10 biggest property management mistakes—and how to avoid them

Barbara Ballinger
Barbara Ballinger | 7 min. read
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Published on August 5, 2015

Work keeps you incredibly busy. You’re signing up new tenants, renewing existing leases, overseeing repairs, and maybe handling the building budget. You strive to do your best, but not everything goes smoothly all the time.

Imagine this worst-case scenario: The roof leaks, the air conditioning system conks out, your favorite maintenance worker is booked, tenants complain, and you start to feel stressed. Murphy’s Law warns that everything that can go wrong will, especially when it’s least convenient. But being prepared can make a huge difference.

We asked real estate broker and property manager Tanoa Lynne Poirier, author of 365 Tips: For Community Association Managers, Property Managers and Property Ownersa professional guidebook of hands-on management tips and advice, what she considers to be the 10 biggest property management mistakes and how to avoid them.

#1: Not Reading Building & Association Rules

Even before your first day on the job, you should familiarize yourself with building and homeowners’ or association’s rules to know what’s permitted. Many owners will hand these documents over to you in written or email form, and update them regularly. But if your boss doesn’t, ask for a copy anyway.

Also, ask for rules from your city, town, or village that relate to the building, such as how often trash must be picked up or snow removed. “Nobody has to memorize these, but you should read and familiarize yourself with them to avoid one of those ‘oops’ moments because you didn’t know or forgot what’s in the documents,” Poirier says. “You may permit someone to rent their unit when the rules say no.”

#2: Not Listening to Comments & Complaints

A big part of your job is to understand what others tell you and sometimes to take action. This is important even if the information shared reflects a complaint about your management style or actions. “Someone may have called and said they can hear water running between their unit and a neighbor’s. You decide the tenant is a chronic complainer. You still check it out but because nothing’s visible, you don’t call in a specialist. Several days later, you have a huge problem—much more water and now mold,” says Poirier.

And worse, the repairs will cost the owner more money. “I tell others to respond immediately to blood, flood, and fire,” she says.

#3: Not Taking Action

Some managers are afraid to execute decisions, what’s called “action paralysis.” This happens for many reasons, Poirier says. They fear they’ll make a mistake, be criticized if actions don’t go well, or simply won’t know how to manage a problem, project, or deal with a difficult person. Understand the downside of not taking action.

“Many problems won’t disappear, may get worse, and cause greater risk-liability to the owner than if addressed right away. You’re paid to execute. Identify the problem, come up with a solution, and follow through with a plan,” Poirier says.

#4: Not Heeding a Board Member or Owner’s Issues

Remember that your role is to help people by fulfilling your responsibilities. That means managing the property, listening to everyone, following up, and filling out necessary paperwork. If you begin to feel a board member or owner, or both, are bothersome and ignore their concerns, it’s time to step back, Poirier says.

Ask yourself whether you need a vacation, or if you’re unhappy at work and need to make some changes or maybe even pursue a different career. “The nature of being a PM is to work with others to make living in the building pleasant and safe for all,” she says.

#5: Not Taking Advantage of Training to Improve Your Skills

In many areas of the country, trade organizations and management companies provide free or inexpensive seminars for PMs on a variety of topics. Attending these sessions can prove helpful. You can increase your knowledge and skills, hear other managers explain how they resolved challenges, and share your experiences. The more information and networking you do expands your skill set, broadens your contacts, helps you perform better at work, and may earn you a promotion, Poirier says.

#6: Not Asking for Help

Like other professions, the field of property management has become more complicated and continues to change. There’s no way you—or any colleague—can know everything to do your job well. Reach out to the building owner, staff, and experts outside your immediate work circle for help.

You can pay their advice forward by helping them or becoming a mentor to others. If you can’t find someone local, cast a wider net for contacts in a regional or national trade group or association. “Never avoid asking because you’re embarrassed,” Poirier says.

#7: Not Performing Regular Inspections

It’s easy to get bogged down with paperwork and other responsibilities and avoid regular inspections. But small repairs can mushroom into bigger ones, especially with bad weather or natural disasters. Make a checklist and schedule maintenance that needs to be performed annually, such as looking at a roof, brick façade, and chimney—and definitely do so after a horrific storm. “In our coastal community in Florida, we have to check sea walls,” says Poirier.

#8: Blurring Professional Lines

It’s important to keep a firewall between you and the building owner and other staff. Becoming too friendly, even if you like the people, can be a recipe for trouble if problems arise. “It makes it tougher to speak up if there’s a problem once you’ve developed a close friendship. Keep the relationship professional so you all do your jobs well,” Poirier says.

#9: Not Understanding Basic Accounting Principles

Part of your job description probably includes accounting, such as understanding income and expense statements to balance the building budget and financial emergencies. “You may need to report to a tenant association and the building owner regarding a shortfall if there has been an excessive number of repairs,” Poirier says.

If you need to develop skills, consider taking a course at a community college, high school adult-ed program, or online. Poirier recommends Kahn Academy.

#10: Not Taking Time Off

Taking care of a building or multiple sites, dealing with tenants, and an owner all add up to hard work, and sometimes stress. If you don’t take time off, you can burn out, lose interest in your job, and make mistakes. Take time to unplug, turn off your cell phone, have someone else handle work responsibilities for a few days or a week, and recharge your battery and spirits. Remember, nobody is indispensable. Even the President of the United States takes a vacation, especially at this time of year.

And when mistakes arise, don’t be too tough on yourself. “Everybody makes them over time,” Poirier says. “Problem is that when you’re in the midst of a crisis, it feels like the end of the world. But you’ll get through it. You’re needed, and this too shall pass.”

From your experiences, what mistakes have you, your colleagues, or bosses made that you’ve learned something valuable from? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Read more on Scaling
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate, design, and family business; her website is barbaraballinger.com. Her most recently published book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing).

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