From Lawn Ranger to Property Manager: How to Launch a Property Management Career

Mike Brewer
by on February 28, 2013


Image of a road sign saying Dream Job Next Exit

In the spirit of National Apartment Careers Month, I thought I would pass along one man’s journey to where he is today. That one man is me, Mike Brewer, and this is my story.

Mike’s First Property Management Job

My property management career started in 1994 shortly after leaving Texas Tech University. College was over and life was beginning and like many other people I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Okay – not really.

I had no idea what I was going to do. All I had known up to that point in time involved eating, sleeping, studying, playing basketball, and saying hello to nice girls.

It was not until I ventured back to the small town of Clovis, New Mexico, where I grew up, did I realize what I wanted to do. I started a landscape company called The Lawn Ranger and grew that business at a healthy clip. In the process of growing that company I met a man named Bob Burch who owned a real estate company called Re/Max Town & Country. He hired our firm to maintain the landscape and general curb appeal of vacant homes that he was trying to sell.

It was a match made in heaven: He was the number one real estate agent in Clovis and I was on the fast track of growing my business. He would list the homes and we would clean them up so he could market them.

And then Bob hit me with a surprise. He asked me what I thought about selling real estate and offered to send me off to school for my license. Being the bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew kind of guy, I said #gameon. Let’s do it.

A Crash Course in Property Management

In the summer of ’94 I received my license and I went about selling real estate. That’s when property management hit me over the head. Bob owned an 18-unit apartment community on the wrong side of the tracks. Drive by shootings, gangbangers, and loud music in the parking lot until all hours of the night.

You know, your typical Class A kind of property. And it was #gameon.

I became the live in property manager. I did the leasing, marketing, maintenance, painting, and turnover. It was a crash course in survival as much as it was cutting my teeth on the property management business. And I loved it.

Fast-forward two years. I moved back to Lubbock, Texas, and took a job as a leasing consultant at a property called The Beautiful Willow Hill. Always wanting more, I left one month later to become the Assistant Manager of El Chaparral – a not so beautiful 100-unit property near a huge mall. A year later, that gave way to a Property Manager title and ultimately, in my mind, the opportunity of a lifetime.

A Successful Apartment Management Career Means Making an Impact

I met Jim and Jackie – a husband and wife team. They were over-the-top-crazy-awesome-salt-of-the-earth-but-get-off-your-can-and-make-some-NOI-goodness-happen kind of people. They were mentors on steroids. I spent one year working with them before they moved to Seattle to take work with Equity Residential. Roughly one year after their departure I got “the call.”

It was Jim – can you come to Seattle and work as a General Manager in Silverdale, Washington? #gameon – I said. When do I start? Two weeks from now was his response. Okay. So I packed the U-Haul and took off.

Equity Residential is by far one of my favorite multifamily companies. The people rock, the culture rocks, the structure rocks and the values rock. It just basically rocks all around. That said, the one thing I quickly learned is upward movement meant making an impact.

With that in mind I decided to raise my hand for the toughest of the tough management assignments. And over the next ten years it yielded me the title of General Manager, Area Manager and ultimately Regional Manager over the entire 16 property portfolio in Portland, Oregon.  I left in 2007 and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and based on that good run I now hold a Vice President of Operations position with Mills Properties. I also lead the amazing digital marketing team at our firm.

Five Tips to Get Top Property Management Jobs

My journey to a property management career has been a sweet ride. I’ve learned many things along the way and I would like to share a few. Here are five pieces of advice that I would offer to anyone and everyone seeking a career in the property management business:

  1. Be your own best teacher. Even in the most finely tuned organizations – it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-advanced-make-it-up-as-you-go wild ride for your first year. Don’t get discouraged.
  2. Never be afraid to say – I don’t know. It’s the quicker path to learning.
  3. Raise your hand for the tough stuff. Don’t be occupied and proud. Find victory in taking properties that have failing occupancies and turn them around.
  4. Love people. Get over yourself and understand that organizations are put in place to serve the people that serve it. Your job is to serve people. And be real. No fake stuff. Leave it at home.
  5. Say please, thank you, excuse me, it’s my fault, and you rock – a lot. Be polite in all that you do and take the downside of adversity on your shoulders and reserve the roof top as the place where you shout the joy and praises of the people that you serve.

Share Your Apartment Career Journey

And that’s my journey. What was your journey to a career in the multifamily industry like? Did you meet any incredible mentors along the way? What advice would you pass along to someone seeking a career in this industry?

#gameon

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15 Comments

Lisa Zagoren

My property management career started in 1988, right after having my first child. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a bookkeeper position at a 553 unit community in the south county area of St. Louis, General Grant Apartments. I was responsible for manually (yes, manually; this was 1988) writing in each and every payment into this huge ledger book that was brought down from our corporate office. They were the only ones with a computer. I did the same thing for payables.

I was always more of a people person than a bookkeeper type, so I begged our leasing director for a chance at becoming a leasing consultant. He gave me the chance, and that’s when everything started to roll! I was shopped by a manager at another property and he called to offer me the assistant position at his property. I, of course, accepted the offer. At that time, part of the benefits was a free apartment. Who would turn that down?!

The property I was on was over-the-top crazy with crime, drug deals, etc. I loved it! A total challenge. Bring it on! I was there when it flooded during the 1993 flood of the century. We lost 84 apartments, cars and dumpsters were floating down our main street in to the property. I sandbagged for 16 hours a day, for a straight week, in hopes of keeping the creek behind our property in it’s banks. It didn’t work. I was now walking across our handmade “sandbag bridge”, which was one foot under water, carrying my now 5 year old daughter into our building to get to our 3rd floor apartment.

