How Property Managers Save Time Pros Talk About How They Achieve Efficiency

How Property Managers Save Time

To describe the life of a property manager as 'busy' is an understatement. From visiting client communities to answering endless board member and resident queries, to fielding bids from contractors—the property manager's work is never completely done. That's why time management is so important to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. By following some tried-and-true methods supplemented with the latest technological tools, managers can save time and increase productivity to benefit both themselves and the residents they serve. The Cooperator recently spoke with several property managers to talk about how they handle their workload efficiently.

Planning Is Everything

A common refrain among property managers is the importance of planning ahead and prioritizing tasks. While different pros have their own particular way of achieving that, the end result is generally the same. “Time management is critical,” says Mary Faith Nugiel, President of RCP Management in Cranbury, New Jersey. “Everybody has their own way of managing their workload, but you have to have a way of managing it. An example would be after a board meeting with a client, get all the easy stuff out of the way [the next day]. If you need to go out to bid, get it done right then. You want to make sure to not let things sit.”

For Michael Crespo, president of the New York City-based Citadel Property Management, a little bit of multitasking is involved when he plans his day. “For me personally, I hit the gym first thing in the morning,” he says. “While I'm on a bike for an hour, I'm going through my emails, seeing what appointments I have, nailing down appointments, responding to inquiries and requests. There's a lot of different things you do to try to fit a lot of things at once.”

“You have to be organized,” says Steve Weil, President of Royale Management Services in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “That means a lot of things, and there's always going to be emergencies. And it's understanding the difference between that and the non-emergency stuff. You can't let the landscaper dictate when he's going to meet you out at the property. If I'm at the property on Thursday, then the landscaper has gotta meet me there on Thursday.”

When it comes to planning, Tony Nardone, CEO of the Springfield, New Jersey firm Corner Property Management, suggests creating a to-do list the night before in preparation for the next day. “When I get up, I look at my list and I prioritize what needs to get done for the client and I attack the list accordingly.”

According to Sean Jordan, Director of Property Management at First Service Residential Massachusetts, “Our entire job is based upon a schedule. Unfortunately it always gets sidelined because of emergencies.” Nevertheless, he says, “You have to pick your core tasks that are absolutely essential and do them without fail: paying your bills, following up with requests, and making sure that the association and the community are serviced for those essentials.”

Time Suckers

Among the array of tasks a manager has to tackle on any given day, the task of reading and responding to emails ranks up there as one of the most time-consuming. “I have to put aside a certain amount of time per day just for emails,” Nugiel says. “If I miss a day because I'm out in the field, I know that if I don't catch up that night, the next day I'm going to be spending a ton of time on emails.” And, adds Weil, “It's getting people – especially boards – to understand that email doesn't always need a response, and that we don't all need to be on nine responses. You end up in the trail of people back and forth.”

Time consuming as they can be, an email or text message does have the advantage of serving as a record of a correspondence. “There's documentation,” says Jim Stoller, President and CEO of Chicago-based property management company The Building Group. “We can see if someone has opened up an email that we've sent them, and we can also document [what was said]. In the old days people would say, 'I called your office four times,' and we'll say, 'Well, no you didn't.' Now we can see through computer logs and phone logs and email logs when we received an issue and how quickly the property manager responded.”

Additionally, residents' requests that seem pressing to them but are in fact non-emergencies can divert a manager's focus and time away from more urgent tasks. “You have people who you never hear from, and you have people who are very needy,” says Stoller. “And then you have people who have unusual requests. Often it's just dealing with those types of unrealistic expectations and educating your clients to help them understand that they are responsible for certain things.”

“If it's a non-emergency question, yes by all means, send us an email or pick up the phone and call us during business hours,” says Nardone. “There's a difference between customer service and people taking advantage. You have to set those boundaries up front.”

Methods and Tools 

Whether it's through handwritten notes or spreadsheets, property managers have their preferred tools for getting tasks in a timely manner. For instance, Nardone carries a little notebook with him everywhere. “I like writing my stuff down,” he says, “and as I complete a task that day, I strike a line through it. At the end of the day, when I look at my list, I can say, 'Alright, so I had 10 things to do, of which I accomplished seven.' So the sense of accomplishment as well.”

Crespo says his company uses Excel spreadsheets for everything. “We use a lot of Google Docs that we can share internally to keep the team apprised of things. I'm always sending myself scheduled text messages because I can respond to them really quickly. I use Gmail for email to be able to filter through things that are important. That really helps out with time management too.”

