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The Best Property Managers Are Accomplished Jugglers – By Ryan Harrison

Posted on Jan 1, 2014


Our Guest Author – Ryan Harrison 


Ryan is a property manager and a writer and loves everything Southwest – from gourmet enchiladas to rustic New Mexican-inspired interior design.

Even though real estate investing is not the “cash cow” that some promoters would have you believe it is, rental properties can provide a careful investor with a very nice income stream and a solid real estate portfolio. Real Estate Investing for Dummies has a “Cheat Sheet” that provides some proven tips for success.

Becoming an effective property manager, however, is a bit like being a juggler. Basic concepts are not difficult, but learning when to toss a ball, and how long to hold another one, can spell the difference between being competent and being great.

Jim Collins, the management coach who famously said ”Good is the enemy of great” is also credited with saying that “managing problems can only make you good” whereas learning to build opportunities is the only way to become great, according to

Keeping the Balls in the Air

In the field of real estate investing and property management, one path to disaster is to wait for problems. As a landlord, your goal is to always maintain your properties in prime condition, ensure that you have renters who pay you on time, and realize a fair return on your investment now and in the future. An important resource for you as an owner, especially if you’re just entering the field, is an organization such as the AAOA (American Apartment Owners Association), which has a wealth of information and tools you can utilize to screen tenants, procure documents, exchange information with professionals, and keep up with the latest trends.

A standard rule in the real estate rental field is to utilize a yearly income figure of 10 times the monthly rental rate as your target goal. If your expenses — including mortgage, repairs and maintenance, landscaping and yard work, taxes, insurance, advertising, legal fees and other costs — are in line, you should realize a positive return on your investment, according to

Over the long term, if your property or apartment complex enjoys a consistently high occupancy rate with low turnover – in effect, if your units are consistently occupied — you should see a reasonable return on your investment, as well as property appreciation.

Find Those Opportunities

A U.S. Census Bureau survey of property owners reports that the primary reason for acquiring properties was for the income derived from the rents. It becomes imperative, then, to minimize lost income resulting from vacant units. Without becoming bothersome, it is perfectly acceptable to call, or even to drop by occasionally and visit with your tenant. Ask if they have any problems or concerns. Near the end of the lease term, you can ask if they will renew the lease.

This is an appropriate time (if your tenant is moving on) to ask about showings to secure a new tenant. If the current tenant agrees, you can often reduce the “empty unit” time to just a day or two, allowing you to maximize your occupancy ratio.

Professional property managers have also had good luck contacting the human resources departments of major employers in their area. Rather than simply putting a “For Lease” sign in the yard, consider marketing a property directly to a business for use by executives on short term assignments or temporary duty. Rental furniture is available in all cities for such use.

Additional Essential Tasks

Complete a Property Condition Report before move-in, and again immediately after a tenant’s move-out. Keep copies of both reports in the tenant’s file, and be scrupulous about detailing any damage during the lease term, taking photos if necessary.

Then address any repair and maintenance items immediately by lining up repair experts in advance. Small problems only become bigger problems. Follow up is almost as important as the initial repair. Be certain that you have addressed a situation completely and, if necessary, have the tenant stipulate to the work’s completion in writing, as suggests.


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What advice would you give to a new Service Manager?

Posted on Jul 31, 2013


To many people in the industry it is a long time goal or a dream come true to become a Service Manager for a property and most likely they have spent a significant amount of time learning different trades, how to make many types of repairs and get make-readies prepared for new residents.

The emphasis and responsibilities shift when you become a Service Manager. When you are a technician there is a greater emphasis on one’s technical ability to make repairs, get all the certifications required, and continue training in every relevant area possible. To list a few; electrical, HVAC, plumbing, landscaping, general construction, carpentry, appliance repair, pool care and maintenance etc, etc.

When you become a Service Manager you have to remain proficient in the trades and repairs but you are now responsible for leading a team that delivers results, completes tasks on time, and remains solution oriented.

Of course the universal standards apply such as consistently showing up on time, how positive your attitude is, how you dress for work, and if you are a person people respect and want to follow. All of these are a true indicator of the pride you have for yourself and the priority you put on working with your team.

There is a process of feeling out your new position and it applies to everyone at every level of employment within a company. The most common mistakes a newly promoted person makes is that they want to deliver results and impress everyone so badly and prove to everyone that they are the right person for the job, they mistreat their teammates, speak unprofessionally, and don’t know how to work with people to get the best out of every situation. You may find yourself being overly-reactive and hyper sensitive to the new pressures and demands of the position and unknowing putting negative pressure on your teammates.

