Someone once told me motherhood is the toughest job you’ll ever love and while that is absolutely the truth, I also feel that way about property management too. It can be a roller coaster of emotions stress and overwhelm. On the flip side, it can be engaging, challenging, and rewarding. But it’s not a job for the faint hearted. It takes a special kind of person to survive and thrive long term in the Property Management Zoo. So, are you that person? We all know that property management can be a thankless job. I mean, rarely, if ever do we get anyone calling us or even emailing us and saying thank you… you did a really great job. Overwhelmingly, our days are dealt with problem solving, crisis management, negotiation and a whole lot of negativity. Why is my tenants rent one day late? Why didn’t that maintenance get fixed? Why did you fix that? Why didn’t you fix that? Why can’t you do anything right? And I’m not even exaggerating. Weeks can go by without even a thank you added from anyone. If you’re thinking, why am I still even doing this job? Well stay with me.
We’re going to dive into resilience in property management.
WHAT IS RESILIENCE?
The definition of resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness, and my guest this week, certainly is the definition of resilience. Hayley Mitchell is a veteran of over 21 years in property management. Yes, you heard me right. Hayley has been through her fair share of ups and down. From starting her own business in the middle of the global financial crisis, to raising her young family while running multiple businesses and then, of course, the global pandemic hit, and her marriage ended. And yet, despite all of this, she survived, and is ready to launch new businesses run more amazing events supporting and mentoring the property management industry. So, strap yourself in and take a listen to Hayley’s story.
HAYLEY MITCHELL’S STORY
‘So, I got into the industry over 20 years ago now. So long time, I think I’m up to 23 years and my brother was actually working as a property manager. I was actually working in nightclubs at the door with no cops. Which gave me a good grounding for property management. So, I can talk to anyone and deal with anyone who’s rational or irrational. He said, I actually think you’d be really good at this role. I’d also had a bit of work in supermarkets and that sort of thing. I thought, okay, come on, let’s give it a go and he got me a job where he was working. He’s no longer in property management, and then I’ve stuck to it. So, it’s funny how, you know, some people get into the role, and it’s a job and then other people get in and it’s just a passion. That’s, that’s what I found,’ Hayley said.
MOST VALUABLE LESSONS
She also added: ‘I’ll go back to the GFC. It’s funny you mentioned that because when I started my Melbourne agency back in 2009. I remember people saying, “oh, you know, it’s really unstable at the moment, are you sure you want to go out on your own, you had a really promising career with a large franchise been there for a long time, and I was a partner” and I thought, what’s better time everyone needs somewhere to live. So, you know, my whole thing is – always back yourself because if you have a dream, and you want to do it, then it’s never going to be the perfect time. During COVID, I had just set up a second rent roll, so one in Geelong and that was in 2018. Then we bought another rent roll in 2019 and then, obviously COVID hit when that was just settling into the transition period as well…. and again, it’s never going to be a perfect time to this sort of stuff, and you just have to roll with it and do the best that you absolutely can.’
IS THAT PROPERTY MANAGEMENT RESILIENCE?
Sounds like Hayley is perfectly describing resilience. There’s no perfect time to start anything in life. I started my business in Queensland after the 2011 floods. It couldn’t have been a worse time, our house went under, and we had just signed a lease on our very first office a couple of days before the actual floods hit, thank goodness, the office survived. Then we sort of went about building our business, but we ended up growing our rent roll off the back of helping a lot of people rebuild after the floods, clean out their properties, and then re lease them, while a lot of other property management companies, smaller ones in particular ran for the hills. They did not demonstrate the resilience, I guess that was needed during those particularly difficult times.
RESILIENCE IN THE DAY-TO-DAY LIFE OF A PROPERTY MANAGER
So, let’s talk about the day-to-day life of a property manager and how important is it for property managers to show resilience COVID aside? Currently there is a statistic claiming that nine months is the average length of time, property managers are staying in the job at the moment.
‘Yeah, I’m seeing that all around the place at the moment, and I get so many phone calls every day from people saying, I need a property manager, where are they all? We need someone to hire and sit in the seat? And I’m like, there’s just no people out there at the moment. And it’s crazy. Yeah, it’s a tough question. I think, as I said, for me, it was all about the passion. So, I think a lot of people get into real estate because they love property.
