June 1st, 2008
– Real Estate Solutions opens its doors to the public as a Jacksonville-based residential property management company.
The day we opened, we had exactly zero properties under management, and basically no marketing budget with which to add new accounts. Plenty of people told me I was crazy to quit law school in the midst of the real estate market tanking… to start a real estate company. As is often the case with me, I thought I knew better than, well, better than anyone. My wife Lisa and I had evaluated the property management industry, we knew the players, we knew their pricing, and we were sure we saw an opening.
Our plan: turn the real estate model on its head. The model for most real estate companies is “how much money can we make on each transaction?” Our model was “how little money can we make and still manage to be profitable?” Think Wal-Mart pricing, Starbucks premium feel, Toyota’s consistency, quality and “kaizen” company culture (continuous improvement). That’s what we were aiming for. A new kind of Property Management Company that implemented the best practices from the biggest players across multiple domains.
The kind of company we would want to hire.
Our approach allowed us to add clients steadily. Each client was always more than a “unit” to RES. I met the clients face to face. I told them what I and we were all about. I told them they could trust us, and that we would do everything we could to look out for their best financial interests, even when it was hard and especially when they weren’t looking. After all, doing what’s right when no one is looking is the very definition of integrity.
Our biggest challenge 10 years ago and in the 10 years that have passed, hasn’t been growing our company (surprisingly). We’ve consistently lowered our pricing to the public (including being the first to offer truly free tenant placement), and we’ve consistently improved our services and results.
The biggest challenge in our first decade has been finding talented Team Members who believe -at their core- in the RES mission, and who have the skills to deliver on that mission. We’ve had a lot of Team Members come and go, unfortunately. Some have been good, some have revealed shortcomings in our screening, hiring and training processes. We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to find and retain talented people, and I can honestly say here at our 10-year mark, that we’ve got the best Team at RES we’ve ever had.
What’s it like to run a property management company? Well, it’s interesting. Here’s the most abbreviated way I can put it.
– It’s unpredictable. As of this writing, we have sold our Jacksonville office and accounts (hallelujah) and we now have around 600 doors under management in the Greater Denver Area. There are 4 of us that work in the RES office, including Lisa and I. So with 4 people, and that many doors under management, the workload is completely unpredictable. Some days it’s whisper-quiet, and some days it seems that every property, every tenant, and every owner needs something from us.
– It’s rewarding. When we get a new account, get the marketing pictures dialed in and looking great and we get the listing “live” within 30 minutes of meeting the client at the property, it’s proof that we are indeed, objectively, the best. None of our competitors can move at light speed. Our people are fast, our systems are fast, and that means real money in the pockets of our clients when we get their property rented. When we get an invoice from a vendor that is not reasonable, and we push back and get that invoice knocked down or taken off, we celebrate. Our clients don’t see those battles, but they are very real. When tenants try to bully us by threatening 1 star online reviews, demanding unreasonable lease extensions (for example, extensions that would put our client’s property on the market in the winter months) and we successfully negotiate a lease extension, or we quickly re-rent the property before it’s vacant, we are ecstatic to have avoided that vacancy for our clients. No one ever knows about these struggles, but it’s the kind of activity that takes place on a daily basis in an RES office. No one ever sees or hears the inside of our office during the day, but our small, elite Team takes incredible pride in a job well done. On the flip side, we are extremely hard on ourselves when we make a mistake. Nearly any mistake involves us taking stock of our training, our systems, our procedures – to make sure it is not repeated. Ever. We sweat the details because the details are all that matter to us.
– It’s hard. Property Management might not be hard, in the very general, conceptual sense. The public mostly sees us as a middle-man that collects rent and sends vendors out for repairs. I have a sense that if that were the extent of the value-proposition of hiring professional property management, nearly no clients would do so. In reality, what we do here – what I ask of myself and my Team – is to demonstrate a broad and impressive skill set that is rare in any professional practice.
Why is property management hard when it’s done the “RES way”? In practice, we are:
– Marketing Experts. While we all have undergraduate degrees in Marketing, this is where the marketing story begins. Marketing doesn’t mean ensuring each listing is a “pretty package”, even though that is a common perception. Marketing in our world means the delivery of a listing as an effective means to an end. Shiny pictures don’t help our clients if we can’t answer our phones, respond to text messages, instant messenger, emails, etc. It doesn’t help our clients to list their property on the top rental websites if we are not also meticulously tracking feedback from each showing and from our agents each week and providing that feedback to the client. More than simply marketing properties, we have to constantly, in real-time, analyze the market effectively. Listing a property too high or too low can cost our client thousands of dollars very quickly. Our marketing extends beyond the obvious and into the realm of what’s possible to execute on, with that marketing.
