“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.”
I’ll just start by saying that commercial real estate property management is hard — no one likes making mistakes, much less admitting to them. In the spirit of community and making connections in a world where we can be siloed, I hope my stories prevent you from making similar mistakes, dispel any misbeliefs that you’re the only one making them, and encourage you to share your own mistakes (here are a few more for when you’re done laughing at mine.)
1. Property Management Prioritization
My Mistake: I prioritized customer service above my responsibility to the building owner.
As the landlord’s representative of the building, property managers walk the fine line between providing excellent customer service to the tenants while keeping the landlord’s best interest in mind. My instinct is to use the lease for guidance. It’s the agreement both parties accepted and it’s in writing! However, in one attempt to give above-and-beyond customer service I made a huge mistake.
A tenant asked if he could store “a few storage containers” in our parking lot temporarily. I thought through some of the following possible concerns.
- Did we have room in the parking lot? Yes, if they were as big as the storage pods I was imagining, one would fit per parking space.
- Would it inconvenience any of the tenants? No, not only was the row I allocated to them always empty, but the next several rows near them were also empty.
- Was the tenant’s auto insurance coverage current? Yes.
- Would the building owner approve? Wellllll, I could see that going one of two ways: 1. I was providing an unexpected tenant service that laid the groundwork for renewals and referrals, or 2. this is not the proper use of our asset.
I went ahead and gave him approval. However, because I assumed I knew the size of the containers, I didn’t bother to ask. Big mistake!
Imagine my surprise when four 18-wheelers pulled into the parking lot to drop off four shipping containers that you could fit multiple cars inside. I was the human version of the monkey emojis covering their eyes, ears, and mouth. To add salt to an open wound, the asphalt in the parking lot got incredibly scratched up when the 18-wheelers were unloading the containers.
The number of mistakes I made in this scenario are numerous, but the bottom line is that I broke the cardinal sin of property management. The asset is your highest priority (aside from human safety, of course).
My desire to create a good relationship with a tenant and provide good service blinded me from protecting the asset.
Despite the mistakes made, it ended relatively well. After a month of scrambling, the tenant moved the containers, he paid for the asphalt repairs, and I was forgiven.
2. Ensure You Have an Understanding of the Landlords Expectations
My Mistake: I assumed the status quo was acceptable
When I was hired, I took over from a property manager who had moved on to another job (it’s important to note that she wasn’t fired due to job performance). I kept the status quo as I learned the intricacies of the building. The janitorial and engineering staff were the same and I had no reason to change their job description or the expectations that were already in place. The landscape vendor kept up their duties as they had been, and the engineers continued on their respective schedules.
A couple of months in, my boss came to me and said the property was not looking the way it should and the building owner was disappointed. I was completely shocked. I had never gotten a bad report as a property manager and I was already underperforming at a new job. Where did I go wrong?
What I should have done was get a clear picture of the Landlord’s expectations, starting with the aesthetics.
If rule number one is to protect the asset, rule number two is to thoroughly understand the building owner’s expectations.
If that means requesting a property walk with the building owner or an executive who understands the owner’s expectations, be persistent on your request, you’ll be better off hearing those expectations firsthand.
As we know, being a proactive property manager can save you headaches and heartburn in the long run, why not start on Day 1 by engaging your building owner?
Using property management software like WorkSpace, you can use the Activity tab to have internal conversations, make comments. and log notes like owner expectations. In the Documents tab, you can store budgets, janitorial inspections, or standard operating procedures — anything you want is at your fingertips and visible to all team members.
3. Property Management IS Time Management
My Mistake: I multi-tasked to the point of inactivity
Have you ever spoken these words?
“I worked hard all day but didn’t check one thing off my list.” It doesn’t mean you were inefficient or spent the day online shopping. For me, it usually meant I received so many unexpected requests that every item on my to-do list got pushed down the line.
A property manager takes calls from tenants, processes invoices for accountants, conducts inspections with vendors and all of it includes paperwork. Just try to find a job posting for a property management position that doesn’t use the term “multi-task” in some form. As a property manager, you just don’t have the freedom to complete tasks on a structured, sequential timeline. You have to be flexible, pivot without notice and always keep the big picture in mind.
My initial strategy was to complete every unexpected task from start to finish so that I didn’t add more to my to-do list, but this proved quite inefficient. And since recent studies continue to prove that true multitasking does not exist, I had to rethink that strategy. Thankfully, there is no shortage of podcasts, articles, and apps to facilitate your time management. Even Microsoft is creating features in their suite to help with your focus: from Outlook blocking notifications for a time period you set, to Word maximizing its work window to block any other apps on your screen.
So, I retrained myself not to check every email the instant I got the notification, to the point of turning off the notifications. Even the 15 seconds it takes to read an email and decide to attend to it later has lasting repercussions on your train of thought. I stopped processing invoices every day and set aside time twice a week instead. But the biggest improvement I made was through following the Rule of Three.
Pick the three most important, needle-moving tasks to get done for the day – that’s it. If you have room for more, pick three more.
