“Hitting the ground running” sometimes isn’t fast enough in property management. These days, property managers are sprinting as they have overhauled their businesses and adapted to the COVID-19 crisis.
That’s particularly why it was so rewarding to talk to Beau Miles of Essential Property Management about his first 90 days with Buildium and his newfound property management endeavors. Not only did he ramp up and onboard fast, but he also managed to grow his mixed portfolio of single- and multi-family units in the middle of a global pandemic—from scratch.
The transcript below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tell me a little bit about Essential Property Management.
Beau Miles: Basically we started when I became a landlord, and it’s kind of a weird story, but essentially I became a real estate agent, and did what every good real estate agent does, and I bought a house that I found, within six months. I saw a shiny thing, so I went after it. And so we buy this house, we still had this other one to deal with, and my wife and I agreed to go ahead and just let somebody rent it out. During that time, we began to see what it really meant to be a property manager, but also during that time, I was talking to my friends who were wanting to get into real estate, and they just kept saying, “Oh man, I really want to do it. I really want to do all these different things, but gosh, I’m scared. Oh, I’ve got the money, but gosh, I’m scared. What if this happens? What if that, what if they call me at two in the morning about a broken toilet?”
I just said, “Guys, nobody’s called me at two in the morning about a broken toilet.” In fact, these guys at that point had not called me at all, and I’m at that point probably been doing it six to nine months. They had been great. They paid the rent, they’d been great tenants, and then they said, “Well, I still just am scared,” and I said, “Well, hire a property manager.” Well, then they said, “Hey man, that costs me too much money.” It took too much money out of their cash flow, is the way that they were seeing it, and so they were kind of stuck in this rock and a hard place.
I started looking around at what other property managers were doing and seeing their fees. Then I started finding out this really weird thing that a lot of them only allowed rent to be paid with a check, like a hard check. I thought who was using checks in 2020, because typically you’re not renting, as a whole, I mean, this isn’t universal. You’re not renting to the age group that typically uses checks. You’re typically renting to millennials who go out to eat and pay each other on digital apps. I was like, “Who is doing this?” Then to get a key, you had to go and drive all the way across town, to drive right back and get… You had to do all these things, and I thought, “Man, this sounds terrible. This needs to be changed. It needs to be disrupted.”
We saw a need to help our landlords save money, to make life easier and better for tenants, to where they could pay with credit cards or bank accounts or whatever. In fact, you guys give me the option. I don’t even allow manual payments. I mean, if we have a special situation, we do it, but as a whole, I require EFT and credit card. We found a need to make it better for the end user in today’s world, to update it, to bring property management into 2020, truth be told.
What were your first 90 days like with Buildium and starting a new business?
Beau Miles: Probably, to kind of explain it, you should know that I have a lot of technical background. I’m not worried about when, “Oh, you got to learn this new software.” Great. I’ll learn it. No problem. I’m not a genius with it, but I’m not scared of it.
So I’d done your demo, your videos, and then I had met with you guys and y’all had done your onboarding, not your classes, just your like, “Hey, let me show you what this is,” because I’d signed up for the free trial. At this point I only had two properties, and I was just trying to learn it, and understand it, and I thought, after I had my 10 minute long demo, 30 minute long demo, I thought, “I got this. No problem,” and then I get this email from you guys going, “We need to have your onboarding classes.” I’m like, “I don’t need this, this is silly, but you know what? I’ll trust the system. They know what they’re talking about. I’m going to trust it.”
And so I did, and within our first class I learned there was a whole lot I did not know about this. Shaun was my onboarding guy, and Shaun began to walk me through the accounting side, how to take care of customers, how to do task, and how to update task, and how to stay in communication with my landlords. How to deal with 1099s, how to do all these different things that all I thought was I need to bring rent in, take management fees out, and send it to the owner, and then be able to handle a phone call. That was really kind of my thought process. I hadn’t thought about applications. I hadn’t thought about background checks, I hadn’t thought about credit checks, I hadn’t thought about 1099. I sure didn’t think about a 1099.
