A Born Leader A Look at Today's Managing Agents

They have to worry about everything from keeping track of financial reports to whether the masonry will survive another winter. They collect maintenance, track repairs, and soothe ruffled shareholder feathers. If they don't know how to handle something, they had better know someone who does. Part accountant, part contractor, part therapist, they are property managers, and they keep New York's apartment buildings habitable.

Not Enough Hours in the Day

Manhattan's Midboro Management, Inc. currently handles 58 properties. Company president Michael J. Wolfe describes the beginning of his typical day: "First, I check my mail box for faxes, mail, voice mail messages and e-mail, and prioritize the group. Then, while I'm addressing the incoming [issues], I also have to follow up on things like the last board meeting and ongoing projects."

A sample to-do list for Wolfe might look like this:

  • Call roof manufacturer - advise them that the roof is leaking.
  • Arrange replacement for vacationing maintenance staff member.
  • Obtain bids for new elevator contractor.
  • Notify board of possible code violations.
  • Meet with architect/engineer and vendor to discuss status of façade restoration.
  • Speak to shareholder behind on maintenance.
  • Review and approve invoices.
  • Answer questions from prospective purchaser.
  • Investigate banging in heating pipes.
  • Review alteration application from shareholder.
  • Investigate excessive noise complaint from a neighbor's apartment.
  • Attend evening board meeting.

Of course, the whole list may go out the window if an emergency or crisis rears its ugly head. "You can start the day with a plan," says Elizabeth Hurley, president of Platinum Properties of New York, Ltd., "and by 10:30 it will change. You have to be flexible." Property managers need to be able to think quickly and creatively.

"You have to be a pretty good problem solver," adds Hurley. Emergencies run the gamut from flooded apartments to a tree leaning on power lines. The property manager needs to know which contractor or city agency to call in each situation.

A manager may personally oversee anywhere from six to ten buildings - which can easily add up to a total of 500 to 800 units. How does one prioritize all those people and responsibilities on a day-to-day basis? Most managers agree that safety issues top the list. These include roof leaks and crumbling masonry, electrical shorts or boiler problems. Next in line is following up on financial and legal deadlines. Herein lies the demanding nature of a property manager's job. Overseeing a building involves operational, financial and administrative savvy, and good communication skills to boot.

Know Thy Building

A property manager needs at least a basic knowledge of building systems - including heating, ventilation, plumbing and electrical - and must be vigilant in keeping them all up and running properly. Hurley stresses, "If you see something that might not be right, and you don't look into it, you might regret it later."

"One has to be familiar with the day-to-day running of the building," suggests Sam Irlander, president of Parker Management in Manhattan and an adjunct assistant professor at NYU's Real Estate Education Division. "I've been to many a basement and many a rooftop. Operations can be handled when you have really good staff on-site. You have to trust yourself and hire the right people."

"In this business, you have to be organized," says Michael Berenson, president at AKAM Associates, Inc. "There's a lot of administrative detail, and if you're not organized, things slip through the cracks. We require that all our agents keep action lists, and check them daily." In addition, a manager needs to have up-to date knowledge of the local laws and building codes, to ensure that routine inspections are successful.

Last but not least in the property manager's professional arsenal are people skills.

"You're dealing with the electrical contractor, the elevator guy. You're dealing with your tenancy - the board and the shareholders," says Irlander. "Every deal needs a little bit of love."

According to Hurley, "A project becomes more special when you're able to get the shareholders involved." She cites an example of a tree that needed to be planted in front of one of the properties she manages. What could have been a chore was transformed into a fun event by inviting the building's children to help plant the tree and surrounding flowers. "They have an interest in how that tree does now," she adds.

The Many Roads to Management

There may be as many roads leading to a job in property management as there are individuals who do it. Wolfe grew up in the business, helping his father run the rental buildings they owned. "We did everything ourselves, which allowed me to learn about the operation of real estate from the inside out," he says.

"By 1986, I decided that I no longer wished to clean sewer lines, tile bathrooms and personally collect rent. So I answered an ad in the New York Times and started out as an assistant manager. By 1993, I owned the company."

Donald H. Levy is the director of management at Manhattan's Lawrence Properties. He began his career as an attorney, working for 13 years in the smoking pipe industry. Then in 1980, his cousin invited him to join his full service real estate company, and the rest is history. Levy says, "This job requires an enormous amount of stamina, patience and endurance in an industry that traditionally carries more criticism than praise. However, there's satisfaction in knowing that you do a significant job of looking out for the buildings you manage."

Hurley was an accountant with peripheral real estate experience when she worked in the conversion department of J. I. Sofer. "I was making a job change and this came my way," remembers Hurley. "I went into property management by opening my own full service real estate company when the market went soft in the late "˜80s. We do rentals and sales too, [but] management provides a steady income and a consistently solid base for the business."

Irlander wanted to go into business law. Out of school, he started to work as a commercial leasing broker. By 1972, he says, "I decided to do for myself what I had been doing for others." He quenches his appetite for things legal by teaching licensing law to brokers and managers.

