of our contract, we try our best to be a resource to unit owners. We want the board members to realize that we are not lawyers, accountants or project managers—although we are happy to direct them to great professionals who can help them.”

Stay involved, says Urbaniak. “It’s important for people on the association boards to stay a little bit more involved than they typically do in what happens in their building,” he says. “A lot of condominium owners want to pay their assessment and not worry about it and let somebody else handle the unexciting stuff of taking care of the building. The problem is that building is their asset, it’s not mine. I think that’s a critical point that needs to be established. People live in condos because they don’t want to deal with lawn maintenance and a million other things but the property is still theirs. It’s important for all residents to attend association meetings and let their voice be heard.”

A tough job can be made a whole lot easier when you love what you do, and most successful property managers usually love their jobs. And even a superhero can attest that helping people can invariably make a positive difference in the world around them.

Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.

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