As a Property Manager, what is the biggest mistake you’ve made? And what lesson did you learn?


(**) Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning our company, JCHQ Publishing will get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, but at no additional cost to you.

As a property manager, you have a lot on your plate! From keeping the property in good condition to dealing with tenants, coordinating repairs and maintenance, and enforcing rules and regulations. There’s always something to do. And if you’re responsible for a big portfolio of properties, the task can seem even more daunting.

As much as we all try to be careful in operating our property management practice, if you are new to the industry, there could be many situation that you have not encountered or did not expect at all.

Therefore, I asked over 50 property managers this very question “What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a property manager and what lesson did you learn?”

By learning from other property managers’ mistakes and experience, hopefully, you won’t have to go through the trial and error yourself. This can save you valuable time and energy as rectifying a wrongful situation can be costly and stressful.

It can also help you understand what to expect from their tenants and owners. Thus, lead you to be more mindful in similar situations and make better decisions.

Finally, when you learn from other property managers, you will realize that you are not the only one who is dealing with some of the problems. You may gain empathy, better understanding for the tenants, owners and yourself, which make it easier to forgive any related party and move on.

Buildium is an ALL-in-ONE property management software that allows you to manage rental applications, maintenance requests, payment collections, tenant screening, showings coordination, property inspections, renter insurance, and many more. It also provides you with a professionally designed website so you can effectively build your brand. If you want to streamline your property management business, you must click here to check out Buildium. (**)

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager – Sharing from industry professionals

1) Not sticking to the rules

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager- not sticking to the rules

As much as we all want to be a nice person, if you do not enforce rules, you are really doing a disservice to everyone involved and putting your business at risk.

Not enforcing rules can lead to a lot of problems such as tenant complaints, loss of rental income, property not being taken good care of, or even legal issues.

Once you make an exception for one tenant, the others will want the same treatment. It sets a precedent for future tenants who may try to take advantage of your leniency.

Landlords expect their rules to be followed and may not be happy if they find out that you’re not enforcing them.

“It’s always the ones that you bend over backward for that will burn you. It’s the ones that you enforce the policies from day 1 that end up being the best tenants.”

Anonymous Property Manager/Realtor at Nevada

2) Did not conduct a thorough tenant screening

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - not doing tenant screening

Bad tenants can cost you a lot of money and headache. They may not pay rent on time, damage the property, make too much noise or disturb other tenants, have too many people living in the unit, or engage in illegal activities.

As a property manager, it is better to be safe now than sorry later. You must make sure to do a thorough background check on every tenant. This includes verifying employment income, doing a background check, reviewing the criminal record and credit report, and speaking to previous landlords and references.

An experienced property manager shared that there was one time, and only once, he forgot to check on prospective tenants with the previous landlord. It turned into a miserable relationship of late payments, liens, and ultimate eviction. The tenants filed for bankruptcy on what they owed. Also, cost the property about $6K in damages.

“No matter who they are, the car they drive, the job they have, the money in their bank accounts, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Run credit, get their references, speak to past landlords. You never know someone no matter how good you are at reading people…… until they live in your property and turn into your worst nightmare.” 

Anonymous Property Manager at New Hampshire

Here’s another post I wrote on tenant screening

3) Not being proactive

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - Being Lazy

Another common mistake many aspiring property managers made was not being proactive enough in dealing with problem tenants. Many learned the hard way that it is always better to be proactive and address problems as soon as they arise rather than wait until they become bigger issues.

Be proactive about maintenance and repairs – it’s better to fix something before it becomes a bigger problem.

For example, if a tenant told you that the water flow in the kitchen sink is getting a lot slower, it is better to get a plumber to inspect it rather than waiting for it to clog, which could result in further water damage.

Also, keep in mind that although you can handle many things digitally these days, they cannot replace actual site inspection.

Iyree Smith, Community Manager at The Michaels Organization

Don’t sit at your desk all day. Go walk your property often.

Iyree Smith, Community Manager at The Michaels Organization

4) Made a decision out of emotion

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - make decision based on emotion

As a property manager, one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make is evicting a tenant.

It’s never an easy decision, and many emotions are often involved. You may feel bad for the tenant because they may be going through a tough time or because you have known them for a long time.

From a recent survey, I did with over 70 property managers. Some tenants would have all sorts of reasons for not making rent payments. The common one includes a job loss and payroll messed up.

A property manager also shared that her tenant told her his father had recently passed away. But the problem is as much as the PM tries to show empathy, this very same tenant already told the same sob story a few years ago.

Of course, I’m definitely not implying all tenants are like that. Many of them are honest people and are just facing valid, temporary financial challenges in their life.

