A long time ago, in a land not so far away, I decided to work for a property management company. It wasn’t just any property management business, though, but the family business, which my mother had run for more than 40 years.
My first emotion when I started was relief. After all, working for my family had to be easier than working for strangers, right? Plus, I already had credentials and experience: I had earned my real estate license and leased and managed units for people who didn’t share my DNA.
Little did I realize that a different set of rules apply when joining the family business, especially in property management. I realized quickly I had to come up with some guidelines to make sure that everything remained 100% professional – and that I wasn’t dropped like a rotten apple from the family tree.
Below are five tips to help you run a successful property management business with your family.
#1: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all family members
Problems and disagreements are part of every business, and property management is no exception. It’s easy to blame your sister for forgetting to call the plumber about the leak in 4C. That said, you can avoid many arguments if everyone has a schedule and a list of tasks to complete each week.
The less that’s undocumented and left up in the air, the less you’ll have to bicker about. And for the record, I’m referring to an actual incident. And, yes, I was the one who forgot to call about the leak. Oops!
#2: Listen when experienced family members share their knowledge
A main benefit of working for a family-run business is that you’re joining a business your relatives have studied and (hopefully) improved years before your arrival on the scene. It’s a huge advantage because in property management there are so many rules to know, abide, and live by.
Let your relatives teach you the business, which, at this point, is in their bones. Harness that invaluable knowledge and use it for years to come.
#3: Don’t take family business problems home with you
Nothing was worse than the year I lived at home and worked for my mother. The usual “discussions” we brought home were tough ones, everything from bad applicants and late rent to incorrectly parked cars and broken washing machines.
Looking back, things would’ve gotten off to a smoother start had I separated my work life from my home life. Yes, property management is a 24-hour-a-day business, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to mix both worlds. Part of working in a family business is understanding that difference between these two worlds, drawing a clear line between the two, and making sure not to cross that line.
#4: Don’t play family members against each other — even if you battled as children
During the time when all three women in my immediate family worked together, we had to learn how to stand by ourselves as individuals at the office. If I got angry at my sister for not showing up on time for a repair person, I couldn’t just complain to my mother. I learned to treat my family members as I would other colleagues, and that meant not running to Mom about another employee, whether a relative or not.
#5: Be open that you’re one of the family
One of the hardest aspects of working for a family run business are claims of favoritism from other employees and tenants. From day one, make it known that you’re part of the family, and people will know you have nothing to hide.
For example, a leasing agent is less likely to claim your uncle gave you a lead because of your relationship if you’re honest and professional about your family ties. Being professional means treating non-relative colleagues and family colleagues equally.
The best advice I can give is this: be open to the experience as a whole. Property management is a hard but rewarding field. The work is always challenging, and most of it involves dealing with people.
But if you make sure to strike the right balance between the worlds of family and business, you may be on your way to enjoying an amazing and lengthy career doing something you love — with the people you care about most.
OK, now you’ve heard about my experiences working side-by-side with my family. What tips do you have for joining or starting a family property management business?