My manager got a call shortly after this to manage a beautiful property in the Creve Coeur/Maryland Heights area. He asked me to join him on our new adventure, as this was a fairly new community that was in lease-up mode. I of course said yes!

This led to me accepting the manager position a couple of years later after my manager left for Florida. I loved it and rocked it. Occupancy was stabilized at 97% with continual rent bumps about every other month. When my property sold, I was devistated. I loved the company I worked for but they were in Atlanta and this was their only community in St. Louis. They offered to move me to Atlanta, but I just couldn’t leave STL. This is all I know. My family and friends are all here; not in Atlanta.

I started interviewing with local management companies and was offered management positions with several companies. I chose Mills Properties. After enjoying the last 15 years with them, watching and listening to peers who work for other companies, I couldn’t be any happier with my decision I made those 15 years ago!

Mills has been, by far, the best local management company to work for. The people rock, the owners are great to work for and I absolutely love being around so many positive, over-the-top crazy about their jobs, people!

If you’re considering a job in our industry, you definitely must have tons of patience, lots of compassion, love and empathy, and have the desire in your heart to work with people on a daily basis. Listen carefully to what people say. Your helping them find their next home for at least the next year and hopefully longer. If you’re truly not passionate about it, don’t do it. Go find yourself a bookkeeping position of sorts.

I’m excited to see what the next 15 years will bring. I say bring it on!!

Thursday 28th February 28 10:54

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    Michael Cunningham

    Lisa, thank you for sharing your story. You’ve had quite an adventure in the world of property management.

    Thursday 28th February 28 12:52

    Reply

      Lisa Zagoren

      Yes I have Michael! I’m excited to see what the future brings!

      Friday 01st March 01 11:59

      Reply

Mike Brewer

LZZZZZZZ – you rock girl. Thank you for sharing your story- love it.

And very glad to have you on the team!

M

Thursday 28th February 28 12:46

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    Lisa Zagoren

    Super glad to be on THE team! :-)

    Friday 01st March 01 11:57

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Jessica

So you came about the biz by lucky accident. I hear that a lot. And it’s my story also. A friend’s sister told her about a job opening with Mills and I was at my wit’s end with my current job so I went for it. The industry itself can certainly be stressful, but it’s the people that make it worth it aka your co-workers. The property management industry is full of people with heart and compassion. They become like family.

I think a lot of people in the industry have an intense amount of passion. For example: you (and all the people I met at the Brainstorming Conference), and it makes it easy to want to achieve greatness. I have had several “mentors.” From the managers who had been in the industry a long time when I first become a manager who supported me and went out of their way to help me because they wanted me to succeed. And from my first manager, Charmaine, to my current, you & Melissa, who have praised me and given me amazing opportunities. From my perspective, it’s been a great industry to fall into by lucky accident.

If you’re in the industry and you don’t love the people you work with every day, then that’s when I’d say it’s time to move on.

Thursday 28th February 28 1:53

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    Lisa Zagoren

    You are spot on Jessica! When you wake up and you’re done, move on baby!

    Friday 01st March 01 11:58

    Reply

    Mike

    J

    Your story rocks and I can’t wait to see the future play out. I think that the sky is the limit.

    Thank you for taking the time to share.

    M

    Friday 01st March 01 2:03

    Reply

Ryan

I went to Mizzou for Journalism like everyone else goes to Mizzou for. I ended up graduating in four years with a Hotel and Restaurant Management degree. I spent five years pulling the hotel grind and managing people there.

A management change at the hotel I was at found me delivering pizzas. FYI, delivering pizzas is actually pretty fun, you just can’t make good money at it.

A job posting came up for a Concierge at a new property downtown. Sounded fun, so I went for it.. Now I find myself in the Leasing Office still enjoying the industry. It’s much less stressful than the hotel world, but the opportunities for creativity are pretty exciting. We’ll see where this goes. . . .

Friday 01st March 01 11:39

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    Mike Brewer

    Ryan

    I love what you are doing with the never ending stream of new and improved platforms. You were a perfect fit for The Laurel and all that it has to offer.

    #gamon for the future – I think it has amazing things in store.

    Tuesday 05th March 05 10:40

    Reply

jermaine

Thank you for this post! I recently was hired as a leasing consultant for ER and I love it so far. This post was encouraging to read!

Tuesday 05th March 05 2:02

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    Mike Brewer

    Jermanie

    Thank you for taking the time to drop a line – your work for an amazing organization. And they are only getting started in my opinion.

    Aim for the moon – my friend – in doing so you are sure to land somewhere in the stars.

    Rock it.

    M

    Tuesday 05th March 05 10:41

    Reply

Kim Senn

My journey began on the IT side of the house. 1990 and LPC was moving from a manual system to computerized. I started in the Village in Dallas, TX and over time moved up to corporate. Being fee managed, we used any property management software the owner required. Since that time, I have moved between being an independent consultant, working for software companies, and back to property management companies. I love our industry. I love the people. Never the same day twice and never a dull moment. Every conference I attend is like a family reunion.

Tuesday 09th April 09 1:14

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    Michael Cunningham

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kim. On a personal note, miss you around the halls here. :-)

    Tuesday 09th April 09 3:36

    Reply

Paula

I am glad I found this forum. I am new to property management, have been with a temp agency on a few assignments (love love the industry) and am temping as a leasing consultant starting next week. I’ve sold real estate and have done housekeeping management for hotels. Being 50 yrs young, what would be a few first steps to fast track into management? I was thinking about getting accreditation, like CAM. Any suggestions? And how can I find a mentor if my company doesn’t offer that?
Any input would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday 23rd March 23 3:28

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