Landlording & Rental Properties

How to Spot a Great—Not Just Good—Property Manager (with Video!)

Expertise: Real Estate Investing Basics, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Landlording & Rental Properties, Business Management, Personal Development, Flipping Houses, Commercial Real Estate
152 Articles Written

I’ve always felt that although you make your money when you buy, you don’t cash in on that until you initiate a great (not just good) management strategy.

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We have managed our own assets for many years and learned what works and what doesn’t firsthand. Recently, we hired a manager for an apartment building we purchased that was too far for us to manage ourselves. Through the process of building our management team and then interviewing other management companies, I have realized that there are things that separate a good management company from a great one.

What It Means to be a Property Manager

The property manager acts as a liaison between the tenant and the owner. At times the property manager’s role is to be the voice for the tenant to the owner. This would be about things such as maintenance, general upkeep, switching over utilities when the tenant moves in, etc. At other times, the property manager’s role is to be the voice of the owner to the tenant. This could include things such as collecting rent on time, new leasing and renewals, complete work orders submitted by the tenant, etc.

Now that you know what a property manager does, let’s get into what separates the good from the great.

Related: 10 Tasks a Property Manager Will Take Off Your Plate (to Free Up Precious Time!)

What Makes an Exceptional Property Manager

1. Upholding Quality

real-estate-tenant

You might ask, “The quality of what?” This is the quality of living for the tenant. Besides completing work orders, the property manager goes the extra mile to resolve issues for the tenant, rather than cast them off as “not my problem.”

Say they manage a multifamily property and one tenant is constantly being disturbed by their upstairs neighbor who plays music loudly late at night. A great property manager will get involved and talk with the noisy tenant to ensure everyone is happy where they live. They’ll step in to mediate when they can to help a tenant.

2. Tenant Happiness

What do happy tenants do? They pay the rent on time, treat the unit like it’s home, and stay longer. Now don’t get me wrong, there are those people who won’t be happy no matter how helpful you are. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that. But you can do little things to make them feel appreciated.

For example, in one of my buildings I hold a raffle every quarter for tenants—who paid rent on time within that quarter—to win a $50 gift card. I also hold a raffle once a year for tenants—who paid rent on time that whole year—to win a flat screen TV. And I make my tenants aware of this so they have a chance to win.

By doing these raffles it shows that I have pride in the property, which may spill over to them to feel proud of where they live. It also rewards the tenants and shows that I appreciate them. And a little appreciation can go a long way.

Related: 6 Simple Tips to Help Keep Your Tenants Happy (& Paying)

3. Upholding Building Quality

painter at work with a roller, bucket and scale, from below view

This is more than just completing work orders. This is having foresight and doing preventative work to maintain the building. An example would be noticing a tree that’s leaning onto the building. A great property manager will do grooming or inquire about possibly cutting the tree down before it crashes through a unit during a bad storm. Doing this routine maintenance prevents what is called emergency maintenance.

Upkeeping the building also entails doing walkthroughs, roof inspections, testing smoke alarms, etc. By doing this, it prevents any major damages down the road. If the property manager isn’t doing these things, they’re failing to serve the tenant and owner.

There you have it. Remember that collecting rent and handling work orders is the baseline. A great property manager goes above and beyond that.

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What’s your worst experience with a property manager and what’s your best? And what would you say separates the good from the great?

Please share with a comment below!

Matt Faircloth, co-founder and president of the DeRosa Group, is a seasoned real estate investor. The DeRosa Group, based in historic Trenton, New Jersey, is a developer and owner of commercial and residential property with a mission to “transform lives through real estate." Matt, along with his wife Liz, started investing in real estate in 2004 with the purchase of a duplex outside of Philadelphia with a $30,000 private loan. They founded DeRosa Group in 2005 and have since grown the company to owning and managing over 370 units of residential and commercial assets throughout the east coast. DeRosa has completed over $30 million in real estate transactions involving private capital including fix and flips, single family home rentals, mixed use buildings, apartment buildings, office buildings, and tax lien investments. Matt Faircloth is the author of Raising Private Capital, has been featured on the BiggerPockets Podcast, and regularly contributes to BiggerPockets’s Facebook Live sessions and educational webinars.

