How to Build a Great Property Management Team

How to Build a Great Property Management Team

Phil Puccio

Your team represents your property management business, and today we’re talking about the importance of building and keeping a great property management team with Melissa Prandi, of Prandi Property Management. Many of her employees have been with her for 10 years or longer, and she’s quick to tell us that having the best team she’s ever had provides confidence and opportunities for growth.

Where We Are Now: Prandi Property Management

Melissa owns Prandi Property Management in San Rafael, California, which is right between the Golden Gate Bridge and Napa Valley. She’s been in the business for 37 years, and started working for her property management company as a receptionist at the age of 19.

When she bought the company, it was small. There was a bookkeeper and a full time property manager and Melissa. Now, she has a staff of 15 and three virtual assistants. It takes some work to bring all those personalities together, but when it works – it really works. All you have to do is check out Prandi’s reviews. Customers benefit from a strong and thriving property management team.

Building and maintaining a great property management team may seem basic. But, if you don’t take care of basics, you cannot grow and scale as a business. Your team is your foundation, and that’s why we’re talking about this today.

Where do You Start? Making the First Hire and Adding to Your Team

If you’re just one person or you have a small two-person property management team, your first hire needs to be someone who complements you. Look at your own strengths and weaknesses as an owner or a key manager. Then, hire someone who has a different set of skills and strengths. Melissa is a visionary. She describes herself as a people-person, and someone who loves to share. Her logical first-hire was Christine, who has been with Prandi for 18 years. Christine fills in the gaps while Melissa is busy rushing from A to Z. She is practical, detail-oriented, and really good at implementing.

Find someone to complement your personality, especially if you have a small staff.

Hire for attitude. The first team members you bring on don’t have to have property management experience. Christine didn’t even know what property management was when Melissa hired her. Now, she has all of her designations, including Residential Management Professional (RPM) and Master Property Manager (MPM).

Melissa’s son is the Business Development Manager at Prandi. People love that he’s the owner’s son, and they like being drawn into a family-oriented business. Prandi Property Management markets themselves as being Family-owned and Community-focused. That’s powerful. Matt started working as a property manager; he got his real estate license at the age of 19, and then got his broker’s license.

Most people don’t start out as property managers – Melissa didn’t start out as a property manager. The front desk role used to be where new employees learned about the company and the industry. Now, there are virtual assistants answering phones at Prandi. However, Melissa says her best people have typically come in as assistants and learned the ropes. Good property management team members learn by doing everything.

Keeping Team Members Happy and Motivated

Christine has been with Prandi for 18 years and Melissa’s bookkeeper has been in place for 13 or 14 years. Why do people stay so long?

Respect.

Melissa says she respects them and knows what it’s like to be an employee.

It starts with respect and inspiring a culture of respect in the office.

There’s also a great benefits package including a 401k plan with a four percent match. She keeps her team happy by encouraging them to grow with her. You don’t ever want your staff to feel like they can’t learn more.

Another important tip to keeping your team members happy is this: ask what they want. The retirement plan came about during a staff meeting when they were discussing what they really wanted and valued. Medical is provided after 90 days and dental is provided after a year. The staff wanted a retirement program and because Melissa is committed to listening, respecting, and keeping her valued team members happy – she investigated how to provide a 401k. NARPM members were, of course, an extremely helpful resource.

Conferences are another benefit. Last year, there were eight team members from Prandi at CALNARPM. Bringing team members to an educational conference shows that you’re interested in investing in them. It also demonstrates teamwork and positivity. It gives your employees a chance to step out of the day-to-day duties of putting out fires and it builds a passion for property management. They also get to meet vendors and colleagues. The expense of including team members in these conferences is worth it.

How to Hire: Be Direct and Involve Others

Before you can retain, support, and train a team, you have to build a team. Melissa does a few specific things when she’s looking for a new hire:

Request a cover letter, resume, and a simple typing test. Ask for this directly in your employment ad because it will show you if applicants can follow direction.
Ask them to complete a Tony Robbins personality test. This is interesting to see, and a personality test helps you match people to the jobs they will do.
Include team members in the interview. Melissa always interviews potential candidates, but she also wants to make sure her team is comfortable with new hires. And, she wants the prospective employee to be comfortable with the team.
Collect 10 questions before the interview. These are questions like “what are three words that describe you?” She also asks what people love and don’t love about their current or last job. Not only does this give her an introduction to the person she’s going to interview, it also gives the interviewee a chance to really think about what they want in a job.

Everyone will have a different hiring process. As long as yours meets the needs of your company and doesn’t rely on only one person to do all the hiring – you can slowly and deliberately build a great team.

Team Building: The Importance of Relationships

Getting outside of the office is an important part of building a great team. Last year, Melissa’s staff spent an entire day on the coast for some team building. The experience strengthened the team and really allowed people to get to know one another. They laughed, they ate great food, and they spent some valuable hours growing closer together.

There have also been days at the baseball park and breaks at property management conferences. Melissa honors birthdays and anniversary days. Recognizing her team members is an important part of nurturing them and growing her business. During their all-day coastal retreat, they built some really positive energy which stayed with them even when they went back to the office.

Leading by Example: Ownership and Action

Turning negativity into positivity is a lesson and learning experience. Melissa believes in leading by example.

There was one day that Matt was in a hurry and on his way out of the office, he asked Melissa to call an owner – a potential new client who had a duplex that needed management. She waited until the afternoon to make the call, and by the time she reached that owner, he had already met with another property management company and signed an agreement. Matt had explained that he was ready to go, but other things were happening, and the opportunity was lost.

