7 Steps to Become a Property Manager

What is a property manager, and what do they do?

In terms of creating the best, most well-run community possible, that builds strong foundations in both communications between board members and residents as well the daily operations that keep the community functioning, having a property manager assist in that process can be a tremendous asset. Property managers, or property management companies, are the third party persons or firms hired to assist in carrying out the designated daily operations of a particular community, set forth by the community owners or board members, in order to streamline the efficiency of the community itself. In other words, property managers are there to remove the obstacles that commonly impede both owners and residents on the way towards a well-functioning association. 

The skills required to be a good property manager, however, not only take efficient communication skills, diligence with multi-tasking and organization, but also being confident and decisive with potential obstacles within the community when the owners or board members who have hired you to help need it the most. These are the qualities that those looking to get into the property management business need to be considering before diving in, as any and all managers are going to need these skills to be successful.

Yet, the million dollar question remains: how does one become a property manager? 

To answer that question fully, for those looking to either enter the property management business for the first time, or for those looking to further their career once they’ve started, it’s best if we start with a comprehensive, seven step process on how to become a property manager. 

7 Steps to Becoming a Property Manager

1. Decide which type of property management you would like to focus on

Before you can truly set forth on the path to getting all the certifications and licenses necessary to become a property manager, it’s best to have a general understanding of the various types of property, as well as the management firms that specialize in those types of properties, and which you would be best suited to pursue. The following types of properties are generally the most popular and encompassing:

Commercial Management

Although the furthest removed from residential communities, commercial property management is the highly popular type of management concerned primarily with businesses, industrial complexes, hospitals, malls, shopping centers, and virtually any other type of property that involves a public business of some kind. While commercial management can usually be a much more daunting and challenging type of property management, according to some, it can be a very task-driven job full of maneuvering and adjusting to all kinds of outside factors and obstacles that the businesses, and the owners of those businesses, need assistance with. 

HOA or Community Management

With the amount of legwork and administrative duties required to maintain a well-functioning HOA, it is almost imperative that association board members have property management companies to assist them in everything from resident dues to regulations enforcement for residents to receive ample support and communication. Those who may choose this type of property management would be assisting in many of those daily operations to provide HOA residents with the services and regulations guaranteed by their board, while also offering board members relief from being bogged down by those administrative duties.

Multi-Family Residential Management

To put it in simpler terms, those who venture into this type of property management typically work on apartment communities. Although similar to other forms of property management, managers in this specific area focus more on a singular location or complex while helping to manage all of the individual residents within the complex.

Single-Family Residential Management

A slightly different form of property management, this is where property managers help manage individual residences such as a house. Property managers in this specificity typically help manage multiple residences of this kind, especially if those properties are owned by the same person. 

Although this is an important step, it’s also good to remember that establishing a general idea of where you want to focus your efforts doesn’t have to be a permanent decision for your future as a property manager, but rather a foundational piece that helps you hone in on which type of property management fits best with your particular skill set. 

2. Establish what state requirements you must meet in order to become a property manager

By far one of the trickiest steps in figuring out how to become a property manager is establishing what the legal requirements are in relation to the state you live in. Unfortunately, these rules are not as uniform and simplistic as one might hope. Much of what is required, and what is deemed to be official property management duties, has a lot to do with how the state you’re seeking to be licensed in views those duties and what they will and won’t allow without proper real estate licensing. However, that is another area in which this guide may give you some clarity on where to start. 

Much of this issue comes down to determining whether the state you’re seeking licensing in requires property management or real estate licensing, or not. For most states, in order to perform property management duties and business, you must secure, at the minimum, an accredited Real Estate or Property Management License and be supervised by a licensed real estate broker, or in many cases a Real Estate Broker’s License for yourself unless the state allows for mitigating circumstances. We will cover those circumstances shortly. 

A woman taking notes as she researches becoming a property manager in her area.

