How I started in property management: Carla Toebe

Carla Toebe
Carla Toebe | 5 min. read

Published on February 4, 2014

This post is part of a series of posts by leading property managers about how they got started in property management.

From Unemployed to a Property Manager

I was out of work from being laid off from a previous job and my unemployment had run out. I was very desperate for work. I had signed up with temporary agencies and one day I received a call to go to work at an apartment complex part-time for $9.00 an hour. I agreed to go and was trained on showing and writing leases. It had about 250 units in the complex.

A couple of weeks after I started, they increased my hours and I was soon working full-time. The manager of the complex felt that I had a lot of skills that would be useful to the property manager. The property manager was overseeing about 1500 units with a total of eight apartment complexes.

The property manager came to the complex to meet me and soon offered me a job as her assistant. She raised my wage up a little higher too. I spent the next year assisting her and keeping track of what everyone was doing at each complex, and I also wrote policies. I spent a majority of my time writing policies. I had to research the laws, and because of that role I had learned quite a bit about how things should be done. Occasionally they would send me out to help lease, so I was able to continue with that activity off and on at different complexes.

There was one owner to all of these properties and we were managing in-house. The owner decided to outsource to another real estate company, so we were all out of a job at the beginning of the takeover. Another property management company was looking for someone to do all of the financial accounting for about 400 units (a total of six apartment complexes), and train the site managers and perform auditing of their work and inspect the buildings. It was a lot of work, and I learned a lot too.

I got this job through a referral from my previous boss. She was going to go to work for them as a property manager, and the owner asked her if she knew someone who could do that job. She gave her my name, and I was hired after interviewing.

I was the second assistant to do this work. After a little over a year, they had less properties from sales and they did not need me anymore, so I was laid off. Meanwhile I was also an affiliated real estate agent at another firm, but I was barely doing anything because of my full-time job with the property management company.

After I was laid off, I pitched my plan to the owner and the branch manager and laid out my proposal in detail, giving them an overview of my skills and abilities. He agreed on the spot to allow me to become the designated property manager of the firm, and I began to get clients. I grew steadily, but a couple of years later he filed bankruptcy, so I had to go somewhere else. I spent the next six years operating as a property  manager at three different brokerages. Each time the clients followed me, and it was so much work to make these transitions, but for various reasons it was necessary to move on.

Finally last November I opened my own brokerage and still do property management, but I mix it up with real estate activities and hope to eventually grow my business into something that will sustain me and grow into a successful venture.

I feel like I am finally where I need to be, and I am very happy that I had all the experiences I did. They’ve allowed me to grow in many ways that I may not have been able to had I simply started doing property management one day as a realtor in a brokerage and just winged it, like so many do. I really knew the laws, and I had the opportunity to have a lot of high-volume experience that enabled me to handle almost anything.

So that’s my story. I would like to add that I had gone back to college and obtained my BA in Business Administration, and I truly believe that having that degree has given me better skills and knowledge and capability of giving confidence to others in my abilities. I believe that the main thing to capture new clients is to give them confidence that you really can do the job and you know better than they do how to do that job.

Advice for New Property Managers

I believe that anyone who wants to be a good property manager should be an assistant first. I also believe that having a business degree will give that individual qualifications to handle the job. It is not an easy job, and you really need to be committed to the service. It can be all-consuming and having time off can often be very difficult. It is a long term commitment and a person should really know what they are doing before they step into it on their own.

I tell anyone who is interested in becoming a property manager to get their foot in the door by attempting to get a job as a leasing agent at an apartment complex. Another way is to become an assistant to a property manager.

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Carla Toebe

Carla Toebe owns and operates CT Realty LLC in Richland, Washington.

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