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© Copyright 2000-2011

By Bob Cain
Copyright 2000 Cain Publications, Inc., 
used by permission

On the wall in the conference room at American Property Management in Portland is a quotation from Lee Iacocca, "We have one ambition, to be the best.  What else is there?" 

Gary Miller, CPM,  is American Property Management's Vice President of Residential Property.  He supervises some 3,000 units and 40 managers.  As you will see in the interview, American Property Management and Gary Miller have worked out a system that goes a long way toward ensuring they are the best.  Their system for hiring apartment managers and tenant relations is designed to build their business through professionalism. 

If you are about to hire, or already use an onsite manager, think about how you can use the system that American Property Management uses to help you get more profit-making work out of your managers.

Rental Property Reporter: How do you go about hiring a manager?

Gary Miller:  I give people as much information as I can in the ad I run in the paper, so they don't waste their time and I don't waste my time, by having people come in who are looking for another area, or another compensation level.  Then we ask people to either apply in person or send a resume. 

So the next step is to go through the resumes and cover letters to determine which applicants to call in.  And it's interesting what type of things will be red flags.  I got a resume yesterday that was torn, all the way through, and scotch taped.  And it had been copied, it looked like about a thousand times. 

Once I have the resumes, I make stacks, and I'll say "good, bad and ugly,"  "one, two, three," or "positive and negative."  Then I start categorizing the people.   If I see someone who can't spell, the assumption is that they're not detail oriented, and they're not precise in what they do.  Especially in a cover letter.  Or if they have poor grammar, it's just an indication that maybe this person isn't the best qualified applicant.

 We don't require people to have previous experience.  In fact, a lot of times I prefer that people don't have previous experience, because they don't come to us with any preconceived ideas as to how apartments should be managed.

All of our apartment managers have to go in for a pre-employment drug test.  And they all have to go through a criminal background check.  Those are two good checks that employers should do for on-site managers.  The other option is a bond.  But in our case they're not handling money, so it's not something we even worry about. 

Rental Property Reporter:  What are your managers' duties?

Gary Miller:  Our managers' job title is Rental Representative.

Rental Property Reporter:  So they meet the public.

Gary Miller:  Right.  They do not perform any maintenance.  Period.  They do not collect any rent.  Period.  They do not do any bookkeeping.  They do not do any banking or taking money to the bank and making deposits.  And those are probably 60% of other on-site managers' jobs.  So, when we look for people, we don't necessarily look for people who have good maintenance skills, or bookkeeping skills.  That's important to a lot of other property managers, because they need someone to do that.  But in our case, all the rents are mailed here to this office.  They don't have to do any maintenance, they just report the items that have to be done.

Rental Property Reporter:  So then it becomes extremely important that they are presentable and have a professional image.  That people say "this looks like it's a really well-run place."

Gary Miller: When people come in for the interview, the biggest factor in their ability to get the job is their communication skills.  Is their ability to talk, to communicate, and how they come across.  You can pretty much pick just by having a conversation with someone how they're going to relate to the people.

Rental Property Reporter:  Pretty much what they're supposed to do is good public relations.

Gary Miller:  They keep the common areas clean.  And they report.  They do checklists and report problems to our service department.  They put out fires, like all other apartment managers do, they clean out the recycling bins, and tag cars and respond to complaints and all those other traditional things.

Rental Property Reporter:  How long do you expect to keep a manager when you hire them?

Gary Miller:  I'd say about three years.  We have managers who have been with us close to 20.  We have pretty good longevity with managers.  I'd say at least half of them have been here over five years. 

Rental Property Reporter:  Do you think that's fairly standard in the industry?  About three, or are they in and out?

Gary Miller:  No, because of burnout.   Owners want a lot of duties not paid for on an hourly wage.  A lot of times the job description includes things like landscaping, painting, cleaning, maintenance, bookkeeping. So here's a manager who's got a fixed salary, and they've got all these things to do.  I find that people get burned out, a lot of times by an owner or manager who may be trying to have them do too much.  Have this manager run the whole show, pay the bills, hire the vendors, go to court, the whole nine yards.  There should be an employment agreement that outlines all of the job responsibilities, outlines what the compensation is, and the agreement should be signed by both parties. 

We do all the evictions from this office and go to court. 

Rental Property Reporter: Do you send managers to special training?

Gary Miller:  We do send them to the Landlord Training Program.

Rental Property Reporter:  The one run by the Police Department?

Gary Miller:  Yes.   And then all of our new managers have a fairly extensive in-house training program that they go through.  We have guest speakers who come to a meeting every two months, and will speak on topics such as recycling, marketing and sales, and things like that.   We have a gentleman who goes out and tours the properties with them and shows them where all the emergency shutoffs are, how to turn in work orders, how to do checklists.  Another man spends several hours with them, showing them how to screen applicants, and fill out the forms.

Part of our compensation consists of a bonus for collection of rent, a bonus for low vacancy.  The bonuses are an outstanding motivation and it should be part of any compensation package.  I mean our managers are all motivated to rent apartments, because they get paid for it.  That incentive is a critical part of the whole deal.

Rental Property Reporter:  With a bonus are the managers careful who they rent to?

Gary Miller:  They don't approve the applications.  All the rental agreements are brought to this office.  There's a verification form that's filled out, and the manager has to call and verify all the information and make a recommendation about whether the application is approved or rejected.   Then we run credit checks, look everything over, and make sure that everyone is following our guidelines.  And we may then require a last-month's rent, a higher security deposit, or we might just approve it or reject it.

We rent on a first-come, first-served basis.  We don't take applications.  We take an application, process it, and go to the next person. 

Rental Property Reporter:  What would be your ideal manager?

Gary Miller:  The people that seem to work out best in our structure, are the people who would also excel in a sales or a customer service position.  It's actually a combination of someone who is highly motivated, highly detail oriented, also is good at customer service. 

We're in a service business.  So many landlords treat their tenants like they're a pain, like they're stupid tenants.  But, you know, it's a business relationship, and, they're not your friends, they're not the people you associate with, but they're your customers.  Just like any other business. You want to make sure that they're happy, that you are providing the service that they bargained for.  They're the reason we're here.


Robert Cain is a nationally-recognized speaker and writer on property management and real estate issues. For a free sample copy of the Rental Property Reporter call 800-654-5456 or visit their web site at

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