Berenson has dual degrees in economics and business. He jokingly says, "I didn't know what I was getting into." From his start as an assistant property manager in 1988, he has risen to managing other managers and overseeing properties of his own. He adds, "There's a great feeling of satisfaction in being able to respond to a client's needs and get things accomplished."

The Licensing Debate

While most managers would agree that there is no substitute for on-the-job training, there are many courses available to prepare the property manager and further their education. In order to collect rent, New York State law requires a real estate broker's license. The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) offers the curriculum required to obtain a real estate brokers license. After securing a license, brokers are required to complete 22.5 hours of continuing education every two years. While the required licensing of property managers is being hotly debated right now, the New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM) does offer its own certification course, as do many other organizations, including New York University (NYU).

NYU offers certifications in Building and Property Management, and calls their certification "an optional professional credential." The NYU certificate is awarded upon completion of six courses, four of which are from the Building and Property Management department's roster and include courses sponsored by NYARM, IREM, and ABO, and two of which may be electives drawn from elsewhere in the Real Estate or Construction departments.

For example, one 15-hour course offered through NYU is an overview course titled, "Management and Operating Techniques for Residential Properties," and another, called "Practical Aspects of Residential Management" address the basic, day-to-day skills and knowledge that a successful property manager must have in order to function. According to NYU's continuing education web site, topics covered in both courses include, "how to run a successful management company"¦maintenance of the physical plant, compliance with local laws"¦the special needs of government-sponsored properties, rent collection, landlord/tenant court"¦co-op/condo management, and financial reports."

For his part, Irlander highly recommends aspiring managers take financial courses. "Your ability to handle other people's finances is a requirement for this job," he says. "Also, a manager should have a thorough understanding of how to value and appraise property."

Levy points out the advantages of operational and technical classes. "You don't need to know how to change elevator cables yourself, but you do need to acquire enough understanding to fairly evaluate whether you are getting good information from the people you hire."

Some of the arguments against licensing property managers revolve around the great time commitment required for continuing education. In general, a property manager begins his or her day before 9 a.m. and ends late in the evening. "Required education potentially adds another level of time constraint to people who don't have a life to begin with," says Levy. "On the plus side, going through the process of certification will thoroughly prepare an individual and give them the extensive and updated knowledge [they] need to do the job well."

The debate continues as to whether licensing is worth the trouble. While it can certainly enhance a manager's knowledge, it remains to be seen whether the credential will make a significant change in how clients choose a property manager.

At the End of the Day"¦

Long hours, slim profit margins, and an atmosphere that most insiders call stressful: why does anyone go into property management? Professionals say they enjoy the need to problem-solve creatively, and feel satisfaction knowing they are creating a wonderful, working place for their residents to live.

"It's not just a job," says Hurley. "You're giving a service. You have to preserve the integrity of the building and the quality of life of the residence. And then you hopefully improve on it."

"It's a wonderful business," says Irlander. "In 30 years, no two days have been exactly alike."

Rebekah Mulhare is a freelance writer living in Forest Hills, NY.

Higher Learning

Contact Information For Real Estate Licensing Programs

NYARM 29 West 30th Street, 4th Floor New York, NY 10001-4703. Phone: (212) 216-0654. E-mail: certification@nyarm.com. www.nyarm.com Executive Director: Margie Russell.

From the NYARM Web site, "The New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM) in association with New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, The Real Estate Institute (NYU) conducts a professional realty management program that provides training for building owners (both private and cooperative), managers, supervisors and maintenance personnel in building management. Participants gain practical knowledge in finance, supervision, management and operation of building systems, local laws, renovation construction and dealing with tenants. Courses are taught by industry professionals. Upon completion of the prescribed course requirements, the New York Association of Realty Managers will grant, to each qualified candidate, the title of NYARM (New York Accredited Realty Manager.) This certification is recognized and approved by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)."

NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, The Real Estate Institute Several locations in Manhattan, including NYU main campus in Greenwich Village, 48 Cooper Square, and 11 W. 42nd Street. Phone: 212/998-7080 for general information, (212) 998-7200 for SCPS registration and course information. E-mail: scps@nyu.edu or scpsinfo@nyu.edu. www.nyu.edu/scps.nyu

From the NYU SCPS Web site, "Today, the real estate business is a lot more than a good location. The Real Estate Institute is the largest center for professional real estate instruction in the country. We cover everything from getting your New York real estate sales license to structuring real estate investment trusts. We feature seminars, workshops and professional certification programs for professionals who want to upgrade their skills. And our bachelor and Master of Science degrees offer outstanding credentials for working real estate professionals. Because these days, when it comes to real estate, location is only the beginning."

REBNY For information about REBNY's educational programs, contact Eileen Spinola, sr. vice president. Phone: (212) 616-5234. E-mail: espinola@rebny.com. World Wide Web: www.rebny.com.

From the REBNY Web site, "New York State Real Estate Broker's Licensing Requirements: This 45-hour Department of State-certified REBNY program has been prepared for salespeople who are seeking a broker's license. Salespeople who wish to obtain their broker's license must first complete a 45-hour salesperson's licensing course and pass both the course and the NYS Salesperson exam; then, in addition, complete a 45-hour broker's course and pass both the course and the NYS Broker's exam before a broker's license will be issued by the Department of State."

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