Each year, International Women’s Day is a reminder of the strides that women have made toward equality around the world, as well as the work that remains to be done in achieving parity.
This year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, calls all of us to create a more gender-balanced world, where women are represented across industries. As the IWD website describes:
“Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth… Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.”
Notably, property management is a profession where women are already thriving: 1 in 2 property and community association managers are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent estimates. However, the ratio of women to men varies wildly within the real estate industry: While 77 percent of residential real estate professionals are women, the same is true for just 35 percent of those in commercial real estate.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we wanted to shine a spotlight on exceptional women in our industry. We reached out to two successful female property managers to find out what attracted them to property management, and what it’s like to be a woman in this profession; and to relay the wisdom they’ve gained along the way.
Leah Slaughter, Co-Owner of OmniKey Realty LLC
Leah and her husband founded their successful property management company, OmniKey Realty, in Plano, TX when they were just 19 and 20 years old. They decided to start the company in 2006 after going through the process of buying a home.
“We bought our first house before we were 20 years old,” Leah recalled. “I wanted to negotiate hard, and our agent didn’t want to do that. Then, at closing, we realized the ridiculous amount of money the agent and lender had made on the transaction. My husband said, ‘Leah, we could do this better.’”
Within months, they’d earned their licenses and were ready to sell. When it came to managing properties, she says they fell into it: “Our first clients were investors, and it just clicked.” After first focusing on the Dallas/Fort Worth area, they’ve since grown to cover nearly the entire state.
Leah and her husband have worked hard to build their business, and their level of dedication is evident. Leah describes herself as a ‘Type A’ personality, with her typical day consisting of “my phone in front of my face. Just kidding, but in all seriousness, I handle over 1,000 emails a day between our two companies. Most of my day is spent on calls and emails and scoping properties.”
Leah continues: “We have an incredible team for our property management company, and we take a very active oversight role; although most of the time, I’m being pulled in twenty directions at once. Most of my work is done from my laptop in my car while out visiting properties to buy to increase our portfolio.
“Property management is something you have to live and breathe. It isn’t a 9-to-5 job. It isn’t something where you’ll be able to go home and easily turn your brain off. You are always on call. Someone is always upset with you. You will always end the workday with things left to do. That said, when done right, it’s a great source of consistent income; and most importantly, it’s something that you will fall in love with if it’s a fit for you. I absolutely love my job, our team, and the flexibility and lifestyle it provides.”
Leah says that she’s never felt treated differently as a woman in property management, though many of her peers are men: “In real estate, perhaps half of who I encounter are women. Most of the large companies have sold and gone corporate, so it isn’t really individually owned by a local face anymore.”
What advice does she have for those who want to be successful in the property management field?
“Be ingenious, intuitive, and think outside the box. Make yourself stand out and be the apple in a bag of oranges, because there are a thousand companies out there trying to do property management, so do something different.”
More than anything else, Leah and her husband strive to stand out by keeping their “family-owned-and-operated” ethos central to their business: “Every client has direct access to my personal cell and is invited to our home every few months for a get-together. It’s a different way of doing business that we love so much.”
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Melissa Clinton, Owner/Designated Broker of At Home Properties
At Home Properties is a family business founded in College Station, TX in 2000. Melissa describes how her mother, who had worked in real estate since the 80s, “got into property management and ended up buying that department from the broker she worked with at the time. Then, she worked with other property managers and built even more.”
At the time, Melissa managed a helpdesk for a major telecom company. After cutbacks forced her to lay off her team, Melissa was ready for a change. She describes: “My mom’s company was growing and she needed help. We had our first daughter and were contemplating moving closer to family anyway. [When my company began to offer] voluntary layoffs and packages, I was like, ‘This is the perfect time to do it.’”
A year and a half after her mother founded At Home Properties, Melissa got her license and joined the company. Her husband made the move to property management three years later. Since that time, the company’s portfolio has grown from 100 units under management to more than 800.
Melissa says that what matters most to her is being a strong role model for her daughters as she works hard to build her business. She describes: “I hate to say I’m a workaholic, but I guess you could classify me as that. I’m not a stay-at-home person. Even when I’m sick, I don’t like being home. After I had our second daughter, I was back at work a week later. I would bring her into work with me. I had a nursery set up in the corner of my office. She just kind of fit in. She was like our little mascot.”
Melissa agrees that the industry presents a great deal of opportunity for women. (She noted with amusement, ”All of our staff members are women, except for my husband!”) What advice does she have for women getting into property management?
In order to be successful, Melissa describes the need to balance empathy with assertiveness: “You have to have a certain type of personality. You have to be able to stand your ground with tenants and owners, if necessary. But if you’ve got a tenant who’s having a rough time, you can be a little more understanding and not so by-the-book.”
In addition, she says:
“You have to figure out that little space where you can take a tenant who’s so angry at you for whatever reason, whether you’re trying to collect rent or there’s a repair that’s taking too long in their eyes, to be able to turn them around to be happy with your service.”
Melissa says that learning to read people will go far in this business: “After all of these years, I’m still learning how to deal with different personalities. Everyone communicates differently. I’m a very type-A personality, so I’m very quick, short, and to-the-point when I’m trying to convey an issue or a need. But that doesn’t always work with people. It may rub people the wrong way. I’m still learning, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
She also emphasized that as a property manager, “you have to be able to multitask. You have to be able stop what you’re doing because you have staff coming in asking questions or phone calls or emails or what have you, then go back and finish what you were doing in the first place.”
For Melissa, that means tackling the most urgent tasks first, writing everything down, and color-coding like crazy: “I have notes everywhere. My calendar looks like a bag of Skittles threw up all over it because I’m trying to coordinate everything.”
Finally, she advises those starting out in property management to seek balance: “It’s very easy to take your work home with you, especially in today’s day and age, where everybody has cell phones. I have to make a very conscious effort to put the phone down and step away. I force myself to make time to go to the gym because that’s my stress-reliever. I have to do something for me so I can be present at home.”
On International Women’s Day, join us in celebrating women like Leah and Melissa who have carved out paths for themselves in an industry that often requires sacrifice in order to exceed customers’ expectations and grow a successful business.Read more on Property Manager Stories