    Brad Ter Beek investor from Mystic, Connecticut
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Matt, I’m going through the interview process now in my search for a property manager. This really helps me sift through my data to find the great ones! Thanks!
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Brad, Thanks for the comment. Since you are on the search right now perhaps we can use your experience to continue the conversation? Do you mind telling us a bit about the deal and what you are expecting from your property manager? What tasks do you want them to perform? Matt
    Jackie Botham investor from Grand Rapids, Michigan
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Great video!! Thank you for posting. I recently bought an SFR from an out-of-country owner who had the property managed by a well-known PM company here in GR. The tenant I inherited had a history of paying late and when we closed on the property on the 11th of the month, rent was still not paid and the PM had done nothing to try to get the rent from the tenant. So, I went over to talk with the tenant and she explained to me how this company didn’t care about the property, did not answer her maintenance requests and that she had given up calling and had been fixing things at the house herself. I fixed a number of issues that first week that by anyone’s standards would have made the place uninhabitable. She ended up paying me the rent she owed plus late fees and pre-payed two months in advance! In my estimation, she became a better tenant simply because I showed her that I cared about the house. I think it’s crazy that PMs like the one I bought from are still in business ignoring their properties and tenants like that! And that PM is one of the largest PMs in our city! At least I know where to go now to buy distressed assets, Lol! Thanks again!
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Jackie, Thanks for sharing that story. It shows that at least some tenants with bad payment history can be turned around by showing that the owner cares about the quality of the living space. Best of luck with your rental! Matt
    Katie Rogers from Santa Barbara, California
    Replied about 3 years ago
    If I were a tenant, I would rather have the cash than a flat-screen TV.
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Katie, That’s funny. I actually won a flat screen at a golf tournament once, and sold it on craigslist! I agree that some people just want the cash but a flat screen is more of a conversation starter with tenants, even if they don’t keep it. Matt
    Katie Rogers from Santa Barbara, California
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Sorry, the comment ended up in the wrong place.
    Jason E. Smith rental_property_investor from Greensboro, NC
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Other than knocking on the tenants door, do you have suggestions on how to conduct a survey to learn how your tenants feel about your property manager?
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Jason, Great question. I have had an intern do a phone interview with tenants to survey them in the past. We got very good data that we were able to use in the future. You could also consider using Survey Monkey if you have their email address. Matt
    dave
    Replied about 3 years ago
    I think the trick to getting a working relationship with your tenants and your property manager is all in the heart! My property manager knows all the tenants their names and the kids names- happy birthday e-mails are the norm not by accident. My property manager helps spouses look for employment using ( during slow times) she knows the money will help the family stay on track. My property manager has given rides to tenants to School, the Doctor, work etc…..all tenants that have been in the community more than 10 years get a gift on thietr birthday. My Property manager walks the property 3 times a week and picks up any trash scattered, this has resulted in 95% of our tenants being here more than 8 years , some 16 years! A great property manager is fundamental to our success!
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Dave, You have an awesome property manager. It sounds like they really treat the building like they are an owner (picking up trash as an example). I didn’t get into the whole birthday thing but that is a very good way to make tenants feel special at a very low cost. You have a winner there, keep them! Matt
    Keri Middaugh rental_property_investor from Ypsilanti, MI
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Great video. Thank you!
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Keri, You are welcome! Glad you enjoyed! Matt
    Dave Van Horn from Berwyn, PA
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Matt, Loved the video/article! All great points on the proactive manager vs. a reactive one. On the flip side of the equation, as someone who employs a management company I think there are many things that differentiate the good to great. Just to name a few, I think being responsive, consistent, trustworthy, and having common sense are all great qualities for a manager or management company to have. Did I mention common sense? That’s a biggie, especially in terms of repairs – I don’t want to send out a $100/hour plumber to have a flapper changed, that sort of thing. A lot of that comes with experience, which is also key. In terms of practicalities I think having a good team helps (with 24/hour service is a plus), the desire to save the owner money (or time), the ability to handle volume if necessary. And not just on the tenant end, but on the owner’s side I appreciate a manager who is good in their reporting (all I have to do is basically hand paperwork to my accountant). It also is always a huge plus when a manager has a quality network with building inspectors and other key people one has to deal with when dealing with properties and tenants. One of the unique ways my property manager really provides value is that she’s a judge – which really helps in court. I also think a property manager who is a specialist in your investment area (mine specializes in only one county) and clientele helps immensely. And just like rewarding your tenants, I think us owners have to remember to reward our managers! Whether it’s with gifts or even more business, that type of thing goes a long way. Best, Dave