And It’s all about relationships. If you don’t love people, and you don’t want to build relationships, and you don’t want to be a problem solver and a negotiator and busy on your feet and running around all over the place, it’s not going to be the right role for you. I think a lot of people think they just get into industry, they drive around fancy cars and, you know, sit at a desk, and type up reports and it’s just not that. I do think that when people get into the industry, sometimes they’re not in a company, which demonstrates the support that they need,’ she said.
‘I go into offices all the time, and I do health checks and I say to people, what did your first week in real estate look like? How were you transitioned into the business. People still say, “I was given a chair, I was given a desk, I was given a phone, and they said to me, oh, we’ll help you we are just a bit busy. We’re just doing this over here and we kind of just found our feet”. Now for a lot of people that’s completely overwhelming. It’s such a hard role that they can’t, I guess find that passion because it’s just too hard. The people that I see that do stay in the industry do have good support networks. A lot of people also have a mentor that they can guide them through those first couple of years. I think the first couple of years in real estate is crucial. If you don’t get a good start, you’re not going to make it through to the 20-year mark. I see it all the time, and you probably see it as well.’
THE RIGHT PROPERTY MANAGER SKILL SET
I know I was probably guilty of being that business owner in the early days that threw people in the deep end, you know, we’ve got a 19- and 21-year-old, straight out of school threw them into the property management minefield, dealing with what you sometimes call it hostage negotiation, because that’s sometimes the skill level you require to be able to deal with to negotiate some of these situations, especially the grey area situations in property management. I have felt a lot of guilt, because I was that business owner that threw these poor unsuspecting property managers into the deep end. But obviously, over time, I realised that was never going to work. And your revolving door of property managers quickly makes you address, I’m not doing something right here. What can I do to fix and change it? I think that it comes down to training and a support network. But also, I think individual property managers, I guess they need to assess why they want to be in this business. What their goals are, or how it’s going to help them develop in their lives. So, what are some of the skill sets that somebody who was wanting to come into this industry would need to have?
Hayley said: ‘for a property management role… I hate the word multitask, because I kind of think if you touch things more than once you’re wasting time, but people need to think on their feet, they need to be able to follow things through from start to finish as well and have a really strong attention to detail. That’s another thing I see when I go into offices that people just don’t have that attention to detail. That can really cause major issues, or if they start a task, but then forget to finish the task. That’s when things blow up as well. You’ve got to be able to really focus and just get those things done. Then the strong communication skills, negotiating skills. They’re the things that we’re actually not taught.’
‘So, when we do our vacant agents report, or it used to be our licencing course, and every state has it, you kind of taught the bits of legislation and the general processes and that sort of thing, but you’re not actually taught the art of negotiating the art of communication and that’s what our role is, we’re just that middleman between the renter and the owner. We’re just a person that’s trying to get the right outcome for everyone. So, someone that really wants to have that focus, and that really strong customer care focus. And I think about that customer service so much. You can go out to a restaurant and have an absolutely brilliant experience and walk away feeling fantastic and the food might not have been the best food you’ve ever had. But that person serving you has been above and beyond, and you rave about it. Or you could go to a restaurant that has beautiful food, but the service is below par, and they don’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy and for me, it’s all that warm and fuzzy, which is what we need to make sure our property managers are doing. It’s something that when you’re really, really busy, and property managers are busy, that is often kind of, you don’t build those relationships or that rapport with the client. And then that’s where all the problems begin,’ she said.
HOW DO WE DEVELOP OUR RESILIENCE MUSCLES?
So, what about when we do have those tough days? And we know there’s lots of them in property management, we’re going to get yelled at we’re getting we’re going to get accused of something we didn’t do, right. Whether we did or didn’t do it, right. What are some of I guess the resilience skills, or resilience muscles? What do property managers need to have to overcome those tough days? I think in every job, you do have those days. But in property management, there seems to be more than normal.
‘Yeah, especially during COVID, that was just months and months of tough days for so many of us because no one knew what was going on. We didn’t know how long it would last either. That was the biggest problem. But even outside of COVID, you do have tough days, you have days where you walk out of the office, and you’re like, I accomplished so much, and it was awesome, and you go home feeling great. And other days, it’s so flat and the best thing to do is just to leave your work at work, be able to have a mechanism, whatever it might be, you might get in the car at the end of the day, and you’ve got a half an hour drive home and you’ve got a certain song that you play that makes you feel good,’ Hayley said.
