On this episode of the Deconstructed: The Future of CRE podcast, host Vivek Kartha welcomes Kimberley Morgan, Managing Director of Property Management at Stream Realty Partners.  Stream is a full-service property management service with 13 locations in major markets across the U.S. from coast to coast. 

The Evolution of Property Management 

This episode kicks off with Kimberley talking to Vivek about the evolution she has seen in the culture of the property management industry, especially when it comes to gender representation. When she first started out more than two decades ago, Kimberley saw a culture that was primarily dominated by men. Over the years she has seen a dramatic shift, especially in the last ten years, to a culture where most of today’s property managers and directors are women. 

Technology in the Industry 

When Kimberley started in the property management industry, technology was just starting to come into play to help people get their jobs done.  At the time, the industry used an early version of MRI, a software that is still in use today. Back then, it was run on DOS and property management professionals had to deal with the organization and management of large floppy discs. 

Today, that same software is being used, but it has evolved to the point where property management professionals can do nearly everything they need to do on their phones. 

Phones Changed the Game 

The biggest change Kimberley has seen in the industry has been the ubiquitous adoption of cell phones, and how that change has allowed unlimited connectivity in the industry. When she started there were no cell phones. A few years into her career, as the phone technology evolved, the property management industry began requiring that property managers carry cell phones, a somewhat revolutionary idea at the time. 

This was a game changer. Before the use of cell phones, property managers had a clear-cut 8-to-5 job and they would unplug from work at the end of the day. They didn’t have to worry about being contacted after hours to deal with work, and any issues that came up would simply wait until the next business day.

Now, everyone has access to property managers all the time, which is a huge change, in both good and bad ways. In a good way, clients and tenants have 24-hour access, which means that a manager knows what is happening at a property all the time, and emergencies can be taken care of as they happen. But the trade off that Kimberley sees is a deterioration of the work/life balance that property managers used to enjoy. In fact, Kimberley says that today she doesn’t know many managers who now have a positive work/life balance.

The PropTech Evolution

While it certainly wasn’t called PropTech at the time, Kimberley has seen the growth of technology and software in the industry, from those days of DOS programs and doing budgets on an Excel spreadsheet to filling out a lease abstract by hand. These days, softwares can help users complete a process that used to take an hour to do by hand in five minutes.

So with technology already making an industry that has been traditionally slow to adapt more efficient, Kimberley sees a tech wave coming. But, while that will increase efficiency and effectiveness, she thinks that it will pose some challenges for some people. 

The challenges of adopting new software isn’t happening for property administrators coming straight out of college. It is more a problem for industry veterans who aren’t used to changes coming so quickly. As someone who remembers MRI DOS then MRI Windows and the evolution since, she understands what it is like to use a software program for five to ten years before having to learn a new one. Now that software changes every year, or even faster, she sees frustration in veteran property management professionals who simply want to manage properties and people, and not be constantly learning new systems and technologies. 

The Pandemic Effect

The pandemic has obviously affected an industry where people work together to manage places where they work and live. This is an industry that thrives on face-to-face interactions, and the pandemic certainly put new challenges in place for managers and administrators to get their work done. 

Kimberley observed that industrial and retail managers weren’t affected as much by the pandemic, because they typically weren’t on-site at the properties they managed. However, the managers who normally dealt with people on a day-to-day basis in their office before the pandemic, handling issues like leasing, maintenance, security and janitorial, had to find more creative ways to get their jobs done. 

Additionally, an upside to having everyone working from home for the first time was that they could become more efficient and organized. Some people could experience budget training, CAM training, or learning about utility trackers for the first time, because prior to the pandemic they were too busy on-site dealing with daily property management issues. So in an example of making lemonade out of lemons, the pandemic has given younger, less experienced property management professionals a chance to learn and grow within the industry without all the distractions of the tenants.  

Diversity and Inclusion

While the property management industry has evolved in positive ways over Kimberley’s career, one area where she sees more room for growth and improvement is diversity and inclusion. As a person of color, Kimberley noticed at the beginning of her career that wherever she went, there was no one else who looked like her in the professional ranks. 

She now takes that as a challenge to keep increasing the inclusion and diversity gains that have been made since she started. This means putting opportunities in the hands of people who might not have otherwise believed that those opportunities existed. She says that if she puts herself out there, other people of color can see that they can be successful at any level of the property management profession.

“I want other people of color to see that there is someone like them that wants to help them, that wants to foster them, who wants to mentor them to get them to that next level,” she tells Vivek. “And so I take that very personally, I take that very seriously. Because I think when you have full diversity in any environment, it makes for a better environment.”  

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