The skills that got you promoted are different than the skills required to succeed as a Service Manager.

Most of your teammates will be glad for your promotion and will want you to succeed. They are cheering for you and want you to do well. If they know you sincerely want to maintain a great culture that gets results or make the changes necessary to become that team, they will help you as long as you treat everyone with professionalism, maturity, integrity, and set standards that apply to everyone with no exceptions.

People want to belong to a team that takes care of business, gets results, and treats everyone equally. Standards cannot become personal; ultimately, they are there to promote the success of the company and take care of residents. Just ask yourself “how does this best serve the customer and the company?” and make the best and most informed decision possible. Also, asking for help is not a sign of weakness or inability. Asking questions is a sign of intelligence and demonstrates you are seeking answers when you are unsure, so you can do the right thing. As time goes by and you gain more experience you may ask fewer questions but most likely you’ll just ask different ones.

Start learning more about the business, how you impact the property financially, and how you can better work with and help the Property Manager. Everyone wants a Service Manager that understands how they impact a property financially and makes good business decisions. Now that you have been promoted, you are more responsible for the success of the property and when you become proficient at building good teams, delivering results, and creating a team environment that people want to be a part of, you will become much more valuable.

Hire people that have better skills in some area than you do. A confident person is not afraid to build a team with people that are better at something than they are. You will not be replaced by someone just due to the fact that they can make more HVAC repairs. You are helping your Manager and the Owner run their business by taking care of the customer, managing the service department, and operating within budgetary guidelines to the best of your ability.

Be the person people can count on to get things done, take care and look out for your people, never forget you are a very important part of what makes the company successful as a business, always look for a solution and seek self improvement, fanatically send your people to training, help them grow in every area, and I guarantee you’ll get better results.

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What picking blueberries teaches about teambuilding

Posted on Jul 29, 2013

Every once in a while there is a moment or experience that you know is a lesson that will last and have an impact in other areas of a child’s life and yesterday was a day to remember. My 9 year old son and I went to a local Blueberry farm to pick some blueberries so we could get some delicious fruit and enjoy an experience together.

We each got one bucket to fill and the women that owns the farm told us that the first few rows were picked heavily and that we should go to the end and start from there. After a few minutes my bucket was about 1/3 full and my sons was about ¼ full and I noticed that he stopped and put his bucket down to pick out the few unripe berries that made it into his bucket.

At this moment I knew there was an opportunity to teach a meaningful lesson.

Me: Evan, what are you doing?

Evan: Picking out the bad ones, why?

Me: Just curious, can I ask you a question though?

Evan: Sure.

Me: If you only focus on the few bad ones, what do you stop yourself from doing and finding?

Evan: umm….. (A few moments of silence and contemplation)…well, I won’t find any good ones because I am only looking for bad ones. He said this in a way that sought my approval but I was glad to see he understood his actions could determine different outcomes.

Me: So do you spend more time looking for as many good ones as you can find and then deal with the few bad ones or do you spend more time looking for bad ones and prevent yourself from finding the good ones?

Evan: (He is quiet and thinking) “I think I’ll just look for the good ones and try to avoid picking bad ones, but I know I’ll get a few anyway, and when I do, I’ll get rid of them but I think I’ll get more better ones if I look more for the good ones.

Me: This was a nice father and son moment for me so I asked. How does this approach apply to building a team?

Evan: Well…….if I only spend time looking for bad ones, I’ll never find any good ones and I’ll work just as hard as you but my bucket will be empty. “Dad, is this you do in business when you travel and talk with people?”

Me: In many ways yes.

Evan: Why don’t business people just learn to look for the good ones and fill their bucket, I mean team faster? It won’t take long before they’ll see the ones that are no good anyway.
Me: Thanks Evan.

Evan: For what?

Me: For coming here with me, talking, and picking blueberries. Do you think Mom will make you some blueberry muffins?

Evan: I hope so. I am going to ask here as soon as we get home. Can we go now?

When we got home, we spilled out our bucket on the counter top, and there were thousands of good berries and only a few bad ones which we quickly got rid of and now we have only good ones.

I have to say, I never would have thought that picking blueberries would allow me to have such a conversation with my 9 year old son. It was clear that he genuinely understood how you get more of what you look for in life. Whichever you spend more time looking for, the good or the bad, you’ll find an abundance of it.

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