‘Or when you get home, you talk to a family member or talk to someone or go for a walk or go to the gym or whatever you do, but you have to be able to stop when you get home. One of the biggest problems I see with PMS is the mobile phone in all honesty, because it doesn’t stop ringing. People often won’t switch off so they will answer calls after hours or check their emails after hours as well.’
She also added: ‘my biggest thing is do not look at your emails. Once you get home. Anything that is urgent can be dealt with. But anything else, if you’re emailing you, you don’t need to look at it. If you look at your phone at nine o’clock at night, you’re about to jump into bed and you’ve got a sneaky email from a renter. That whole night you’re going to be lying in bed writing the response you want to say and then in the morning after no sleep, you’ll get out and you’ll feel so drained. That’s probably one of the worst things that PMS do and just that contactable 24 hours a day which we don’t need to be, it is as much as possible a nine to five jump.’
‘As far as I’m concerned, I do know that there’s been a lot of directors which have allowed a little bit more flexibility when it comes to spending some time working from home and spending some time working in the office now, which has been really well received. I think it’s still important to have that culture fit where the team are always, together, and able to communicate and see each other. But I do think moving forward in the future, a lot of people will start doing that balance of working from home and working from the office. So, I think the industry is in for a real change in the next couple of years.’
WHAT ABOUT BEING A WORKING MUM?
Not only can there be tough days in property management but being a working mum or being a single mum, or a co-parenting working mum adds another layer of hectic. Even though I had a husband while I was in the day to day throws of starting and running my property management business, but I still felt like I was a single mum. I also ran the household I did the groceries, the cleaning, the cooking, the juggling the kids, and all of their commitments, like dancing, singing, sports, tutoring. All of that is pretty much like a full-time job in itself. I constantly felt like I was failing at everything. Is it possible to remain sane, show up and run multiple successful businesses, and still be out there helping others?
‘I was chatting to someone today, actually and they were talking about work life balance. They looked at me and I said, you don’t have a work life balance. And I said, I’ve got the best job in the world. I never feel like I’m working. That might sound stupid. But what I do is what I do, and I don’t define it as work. Yeah, I am fairly, newly single. So that’s been, you know, after a 14–15-year relationship and several businesses together and properties and kids in the whole lot. So yeah, that’s a bit of a juggle at the moment just getting used to it. But we have done a week on week off arrangement. And that’s worked out really well because it means on the weeks that I don’t have kids,’ said Hayley.
‘I basically hit the road. I go for days, my mum will stay at the farm and look after all my animals. I’ve got a local girl that comes in and feeds twice a day for me as well if I need to. When I’ve got the kids, I’ll generally do zooms, or I’ll do work close to home. So, I can still do drop off and pick up at school. It’s working well it was a bit to get my head around in the beginning. But I have managed to kind of work out a pretty nice little system of the way it works. I’ve got my training business, my ex-husband’s keeping the rent rolls, so I currently don’t work actively in the rent rolls. But I’ve got a couple of businesses ready to launch in the next few months. I have also hired a PA executive assistant. She’s just been absolutely brilliant. I actually can’t believe how much work I used to do before she came on board. She’s flat out full time and I’m flat out full time. I was doing it all on my own. So yeah, it’s quite incredible. I’m pretty excited about the future and what we can achieve over the next 12 months and beyond. It’s really exciting.’
This is such great advice, don’t dwell on the past, just move full steam ahead. You’re not defined by your past, but how you bounce back from it. And I think that’s probably a really valuable lesson for not only property managers but working mums. We’ve got children and I’ve got a mother who’s really unwell in aged care home, I’ve got a commitment to see her every week, you’ve just got to keep going and push through those tough times that we all have. You can’t expect to go through life without some sort of hurdles. There’s going to be speed bumps, and it’s how you pick yourself up and keep moving forward that matters. My favourite saying is: ‘this is happening for me, not too me’.
THE FUTURE OF PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
There’s always going to be some sort of challenges to deal within property management, does it simply come down to developing our resilience regardless of what life throws at us?
