Should You Become a Property Manager?

Should You Become a Property Manager?

Are you considering a property management career?

Maybe you have a passion for real estate. Or maybe you like the idea of being able to build a portfolio of properties that you manage. Seems like it would be a great career, right?

But don’t be fooled: it isn’t for everyone.

While there are plenty of opportunities to succeed in property management, it’s not without its drawbacks.

In this article, I’ll share my personal experience with residential property management. I’ll also cover the skills required to be a good property manager and whether or not a property management career is worth pursuing.

My first part-time property management job

Thankfully, the barrier to entry for property management isn’t very high.

Back when I was still an undergrad, before I had the capital or experience to start investing myself, I began searching for entry-level opportunities in the real estate industry.

I thought it would be a good way to get a useful perspective on real estate investing.

This search led me to a part-time property management gig with a large real estate firm located near my university in Champaign, Illinois (about 3 hours south of Chicago). The company managed several multi-hundred unit buildings in the area.

My job with them was on-site. This meant that I was physically located in an office within the complex of buildings I managed. Compare this to off-site property managers, who are decentralized in remote offices, assuming there’s an office at all.

For me, I worked a typical day-time shift, from about 8:00 AM in the morning until 5:00 PM. Though I was only working a few days per week while I was in school.

I wasn’t alone at this site – I was an assistant to the property manager and assistant property manager at the main location I worked at. The company also had an in-house maintenance staff that floated between properties.

At this job, I had three main, day-to-day roles. I had to lease out empty rental units, address tenant issues, and handle some administrative tasks, like taking phone calls and organizing the office.

Being on-site made these tasks easier. I was able to quickly deal with issues as they arose without having to travel anywhere. It also made showing vacant apartments a breeze.

So if you’re considering a property management career, figure out whether the job is on or offsite. An offsite manager might have to travel between properties on a daily basis, while an onsite job will typically not have the same problem (though you’ll probably have to deal with tenant complaints far more often as people have easier access to you and the management team!).

My next job: Condo property management

That first property management gig only lasted one semester. 

But I learned a lot and certainly built up some temperament after having dealt with so many day to day tenant issues and complaints, mostly trivial but occasionally serious.

After college, when I moved back to my hometown in the Chicagoland area, I landed a full-time job at a property management company right away.

I worked this job for an entire year –  throughout my whole first year of law school – and it opened the door to my first house hack.

The job was at a condo community in Chicago. That is, I was working for a company contracted by the homeowners’ association.

The role of the management company here was a bit precarious because the rules were controlled by the homeowners’ association. So the property rules, no matter how draconian, were very difficult to change.

Otherwise, the mechanics of the job were largely similar to my first property management gig in Champaign. Like most other property managers, I was on the frontlines everyday dealing with tenant issues as they came up. Things moved pretty fast.

However, I eventually left this job for a law-related position, thus ending my short property management career. But not after I had gained some insights on the overall value of a property management career.

So, let’s get into it.

Succeeding as a property manager

To succeed in property management, it’s helpful to understand how it differs from other career paths in the real estate industry.

If you’re a real estate agent, you’re sales-focused. Your job is to market yourself and your products as well as build relationships. You don’t get paid unless you close deals.

If you’re a real estate analyst, you’re a numbers person who’s often behind the scenes making sense of raw data. You generally get paid for your time.

Property managers, on the other hand, are like the customer service department of the real estate industry. They’re the ones interacting with tenants over the lifetime of their lease.

And most often, interactions only occur when there are problems. And because these problems are related to things that are happening in peoples’ homes, they can become rather emotional and, at times, irrational.

That’s not to say this is always how it goes. In fact, most tenants are great and treat you very well and politely. But it’s certainly something to be aware of.

No matter what, keeping your composure while dealing with angry or upset tenants is critical for success in a property management career.

Patience is a Virtue

You have to have patience in property management. And you also have to be willing to stand your ground, without being rude about it, of course.

You will never know when a problem might arise. Sometimes a building system will break and you’ll have to scramble to get it fixed. Other times, neighbors might get into a petty dispute and you’ll have to play a sort of mediator role.

Both little and big things can pop up at any time, and you can’t get overwhelmed or frustrated by them.

Since the nature of your work is responding to unexpected issues and crises, it’s impossible to know when these will happen. Regardless, it’s your responsibility as property manager to put out all the fires, so to speak, no matter when they occur, and with a smile on your face.

Patience is key.

Is property management a good career?

If you’re an even-keeled problem solver, property management is a great career. If you’re easily overwhelmed or hate the thought of being interrupted all of the time while you try to work on things, it’s horrible.

Succeeding as a property manager is far from a cake walk, which begs the question: is there any value in a property management career at all?

For the right person with the right temperament, a property management career can be rewarding and lucrative.

Some states, like my home state of Illinois, have licensure requirements for becoming a property manager or leasing agent. Without a license, you’ll typically be limited to working as an assistant to a licensed manager.

But, if you do get any requisite licenses, you can build a portfolio of managed properties for various landlords and make a significant income. But that will not come easily.

If you can set yourself apart as a good manager, you’ll never have trouble maintaining work. It’s a career with fairly high turnover where the best managers are highly valued.

People will always need places to live, and, therefore, landlords will always need managers. So, in a half-decent rental market, you should be in a relatively stable career.

That said, the field has few barriers to entry, which can be a positive or a negative depending on how you look at it. But even if you’re someone who lacks technical skills, you’ll likely still be able to secure a job as a property manager.

All that being said, property management is certainly not for everyone.

Should you become a property manager?

So, the golden question: should you become a property manager?

If you’re an innate problem-solver with an even temper and a keen interest in the day-to-day operations of building management and tenant communications, then the answer is yes.

However, if that profile doesn’t sound like you then you might want to think twice before jumping into this field.

Ultimately, a long-term career in property management wasn’t for me. That was never my goal going in. I knew I wanted to stay in real estate, and it seemed like a good place to gain some perspective while I started my rental property portfolio.

When the time came, I decided to put my law degree to good use and took an opportunity in the commercial real estate law. I will always value my experience in property management, especially now as a landlord myself looking to hire my own managers.

One thing I can say with confidence about my short property management career, however, is that it helped me to build character!

More importantly, it helped me to obtain the skills required to start managing my own properties. And, later on, when I went out to find my own property manager to hire for an out-of-state rental property, I knew what characteristics to look for in the managers I interviewed.

For me, it was a stepping stone towards a different path. But for you, it might be a rewarding lifelong vocation. Either can work well.

I hope this brief overview of property management helped you come closer to a decision if a property management career is right for you.

But if you’re still unsure or have additional questions, drop a comment in the comment section below!

This website, and any communication stemming from it, while hopefully informative, should not be taken as financial or legal advice. Assume all links are affiliate links. I am an Amazon affiliate.

Jack Duffley

Jack Duffley is a real estate investor and attorney based in Houston, TX.

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