Career Guide for Property and Real Estate Managers

Real estate and property managers work to maximize the value of a real estate investment by managing tenants or running the property. Property managers serve a variety of roles from commercial business real estate management to community association managers.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to become a successful real estate manager.

  • Opportunities should be best for those with college degrees in business administration, real estate, or related fields and for those with professional designations.
  • Particularly good opportunities are expected for those with experience managing housing for older people or with experience running a healthcare facility.
  • About 46 percent of property, real estate, and community association managers are self-employed.

Working as a Property Manager

To homeowners, a well-managed property looks nice, operates smoothly, and preserves the resale value of the property. To businesses and investors, properly managed real estate may result in greater income and profits. Property, real estate, and community association managers maintain and raise the value of real estate investments by handling the logistics of running a property. Property and real estate managers oversee the operation of income-producing commercial or residential properties and ensure that real estate investments achieve their expected revenues. Community association managers manage the communal property and services of condominiums, cooperatives, and planned communities through their homeowner or community associations.

When owners of residential homes, apartments, office buildings, or retail or industrial properties lack the time or expertise needed for the day-to-day management of their real estate investments or homeowner associations, they often hire a property or real estate manager or a community association manager. Managers are employed either directly by the owner or indirectly through a contract with a property management firm.

Generally, property and real estate managers handle the financial operations of the property, making certain that rent is collected and that mortgages, taxes, insurance premiums, payroll, and maintenance bills are paid on time. Some oversee the preparation of financial statements and periodically report to the owners on the status of the property, occupancy rates, expiration dates of leases, and other matters. When vacancies occur, property managers may advertise the property or hire a leasing agent to find a tenant. They also may suggest to the owners what rent to charge. In community associations, homeowners pay no rent and pay their own real estate taxes and mortgages, but community association managers collect association fees that help pay for a variety of services such as playground, clubhouse, and swimming pool maintenance.

Often, property managers negotiate contracts for janitorial, security, landscaping, trash removal, and other services. They monitor the performance of contractors and investigate and resolve complaints from residents and tenants when services are not properly provided. Managers also purchase supplies and equipment for the property and make arrangements with professionals for repairs that cannot be handled by regular property maintenance staff.

In addition to fulfilling these duties, property managers must understand and comply with pertinent legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Fair Housing Amendment Act, and local fair housing laws. They must make certain that their renting and advertising practices are not discriminatory and that the property itself acts in accordance with all of the local, State, and Federal regulatory and building codes.

Onsite property managers are responsible for the day-to-day operations of a single property, such as an apartment complex, an office building, a shopping center, or a community association. To ensure that the property is safe and properly maintained, onsite managers routinely inspect the grounds, facilities, and equipment to determine whether repairs or maintenance is needed. In handling requests for repairs or trying to resolve complaints, they meet not only with current residents, but also with prospective residents or tenants to show vacant apartments or office space. Onsite managers also are responsible for enforcing the terms of rental or lease contracts, such as rent collection, parking and pet restrictions, and termination-of-lease procedures. Other important duties of onsite managers include keeping accurate, up-to-date records of income and expenditures from property operations and submitting regular expense reports to the senior-level property manager or the owner(s).

Some property and real estate managers, often called real estate asset managers, plan and direct the purchase, sale, and development of real estate properties on behalf of businesses and investors. These managers focus on long-term strategic financial planning, rather than on day-to-day operations of the property. In deciding to acquire property, real estate asset managers consider several factors, such as property values, taxes, zoning, population growth, transportation, and traffic volume and patterns. Once a site is selected, they negotiate contracts for the purchase or lease of the property, securing the most favorable terms. Real estate asset managers review their company’s real estate holdings periodically and identify properties that are no longer financially profitable. They then negotiate the sale of, or terminate the lease on, such properties.

Community association managers, by contrast, do work that more closely compares to that of onsite property managers. They collect monthly assessments, prepare financial statements and budgets, negotiate with contractors, and help to resolve complaints. Usually hired by a volunteer board of directors of the association, they manage the daily affairs, and supervise the maintenance, of property and facilities that the homeowners own and use jointly through the association. Community association managers also assist the board and owners in complying with association and government rules and regulations.

Some associations cover thousands of homes and employ their own onsite staff and managers. In addition to administering an association’s financial records and budget, managers may be responsible for the operation of community pools, golf courses, and community centers and for the maintenance of landscaping and parking areas. Community association managers regularly meet with the elected boards of directors to discuss and resolve legal issues or disputes that may have an effect on the owners, as well as to review any proposed changes or improvements by homeowners to their properties, to make sure that they comply with community guidelines. They may also meet to address association finances or discuss long-term planning.

Work environment. Nearly all property, real estate, and community association managers work out of an office. However, many managers spend a significant portion of their time away from their desks. Onsite managers, in particular, may spend a large part of their workday away from their offices, visiting the building engineer, showing apartments, checking on the janitorial and maintenance staff, or investigating problems reported by residents. Real estate asset managers may spend time away from home while traveling to company real estate holdings or searching for properties to purchase.

Property, real estate, and community association managers often must attend evening meetings with residents, property owners, community association boards of directors, or civic groups. Not surprisingly, many managers put in long workdays, especially before financial and tax reports are due and before board and annual meetings. Some apartment managers are required to live in the apartment complexes where they work, so that they are available to handle emergencies, even when they are off duty. They usually receive compensatory time off for working nights or weekends. Many apartment managers receive time off during the week so that they may be available on weekends to show apartments to prospective residents.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

For the most part, onsite property managers who primarily oversee the rental and maintenance of properties learn on the job or have experience in the real estate or maintenance field. Managers of commercial properties and those dealing with a property’s finances and contract management increasingly are needing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration, accounting, finance, or real estate management, especially if they do not have much practical experience.