‘Yeah, it is, I think I’ll see the future of property management really changing. When I say that I think COVID has really pushed us along when it comes to things like technology and implementation of different systems and procedures and having all of a sudden forcing a lot of directors to say you have to work from home And I do trust you. I think over the years that has become kind of a trust thing, you know, are they going to actually work when they’re not sitting at their desk, and absolutely, people do. So, I think we’re going to see a lot more task-based agencies, where they have a property manager, who is that relationship person. Then you have the person that does all the routines and does all the maintenance, and they kind of break it down and we’ll have some people working from home and some people from an office and obviously, for a small agency, that’s not going to work. But for those larger agencies, that really does. When you look at some of the things that we do with our task base and our skill set, not everyone has got all the skills required to be an amazing property manager, you have people who are amazing BDMS, or you have people who are really good at that customer care aspect, and you’ve got other people that are just really good at the documentation aspect,’ Hayley said.
‘So if you’re in an agency that is large enough, then you can actually break those roles down to suit the personalities in the office. I do this all the time, when I do health checks, because I walk in and go she’s awesome. But she’s not meant to be in that seat, she’s better in that seat. They look at me funny, I’m like, she’s a BDM. She’s not a property manager, and this one’s property manager, but you’ve got her sitting here. It’s really funny, I think we need to almost create a lot of roles for the people that we have in the seats, because it’s harder to get people now, I also think we’ll get a lot of people from different careers, who no longer want to work in banking. We’re going to be able to pull people out from different areas and put them into different roles. I think it’s going to be really interesting moving forward, because I think the way that we’ve done it in the past is not necessarily the way it’s going to happen in the future.’
Hayley said: ‘Yeah, I don’t read a lot of books I used to do and I kind of stopped over the years, I read a lot of articles. I love a lead agent when it comes out every day and I have a look at that and a whole lot of different things. Podcasts, I do have a couple that I listened to, but not all the time. My biggest thing is my mentor. I speak to so sadness files… everyone knows who she is I think. She’s been my mentor since I worked at Hocking Stewart 15 years ago. And she’s kind of been every step of my journey in my real estate career. The funny thing is, I actually do a lot of work with her and her office now as well. I love it because it’s kind of come swings and roundabouts. My biggest recommendation would be you know, find someone who can help and guide you. She gets value out of me, and I get value out of her but we’re on the phone a couple of times a week and she’s probably my biggest influence on my career and where I am now. The other thing is, I just talked to people so look at everything as an opportunity. If you meet another property manager chat to them, I think gone are the days where everyone was so competitive that they just didn’t want to connect. I think everyone wants those connections now. I went out for dinner last night with a group of 20 property managers, and there were some sponsors there and other speakers and we just had an awesome night, and it was just chatting, just relaxed chatting. Get out of your comfort zone and go and meet other people and spend time with other people in the industry as well. Because it’s those people in the industry that will help to keep you sane, because they understand what you go through. If you speak to your partner, they’ll be like oh yeah you had a bad day, but they don’t get it. So, if you can find someone that gets it, I think that that’s probably the best thing that you can possibly do.’
HOW TO BECOME A MORE RESILIENT PROPERTY MANAGER TODAY
‘When you’re talking to someone on the phone, it’s a hard conversation. It’s not about you. It’s about the situation or it’s about them. So, you need to be able to separate that it’s at you. It’s not an attack on you at all. I always when I’m talking on the phone, make sure I smile, and I find myself doing it all the time. You answer the phone and yeah you’re busy you’re like, yeah hi, how are you? And you’re rushed. They can feel that, so you know, answer the phone with a smile. Hi, how are you? You know, so good to hear from you. How can I help. Be that person because if you start a conversation like that, it’s really hard for the other person to be nasty,’ she said.
‘Please just turn off your phone, turn off your emails after hours. You need that time in between finishing work and starting work again to actually reset and reconnect with your family. One thing I’ve said it before, but I love Chris Helder. I reckon he’s a brilliant speaker, I really enjoy his sessions that I remember one day, he said, reconnect with your family when you get home and I thought, yeah, it’s something that you walk in the door, you’ve got your bag, your kids run up, and they want to cuddle and you’re like, I’ll just put everything away, I’ll just do this, I’ll just do that and he said, just put everything down, get down to their level, look them in the eye and say, you know, I missed you. How was your day and connect. I started doing that and the interesting thing is, that enabled me to also switch off from the day and be present in the moment. And I think we get so busy with what we do every day that we forget to actually switch off and be present in the moment with the people that we love the most. Give yourself that time to actually spend it with the people that you really want to spend it with,’ said Hayley.
If you take even a little bit of Haley’s advice, property management won’t ever seem that hard again. For Hayley, resilience in property management is as simple as not taking issues personally and answering the phone with a smile. I absolutely love that!