I didn’t think about, even just the accounting, I thought, “Well, I’ll hire an accountant, and I’ll just deal with it. It’ll be a cost of doing business,” and within one meeting, so it’s not even the 90 days. This is what, probably day five? I’m sitting with Shaun going, I’m just looking at the screen going, “Whoa, I didn’t know this was a thing.” Then we began to progress and we formed a cool relationship. I call Shaun a friend, because we did, we got to where we were talking, I think it was about once a week, or once every two weeks, give or take.
We had several classes where we would just sit down and talk, and it was wonderful because he would accidentally leave you with homework. What I mean by that is he would just say, “Hey, during this week, try these five things.” Well, I would go try the five. Got it. No problem. Then doing that, that kind of led me down a rabbit trail to find other things I didn’t know anything about, and I would spend that time between it getting questions. So when Shaun showed back up a week or two weeks later, boom, first thing that happened, “Shaun, I got all these questions. Let’s review this, and this, and this, but here’s my questions.” I would say my first 90 days were an incredible learning experience, and one that I was guided and taken care of from moment one with.
Tony: Yeah, that’s amazing to hear, and from our own personal experience, or my own personal experience of Buildium, Shaun is an incredible human being, so I think that it’s amazing you got to work with him. Clearly that kind of onboarding experience is something that we strive for. We strive for those personal connections.
What were the must-haves for your property management software?
Beau Miles: Lots. Ease of use, it needed to make sense. You need the dashboard. For everybody looking, just go look at the dashboard that is shown on all the websites. That dashboard is my lifeline, because it’s got all these tiles that keep me up to date. I didn’t even know I needed that. What I knew I needed was flexibility, because of the way we do our pricing structure. We have different packages, and we charge different amounts every month based off of what’s happening, essentially, is kind of the version. I mean, that’s a summarizing of it all, but I needed to be able to log in at any time, see that, I needed to be able to have mobile access. I travel a whole lot. We have some growth plans that we’re working on and I needed to be able to be from an iPad, from a computer, from a phone.
I knew I needed communication, so that’s really the only things I knew I needed were, flexibility and pay structure, and to be able to communicate with both my landlords and tenants. Then as soon as I got into the demo, to see the way it was all laid out for me, to keep up with balances for late fees, to keep up with tasks and what’s going on. To keep up with, even the ability to keep up with my contractors and my employees in it. There’s one that I’d never even thought about, that is a great metric. There’s a little pie graph, and it just, how many you have, and how many are listed, how many are full, how many aren’t listed, and it’s a summation of your business right there. Since I log in every day and I look at it, I’ve been able to watch my company grow. Just this one little tile and it’s been great. We love it.
What is relationship side of doing business with Buildium like?
Beau Miles: There would be times that I would just have a quick question, “Hey, I don’t know this one little thing.” Shaun’s not my everyday guy. Y’all have a whole support staff that I can call at any time, and… We’ll go back to the 1099 thing. I messed up on a 1099 with an owner. I put them both down, they both got a 1099, so their accountant calls, it’s like, “You got to fix that, because they’re reporting double income.” I didn’t know that I had done that. I didn’t realize that I had, because I was ignorant on it. The accountant’s like, “Hey, you just got to file an amended…” I’m online, googling how to amend a 1099. I’m not a tax guy in any form, I’m a customer service, big vision guy. You start talking to me about 1099s, and W2’s, and W9s, and I’m gone, right?
I hire people for that. I don’t want to be that guy, which if you are that person, thank you. You’re a great person. I’m getting nervous, and how do I fix this? I was really blessed because I called, and someone said, “Oh no, no, no, no. Get in there, click on the 1099 tab, on the top right hand corner file, hit amend your 1099,” and I was able to find the exact one I wanted. Hit amend, and hit a send button, and that was a five minute phone call, quickly handled, very politely handled. Anytime that they can’t answer the phone in the first little bit, there’s the whole call you back thing. Within 30 minutes, usually, give or take, somebody’s called me. They always answer my question, and if they can’t answer it, they go, “Hold on,” and they go…
I assume at one point, because we’re pre-COVID, I assume at one point they were all in the office together, because they would say, “Hold on, I’ll be right back,” put me on hold, come right back, and there’d be… That’s some guy.
Tony: Our dev teams are always releasing different products and features, and you’ve probably seen it. Every month, there are new fixes, new releases, and exciting, big things, like analytics and insights, open APIs, to mention a few. There’s just a lot of incremental improvements too, that just happen.