The purpose behind securing such licensing, and at minimum the real estate licensing that deems you a “salesperson” of real estate (i.e. a real estate agent) is due to the fact that many of the duties between real estate agents and property managers typically cross over, according to the state. Many of the responsibilities associated with property management, including such tasks as showing rental properties, negotiating and organizing leasing agreements, and collecting, involve being paid to perform those services for the clients whose properties you manage. Because of that, most states designate those property management duties to fall under the same stipulations and requirements that real estate agents and brokers must also follow. 

As stated before, most states require a Real Estate Broker’s Licence in order to perform property management duties. However, some states either don’t require such a license, such as Idaho or Maine, or will allow for a Property Management License to suffice in order to engage in management duties, such as Oregon or Montana. In the cases in which a Property Management License is enough, there are still educational and legal requirements necessary in order to achieve the license, but the path can be a lot less strenuous than the much more complex Real Estate Broker’s License. 

Regardless, researching your state’s requirements for property managers is of the utmost importance, and can help illuminate where and how you need to start your property management licensing process. 

3. Enroll in a Real Estate Salesperson or Property Management Licensing Course  

As previously discussed, the most important step in every state is becoming licensed in some capacity to engage in property management duties. In most cases, in order to do that, means securing a Real Estate License at minimum. One of the biggest components involved in achieving any Real Estate or Property Management License is by meeting both minimum legal requirements necessary for a license while also enrolling in a licensing course. 

The basic legal requirements for these licenses differ based on the type of license, with the Real Estate Broker’s License being a much more comprehensive license usually secured after your baseline Real Estate or Property Management License much further down the line. Regardless, such requirements across all of them include being 18 years or older, having a high school diploma or equivalent education level, and being a legal citizen of the U.S. 

Once those basic requirements are assured, the next major step is enrolling in a course designated for the license you’re looking to achieve. While there are some instances in which entry-level positions at property management firms may be enough to get you in the door while initially starting out, as mentioned before, the only legal way to fully engage in property management duties is to become licensed in some capacity. 

Throughout these licensing courses, most applicants are required to take a designated amount of hours in coursework, typically lasting several months (ex. The Texas Real Estate Commission requires all applicants to complete 180 hours of coursework), before being able to test out and achieve licensing. The same goes for property management certifications as well, and the required hours and coursework, as well as the sources with which those hours can be completed, as typically designated by the state you preside in. 

Property Manager reviewing important documents

4. Pass the licensing exam and begin looking for work

This particular step consists of two parts mainly because, once you have completed your initial real estate or property management licensing coursework and eventually pass the licensing exams, this is where the real legwork of how to become a property manager really begins to kick in. Although, as mentioned several times, many states have differing policies on what is or isn’t required in order to manage properties, and in most cases it is required to begin working under the supervision of a person or firm with a Real Estate Broker’s License in order to legally manage properties. You also want to think of the second half of this step as a difference between your short and long term goals as a property manager.

In the short term, if the state you preside in allows for it, it’s important to begin looking for property management experience under the supervision of a licensed real estate broker. To apply for a Real Estate Broker’s License course, a licensed property manager or real estate salesperson typically has to have significant experience in the real estate or property management field, usually in the form of designated hours or years of experience, much further into their career. In this case, working under a broker could provide those learning how to become a property manager not only the experience they need to eventually begin working out from underneath the broker’s supervision if they wanted to, but also gives them a foot in the door in terms of working for a property management firm or broker and honing their skills. 

As a long-term play, working towards a Real Estate Broker’s License allows those looking to become fully invested in property management the flexibility to either open their own property management firm or, at the very least, delve fully into the property management responsibilities without being legally hamstrung by the state’s requirements of what a property manager can and can’t do. Starting out, you don’t have to know which path you need to take immediately, but to fully realize your potential as a property manager, it’s best to consider what experience and licensing you would need to achieve in order to fulfill that potential. 

