How to Become a Property Manager

property manager

Since the financial crisis, more and more Americans have abandoned the idea of homeownership in favor of continuing to rent.  In 2006, only one in five major cities had more renters than homeowners.  By 2016, it was almost half.  So far, this trend has been stubborn about swinging back the other way. That means if you want a career in real estate, it's worth considering property management.  The entry barrier is higher than other real estate careers, but it often comes with more structured hours and income. Since getting into property management happens through a combination of real estate experience and higher education, you might be coming at the question from a few different starting points. Maybe you're reading this fresh out of college with a bachelor's in business admin.  Maybe you're working your first job as a leasing agent, looking to advance.  You could even be an experienced real estate agent wanting something different. The path forward would be slightly different for each of you, but this article should give you an idea of how to become a property manager.

What Does a Property Manager Do?

It's pretty much what it sounds like—property owners who intend to lease or rent their space hire property managers to handle the everyday details. The bulk of property management involves residential property (often, apartments).  Most renters never meet their landlord—they deal with the property manager, instead.  Their duties include:

  • Advertising and showing rentals
  • Screening new applicants
  • Performing Move In/Move Out inspections
  • Setting and collecting rent
  • Managing problem tenants, including eviction proceedings
  • Coordinating contractors for maintenance and repairs
  • Paying utilities, insurance premiums, and other expenses
  • Doing basic accounting
  • Keeping the owners apprised of any issues

The job is similar for retail, office, or industrial tenants.  Recreational property or vacation rental management is similar, though with a much faster turnaround. Community Association Managers deal with the shared property or services of condos, cooperatives or planned communities (think, a condo complex's pool or a planned community's clubhouse and grounds).

How to Become a Property Manager

Your way forward depends on where your career is right now, but regardless, you'll want to learn if the job is right for you before investing time and money into gaining the right qualifications. If you're just starting out, become a leasing agent or assistant for a property manager.  These are entry-level positions where you do the footwork of tenant management, and that's a good way to see if you like the reality of the job.  Most states allow you to do this without a license, so you'd be working under the supervision of a licensed individual. If you're a little further along in your career, use your network to talk to experienced property managers about the ups and downs of the job and what makes them successful. The requirements for becoming a property manager vary from state to state, so you need to check the rules where you live.  But generally speaking, you'll need to earn a license and probably a bachelor's degree to get started. Plus, there are a few certifications you can earn to distinguish yourself from the competition as you move along in your career.

What Type of License, and How?

In most states, you'll need a Real Estate Broker License.  That usually means:

  1. Taking Real Estate Pre-Licensing Courses
  2. Passing your Real Estate License Exam
  3. Gaining 1-3 years' experience as a real estate agent (it varies by state)
  4. Taking Real Estate Broker Pre-Licensing Courses
  5. Passing your Real Estate Broker License Exam

A few states allow you to get a Property Management License instead, which is basically a restricted broker license.  Where available, it may allow you to skip some steps.

What Type of Bachelor's Degree?

A degree isn't legally required to become a property manager, but some states allow the right degree to replace a few of the requirements above. It will definitely make it easier for you to get a job.  Most employers will want you to have a higher education in relevant coursework. Your best bet is a four-year bachelor's degree in real estate, business administration, accounting, finance, or the like. If that's not practical, get a two-year associate degree. Just completing as much relevant coursework as you can will be better than nothing.

What Type of Certification?

Special certifications in property management aren't required, but there are a few that are well-respected and can help your career along.  They'll provide additional training and make your resume stand out.

National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP)

You'd want to get NALP certification early on, while working as a leasing agent or assistant—you don't need a real estate or broker license to get this.  It involves 25 hours of coursework plus at least 6 months of experience in a leasing role.

Certified Apartment Manager (CAM)

CAM certification is another pre-licensure certification, but more heavy-duty. It involves 40 hours of coursework and at least 12 months of onsite property management experience.

Certified Property Manager (CPM)

A few years after you've earned your broker license, CPM certification would help you stand out from the crowd.  You need at least 3 years' experience managing a minimum portfolio size before you're eligible.

Master Property Manager (MPM)

MPM certification requires at least 5 years' experience managing a larger portfolio to qualify.  This one's a heavy hitter—something you'd get before starting your own management company.

What's Next?

To become a property manager, you'll need people skills, organizational skills, and attention to detail.  You'll also need real estate licensure. If that step is still ahead of you, consider taking your coursework online.  You can work around your existing schedule at your own pace, making it a convenient and affordable way to become a property manager.    

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