By Beth Burke, YP Member
Here’s the thing about being a property manager: In a perfect world, my tenants wouldn’t give me a second thought. Now, now….before you start to feel sad for The Invisibles, the property managers of the world, remember: If I’m really good at my job, my tenants would never need to know I existed…unless I was bringing them cookies or inviting them to a Holiday Party. It’s a strange conundrum, because while the job may sometimes seem a little thankless (imagine people only wanting a piece of you when they’re upset about something), basically, when the phone doesn’t ring…it means I’m a total stud in the world of property management.
My job is different every day, and doing my job well hinges on many details from many sources all coming together perfectly. Yet I think, that like most property managers, the service I provide for my internal and external teams is a vague sort of mystery. With this in mind, I thought you might like to spend A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PROPERTY MANAGER.
My day started early. Many of the tenants in my portfolio operate in 2nd shifts, if not 24/7, so when there is an issue, regardless of it being very early, very late or very Saturday, that issue often needs to be addressed immediately. So at 4:45 am, I learned that a water main had broken in Richardson, which meant no water or plumbing was available at the property. A quick call to the City confirmed the problem was being worked on. A quick email blast to my tenants relayed the same information.
This is one of those pesky property issues that is completely out of my control. My hands are tied, as there is no option but to wait for the City to make the repair. I understand that this frustrates tenants who are trying to operate their businesses and are up against deadlines, and I wish there was something more I could do. But unfortunately, it’s just one of those things. Often tenants, in their frustration, are unable to separate me from a problem that is out of my control. This means that from 4:45 until 11:58 this morning, each tenant had called me at least six times (one tenant had called 11 times) asking when the water would be back on. And many of them were very angry. Each phone call left both me and the tenant frustrated.
Somewhere in the midst of those 63 phone calls, a mini-crisis was brewing across town. One of my tenants had become very frustrated that her suite did not have reserved parking, and her frustration had reached a boiling point when there was “no parking available” for her guests that morning. At this point, she demanded that I paint her company name in the 12 parking spots directly in front of her suite, and presented me a time frame of three days to make that happen.
Unfortunately, this is one of those times when I have to deliver news that a tenant does not want to hear. You can imagine her immediate reaction was “not thrilled” when I explained to her that I am bound to the terms of her lease, which specifically state that they have 12 “non-exclusive parking spaces.” The lease does not allow or require marked reservation of those spaces, nor does it guarantee that the spaces for use are directly in front of the suite. That particular property has not only a main parking lot, but an additional adjacent lot, which is rarely used and always has ample parking available, so I’m sure the claim of “no parking available” was exaggerated. When I suggested she direct her guests to the second lot where they could park easily, the suggestion was met with a rather unkind suggestion of where I could park it. I believe her suggestion was somewhere in the vicinity of “Hell.”
I can’t fault her for being frustrated. It’s difficult for me, as I am bound by the terms of the lease. Upholding the lease often paints me as the bad guy. My goal is never to have upset tenants – in fact, taking care of tenants and the properties where they operate is my job. As with suggesting the overflow lot, I always try to offer creative solutions when my hands are tied. But each day, I walk a narrow line between being accountable to my owners and honoring the lease documents, while still trying to be compassionate to my tenants and their business goals.
I feel lucky that I manage commercial real estate, rather than residential. I can’t imagine having to walk that same line with owners on one side and people’s homes and families on the other!
At just before noon, the water still wasn’t on in Richardson, there was a parking coup being staged in Irving, and the phone rang again. I braced myself and put a smile on my face so the person on the other end of the phone could hear it. The call was from a vendor, upset that payment was late and still unpaid. The property where this job was completed has a loan agreement which requires funding for the payment of capital projects, tenant improvements and leasing commissions. This means once a month, we request a draw of that funding to pay the invoices due on these types of projects. It also means that if an invoice is received just one day after our draw is submitted, it will be held for the next monthly draw with a week kicker to receive funding and cut the check. This particular vendor had called several times, and this particular draw had been held up in review. I can completely understand that he wanted his money and he wanted it now. Again, my hands were tied due to the loan modification, and there was nothing I could do. As a final jab, he told me he was going to file a lien if his payment wasn’t available immediately.
Look, I get it. I don’t want liens on any of my properties, it’s not ideal. And the contractor would have been totally justified in filing a lien, as we had exceeded the payment terms of the invoice. If I was in his position, I would likely also threaten to file a lien. My response was simply “Yes, sir, I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. We have every intention of paying this invoice, but if you need to file a lien, I totally get it.” Every time I’ve said this phrase, no matter how sincere I am, the contractor has always gone nuts. Occasionally, they will start referring to me as “little lady,” and ask for “the man in charge of me.” It always makes me laugh – why in the world, if I was capable, would I not pay the invoice? Especially if it meant avoiding having these types of conversations over and over again! All I had left to do was apologize and promise to give an update as soon as I had one.