However, as a property manager, you also need to be mindful of the fact that you have the responsibility of running a profitable cash flow investment for the landlords. You cannot let emotions get in the way of making sound business decisions.

5) Did not trust your instinct

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - not trusting business instinct

A property manager recalled an incident when she was about to rent out one of her units to a couple. They both looked presentable and had good jobs. However, something didn’t feel right to her. According to the applicants’ profile (i.e., where they work), that rental unit was nowhere suitable to them. So she decided not to rent the unit to them in the end.

A few months later, she heard on the news that the same couple was arrested for drug trafficking. She was glad she made the decision not to rent to them as she would have been liable for any illegal activities taking place in her units.

From this incident, she learned to trust her instinct more when making business decisions.

Several property managers also encountered situations where their instinct them to decline a tenant, but they didn’t listen. And guess what? They always regretted it later.

Keep in mind that instinct is different from emotion. Instinct is developed through years of actual experience, making you aware of the risks that could jeopardize your business.

6) Always saying “YES” to tenants and landlords

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - saying yes to renters, landlords

Many property managers made the mistake of saying “yes” to everything their tenants or landlords asked for. They thought that by doing so, they would be able to please everyone and avoid confrontations.

However, this is not always the best course of action as it can often lead to more problems down the road. For example, a property manager shared that a toilet was clogged, but the landlord and tenant both refused to pay for the fix.

Rather than hiring a professional plumber, the property manager took the matter into his own hands by purchasing a manual unclogging snake and a toilet pump.

He didn’t charge any fee for his time and equipment. Although he did manage to get it unclogged, it wasn’t properly done, so the situation reoccurred after a few weeks.

Rather than being thankful for his free work from before, the landlord and tenant both blamed him for the problem and requested him to fix it free of charge again.

It seems that they both realized that the PM is an easy-going person, so after that, whenever there is any maintenance issue, they expect him to handle it for free!

While it is important to be understanding and accommodating, you also need to know when to draw the line and when to say “no.”

Another property manager reminds that you cannot please everyone. Burnout is real. Your physical and mental health is paramount. You should take care of yourself as equally good as others.

That is why he never reply to a need after hours unless it’s a real emergency.

7) Assume that other people would be as mindful as you are

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - assuming landlords and tenants will be mindful

A property manager in Virginia shared that he provided proper advance notice to the tenants of the date and time that he would inspect the property.

When he arrived at the rental unit that day, he walked into the tenant naked in the bedroom. The tenant was a police officer just waking up. He was totally shocked and had a gun pointing at the property manager.

Luckily, no tragic incident had happened. The property manager just laughed it off and joked to the tenant that he wouldn’t be getting back the security deposit if he shot him.

Perhaps, the next time inspecting the property, it’s better to give the tenants another reminder about it.

Another scenario is a property manager didn’t follow up with the contractor after he left the job site and assumed that the job was completed as instructed. So he told the tenants that the issue was fixed.

However, later he got a call from the tenant complaining that the contractor did not complete the job, which caused some damage.

The property manager contacted the contractor, and the contractor explained that the job wasn’t complete and he was planning to continue the job in the next few days.

If the property manager had checked in with the contractor first, he would have saved himself a lot of time and energy and avoided the damage costs.

8) Try to organize manually

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - not using property management software

Admittedly, property managers have tons to handle on a daily basis. From rent collection, scheduling repairs and maintenance, showing units to prospective tenants, screening tenants, negotiating leases, handling move-ins and move-outs.

With all these tasks, it is easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind. I’ve met with many property managers. Surprisingly, some still try to organize their practice manually.

For example, every time a tenant requests a specific invoice, their staff needs to go through the hassle of looking through all the history of transactions and retrieving it.

A property manager in Maryland shared that she was trying to keep track of all the maintenance requests, lease renewals, and rent payments by herself. But she quickly realized that it was too much for one person to handle.

She was constantly stressed out and feeling overwhelmed. As a result, she missed important deadlines, lost important documents, and forgot about important tasks. She made more mistakes, and her business suffered.

Having learned it the hard way, now, she has a team of people who help her with different tasks, and she has a digital system in place to keep track of everything. This enabled her to be more organized, efficient, and productive.

9) Being friends with tenants and landlords

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - being too close to landlords and tenants

Property managers need to be professional at all times. Since it’s important not to get emotionally attached to your tenants and landlords, maintaining a certain level of distance is essential.

I’ve seen property managers who were too close to their tenants and landlords, and as a result, they had a hard time setting boundaries. They often made exceptions for their friends and didn’t enforce the rules equally.