Beau Miles: One of the small ones is, you guys incorporated a renter’s insurance into it. I do nothing with it. I do not send an email. I do nothing with it, but in all of my leases, I require it, and so until they have it signed up on their account, they’re getting any renter’s insurance. You need to get renter’s insurance. You need to get renter’s insurance. I don’t have to chase them, but that got added in post my 90 days, but that got added in and I don’t have to chase them. It makes life real easy in that regard.
Tony: Resident reminders has been something that a lot of our customers have really enjoyed, so I’m glad it’s helping you there.
How is business and leasing in light of the pandemic?
Beau Miles: Yeah. Yeah. We are very fortunate, blessed, that we are as of today, which is the middle of August, that we are completely 100% rent paid up.
Tony: Wow, incredible.
Beau Miles: The only thing we had is, we had one tenant who said, “Can I split my payment up?” And we had one who missed a payment, because he got hacked. Not because of COVID, he got hacked and his bank messed up the EFT and all those different things of that nature…but other than that, there’s been nothing.
Now, we live in a part of the world where we are very fortunate. We have lots of engineers who were able to go home and work, and do different things of that nature, but even beyond that, I do attribute a lot of that success to Buildium, in that we went from… I was scared, how are we going to… I’ve got landlords depending on me to get their money, and we went from the ability to pre-Buildium, not communicate. Now, it’s an easy email. It goes to them as resident reminder, it goes to them and says, “Don’t forget your rent’s due. Hey, don’t forget.” It adds late fees when late fees need to be there. It does everything to that regard. It sends a, “Hey you’re late,” notice to them. They’re getting told every day, “You got to pay us.”
What that also has done, it’s just opened the communication with me, where I’m able to message them directly from that app. They don’t have my cell phone number and say, “Hey, is everything okay? You usually pay on the 26th. It’s the 30th. I want to make sure everything’s okay. I want to make sure you’re okay here, and here, and here.” I’ve had landlords reach out to me and say, “Please, if one of our tenants is having a problem, because of COVID, please let us know.”
It’s made it to where the communication level is so high for Buildium that they feel, I wouldn’t say obligated, but they feel a sense of responsibility and pride in making sure that they are paying me, well paying our company, but paying their rent on time. Because of that, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to maintain great relationships with our tenants. They’ve all been safe and good, from everything we know. Nobody has reached out, but we do constantly reach out. I mean, you guys have a text messaging platform, an email platform. I mean, you’ve got all these ways that I can reach out to them, just to check and see how they’re doing. That has been wildly beneficial during this time.
Could you quantify the ROI or the time saved that you’ve experienced by partnering with Buildium?
Beau Miles: I don’t even know if I could quantify it in ROI. It would be a weird version of it in terms of, I don’t have to hire somebody else. I’m right now the only employee, only full time employee, and right now you asked where…So it’s August, we got real serious about it in February of 2020, right before the pandemic. At that time, I think we had five, we now have 17 properties, and…
Tony: Wow! Congratulation, thats’s huge growth.
Beau Miles: Yeah. We expect to add, I think I’ve got 6 more signed up to come on this month, in the next 10 days or so. I mean, our goal was 15 for the year, and we’re at 17 and it’s August, so we’re now, my wife and I, sit around and go, do you think we could double it? It’s kind of fun. We’re just kind of having fun, because it’s manageable. When you say ROI, how do you quantify it? If you told me to sustain this much growth, deal with contractors, deal with payments, deal with taxes, deal with accounting, deal with problems. Any of that. I feel like by this point I would have had to hire somebody. Well, we’re not at the stage where we can afford a full time person. It’s just the side of being a small business. It’s just for this time period.
Well, I’m not spending all day on the computer dealing with property management either. I think if we said, let’s say I was paying a guy, I don’t know, 50,000 a year. I don’t know the number. I don’t know what I would pay, whatever that salary would be, plus my time. I was on vacation and we had a problem, and I think I was on the beach. And so when you say, how do you quantify it? My answer is, I don’t know if there’s a way. It’s brought me freedom. It’s brought me peace of mind. It’s brought me relaxation. It’s brought me not having to hire yet. It’s allowed my business to grow at the pace in which my business needs to grow at. I don’t know if I could quantify it in terms of a real number. Unquantifiable is the quantification.