It’s less disappointing to see that you didn’t get to item #3 than to see you didn’t get to 15 items you had no chance of achieving.
A useful feature to facilitate this within WorkSpace is the Tasks app. Add your top 3 tasks as you close up for the night and they will be waiting for you on your home screen when you log on in the morning. With this feature you can also attach teammates to the task or send them their own task that appears on their WorkSpace home screen.
4. Trust Yourself and Your Experience as a Property Manager
My Mistake: Analysis paralysis
Early on as a property manager, I learned that weighing your options is critical but over-thinking your options is debilitating. Don’t fall prey to letting the search for the perfect choice prevent you from making a very good choice. Do your homework, but once you have about 85% of the knowledge in front of you, make the best decision with that information and move on. You will never have 100% of the facts for every decision; at some point, you have to trust your experience and trust your employer’s faith in your decision-making.
Obviously, choosing a vendor for an elevator modernization has bigger implications than choosing the seasonal color change for the landscape, but the notion is still the same.
Spending a month or two comparing your top three elevator vendors is wise, spending six months narrowing down to three vendors looks like you don’t know what you’re doing.
If you can’t decide on post-Christmas spring flowers and end up with dead poinsettias in your lobby, you’re no longer indecisive but inattentive or, god forbid, lazy.
If you’ve done your research and can provide justification as to why you made your decision, the “wrong” choice looks more like a “not the best, but we’ll make do” choice. And at the end of the transaction, review the process, determine what the tipping point was that led you to your decision.
- Was there a misunderstanding of expectations?
- Did you read something wrong?
- Could it even have been prevented at all?
Don’t forget to share what you’ve learned with your internal team, or with other property managers – property managers have to stick together!
However, if you are having trouble comparing vendors, you can always use property management software to help. For instance, WorkSpace has a great job costing feature in the Payables platform. You can accurately compare vendors and bids against your budget for a project prior to committing to a vendor.
In an exception that proves the rule, I almost destroyed a legally protected sculpture in my effort to be a decisive go-getter. In the process of updating the aesthetics of the building, my boss and I deemed an old, faded monument an eyesore on the outdoor patio. My boss’s boss also wanted to get rid of the sculpture but there was a little bit of pushback from the owner. Knowing that this owner also spent months deciding between grey restroom tiles, I decided to show initiative; so I chose a scrap metal vendor and arranged to have the sculpture demolished and removed.
At the last minute, my boss suggested we repaint it instead of permanently removing it. It was an unsatisfying compromise but at least we were improving the eyesore. That is until we learned that this sculpture was officially registered as “fine art” and therefore legally protected. The artist could actually seek punitive damages and attorneys’ fees from us for the unauthorized alteration and/or removal of the piece. I had the sculpture repainted back to its original color, we avoided any lawsuits, and my (former) boss and I still have a good laugh about just how wrong we were.
5. Property Management Is Full Of Known Unknowns
My Mistake: I became an accomplice to inefficiency.
Every management company processes their financial reports differently. My first company had a due date of the 10th of every month, when I printed the finances, wrote a simple narrative paragraph and submitted it to my asset manager. Another company only required financial reports to be completed on a quarterly basis, and only included comments on the income and expense variances. In both situations, I had a clear deadline and was mostly responsible for creating, gathering, and delivering the data.
At my last company, however, the accountants pulled the data from several different systems on my seven different properties then sent me a 150-page pdf. Then I would have 1-3 business days to cobble the data together and manually update a spreadsheet. Sometimes the accountants would send the data on the 5th of the month, sometimes it was on the 12th of the month. Either way, the expectation was that managers would drop everything, complete the reports and return to their work while awaiting further corrections.
The first few months I was always the last one to turn my reports in – sometimes due to starting them late, sometimes due to revisions sent back to me, and sometimes due to interruptions. I hate to be last and refuse to be considered the weakest link. So I set out to improve my time. But after a period of trial and error, I resigned myself to the fact that for the first week of every month, I just had to be on high alert and ready to reprioritize at a moment’s notice.
To prepare, I changed my routine and processed invoices immediately that week. I delegated more service requests and tenant calls and divided longer projects into bite-size chunks so if I had to stop it in the middle, I wouldn’t be lost 3 days later. In the end, this routine became normal, a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I began turning my reports in first, but on the other hand, I became an accomplice to the inefficiency of this reporting process!
Lo and behold, when I joined WorkSpace I found what would have been the answer to those inefficiencies.
Had I known a platform like WorkSpace existed, I would have done the due diligence to see if we could bring it, or something like it, aboard rather than falling prey to an inefficient and cumbersome system.
Whether it was the property management platform that would have let me manage my properties within one system, the asset management platform where I could see my expense variances with one click, or the Payables platform where I could approve invoices from anywhere in the world, it would have saved tons of time and money and allowed us all to focus on what’s important – our tenants.
Mistakes Help Us Grow
Rita Mae Brown said, “good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” So, here’s to learning from each other’s mistakes and the good judgment that follows! If you’re curious to see how WorkSpace can help you avoid future mistakes, reach out!