From Lawn Ranger to Property Manager: How to Launch a Property Management Career
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.
[Additional Reading: The Top 5 Traits of the Greatest Leasing Consultants in the World]
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:
- 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.
- Never be afraid to say – I don’t know. It’s the quickest path to learning.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 rooftop 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?