Education and training. Most employers prefer to hire college graduates for property management positions, particularly for offsite positions dealing with a property’s finances and contract management and for most commercial properties. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration, accounting, finance, real estate, or public administration is preferred for these positions. Those with degrees in the liberal arts also may qualify, especially if they have relevant coursework. In addition, most new managers participate in on-the-job training. Many people entering jobs such as assistant property manager have onsite management experience.

Licensure. Real estate managers who buy or sell property are required to be licensed by the State in which they practice. In a few States, property association managers must be licensed. Managers of public housing subsidized by the Federal Government are required to be certified.

Other qualifications. Previous employment as a real estate sales agent may be an asset to onsite managers, because it provides experience that is useful in showing apartments or office space. In the past, those with backgrounds in building maintenance have advanced to onsite management positions on the depth of their knowledge of mechanical systems in buildings, but this path is becoming less common as employers place greater emphasis on administrative, financial, and communication abilities for managerial jobs.

People most commonly enter real estate asset manager jobs by transferring from positions as property managers or real estate brokers. Real estate asset managers must be good negotiators, adept at persuading and working with people, and good at analyzing data in order to assess the fair-market value of property or its development potential. Resourcefulness and creativity in arranging financing are essential for managers who specialize in land development.

Good speaking, writing, computer, and financial skills, as well as an ability to deal tactfully with people, are essential in all areas of property management.

Certification and advancement. Many people begin property management careers as assistants, working closely with a property manager and learning how to prepare budgets, analyze insurance coverage and risk options, market property to prospective tenants, and collect overdue rent payments. In time, many assistants advance to property manager positions.

Some people start as onsite managers of apartment buildings, office complexes, or community associations. As they gain experience, often working under the supervision of a more experienced property manager, they may advance to positions of greater responsibility. Those who excel as onsite managers often transfer to assistant offsite property manager positions, in which they can gain experience handling a broad range of property management responsibilities.

The responsibilities and compensation of property, real estate, and community association managers increase as these workers manage more and larger properties. Property managers are responsible for several properties at a time. As their careers advance, they gradually are entrusted with larger properties that are more complex to manage. Many specialize in the management of one type of property, such as apartments, office buildings, condominiums, cooperatives, homeowners’ associations, or retail properties. Managers who do well at marketing properties to tenants might specialize in managing new properties, while those who are specifically knowledgeable about buildings and their mechanical systems might specialize in the management of older properties requiring renovation or more frequent repairs. Some experienced managers open their own property management firms.

Many employers encourage managers to attend short-term formal training programs conducted by various professional and trade associations that are active in the real estate field. Employers send managers to these programs to develop their management skills and expand their knowledge of specialized fields, such as the operation and maintenance of mechanical systems in buildings, the improvement of property values, insurance and risk management, personnel management, business and real estate law, community association risks and liabilities, tenant relations, communications, accounting and financial concepts, and reserve funding. Managers also participate in these programs to prepare themselves for positions of greater responsibility in property management. The completion of such programs, plus related job experience and a satisfactory score on a written examination, can lead to certification, or the formal award of a professional designation, by the sponsoring association. (Some organizations offering certifications are listed as sources of additional information at the end of this statement.) A number of associations also require their members to adhere to a specific code of ethics.

Employment as a Property Manager

Property, real estate, and community association managers held about 304,100 jobs in 2008. About 46 percent of these managers are self-employed. Another 21 percent worked for lessors of real estate and in offices of real estate agents and brokers. Others worked for government agencies that manage public buildings.

Job Outlook for Real Estate Managers

About as fast as average employment growth is expected. Opportunities should be best for jobseekers with a college degree in business administration, real estate, or a related field and for those who attain a professional designation. Particularly good opportunities are expected for those with experience managing housing for older people or with experience running healthcare facilities.

Employment change. Employment of property, real estate, and community association managers is projected to increase by 8 percent during the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as average for all occupations. Job growth will be attributable to a growing population that will increasingly live in developments managed by third-party property management companies. These developments include apartment buildings, condominiums, homeowner associations, and the fast-growing amount of senior housing. Developments of new homes are increasingly being organized with community or homeowner associations that provide community services and oversee jointly owned common areas requiring professional management. There is also increasing awareness that property management firms help make properties more profitable and improve the resale value of homes and commercial property.

To cater to the increasing population, a small rise in the number of commercial and retail buildings that will need to be managed also will generate jobs for property managers.

Job prospects. In addition to openings from job growth, a number of openings are expected as managers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Opportunities should be best for jobseekers with a college degree in business administration, real estate, or a related field and for those who attain a professional designation. Because of the projected increase in the elderly population, particularly good opportunities are expected for those with experience managing housing for older people and with experience managing healthcare facilities.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Property, real estate, and community association managers 11-9141 304,100 329,700 25,600 8
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Real Estate Managers

Median annual wages of salaried property, real estate, and community association managers were $46,130 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,730 and $68,770 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,250 a year. Median annual wages of salaried property, real estate, and community association managers in the largest industries that employed them in May 2008 were as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises $74,010
Local government 59,480
Offices of real estate agents and brokers 44,160
Activities related to real estate 43,430
Lessors of real estate 40,180

Many resident apartment managers and onsite association managers receive the use of an apartment as part of their compensation package. In addition, managers often are reimbursed for the use of their personal vehicles.

Real estate and property managers ensure that commercial property is in top shape to maximize the dollars from the investment. In this career guide, you learned how to become a successful property manager.

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