The first thing Melissa did was to take this struggle to her team. She explained what happened and what she meant to do better next time. She used it as an example to demonstrate that responses mean everything.

Next time, she told her team, I’ll call right away.

This is a critical lesson for team building. The owner of the company held herself accountable in front of the entire team – she admitted to not being perfect, and shared a plan for what she’d do to improve herself. That’s some bold leadership.

Keeping your team on the same page as you get larger is hard to do. Trainings help, and so does structure. Communication is especially important. Not only do you have to communicate well; you have to establish a process for communicating. Melissa has a systematic way that notes are to be kept. Every team within her management company follows the same note-taking format. It keeps communication flowing and consistent.

To-do Lists and Not To-do Lists

But, what if you have a really small team? You’re probably accustomed to doing everything.

The first thing you need to do is to take out a notepad or open up a computer and make a list. On that list, you should write down everything that you don’t need to be doing anymore. You can call it a stop list.

Melissa has found success putting a new person in the same office as herself. The right person will immediately begin taking initiative to help out. An employee who was training as an assistant spent two months in Melissa’s office and then was promoted to a lead position. That employee learned quickly, evolved, and is now doing a fabulous job with the company.

Be open to promoting people from within your organization. You don’t want to box them into the role they were hired to do. It’s possible they can surpass what you expected and give your company more.

Hire Slow and Fire Fast

If you hire someone who turns out not to be right for the position, you’ll know pretty quickly. Melissa admits there have been times that she hasn’t hired well. She tends to believe she can fix or change or nurture a person into performing the way the company needs them to.

Check in with your new hires. Find out how it’s going. Property management is not for everyone, and you might find out they don’t really like it. If they don’t like it, you don’t want them to plant a seed of negativity in the office.

Try hiring through word of mouth. Let everyone know you’re looking for a new team member. People know people, and you might find a really good new hire by asking others if they know anyone who would be a good fit.

Incentives that Don’t Cost Much

Prandi’s 401k plan for employees is great if you can afford it – but, what if you’re still small and trying to compete for employees with companies that have larger budgets for benefits and pay?

Sometimes, people just want a day off. Send everyone home at 1:00 p.m. on a Friday. It doesn’t cost you much money, but it does provide your employee with value.
Monitor workloads. No one wants to burn out. Foster a culture where team members who aren’t swamped are willing to pitch in and help others who are swamped.
Close the office for lunch. It’s too easy for your employees to sit at their desks and work through lunch. Send them away so they return to work refreshed.
Recognize when your people need a break. It doesn’t cost a lot to give employees a beach day or a day off with pay. If you can’t afford a retirement plan, do small things to keep people happy.

And, ask what’s important to them. Personalize the incentives. A lot of employers don’t ask; they make assumptions. It’s not always about money. Remember that respect and meeting their needs is just as important.

December is known for Fun Fridays at Prandi Property Management. The team members are put together with individuals they don’t normally work closely with, and they plan a meal every week and play games. One day they might wear pajamas to work, and the food might have a theme like Mexican or Italian. It’s never boring.

Don’t get Discouraged and Learn from Mistakes

When Melissa decided to elevate her two best employees (she calls them her bookends) – Christine and Matt – she knew she had to get them away from running the portfolios they were currently managing. Hiring their replacements was not as easy as she anticipated, and she made some mistakes. Stress levels went up. She didn’t do it right the first time, but that’s okay.

You can quickly see what you did wrong, and then learn from it. Don’t get discouraged.

Melissa hired the wrong person to replace Christine and then held on too long to the wrong person she hired to replace Matt. Sometimes, you have to go through some difficult situations and spend some time with the wrong people to see what you really need.

Another mistake Melissa is willing to acknowledge was made when she and her team had three candidates for a single position. The property management team keeps a scorecard during interviews and Melissa’s choice was the one who scored in second place. The rest of the team liked the person who scored first. Melissa hired her favorite, and that person worked for them for a week.

The lesson here is to trust the process, and trust the scorecard.

Vendors and Partners are Team Members Too

Vendors are often invited to do Lunch and Learn events where they can get in front of the Prandi Property Management staff and talk about things like what to look for in a plumbing problem or how to handle water restoration. Vendors work hard and Melissa believes in treating them as part of the team because if something goes wrong during a repair, she will hear about it.

Educating the vendors and providing them with expectations is an important part of team building. Let your vendors know how quickly you need them to respond. Vendors are an important part of your success as a property management company.

With Melissa, it always goes back to accountability. She recently had a tenant who was rightfully upset while trying to get a fridge replaced. After spending an hour on the phone with the angry tenant, Melissa sent a handwritten card and a $150 gift card to a local restaurant. This responsiveness almost certainly saved her from a bad review.

Lead by example and show your team that you support them. If they’re being screamed at by an owner or a tenant, let them know it’s okay to step away and pass the situation on to someone else. Leaning on a manager goes back to respect.

Everyone celebrates five-star reviews at Prandi Property Management. Melissa’s team believes in treating everyone the way they want to be treated. Every relationship is a two-way street.

We received some good information from Melissa today, and we’re able to share the 10 pre-interview questions she uses while building a team as well as her scoring model when she’s interviewing contenders.

Be open minded. Be respectful. Never stop learning. And, contact us at Fourandhalf if you have any thoughts on this podcast or ideas about who we should talk to next.

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