Tony: I mean, at the end of the day, it’s brought you a new livelihood in a very short amount of time, and it sounds like that it’s fitting, for now. It fits into the lifestyle that you want.
Beau Miles: Very much so. I have two kids, I have a five and a three year old and I have a beautiful, greatest wife ever. I am a very fortunate man, and I still have a real estate business we’re running. I still have, of course the property management company, and I have other people talking to me right now about starting other businesses, and property management is not taking so much of a lion’s share of my time that I can’t think on those things. It allows me the freedom to do that, and that is purely because of Buildium. If I was having to keep up with emails and figure this out and go to an accountant once a week, I’d have quit by now. I would have, I would have been done.
What are your growth goals over the next 5 years?
Beau Miles: Yeah. That’s hard, because… Probably to start is, the goal was 15, and then we thought, “Man, I really want to have 30 by the end of year two,” because I thought if we could have 30 by year two, we would just be in an established great place. The goal was probably after that to double that, that year three would be 60. Well, we hit 15 already. We’re now kind of moving the goal to 30, and so that’s been a lot of the conversation at home, is what’s the goal? Well, the way Essential is built is that Essential is not successful with 20 properties. We charge less than we’re… Our motto is, “Your properties, managed your way,” which I think Buildium helps with that by the way, to allow the customization, but we are working hard to grow, but grow at such a sustainable pace that we don’t leave people behind.
If you were to say, what is it? I’m like, “Well, truth is, is to get as many properties.” The longterm forever goal is to be in multiple cities, have 10,000 properties if we can. We want to be bigger and bigger, but if you want to tell me the truth is, we are only six hours from the beach, so there’s a half of us that I think we’re probably talking about opening a beach office.
Tony: Well then, I guess we’ll have to visit you there.
Beau Miles: Yes. Come on, come on.
Tony: All the more reason. That’s great. It’s great to hear that you’re thinking about how you can grow down the line, and when that new businesses has coming in, are you finding that it’s coming from word of mouth? How are you finding that you’re generating new business these days?
Beau Miles: Yeah. I’m a real estate agent. I spend a lot of time just on other websites talking about, or on forums, messaging about property management, and we do live in a city that has just substantial growth. It’s either coming in through other websites who are saying, “Oh, I saw your name on this site as a property manager.” That’s not as popular as it is just word of mouth from landlord to landlord, or real estate agent to real estate agent, because there was a need for better customer service, a way to save money, a way to take care of people at all times. I think in light of everything that’s happened in our country in terms of COVID, I think that a lot of people are nervous. They’re scared of what it looks like to own real property right now, and I work really hard to give them that peace of mind when I meet with them.
I have one customer who is upside down in their house, but they can’t afford the mortgage, so what they did is they moved to a cheaper house and they moved in with somebody, and now I’m renting their house out for them. Now they’re making more than the mortgage payment, and are able to help pay down some of this stuff so that they can get back in the right place. That has come through word of mouth from our other real estate agents, or other landlords. I’ve had a lot of landlords go, “You’ve got to call Beau,” and so we’ve been really, really blessed in that.
Tony: That’s great. I mean, since you’re coming from a brokerage or a real estate broker background, I’m curious, what other advantages or benefits you had coming from that place, and then moving into property management?
How did your real estate agent background help you get into property management?
Beau Miles: Oh man. Look, I’m a nerd. I’m on books on tape, podcasts, every day, all I do is read and do that stuff when I’m out and about. Now, when I’m at home, I try to be dedicated to have that family time, but I try to learn every day. I had a mother who, before she passed, was an educator, and she just taught us to learn. When you say, “Well, you came from a real estate side, how did it help?” Well, two things, one in the state of Alabama to be a property manager, you have to be a broker.
To be a broker, you have to have two years of experience as a sales person, and so I immediately knew I wanted to be a broker, just because I liked the certification level. Before, I ever even signed up to be a sales person I was wanting to do that. When I realized there’s property management, I said, “Hey, this will work together,” and so during that same time, I was constantly studying websites about landlords, and we would go have beers with the friends, and talk about being a landlord and dreams. None of us had kids at this time, and “Gosh, what would it look like to own properties?” I heard a lot of complaints from people, and fears from people, and I would read about those fears, and read some were founded, some weren’t. Then I got into real estate, and I started finding deals where I had never found deals, and started really running rental numbers where I had never really run rental numbers.
