Changing direction

17 January 2022


Could the mayhem and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have an unexpected silver lining for property management recruitment? Here’s how a new generation of employees are bringing a diverse range of skills to this demanding career.

When you’re next recruiting a residential property manager, there’s a good chance they may also be able to recommend a holiday destination or even a great bottle of wine.

Hairdressers, concierges and travel agents are among the professionals being targeted to fill a chronic shortage of property managers after the industry suffered a worrying exodus during the pandemic.

High stress levels exacerbated by lockdowns and legislative changes around rent relief is estimated to have caused as many as 30 per cent of workers to switch to a different career during the past year. Currently, there are more than 950 property management positions in Sydney advertised on employment portal SEEK.

Andrew Veron, Principal at Charles & Stuart, has always ensured his staff know they are valued. As a result, property managers often stay in the job for more than a decade – or even longer. But he believes many agencies make non-sales staff feel like ‘second-class citizens’.

He recently advertised a receptionist position and was surprised to receive a number of applications from ex-property managers.

“None would even consider going back,” Mr Veron said. “It’s quite phenomenal how many people have left the industry.”

Identifying the problem

Virginia Brookes, Director and Senior Consultant at Resolver Recruitment, believes the increasing demands placed on property managers have made it a ‘thankless’ role – and it’s not just due to lockdowns.

Long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, a survey of property management professionals conducted by MRI Software and Elite Agent in 2018 found job dissatisfaction was high. Many property managers felt overworked, underpaid and constantly stressed, with almost a third of respondents indicating they would not recommend it as a career.

“Tenants won’t ring and say ‘thank you for fixing my toilet’, but they will ring and abuse you five times for not fixing it,” Ms Brookes, a former property manager herself, said.

“One of the problems is that we’re not bringing enough people into the industry – so, because agencies are short-staffed, they tend to overload property managers, which causes a lot of the burn-out.”

As a result, many property managers have begun moving into the proptech space. Others have exited the industry looking for a change of pace without as much pressure, taking up roles in account management or as high-level executive assistants.

But Ms Brookes believes property management can be a rewarding career for the right person.

“One of the problems is that we’re not bringing enough people into the industry – so, because agencies are short-staffed, they tend to overload property managers, which causes a lot of the burn-out.” – Virginia Brookes, Resolver Recruitment.

Perfect time for change

While the departure of seasoned professionals from the real estate sector is never good news, the timing has been serendipitous.

Those who have lost their jobs in travel, tourism and hospitality over the past 12 to 18 months have discovered their skill set is perfectly matched to property management.

After a turbulent time, the real estate industry offers stability and agencies are finding that new potential employees, who, while lacking property experience, have other attributes.

Hotel concierges are used to guests complaining about their room, while flight attendants multi-task to deal with a screaming baby while serving meals to passengers. Travel and tourism, particularly with a background in ticketing, have great administration skills, which is also key to the industry.

“They’re all used to having to think quickly on their feet,” Ms Brookes said. “They are customer-service focused and are used to solving problems – but, more importantly, they still like people, which is a big bonus in property management.”

A change in attitude

Tiana Mueller, a Director at MMJ Real Estate North, is an experienced property manager and is involved in recruiting staff. She’s also seen people successfully transition into the industry from diverse backgrounds, including fleet service workers, sales reps and even baggage handlers.

Tiana believes that they’re not just filling jobs, but injecting new energy into the industry.

“Every time you add a new staff member into a team, it makes everyone sharpen themselves up – that always happens ” Ms Mueller said. “But when a person comes in who has never worked in real estate before, it’s actually a blessing in disguise, because they can give you a completely different aspect.”

Rachel Beadman, Head of Property Management at PPD Real Estate in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, agrees. She’s recently hired a former dance teacher and a travel consultant in her team, and both have proven to be highly capable.

“It was kind of forced upon me to look elsewhere, because we found some people with industry experience had bad habits and some pretty bad attitudes,” she said.

“Young people often just want to stay in the role for 12 months before they get itchy feet and move to another office. My team is now more steady and the other skills these people bring is just so refreshing.”

“It’s the little things that can make a difference. This includes paying above the award wage, offering flexible hours, the ability to work from home and even counselling services.” – Michelle McLean, Leah Jay

Keeping everyone happy

Michelle McLean, who is Chair and Board Representative of the REINSW Property Management Chapter Committee, believes it’s important to make the job attractive to counter-balance tasks such as dealing with complaints, unpaid rent and evictions.

“It’s the little things that can make a difference,” the Senior Property Manager and Compliance Manager at Leah Jay said. “This includes paying above the award wage, offering flexible hours, the ability to work from home and even counselling services.”

“What COVID-19 has done is shown us that we don’t have to be in the office and we’re even now doing contactless key collection and handovers. This is great, because it adds flexibility to the job which increases its appeal.”

CASE STUDY: Pandemic pivot

Former travel specialist Paulina Zielinska knew it was only a matter of time before she lost her job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. On heavily reduced hours during the first lockdown, she started planning a career change.

“I’m not the type of person to just sit around,” Ms Zielinska said. “Real estate seemed more secure because people are always going to move and buy houses.”

She felt her skill set – putting together luxury and adventure holiday packages – could be transferred into real estate, so she reached out to a recruiter who agreed and a week later started at an agency.

In a short time, Ms Zielinska has been promoted to property manager and given a pay rise, which has offset the small salary cut she took initially. She loves her team and new job.

“I’m not looking to change industries any time soon, even with travel starting again,” she said. “I’ve had a few phone calls from previous employers, but I am very happy here.”

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