Back to School

A range of educational resources are available for all multifamily career stages.

Starting at the turn of the 21st century, there was a shift of people specifically setting their sights on a career in the multifamily industry. “What we are seeing today is that young people are gravitating toward real estate management as a career of choice instead of a career of chance,” says Joseph Greenblatt, current secretary/treasurer of the Institute of Real Estate Management and president and CEO of Sunrise Management Inc. in San Diego, Calif.  “As I travel around the country, I am increasingly meeting very bright, capable young people who are getting a foothold in this business. They are masters of today’s media and technology and full of energy and enthusiasm.”

Professional associations have established certificate programs in residential property management and offer a wide range of classes online and at a multitude of locations around the country. Meanwhile, many residential property management employers have set up their own
in-house training departments and provide professional development courses on company time.

Incoming credentials

Depending on the level one enters the multifamily management field, the credentials necessary to be hired and to succeed will vary. Alliance Residential
prefers their business managers obtain an NAA Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) designation; service managers obtain an NAA Certified Apartment Maintenance Technician (CAMT) designation; regional managers obtain a Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation; and a VP or above obtain a Master’s degree (i.e. Business Administration or related field).

“We look for the completion of a degree relevant to the field in some way, whether it’s marketing, communications or business… and, as they’ve gone through the field, what additional certifications and education have they done that is industry specific,” says Tina Makssour, Alliance’s vice president of performance. “When we look at someone, we want to help them develop a succession plan and ask what can we do to help them succeed and move on to whatever aspirations they have.”

Tom Sloan, senior VP of operations for Camden Property Trust, says industry designations and experience are still valuable, but those with more education are getting a closer look.

“In the past it was more degree preferred, but it is quickly becoming degree required, although we do look at base-level experience in the industry,” he says. “I would say that graduate level is becoming more the norm than the exception for those coming into the industry.”

Keeping up

Many of the people in higher-level positions, such as vice president, tend to have come up through the ranks. As a result, they have a strong knowledge of the industry, an understanding of today’s resident and have pursued an MBA or other relevant degree. However, things change in the multifamily world rapidly, so industry veterans who don’t want to be left behind need to keep up with the latest advancements and theories through classes.

“The big thing that has popped up over the last couple of years is understanding green energy and sustainability,” says Duane Borah, Alliance’s director of training. “Trying to reduce the impact that properties make on the environment has become a concern for developers, investors and residents.”

Leveraging social media and technology is another skill that people in the industry should have in their arsenal. “It used to be just Craigslist and Facebook, but now you have people using iPads on a tour and chatting and having video messaging, so having the knowledge or ability to do this is imperative,” Borah says.

“The aspect most often lacking relates to understanding behaviors and how to effectively manage them,” adds Borah. “The ability to identify, assess and control one’s emotions or those of other people in various environments is essential.”

Greenblatt believes that the priorities for classes should be leasing, financial, human resources, legal understanding and marketing, with the latter being most useful because of how much it has changed over the last decade.

“Marketing apartments today is very little like marketing 10 years ago; it’s a totally different business,” he says. “There are components to marketing an apartment in a Web 2.0 world with concepts like reputation management that weren’t part of our lexicon even five years ago. That information is so valuable to people in business because their lack of understanding could become a bit of a handicap.”

IREM has traditionally taught the hard skills necessary to succeed in the business—the science of real estate management, the analytics—and because that is changing dramatically Greenblatt says it’s a good thing to go back and learn.

“This is particularly true if one aspires to take on a role with more responsibility,” he says. “Investors are expecting more and more out of real estate managers. Revisiting those hard skills is just a good idea. It prepares you to meet the changing demands in the marketplace. Especially since real estate investors are sophisticated and expect their property managers to talk the talk and provide the data and information they need.”

Even top-level management executives need to stay informed and continue furthering their education. “With a new generation of customers occupying our buildings, things are changing at lightning speeds and people need to think completely differently than they did just five years ago,” Sloan says. “Senior level executives will get passed by very quickly if they are not constantly growing, evolving, changing and learning, because that’s how fast the changes have taken place.”

At Alliance, organizational leadership, Makssour says, will continue to be a big theme for its top executives. “We’re able to access and generate more information than ever before about our residents, market and all these different systems so I think it’s an ability to be able to interpret and respond to all of that data that is important.”

“Really, what it all comes down to is being able to understand today’s residents and how an executive can use and apply what he or she has learned to make the best business decision,” adds Makssour.

In-house training

Camden employees enjoy numerous opportunities for continued education and on-the-job training through its Camden University, which provides professional development courses for mid-level up to senior leaders, offering the opportunity for salary increases after attending a specified number of courses.

“A lot of the larger companies with in-house training offer internal education primarily to teach the basics of sales and marketing, better housing, etc.,” Sloan says. “What I like about Camden U is it’s been evolving over the last five years into what we call training on demand. Our education department is getting into the business of working on leadership development and working with our multi-site leaders to come up with what they need to succeed—from social media delivery to understanding the customer—and that’s being employed out to the field in real time.”

Last year, Alliance developed Alliance University, a learning management system offering more than 300 different classes to their associates.

“A good portion of these are custom built,” Borah says. “Our professional development classes include everything from business writing to advanced Excel and we have an entire leadership development suite.”

Greenblatt adds, “The skills people are seeking to grow and build on are relationship management and leadership. IREM is evolving their courses and is adding educational opportunities in those areas. We constantly update the course load because business is changing so quickly.”

Higher education

An increasing number of colleges and universities are offering a real estate management curriculum, and in some cases degree programs or certificate programs. Higher institutions such as Virginia Tech, Ball State, University of Georgia and Texas A&M University are partnering with multifamily companies on internships.

“We are getting these squeaky clean college graduates who have been exposed to the core leadership, finance and marketing courses,” says Sloan. “We have university partnerships evolving nation wide. We do see a correlation between those with degrees and a competitive edge.”

Dr. Rosemary Carucci Goss serves as the Residential Property Management Advisory Board Professor in the Department of Apparel, Housing and Resource Management in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Goss was instrumental in establishing the first residential property management program in the U.S. and helped other programs start up around the country. Students in the RPM option are exposed to all aspects of the property management field through a curriculum that includes specific property management courses, as well as general business, housing and real estate courses.

When companies need to infuse new talent into their leasing offices or ensure their interns are serious about learning the ropes, those taking the classes are often the first to be considered.

“I have seen first-hand how graduates have become in-demand in the industry,” says Sloan, who has been on Virginia Tech’s residential property management board for seven years. “I believe it does offer them a competitive advantage, and they enter the field with experience that veterans of the industry did not.”