Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services
If you ever wondered about the business of recruiting an on-site apartment manager, you are not alone. There are a few keys to successfully pulling this off. First, you have to decide what your on-site apartment manager is going to do for you. As with any hiring decision, the job description needs to be planned first, and then you need to decide how much you can afford in wages. The challenge with pay ties in to the size of property for which you need an on-site manager. In addition, you need to consider federal and state minimum wage laws.
There is not a definite job description. Every owner has different skills and different needs. Some owners want their managers to do maintenance, others want a bookkeeper to collect rents, and still others want a customer service person to take care of the needs of the tenants.
The size of the property will also dictate the level of professionalism you can expect from an on-site manager. A manager of a 16-unit property may give you ten hours a week of their time and may be responsible for picking up trash and showing and renting units. A manager of a 30-unit property might also handle light maintenance and on-site landscaping, and be available 30 hours a week. By contrast, managing a 100-unit property is a full time job, and the manager will probably have a part time on-site leasing agent, a full time maintenance person, and a part time painter.
As you can see, the size and quality of property will drive the rental income, thereby dictating both the responsibility level of the on-site managers and what you will pay them. Many owners are now offering heath insurance and other benefits to compete for the best managers.
How do you find and screen managers?
Advertise for managers in your local paper. Be specific about your expectations, the location, and the pay. Most managers are looking to live in a particular area or school district. In smaller projects, younger couples can save money by having one partner at school or work and the other watching the kids at home. At larger properties, being on-site manager is a more professional position and may require you to recruit from an existing property or through an organization that trains managers.
Don't underestimate your “gut feeling” when reviewing resumes. You are primarily hiring a detail-oriented individual with excellent customer service skills. If a resume comes through the door copied 300 times, folded, and mutilated with coffee stains on it, you will probably not interview the person. The ability to communicate in more than one language has become important, so applicants who are bilingual should catch your eye. In recent years, it has become common to hire married couples and unconventional teams. Gay couples, siblings, roommates, and parent/child teams can all be successful on-site managers. When you interview, it is important to gauge whether you think both team members are “on board.” If one is friendly and the other is a grouch, you can imagine how a potential tenant might feel. Remember, experience is helpful but not as important as the instinct to take care of people.
Don't forget that checking credit, previous employment references, drug usage, and criminal histories are also important parts of the process. A thorough screening of on-site managers is critical. You can't afford to have a drug user or dealer, someone with a criminal record, or someone with a record of evictions and unpaid rent as your on-site manager. We had an applicant sail through the interview process only to find out that he owed his last three landlords back rent. Realize that there are some very smart con artists out there who will skim thousands of dollars off the top as on-site managers without you knowing it. To avoid this, some companies now collect rent centrally or have frequent audits of their onsite-managers.
Some applicants may have national certifications you should be aware of: Certified Apartment Manager (CAM), Accredited Residential Manager (ARM), and Registered Apartment Manager (RAM). People with certifications are typically making on-site management a profession and are looking for employment in 100-unit plus properties.
Annual reviews and shopping the manager
Once you have hired the manager, training will be required in several areas. Most on-site managers are willing and able to do a good job for you, but they need direction. To avoid litigation, you must show the on-site manager how to screen tenants without violating fair housing discrimination laws. (It is a good idea to buy fair housing discrimination insurance.) On-site managers should have safety training, also. They need know what to do in case of an emergency or unusual situations—if a fire breaks out, or if a tenant dies in an apartment. They need ongoing training, and you need to be committed to it.
On-site managers also need a clear job description and an explanation of your goals for the property. Some property managers are even involved in annual budgeting of the properties. Annual or quarterly review of the goals is important. Visit the property; some on-site managers can get very territorial and forget that they don't own the property if you don't show up every once in a while. Have the manager shopped by an outside company both on the phone and by a visit to the property. The one hundred dollars you spend for this may be the very best investment you make. Bear in mind that managers need to be directed just like any other employee. If they are performing well, pay them a bonus. Incent them by telling them how to earn a bonus by keeping the vacancy rate down and keeping the property on budget.
In summary, successful on-site managers are made by hiring detail-oriented people with an ability to take care of your tenants. It is critical to spell out your expectations in a job description. Train them to avoid litigation, handle emergency situations, and be the best on-site manager for you. Finally, paying them well and using incentives will help them keep your community full. Finding a good manager or management team takes patience. This is a good time to place your ad.