Ask 1,000 people and get 1,000 different answers.
A good property manager is worth their weight in gold. Or at least aluminum. They key is to find a good property manager. The reason you hear so many horror stories about PM is because Landlords fail to research and screen. They hire the first guy in the phone book or - more likely - the one that advertises the lowest fees or gives the slickest sales pitch. Just like 99% of bad tenants, Landlords are to blame.
You can start by going to www.narpm.org and search their directory of managers. These are professionals with additional training and a stricter code of ethics. It's no guarantee but it's a good place to start.
1. Ask how many units they manage and how much experience they have. If it's a larger organization, feel free to inquire about their different staff qualifications.
2. Review their management agreement. Make sure it explicitly explains the process for termination if you are unhappy with their services, but especially if they violate the terms of your agreement.
3. Understand the fees involved and calculate the total cost for an entire year of management so you can compare the different managers. It may sound nice to pay a 5% management fee but the extra fees can add up to be more than the other company that charges 10% with no add-on fees. Fees should be clearly stated, easy to understand, and justifiable. If you ask the manager to justify a fee and he starts hemming and hawing, move on or require them to remove the fee. Don't be afraid to negotiate!
4. Review their lease agreement and addendums. Think of all the things that could go wrong and see if the lease addresses them: unauthorized pets or tenants, early termination, security deposit, lease violations, late rent, eviction, lawn maintenance, parking, etc.
5. Don't just read the lease! Ask the manager to explain their process for dealing with maintenance or problem tenants. If they are professional, they can explain this quickly and easily. If they are VERY professional, they will have their processes in writing as verification that it is enforced equally and fairly by their entire staff.
6. Ask to speak with some of their current owners and current/former tenants. You can also check their reviews online at Google, Facebook, or Yelp. Just remember: most negative reviews are written by problematic tenants. The fact they are complaining online might be an indication the property manager dealt with them properly so be sure to ask the manager for their side of the story.
I hope this basic guide helps. If you have specific questions about property management, I'll be happy to help!
The trick is... if you hire a PM MAKE CERTAIN they're good - honest, knowledgeable, responsive, driven....
And make certain you 100% know how their fees work - some PMs will nickel and dime you beyond the set % they charge while others are less greedy.
We use a PM for some properties and my wife manages the rest. By and large the 'problems' have been the same: inherited tenants! If you use a PM make sure they screen existing tenants when you buy a property, and a good PM will inspect every 6 months-if self managing do the same-ask me why I brought that up! LOL
If I were buying in a D area it would definitaly be a PM job. If it is a remote property that would go to a PM as well. Nice building, decent tenants, and within an easy hour from home, my wife does those, and she does them well.