– Lawyers. Well, not really, but hear me out. Almost everything we do on a daily basis involves our creation of, and enforcement of, contracts. The rental application, the residential lease, the property management agreement. Each of these is a carefully created, carefully worded contract that our Team has to consistently enforce. We need to know what each contract says, what it means and how to enforce it in the context of myriad complicated situations. Is “no AC” an emergency? It depends. Should we agree to a short lease extension for tenants? It depends. Do we have to allow a pit bull in a no pets property? It depends. You get the idea – the legal grounds for our decisions can feel like sand shifting beneath our feet. We have to be constantly up to date with landlord/tenant law, Fair Housing, ADA, our own contracts and more!
– Data entry and multi-tasking specialists. Everyone who works in an RES office can type at least 60wpm, and some as high as 100wpm! Our Elite Team has to be able to grab multiple phone lines, while processing hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent, while entering invoices from vendors, while instant messaging each other internally, while mapping field routes while responding to emails. I think that’s about 30% of what we have to keep our eye on at once. Oh, did I mention that we can’t make mistakes on any of it? Our clients (rightfully so) expect perfection when it comes to processing their rent, handling their expenses, issuing their statements, tracking their tenant’s lease end dates and more. We demand the same of ourselves, so it works out! The truth is, we don’t really believe in multi-tasking. You can really only put 100% of your focus on one thing at a time, so everything just happens at light-speed, back to back.
– Technology experts. You have the ability to instant message RES from our site, whether you’re on your phone or computer or tablet. You can text us at our main office number. You can email us, you can fax us, you can contact us from your tenant or owner portal. If you want, you can even call us! There’s a wealth of technology behind our logo, and it’s constantly evolving and improving. Internally, our entire company is cloud-based. Google Drive and it’s entire suite of business apps, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Gmail, editable PDF’s, online signatures, company iPhones and iPads loaded with our apps, the latest and greatest hybrid company vehicles, the fastest internet connection and the fastest computers, the fastest scanners… all seamlessly working behind the scenes to give the public the most responsive PM company possible. Our Team has to master all of this tech and more to execute on our mission every day.
– Endlessly resilient and focused. In a given day, we will have hundreds of interactions with tenants, vendors, owners and prospective tenants. Calls, emails, texts, face-to-face meetings. Many of those interactions are great, with amazing owners (for example) who truly appreciate what we do and the value proposition we offer. Many of those interactions, however, are full of hostility from the other party – even if (as is always the case) our Team has done everything right. Everything by the book. Professionally, kindly, clearly, transparently. Sometimes there is just no easy way to tell an owner their property needs a major repair or to tell a tenant they have to pay the late fee on their lease, because… they’re late. Our people have to bounce back from sometimes truly difficult situations, that happen on a daily basis. Whether we’re dealing with aggressive and hostile callers, emails, or facing unfair online reviews, we galvanize together knowing that we always do the right thing. We never lie, we never make excuses, and if there is a mistake on our part -whether found by an internal or external customer – our company culture is to own that mistake and make it right. And our Team does just that! No one here brings home any stress from the job. At 5pm, we leave here each day knowing we’ve delivered and we’ve left it all out on the field. That’s the RES way.
So that’s a small “behind the curtain” look at RES. That’s a little bit about where we came from and where we are today. What about the next 10 years? Where are we going?
Here’s how we see it.
– We just started the process of taking our systems (lightly touched on above) and wrapping them all up into a tight little package we call a franchise opportunity. We’ve spent 10 years relentlessly improving our approach and systems and processes, honing our company culture and sweating the details. We think this makes for a great opportunity for people out there who want to run their own business but would possibly prefer to save that 10 years and jump in at our current level of operational excellence. I can’t say I blame them!
– With our upcoming (60-90 days) franchise rollout, we are going to be looking for motivated prospective franchisees who have a passion for excellence and who can execute on our proven business model.
– In addition to franchising, we plan to continue to expand throughout the greater Denver market. We have consistently seen growth each year of 15-20% and we see no reason to slow down!
– We are keeping an eye on other PM companies who want to sell their accounts.
– We plan to continue to push our prices as low as possible, our services as high as possible and continue to hire and train the most talented Team Members.
Greg Weik, Owner and Broker
Real Estate Solutions