5. Find a property management firm that meets your specific needs

This may seem like an obvious step, but one of the most important parts in learning how to become a property manager is actually securing a job in property management. In most cases, this entails finding either an entry-level position within a property management firm, or at the very least a position that allows you the aforementioned experience needed to eventually progress in your career. However, an important aspect of job searching is also finding a position within a firm that fits your personal needs while also balancing the realistic expectations of starting out in property management. 

There are several factors to consider when job searching, none more important than your current qualifications and certifications, and how those attributes match the firms you are applying to. In other words, the less formal education in property management or the fewer of the certifications that you have completed, the lower the position might be in terms of both salary and responsibility. That doesn’t mean that someone with only a high school diploma, or one who has only begun to work on their continuing education, can’t find an entry-level position, nor does it mean they can’t work their way up into a better position, but it does mean that a salary of $30,000 or a slightly lower percentage of commissions might be more realistic for that person compared to the $50,000 salary a person and higher commissions that more experience might achieve. 

As well, factors such as years of experience in the property management or real estate industries, job demand in the particular area in which one might be applying for a property management position, and even the type of property management the firm needs assistance with can all play roles in dictating what you might potentially earn starting out. Yet, even for those who may feel discouraged at their potential earning abilities with little experience, at the very least, have an idea of where to start their property management career, and what can be a tremendous help in progressing that career. 

6. Acquire Property Management Certifications 

In order to either start out at a property firm higher than an entry-level position, or to advance once you’ve established yourself, achieving accredited property management certifications can open doors for you in terms of garnering more responsibilities and progressing in your management role. While there are several to choose from, it’s important to understand what they entail, and what skills and qualifications you may develop as a result of acquiring them. 

Typically, the two potential avenues most prospective property managers pursue early on in their careers are either a National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) certification or a Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) certification. The NALP certification, designed for newer property managers that want to hone their abilities with prospective clients as well as learning the ins and outs of leasing negotiations, typically requires about 6 months experience, around 25 hours of coursework, and a final exam taken within a year of registering.

The CAM certification, for more advanced property managers looking to become the on-site leads within their firm for particular properties as they learn how to deal with property owners and residents face-to-face, typically requires 12 months experience as an onsite manager (which you will be able to complete within the course through a temporary certificate), 40 hours of coursework, and a final exam within one year of registration. 

From there, most property managers should begin to consider working towards becoming a Certified Property Manager (CPM), and eventually working their way towards a Master Property Manager (MPM). Entailed in the CPM certification is a minimum of 36 months of uninterrupted experience in the property management and real estate field, the ability for the applicant to build a portfolio confirming property management experience, in a manager role, in residential, commercial, or industrial properties with each requiring a specific number of properties managed, and proof that the applicant has met the amount of required functions as a manager designated by the certification.

These functions can include directing maintenance programs, hiring and managing property staff, managing contract work done on the property. 

Finally, once property managers begin reaching for the top tier certification of MPM, the course will demand a span of 60 consecutive months in a management role, all of the same previous requirements from the CPM, as well as a portfolio that shows either 500 managed units at one or more residential sites, or at least 100 units managed at 5 or more sites. Each of these certifications, as they are achieved, increase one’s abilities as a property manager while also securing them positions within their firm, or on their own, that will progress their career. 

7. Continue learning and progressing through the property management ranks

It’s one thing to finally reach the position you’ve been chasing within property management from the very beginning when you first became interested in pursuing a career in the field. It’s an entirely different matter when it comes to what you can achieve after you’ve found that initial job. Whether it be through continued education and updating yourself on the latest trends and changes in property management, especially in a time under COVID-19, or whether it’s learning from those with whom you work for on their best practices for progressing in their careers, learning how to become a property manager also means continuing to learn how to become a better property manager as well.

Doing this can open the doors for you in multiple ways. As mentioned several times, it could lead you towards eventually applying for your own Real Estate Broker’s License, which in most states would allow you the opportunity to pursue your own independent property management business, or at the very least give you tools to specialize in as many types of property management within your firm as possible. However you choose to progress, it remains more important that becoming stagnant within a profession that is constantly evolving can severely limit your upside and potential moving forward.

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