I skipped lunch in an effort to get everything off my desk that was urgent so I could attend my first physical therapy appointment later in the afternoon. My ACL replacement surgery was two weeks ago, and I was anxious to get my knee functioning normally, and even more anxious to shed the torture device of a knee brace I have to wear until that day comes. Luckily I have animal crackers stashed away for just such an occasion.
If you’re not sad for me by this point in my day, at least be sad for the animal crackers. I maimed them carefully and purposely by eating first the heads, then the limbs, then the tails and finally putting them out of their misery by eating their tiny bodies. It had been that kind of a day.
The second week of the month is particularly frantic for me. It’s a struggle to get all my invoices coded and submitted for payment, pop out monthly reporting packages for owners and make collection calls in between the calls and emails. Having been out for several days in order to get my new bionic knee, there was a lot of stuff on my desk to get through.
No matter how much time I do (or don’t) have, some things absolutely have to get done. Each task has importance, but there are things that I do every day that can genuinely affect other people. For instance, in the next three hours, two leases would need to be abstracted, mileage reimbursements for my engineers needed to be processed, I needed to bill my engineers time to support payroll, and three monthly reports were due to owners. Obviously getting billing done for payroll is important, but if I don’t get leases abstracted immediately, my brokers won’t get paid in this cycle. Still, the guys in the field go out of pocket for gas money, and truck repairs are looming. The owners are ultimately my bosses, and I understand the importance of meeting my reporting deadlines with accuracy, and represent my company and team in the most positive way possible.
Having to sort through these tasks and prioritize them ultimately sends my mind into the future, where I evaluate how meeting (or not meeting) my deadlines will affect other people meeting (or not meeting) their deadlines. Since all these tasks are important, should I prioritize based on what will best benefit my co-workers? Isn’t that a part of being a team?
Often I feel overwhelmed by amount of work on my desk. But ultimately, it always gets done, and usually in much less time than I anticipate. Still, it’s difficult to balance the parts of the job that require getting out to the properties: checking on things and meeting with tenants & vendors, with the parts of my job that require pushing paper around my desk and sending emails into cyberspace. I wish that I had more time to personally visit with my tenants, to drop by and say “hello” just to check in, and not just as a reaction to an issue.
My building engineer interacts much more with the tenants than I can – he helps coordinate maintenance for them, and keeps things tidy and in good working order at the properties. He and I have taken the “good cop/bad cop” routine to a new level of perfection. He will take care of the tenants, and while doing so – even though he full-well knows what I’m going to say – he’ll use sneaky phrases like “I’ll have to check with Beth.” Of course, the result is that the tenants adore him. If we end up doing something in their favor, tenants assume it’s because he is an angel and has convinced me to do it. If we aren’t able to accomplish what they want, it must be because I am mean and un-bendy.
I make jokes about it, but this system works for us, giving us balance to do our best for the tenants while still honoring the lease and the ultimate goals of the owner. In all fairness, I suppose I play the same game…it’s helpful for me to refer to a mythical “Landlord” when telling a tenant something they don’t want to hear.
Don’t judge me. It’s nice to be the “good cop” once in a while.
While putting the final touches on my final monthly report (which I started after getting mileage invoices prepped, which I did after my leases were abstracted, which I did before booking payroll reimbursements) I began pondering age old sayings like “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” and “perception is reality.” Thank goodness that the phone rang before smoke started coming out of my ears. Philosophical thinking was never my strong suit – just look at my transcripts.
So I turned on my smile and answered the phone – silently hoping for a wrong number. With just a few minutes left before I needed to leave for my appointment, I was mentally calculating how long I would have to devote to the next crisis while still leaving time to finish the report.
On the other end of the phone, an excited voice exclaimed “I got my CO!” Immediately my smile went from forced to genuine as I talked to one of my tenants about the roller coaster of getting her Certificate of Occupancy from the City of Dallas. I am unable to apply for COs on my tenants’ behalf, but I tried to be available to her every painful step of the way. It took almost a month and several trips for each of us to the City office, the architect and Kinko’s to get the job done, and today she had gotten that coveted final green tag. We reminisced on our journey together, and ten minutes went by in the blink of an eye. While we chatted I pulled the final pieces of the report together and sent it off to my owner.
As much as I poke fun at my job, call it “thankless” or refer to property managers as The Invisibles, it’s the times just like this that keep me from abandoning my career in favor of living in my Civic with my cat. We kept talking until I absolutely had to leave for my appointment. And the last thing I heard before hanging up the phone?
“Thanks so much Beth. We could have never done it without you.”
It’s hard to remember the last time I felt less invisible.