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Dave, Thanks for the comment! You bring up so many good points. A few habits of great managers that you pointed out stuck with me. Using the right skill set and and labor cost for the task is huge. Keeping solid books is a good point also. It reminds me of a difference between good and great managers that I didn’t bring up – check the management software they use. If your target management company is using Excel spreadsheets, or even Quickbooks, I would call that Good at it’s best. Look for a software that’s dedicated to real estate management like Rent Manager, App Folio, or Buildium. These softwares have an owner log in so that property owners can have access to their own data real time, run their own reports, and check the health of their real estate portfolio first hand. And I love that your property manager is a judge! That’s a nice perk I’m sure. Take care, Matt
    Christine Swaidan investor from Ventura, California
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Great video, Matt. I will be interviewing my first perspective management company on Monday (two days from now). The bulk of our portfolio is seventy apartments. Currently we have onsite managers, a husband and wife team that handle the day to day issues but they look to me pretty much for any problem. They did not have any experience when we hired them about 5 years ago. Great, honest people. I feel lucky to have them. But I am one stressed woman! Right now there is lots of deferred maintenance so at each vacancy a rehab is done–paint, flooring, counters, sinks and appliance if needed. So far we have done or are doing 9 rehabs this year. Lots of plumbing issues that I have dealt with, also. Do you think I will be able to find a PM willing to work with my onsite managers or do they generally want to bring their own people in (deal breaker). Plus with all the rehabs we are doing is that going to be something that I can step back from or will I have to continue to manage the process. Another question I have is how in the world can I just step back and let someone else takeover my job. Huge amount of money involved and I watch every penny. Can I entrust the care of my properties to someone else? Not sure of that answer!
    Matt Faircloth rental_property_investor from Trenton, NJ
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Hey Christine, You have an interesting situation infront of you. As I see it you have been functioning as the PM up intil now with a field team working your largest asset. It sounds like you are happy with them and as long as they are happy as well, you have a good long term situation there. I need to get clear on why you want to hire a manager. Perhaps to free up the involvement you have in the business and to do the books / pay bills / financials that the couple isn’t doing. Also directing all those renovations. You may be able to find a PM that is willing to absorb that couple as employees of their company or work with them in some way. Either way I would sit down and make a list of tasks that you are doing now that you don’t want to do moving forward, and tasks you would expect a manager to perform. Go over that list with the PM you are interviewing so you are clear on expectations. I would also consider another option – hiring an in house manager that would supervise the couple, coordinate unit renovations, handle your books , etc… whatever you put on that task list you are looking to outsource. You may be able to handle that in house and have more control over the processes and culture versus hiring a management company. I am really intrugued by the fork in the road you have here and would think that other readers are also. Please consider putting out an update here on this blog post! Take care, Matt
    Ridley Fitzgerald
    Replied over 2 years ago
    You have some good tips for finding a great property manager. I like how you talked about finding someone who keeps up a good quality of life. That is vital, as a tenant, to wanting to live in a property.
    Alana Bethune investor from Denver, Colorado
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I am actively working towards starting a property management business, so I really appreciate your video and all the comments as I look to differentiate myself!
    Brandon Rosado from Port Rading, NJ
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Great video Matt, very helpful! Do you have any suggestions for small residential property managers? I will be interviewing some PMs soon to manage duplex and triplex homes.
    Aaron Robertson real_estate_broker from Redding, CA
    Replied 27 days ago
    Great video Matt and thanks for taking the time. We have 34 Property Managers in our tow of 100,000 people. These sorts of videos can help an owner sort the bad ones out when shopping.
    Logan Eckstein
    Replied 25 days ago
    Very nice article, Matt! That part about holding a raffle for good tenants is absolutely genius.