Adaptation means survival – how to resolve the staffing crisis in Property Management

There’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to win many friends by saying some of what I’m about to say…

In case you missed it, there’s a crisis in Property Management – we’re losing good people at a rate of knots.

Look closely though, and you’ll see that there has always been a lack of good talent in the business, it’s just getting worse.

At some point, something is going to give unless we act and agencies are going to be exposed to immense business loss or takeovers.

The recent MRI Software survey revealed that somewhere upwards of another 1 in 5 of the property managers who responded to the survey are considering leaving the industry within the next year.

At the last survey in 2018, this figure was only 12%, close to half of the current result.

I say “another 1 in 5” because Property Management staff shortages are already rife. An Australian Financial Review article a year ago told us that 30% of Property Managers had already left over the first year of the pandemic and more have followed since then.

Couple the numbers together with the survey results and the outlook is grim – if this is a true representation of the state of mind of Property Managers, then over half the experienced Property Managers will have left the industry by the end of this year when compared to this time 2 years ago.

In exit interviews as well as in the MRI survey, the reasons for leaving were, frankly, no real surprise.

The majority of Property Managers are burnt out, tired of being in the middle of almost constant conflict, and frustrated with the constant demands put on them by landlords, tenants and company directors, feeling unappreciated, underpaid and feeling a lack of support from their leadership within their offices.

Less people in our sector means greater pressure on those who are still working in the environment, many of whom that they are already operating at capacity or beyond it, and the lack of experienced people within the sector to lead those who are coming through is leaving agencies critically short-staffed and unable to provide the standard of service that their property management clients deserve and expect.

There are several solutions to this in my mind, it will take some reimagining of the way businesses operate to see them stay in the sector and remain viable, but it can be done.

We must move away from the old way of “managing property”, it’s outdated and there are now fewer people to provide it, or even want to. The role is one of managing people’s expectations and relationships, that it revolves around a property is almost beside the point.

We need to let go of outdated practices and methods of working, and actually progress our industry sector to the point where our teams operate freely and fully without having to be bogged down by tasks which dilute their value and can be done more cost-effectively by other means.

Property Managers and Property Management teams need to be freed up from the more repetitive tasks and duties so that they can concentrate on providing this service level to both sides of the relationship or the exodus is going to continue.

To ease the gap in experienced, knowledgeable staff, and maintain high service-delivery standards, we need to evolve our operating models by further dividing off activities within our businesses, accelerating the adaptation of a greater array of technology, and outsourcing some of the repetitive tasks, but there is resistance from business owners to harness these – sure, there are early adopters, but the majority of firms that I go into as a consultant or where I talk to as business owners seem to find it hard to get their heads around the idea of having software complete tasks which they’ve been accustomed to having staff do, and this is creating a drag on staff being able to provide the service which is expected of them, and which they actually want to provide.

The flow-on effect of this and other solutions I’m going to pose over the next few weeks will be that Property Managers will be able to manage higher numbers of clients as they will not be overloaded with low-level work, and this will be reflected in an increase in profitability.

The next generation of property manager is going to be a completely different individual to those we’re used to having in the role, and their expectations of the workplace will also be different – flexibility, well-being and opportunity are going to be key requirements of any work environment to be seen as an employer of choice.

They will choose their next role not so much on the amount of salary on offer (although this will still be important) as they will on other aspects of the role; they’ll be looking for a balance between the office and home, the culture within the new office, and the ability to progress themselves both personally and professionally, so as employers we have to adapt the way we see them and their place in our businesses.

Business owners need to start investing in training outside of the legalistic aspects of the roles and focus on equipping their teams with life skills as well as the “hard skills”.

The skillset of a Property Manager is about as diverse as you can get; aside from the need to have good working knowledge of the legislation and the ability to grow their portfolio, they also have to be skilled communicators and negotiators, possess the ability to deal with difficult and abusive conversations, create magical service experiences for their clients and be resilient enough to protect their own mental health.

Teaching staff about “the Act” and “growth” is fine, but the biggest challenge for Property Managers is not keeping up with changes in legislation, it’s their own mental health – not being able to disconnect when they leave the office, and dealing with rude and aggressive clients are at the top of the list of causes of this.

Yet, when looking at most of the training expenditure, comparatively little is put into these areas, and business owners seem to just expect their staff will know this; the result of this is that 2/3rds of Property Managers don’t feel well enough equipped to handle their role.

The firms which provide this level of training and support to their team will be those who will not only retain their good people but also attract other quality candidates when the time comes.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll dive into just how we overcome the lack of good quality people in the industry.