Then what happened is it taught me how to handle people, because look, we’ve all had a real estate deal that just somebody’s mad. For some reason, they’re an angry elf and that’s just what’s going on. It taught me how to listen, and care about them, and figure out a solution to the problem. That came through real estate, and so, because of that, when it became time to be a property manager, you’ll get somebody who calls and goes, “Oh man…” I had one lady who called one time and said, “The lights on the outside of my house are ugly. Will you change them?” I said, “No, when you rented the house, they there.” I didn’t say it that way. It was something to the fact like, “I’m really sorry you don’t like them. Unfortunately, we’re not making any cosmetic changes to the home at this time. If they’re not working, please let us know, we will get that addressed.”
In that moment, I was able to say, “This are what we’re going to address, this is what we’re not going to address,” and she wrote me back and said, “But they’re really ugly,” and I said, “I’m really sorry. We’re not doing cosmetic changes,” and she said, “Would you want these on your house?” I said, “Ma’am, I’m just telling you, we’re not doing cosmetic changes,” and she wrote me back and said, “Well, can I do it?” I said, “If you get a certified electrician to do it, then have a great time and we’ll be fine.” She went and changed the lights, and now I’ve driven by it, I’ve been to the house and the lights are not as ugly, so that’s good.
But real estate kind of just taught me to let people have a voice. Let people complain, let people be mad, because they’re typically not mad at you. Buildium gives me the way to put that into systems, and to put that into task, and to put that into an order to where there was a proper channel for that to be handled. This wasn’t a phone call that I was getting on Saturday when we were watching football. This was an email that I got on Saturday talking about ugly lights, or a task that I got. I don’t have to address that, right? Because it’s not a fire, and I’m hanging out with my buddies watching football.
Because of that, I would say real estate taught me to find a level of importance of things, let people talk, let people have their voice. It also taught me this one kind of, sort of negative thing that nobody wants to do the work. I don’t understand this, but when I would tell people I was going to start a property management company, other agents, they would go, “Oh, don’t do it. It’s the worst thing you’ll ever do. All you’re going to do is get phone calls and emails. It’s going to be the worst thing.” That’s all I got told. Every time. I did not have one agent say, “Good for you.” My broker said, “Awesome. We need somebody to fill that hole,” and that was about as positive I got. Other than that, everybody was super negative.
I would ask them, and it was just that, “Man, you’re going to have to deal with people mad at you, and you’re going to have to deal with all this stuff.” Nobody’s mad at me y’all, nobody cares. They care, but they just want to be heard, and Buildium gives you that platform to put it right there in front of it, allow things to cool if they are upset about stuff, or address things in a quick way. Here I am six to eight months into it, and I’ve never had… Well, I’ve been doing it for a while, but with really pushing it hard on the Buildium side, I should put that, it works out since we’ve been with Buildium for a year, and I learned it, and then I really got serious about it eight months ago.
Here I am sitting here, I guess, a year in, and I’ve never… I mean, all I ever get is, “Hey, can you… The HVAC isn’t working right,” and I go, “Great, I’ll try to get a guy out there as soon as possible.” We’re in Alabama, it gets real hot, and so we’ll get them out there as quick as we can. We take care of it, we address it. I can share it with my landlords at one time, so I don’t got to even… It’s not even two emails, it’s one. It works perfect.
I would just say, what did I learn? I learned that a little bit of research sends you to a great platform that takes away all those things that all of those other agents were complaining about. We are in a great place for God’s honor.
Tony: Yeah. That’s great. I mean, that’s some awesome insight, and with that, I think, for a lot of brokers or property managers who used to be brokers will probably relate to that. Especially those brokers who are thinking of getting into property management. I mean, coming straight from Beau, I think if you’re a good communicator, then that just goes a long way in this business.
Check out the First 90 Days Interview with Grant Property Management to see how they were able to scale their community association and HOA business operations.
Read more on Property Manager Stories