Nugiel recommends having an annual calendar. “[The time] to go out to bid for a snow contractor is in the summer...and you're not thinking about snow per se. So if you have it written down in the calendar, it gives you a good framework to work from. And a monthly calendar is good because you know you have certain meetings during the month, and you know when you need to get your board packages out in order to get your information to the board. It's really important to work with a list of outstanding items and a calendar of items that you need to do as regular management activities.”

To plan his schedule effectively, Jordan blocks his time. “For example, I try to schedule all of my office meetings throughout the day on Thursdays,” he says. “That way, everyone knows I'm in the office that day; the vendors know I'm there. And then I do the same exact thing when I'm out in the field. I'll have a day where I'll stay at a property, and try and have multiple back-to-back vendors come by throughout the day so I can get as many things done as a walk-through, versus driving back and forth every day to the same location.”

Delegation of Responsibilities

A property manager is not expected to accomplish everything on his or her own, which makes delegating the duties and responsibilities crucial. Weil's company, for instance, uses a team system. “Our managers who are responsible for the physical property get bids, meet with contractors, and supervise them. But their in-house assistants handle a lot of their followup. Our compliance department writes the notices of meetings and the meeting agendas and minutes, and make sure insurance gets updated.”

FirstService Residential’s Jordan cites his company's 24/7/365 Customer Care Center service as both a useful time-saving tool and a form of delegation. A homeowner can call the service’s toll-free number and have his or her questions resolved by a customer care associate. “[The associates] have full access to all the condominium docs, the rules and regulations, and work orders. So you can look up your balance, they can help you make payments, [and] can point you in the right direction. That way, the manager and the board can focus on the bigger projects, and not constantly be having to answer questions about pool hours or trash days.”

Crespo says that he has no problem letting the people at his company run with the ball. “A lot of people feel that they need to control everything,” he says. “Sometimes the way to make things really work the best is to give up some of that control to somebody else who has the ability to handle it. Being able to do that is what's made us successful. It's allowed us to really service our properties in a manner that's much more effective.”

Property Management Software

Along with notebooks and calendars, property managers can employ special software to shave off time from their daily routine and service their clients better. Companies such as Condo Central Center, Concierge Plus, Yardi, and App Folio, which specialize in property management software, offer general features that include the creation of community websites, give resident access to governing documents, create email and text message blasts, and integrate accounting tasks with resident data. “It just streamlines things,” Brian Bosscher, President of Condo Control Center, says of management software. “It improves communication and improves transparency, so that the owners are able to get what they need. They don't have to wait on anybody.”

One of the advantages of property management software is its ability to field and route service requests from residents, says Bosscher. “We like to have all of our customers get all their stuff into our system directly, so owners and residents can put the requests in themselves.  That saves management time. They don't have to type it, they don't have to record it. And then you've got everything in one spot. It makes it easier to follow up on it.”

Peter Pietrzkiewicz, Founder of Concierge Plus, says that his company's suite of tools helps managers with tasks, as well as accounting for their time. “One of the things that we have in our platform is the tasks module. It allows you to also create the different kinds of things that a property manager is working on in a given month or in a given period, and enables you to update those tasks with progress on that item and keep track of how much time has been spent on it. Then you're able to print out those tasks in a really easy to understand format that the property manager can include in the board's monthly report.”

A property manager with some degree of computer literacy and training will find that management software is easy to use. “Whether that's sharing files, doing residents' email blasts or text message blasts, keeping track of packages, amenity bookings, payments,” Pietrzkiewicz says, “all of that stuff is done in a seamless and integrated way with any kind of online property management software. We try to put complex features and functionality into a very simple and intuitive interface that really lets you get a lot done with not a lot of clicking.”

In the end, it all comes down to planning for a manager, while not letting events dictate his or her work, says Weil. “One of the hardest things for managers is they want to make owners happy. Like, 'So-and-so said he wanted to see me on Tuesday, but I'm supposed to be across town.' You really have to set expectations as a manager – and then you have to manage the people who are in effect your bosses.”

“There's an old saying: 'Failure to plan is a plan for failure,'” says Nardone. “And that couldn't be more true. It is the employees who don't plan who are the ones who struggle the most with time management.” 

David Chiu is an associate editor at The Cooperator.

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