In 2016, Beau Miles and his wife decided to become real estate agents to provide some extra income for their growing family. They eventually bought another house they found on the market and rented their old one as a way of creating passive income.
Looking after that first home gave them a taste of being property managers. Then, a friend asked them to manage his property. After acquiring a few more single-family homes to manage, they realized there was an opportunity to create a property management company that provided innovative service for residents and owners in their hometown of Madison, Alabama.
So, they started Essential Property Management.
“I knew (of a) company who would only accept rent either through a check or money order, physically handed to them. And anybody who [applied for an apartment] had to fill out a paper application. And I began to really sit down and think through what should a property manager be paid for? And how can we make the system better?”
“And so, I did that. And that’s where we kind of came up with Essential.”
Their transition from broker to property manager was pretty organic. Their reputation and properties grew almost completely from word-of-mouth. They now manage 20-plus single-family properties, and they’re looking to expand to apartment buildings.
In the process, Miles learned some valuable lessons about customer service and growing your business. He shares six of his insights in this article.
#1: Great Customer Service Is All About Respect
“The number one thing that I have found in all of property management is respect people as people,” says Miles. “A tenant is a person, just like a landlord is a person, just like a property manager is a person; and they have needs and they have wants and they have desires. And the more you can respect and honor them, the smoother everything goes.”
#2: Grow Your Business by Providing Great Customer Service
While Essential has run some ads and done some work on social media, Miles says most of their properties came to them through referrals from landlords, residents, and real estate agents.
“And so, what happened was, we provided incredible customer service. We work really, really hard at making sure both the landlords and the tenants are happy.”
And, he says, providing that excellent customer service is pretty easy. “Everyone acts like it’s this hard science. It isn’t. Be who you are every day. Be the same person today that you were yesterday, and don’t lie to people. And across the board, [referrers] will say ‘Use that company. They did what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.’”
But, Miles says, he and his wife controlled the growth of the company to make sure that adding new properties didn’t compromise customer service.
“We wanted to make sure that we could always take care of people. And now that we see how it looks with 20 of them, I’m very confident that we can continue at this pace, and we could grow by an exponential amount and still be okay. So, it’s very organic still, even in that, but it comes through dedication to customer service and respect for people.”
#3: Work Hard to Find Great Tenants
When Miles brought on his first resident, a thought crossed his mind, one that probably every new landlord and property manager has had: What if they call at 2 in the morning with a broken toilet?
“That’s everybody’s fear—a two in the morning, a toilet conversation,” he jokes. “And I don’t know why it’s two in the morning and toilets, but that is it. That is what everybody talks about.”
But to his surprise, his resident only called him once, to ask permission to hire and pay for their own pest control. “They were nice. They were wonderful. And they paid their rent on time.”
When he was asked to manage a second property, he had nearly an identical experience.
“And I started kind of going, wait a minute, if you find great people. It’s not that hard.”
The trick was that Miles worked hard to find good residents from the start.
And sometimes, he says, that means looking beyond what you see on paper; that paper doesn’t tell the whole story.
Rather than counting everyone with a credit score below 600 out, for example, he digs a little deeper to understand their story.
For instance, he had a young woman apply for an apartment recently who knew her credit score wasn’t great because of her divorce, and she told him so up front.
When he read her credit report, he saw a major jewelry purchase and asked her about it. It turns out her ex had bought his future fiancée a ring.
“And so,” he says, “to hear people and not just look at a number matters more to me. So, how do you find people? We go back to rule number one. We respect them as people and we say “tell me your story.’”
#4: Set Expectations Up Front
The best resident relationships begin with relaying your expectations from the beginning. That includes being up front about the services you provide.
“It’s just that we set the standard up front when they sign a lease. It’s very clear what we do, how we do it, and when we do it.”
For instance, because Miles hires contractors for all work on his properties, he is up front about the kinds of fixes he will and will not do.
“We tell our tenants, if you call us about something that is not an emergency, i.e., you don’t know how to change a light bulb, then my answer is you have to pay for the contractor. And we usually will give everybody one warning. And they get it. And so, we’ve been very fortunate.”
Being up front is especially important when it comes to rent collection. That way, there are fewer hard conversations down the road.
“So, when you say how you have the hard conversations, we have them up front and right in their face. So, they understand we’re making an agreement, you’re going to rent a house for X amount of money. And here’s what happens if you don’t do that. And here’s what happens if you do. And that’s it.”
Residents appreciate the clarity and reciprocate. For example, he finds when a resident is going to be late with rent, they tell him up front.
“The people who haven’t been able to pay right on time, every time, will message me, usually on the 3rd or the 4th, and say ‘hey, I’m not going to hit my rent this month. And here’s why. And I know I’m going to have a late fee.’ And that is fine.”
#5: Delegate What You’re Able to Delegate
Because the focus should be on providing a great resident experience, Miles advises property managers to move as many tasks as they can to other resources.
That especially goes for maintenance. He says while he knows how to fix most things on his properties, he hires someone else to do it every time.
“I know how to do it. I’ve done it on my houses. But my knee jerk now is if something happens in a home, the first thing I do is I call contractors. And I have a great team of people.”
He says he makes sure he has a basic understanding of maintenance issues so he can have a conversation with his contractors and understand what they’re going through.
He gives an example:
He had a problem with sewage backing up into one of his properties. So, he called a contractor, who discovered there was no p-trap in place (the u-shaped bend in sink and toilet plumbing that prevents sewage gases from leaking back up into a home).
While he knows enough about plumbing that he could fix it himself, he says, “I also I learned enough to realize my gift is in delegating that task, not necessarily doing it.”
“What that guy can do in 20 minutes would take me two hours.”
He’s also had a week-long plumbing issue at another property, which he hired plumbers to deal with.
“And during that time, I’ve been able to make sure that the resident felt loved and cared for, versus me being tired and frustrated, and under the house fixing it myself. I’ve been able to give her better attention and say, ‘Hey, we’re sorry for this. Here’s the five steps I’ve taken to fix your problem.’”
#6: Get the Right Tech Stack
The final lesson Miles wants to impart on new property managers is to get the right tech to keep your property management business running smoothly, and allow you to focus on your residents and owners.
Essential Property Management, for instance, uses Buildium, which has helped Miles focus on what they do best: customer service.
“I’m able to just deal with clients. I’m great at customer service. I’m really, really good at it. I’m not trying to say that arrogantly, but I know what I’m good at. And so, I get to do that. And let the tech and let Buildium manage the rest of it.”
With the right tech, he says, he’s able to spend his day focusing on that instead of 1099s or late rent payments.
“There are no words to even describe how incredibly important Buildium, for me, or the technology, is to our company. We would not be a business without Buildium.”Read more on Property Manager Stories