“So, what do you do?” When you’re a property manager, the answer to that question is, “a lot.” Property managers are the Swiss army knife of the real estate world, handling everything from money to maintenance. If you’re considering property management as a career, here are the basic things you can expect to handle for your clients, plus some property management tips for getting these tasks done.
Decide how much rent to charge
As a property manager, one of your yearly tasks will be to review comparable rentals in your area and decide if you need to raise, reduce or maintain the rental rate on the property you oversee.1 Of course, you also get to use your expertise and experience to fine-tune the amount. For example, if 2,000-square-foot, 3-bedroom houses near the house you manage are renting for $2,000 per month, the property owner might assume that’s how much his house should rent for, too. But if his house has a pool and a hot tub, and the other rentals in the area don’t, you can recommend higher rent based on those extras. Likewise, if the house you’re managing isn’t quite as new as other rentals in the neighborhood, you can recommend that the owner make improvements so the place will rent for more money. Tip: In some areas, local rent control rules will affect what you can charge for rent. As a property manager, you need to know and comply with those regulations.
Promote vacant properties
Got a vacant rental? Put on your marketing hat. Property managers are the ones who share rentals in social media posts, search ads online, posts on their own websites and in the Multiple Listing Service. 2 To attract potential renters, your ads and posts need to include:
- Clear writing that explains the property’s basic features and highlights what makes it special.
- High-quality photos that show the exterior, interior rooms and any standout features like a chef’s kitchen or a new deck.
- Video walk-throughs that give prospective tenants a clear sense of the property’s layout and size before they visit in person.
Tip: Invest in a smartphone with a great camera and a portable tripod so you can take crystal clear photos and videos of your properties.
Did your Instagram post get people interested in renting that house you’re managing? Great! Now it’s time to screen those applicants to make sure they’ll be reliable tenants. You’ll need to verify each applicant’s:
- Credit history
- Criminal history (if this kind of check is allowed in your area)
- Employment status and income
- References, especially past landlords
When an applicant passes these checks, it’s time to ask them a few questions to help you set and manage expectations for being your tenant. For example, does the applicant smoke or own pets? If so, you may need to require an additional cleaning deposit. You can also ask about potential roommates or frequent overnight guests, because that may affect who needs to fill out an application. But you need to make sure all of your questions and rental policies comply with federal anti-discrimination laws on housing. 3 If you’re managing a commercial property, the screening process is different. For business applicants, you’ll need to check:
- Business name, type and years in operation
- Up to 5 years’ worth of financial statements
- References, especially past landlords4
Tip: Make sure you’re up to speed on the U.S. Fair Housing Act rules that apply to rentals.
Track rent payments & follow up on late payments
These days, you don’t have to physically collect rent checks but you do have to make sure tenants are set up for automatic rent withdrawals or can pay electronically each month. As you verify rent receipts on a monthly basis, you’ll also need to:
- Contact tenants who are late with their rent
- Work out payment plans if typically well-behaved and on-time tenants are struggling
- Handle late fee policies
- Initiate eviction proceedings if tenants stop paying altogether
Comply with housing laws
We’ve already mentioned a couple of laws property managers need to be familiar with: rent control in some areas and the federal Fair Housing Act. There are other laws and regulations, too. For example, landlords and property managers are required to give notice before entering a tenant’s home to make repairs or do inspections.5 You’ll also need to know the laws regarding evictions in your area, like the amount of notice you have to give. After a natural disaster or during a pandemic, evictions may be temporarily prohibited by the government, and it’s the property manager’s job to keep up with those changes. Tip: : Subscribe to industry news from your state’s realtor association and real estate commission to keep up with changes to housing laws and local ordinances.
Communicate with tenants
As a property manager, you’re the one tenants will call or email when they have a question or a problem. To keep your renters happy (and to reduce the number of late-night emergency maintenance calls you need to deal with), make sure you’re available and responsive to your tenants during normal business hours. For example, if a tenant reports that their refrigerator is making weird sounds, check it out as soon as possible, before the appliance fails the night before Thanksgiving. And if you’re scheduling repairs, give your tenants at least 24 hours’ notice, if possible, before you have people showing up to work inside their unit. When tenants are nearing the end of their lease, communication is critical. Are they planning to renew or move? Let them know the deadlines and processes for deciding what they want to do, and be available to answer any questions they have. This can help you prepare for any related work you’ll need to do, such as drafting a new lease or searching for new tenants. Tip: Make sure your tenants know the best way to reach you during business hours and in case of an emergency.
The owner of the properties you manage will likely expect you to research, interview and select your go-to contractors like plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians to make major repairs. The key to doing this well is to identify these contractors before you need one. You can start building your “contractor pipeline” by:
- Asking for referrals from friends, neighbors, and other property managers in your area.
- Reading customer reviews of contractors. Pay special attention to if and how contractors respond to customers’ reviews. Do they respond immediately and apologize? Are they defensive, or worse, silent?
- Checking Better Business Bureau ratings for contractors in your area.
- Talking to contractors (again, before you need them) to find out whether they have emergency availability, how far in advance they’re usually booked and what they charge for service calls, including night-and-weekend work.
Tip: For major projects, get bids from multiple contractors before you choose one to compare pricing, timeline, etc..
Report monthly income & expenses
Accounting is part of property management, too. You’ll need to create monthly, quarterly and annual reports for each property’s income and expenses. And you’ll need to cap all that off with a 1099 tax form to the property owner showing their rental income for the year so they can correctly file. Tip: You can use general small business bookkeeping software like QuickBooks or specialized property management software. Whatever you’re most comfortable using is probably going to be the best choice, especially when you’re just starting out.
At least twice a year, but maybe quarterly, property managers need to schedule inspection visits. This is your chance to check the condition of:
- Safety equipment like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Door and window locks
- HVAC equipment like thermostat batteries, system filters and drain lines
- Appliances and lighting
- Walls, ceilings and floors
Tip: Make sure you have the supplies you need to make quick fixes during inspections, like smoke detector batteries, lightbulbs and HVAC filters. For more in-depth repairs, you’ll be glad you have your list of preferred contractors ready to go!
Bringing it together: Property manager responsibilities
Being a property manager means being many things at once, but it’s also sure to never be boring! It’s a challenging and rewarding profession for people who like the idea of every day being different. You now know that the primary responsibilities of a property manager include, but are not limited to:
- Determining and monitoring rent payments
- Promoting vacant units and screening potential tenants
- Being familiar and complying with local and federal housing laws
- Communicating with tenants
- Hiring contractors for repairs
- Managing the budget and expenses
- Inspecting properties
When it comes down to it, your job as a property manager is to look after the best interests of both your owner and your tenants. But who’s looking after your best interests? If being a property manager sounds like a great fit for you, be sure to look into general liability insurance from a flexible insurer like Thimble before getting started. For all the hard work you’re doing to manage your owner’s risk and success, you deserve the same protection.