Succeeding in Commercial Property Management

A panel of property management professionals joined REDI Canada’s Manager, Industry Relations, Amanda Blacktopp, CPM to discuss what an average property management day looks like, how they thrive in their teams, and what skills and strategies they use to succeed in property management.

Part 1: Getting Started in Commercial Property Management discussed the realities of getting started as a property manager in commercial real estate.

Access the full webinar recording here: Career Pathways in Commercial Property Management. The following excerpts are edited for clarity and brevity.

From left to right: Melissa Ferguson, Brodie Johnson, Christina Martin, Amanda Blacktopp.

In one sentence, what is your favourite part of your career in property management?

Melissa Ferguson | President | Symmetry Commercial Real Estate

I enjoy solving problems and making things look nice.

Christina Martin | Property Manager | Hines

I enjoy doing something different every day and, within that, using creative problem solving skills.

Brodie Johnson | Property Manager | Brookfield Properties

Definitely, no day is the same. You’re always doing something different and have the opportunity to work with different people day in and day out.

Amanda Blacktopp | Industry Relations Manager | REDI Canada

I felt like an air traffic controller at times. The position involves lots of moving parts and many different roles, like property accountants, property managers, building operators, building operations managers, and asset management. All of those roles have to work together to run a property on budget and on time.

Tell us about your average day and the teams you work with.

Melissa Ferguson | President | Symmetry Commercial Real Estate

I’m the president at Symmetry, so it might look a little different for different roles, but a typical day might not end right at 5, to be honest, right? It just depends. Our hours somewhat coincide with the hours of our tenants. So the retail tenants are open till 9 pm, meaning you may get the odd caller request in the evening. But, sometimes days end at 5 and sometimes they don’t. We do have teams that take turns to be on call. But at the end of the day, it’s really important for our tenants to be able to call anybody to get the answer that they need. And so if they can’t get a hold of one person, then they’ll try the next person. If it happens to be you, we all have to jump in and help the situation. That can add to the stress for sure, but that’s why it’s important to do self care.

Brodie Johnson | Property Manager | Brookfield Properties

My hours are fairly good and I can still echo that same sentiment that sometimes things go after hours as needed depending on what’s happening or if there was an issue in the building you have to be able to respond. My hours are typically 8 am to 4:30 Monday to Friday and on-call as needed, but we do have a team in a triage system to handle tenant requests. Our team is really tight and close-knit group that is collaborative on problem solving, which definitely helps. I have a great group to work with.

Christina Martin | Property Manager | Hines

My hours are similar to Brodie’s. I typically work 8 to 5, but I’m usually in the office around 7:30 as I just like to have the quiet time to organize my day. You could have a full plan for the day and it go completely sideways and this was really hard for me right out of university because I was such a planner. But, you have to learn to roll with the punches pretty quickly and adapt your schedule. Even if you have a plan to get things done, sometimes they don’t in the end depending on the needs of the building tenants.

Our building operating hours are 6 am until 6 pm so we always have somebody available, within our Hines team on site at the property. After hours it’s managed by security. Similar to Brodie and Melissa, we have a different call flow chart for emergencies; if this person doesn’t answer, call this person, etc. Since we only manage two properties our team is quite small. There are three of us on the property management side and four on the operation side, so we rely heavily on our service providers like security and housekeeping as well.

How do you manage stress as a property manager?

Christina Martin | Property Manager | Hines

I enjoy going to boutique workout fitness classes to relieve stress and get a break either before work or after work, to separate some of those stressful days and not take them home to my personal life. I also try to encourage our team, especially those on the building operations side who feel like they always need to be in the building, to get out for a walk, take a deep breath and come back with a clear mind. This is especially important if they’re dealing with a difficult tenant, contract, or situation.

Brodie Johnson | Property Manager | Brookfield Properties

Property management’s obviously a busy and demanding career. I think having hobbies outside the work, something you look forward to on evenings and weekends is important. It helps create that balance from your daily working life.

There’s also a lot of things going on really quickly in property management. So, personally I try to take larger problems and break them down into smaller ones and it feels like it’s a bit more manageable. And, have to give a shout out to the team I work with. I’m lucky enough to be part of a fantastic team, not only at the property level, but also the regional and national level. So I definitely lean on the team. Property management is a team sport and people are often eager to help.

Melissa Ferguson | President | Symmetry Commercial Real Estate

Yeah, I love what everyone is saying. I’m super passionate about finding ways to reduce stress because as you said, property management can be very stressful every single day. I find having a really solid morning routine to set you up for the day properly helps you come to work with a calm mind and not be frazzled or stressed right off the bat.

So, whatever that looks like for you. I get up, I get my work out in and have a few minutes to myself before I dive right into it. At the end of the day, disconnecting from the negative energies of the day is super important, whatever that looks like for you, if you have a hobby that you enjoy doing or if you just want to read a book, meditate, or watch a movie. That time is really important to disconnect so that you can come back the next day and do it all over again from a place of service. A calm mind and clear head helps with confidence and it’s a huge a huge snowball effect for sure.

What’s an unexpected skill or knowledge area that you use in property management?

Christina Martin | Property Manager | Hines

This isn’t quite a skill, but it’s something bizarre that we dealt with within our team. We manage our pest control contract, which is not the most glamorous job, but we do have two outdoor terraces. Last year we had geese nest on our terrace right before stampede, when the patios were booked solid for events. I learned a lot from our pest control providers and now we have all of these deterrents that security does because we’re close to the river pathways to deter the geese.

So two of the strange things that I’ve learned through that process, is that geese don’t like the flavor of grape Kool-aid so we pour grape Kool-aid in our planters to deter them. And they are like cats. They don’t like lasers pointed at their feet. So that’s a random skill, you can’t even make up some of the stories and things that you learn and have to deal with as a property manager!

Melissa Ferguson | President | Symmetry Commercial Real Estate

Similar to what Christina said, we learn lots about weird smells and noises and how to mitigate them and things that you would never even have thought of. But I’d highlight the skills related to dealing with people and showing empathy. There are some social skills that come into play and become really important, like self-awareness and emotional intelligence characteristics that you wouldn’t normally think would be so prevalent. In fact, they can really help with our interactions as property management professionals.

Brodie Johnson | Property Manager | Brookfield Properties

I’m going to go with a good memory. I don’t know how many times I’ve been able to draw on an experience that I had from when I was a teen or in school and just in anything that I can think back and say, oh, you know, I’ll handle the situation the way where I’ve seen something that is somehow related to operating a property. So I guess the moral of the story is take whatever experiences you have throughout your life and your career and file that way because you’ll probably use it and be able to draw on it when managing a property.

Thank you to Brodie, Christina, and Melissa for sharing your experiences with us. Check out Part 1 to find out how each panellist got their start in commercial property management.

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