For example, a property manager in Florida was too friendly with one of her tenants. The tenant often had parties at the rental unit and disturbed other tenants. The property manager was aware of it, but she didn’t want to confront her friend about it because she didn’t want to upset her.
As a result, the other tenants got frustrated and decided to move out. The property manager lost good tenants because she was trying to be friends with her tenant.

In another case, a property manager in Texas became good friends with one of her landlords. The landlord often called her for favors, such as picking up his dry cleaning or getting his coffee in the morning.

The property manager didn’t mind doing it because she considered him as a friend. However, one day, the landlord asked her to do something that was out of line, and she refused. The landlord got upset and decided to fire her.

So, being friends with your tenants and landlords is a bad idea because it can lead to favoritism and compromise your professional judgment.

Buildium is an ALL-in-ONE software that allows property management companies to manage rental applications, maintenance requests, payment collections, tenant screening, showings coordination, property inspections, renter insurance, and many more. As a landlord, I also prefer the firm that I hire to use such a platform. If you are a property manager and want to streamline your business, you must click here to check out Buildium. (**)

10) Not knowing the law well enough

Common Mistakes of a Property Manager - not knowing the real estate laws

Imagine you are a property manager and you have been managing a rental property for years. You know the ins and outs of the business, and you have developed good relationships with your tenants and landlords.

One day, one of the landlords comes to you with a problem. The tenant’s child was playing in the common area, and he fell and hurt himself. The landlord is worried that he might have to pay for the child’s medical bills.

You reassure the tenant that everything will be alright, and you tell him not to worry about it. However, you are not really sure if the landlord is liable for the child’s medical bills.

This is a problem because if the landlord is liable for the child’s medical bills, and you have told him that he doesn’t have to worry about it, then you could be held accountable for the misinformation.

So, it’s important for property managers to know the law well enough so that they can give their tenants and landlords accurate information. If there’s anything that you’re not sure, always double check the State Laws or consult a paralegal/attorney.

There have been cases where property managers have been sued by their tenants for not following the law. One common example is not providing a 24-hour notice before entering the unit.

Another example is not returning the security deposit within the required time frame. There are many other laws that property managers need to be aware of, such as the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Landlord-Tenant Act.

Property managers who don’t know the law well enough could find themselves in hot water. So, it’s important to make sure that you are up-to-date on all the laws that apply to your job.

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Here are some other mistakes that property managers shared that they’ve made

  • Financing property owner’s business by not collecting management fees, maintenance fees, and supplies in 30 days. 
  • An owner requested to move back to the rental unit and forgot to make a necessary arrangement, so owner ran into tenants while they were still living in it.
  • Listen to the story from prospective renters and believe it rather than decide with a credit report.
  • Accepting clients when already know they are not a good fit for management. Regret it every single time.
  • Did not stay firm on rates and rules.
  • Worked with an association with Boards that are unwilling to increase the budget or special assessment. So ended up dropping an association because they couldn’t pay their bills.
  • Trust people too easily. Should not believe everything heard, even if the outside looks great.
  • Making friends outside of work with a leasing agent.
  • Trusting staff with secrets.
  • Hesitate to firing an unfit client.
  • Worked for a client who doesn’t utilize technology. 
  • Reduce rental rate when asked by an applicant. But they turned into neediness tenants. Should’ve stayed firm to the fair market rate.
  • Losing temper easily.
  • Did not automate process and tried to do everything manually.
  • Inaccurate accounting practices.

Video Summary of the Common Mistakes Property Manager Make

(**) Affiliate Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you. Our company, JCHQ Publishing will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking on the link. Please understand that we include them based on our experience or the research on these companies or products, and we recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions we make if you decide to buy something through the links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information only, and not intend to provide any advice. They are subjected to change without any notice, and not guaranteed to be error-free. Some of the posts on this site may contain views and opinions from individual not related to JCHQ Publishing. They do not necessarily reflect our view or position.

Author

  • Jacob is a content writer and a real estate investor. He has experience working with different real estate professionals throughout the years. (i.e., appraisers, real estate agents, property managers, home inspectors.) In order to build a career you love, Jacob believes not only you need a thorough understanding about the profession, but you also have to find out what type of jobs could match your personality, lifestyle and expectation.

Jacob Coleman

Jacob is a content writer and a real estate investor. He has experience working with different real estate professionals throughout the years. (i.e., appraisers, real estate agents, property managers, home inspectors.) In order to build a career you love, Jacob believes not only you need a thorough understanding about the profession, but you also have to find out what type of jobs could match your personality, lifestyle and expectation.

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