Today’s property manager poised for new challenges

According to experts in the field of property management, the times they have been a-changin’. No longer is the field dominated by single building owners, responsible for all maintenance, rent collection and leasing. Today’s property managers are often responsible for multiple properties and thousands of units — perhaps part of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) portfolio or managed by a firm, such as the Pikes Peak region’s Griffis-Blessing property management division, that specializes in a new spectrum of client services.

In his article “The Changing Face of Property Management,” published in the May/June issue of CIRE Magazine, Tom Stokes, CCIM and president of EpiCity Real Estate Services in the Atlanta area, outlines some of his industry’s greatest accomplishments and challenges.

In addition to maintaining key client relationships, the vital component in any successful property management operation, Stokes says that today’s managers are expected to evaluate and respond to changing market conditions; they must be aware of new technologies and find additional ways to increase fee income.

He also notes the increasing challenges of government legislation, lender and insurer requirements, environmental and tax issues on the industry – along with a consolidated marketplace, brought on by large real estate companies and investment trusts.

Among his conclusions about modern property management is the trend toward using the Internet and e-mail to facilitate owner-property manager communication (and someday soon, tenant-property manager action items). Stokes also notes a tremendous surge in property insurance rates on investment real estate – perhaps in reaction to September 11. Some insurance companies, he says, are moving to exclude terrorist attacks from future policies. Additionally, he points out that leasing lead times are increasing – forcing good property managers to work with clients and leasing personnel to anticipate tenant needs and “to make infrastructure…changes before a lease is signed.”

Companies like Grubb & Ellis are also adopting server-based system platforms that allow property managers to collect and analyze data important to budget forecasting, marketing and maintenance scheduling.

Here in Colorado Springs, however, veteran property management executive, Rick Davidson of Griffis-Blessing, sees a less dramatic evolution. “Our business remains fundamentally the same as it has always been because our focus is so heavily on the customer,” he says, noting that building owners, vendors, employees, tenants or residents and even leasing brokers are all considered “clients” to his firm.

When asked about national trends that create new client fees for services such as high speed data line access, preferred parking spots, special fitness club or other exclusive perks, Davidson said that he hasn’t seen such surcharges yet in the local market – due in part, perhaps, to a soft economy. He says that Griffis-Blessing’s property management division continues to focus on excellent client service – a strategy that has paid high returns so far.

To date, the local company started by Ian Griffis and Buck Blessing, has acquired 3,800 units in more than 100 individual properties – and manages more than three million square feet of commercial space. “We handle residential as well as commercial buildings,” he said, acknowledging that most of the company’s properties are located in the Colorado Springs area – but many of their owners don’t live here. Local accounts include U.S. Bank, Western National Bank, and Pueblo National Bank facilities. In addition, the firm leases and maintains properties such as the Colorado Interstate Gas Building, the Alamo Corporate Center and the Wells Fargo Building for out-of-town owners. “We also manage half a million square feet of office/commercial space in Pueblo and another 100,000 square feet of office space in Denver as well,” Davidson says.

As senior vice president, property management operations and new business development for Griffis-Blessing, Davidson often presents proposals to large building owners and REITs looking for local management expertise. “Most REITs self-manage because they’re so large, but we did work with a large real estate investment company on the Sterling Point Apartments for several years,” Davidson said. “They purchased the complex from Griffis-Blessing and allowed our team to continue property management through a comfortable transition period.” That sort of deal is the exception, rather than the rule, he notes.

No matter how trends change at the national level, the management team at Griffis-Blessing appears to be committed to a more “humanistic” approach to the job. Davidson estimates that his firm comes in contact with more than 10,000 people a day through the property management business – and each of those owners, building residents or employees and their families have special needs. “We have been successful because we are responsive to the people we serve. I don’t see that changing anytime in the future.

Griffis-Blessing’s property management division will add a new property to its growing list of clients by Summer 2002, says Davidson, as the company begins construction on a the Creekside Apartments, a new $20 million complex off Powers Boulevard, between Galley Road and Palmer Park Boulevard, a high-end Class B property designed to cater to Peterson Air Force Base personnel and private contractor employees. Offering a total of 328 units, the community is well-located for shopping , work and highway access. “We should have a trailer on-site by July,” he says.

In the meantime, national property management marketing trends continue to appeal to specialized target markets. As Stokes points out, “…some office properties have added amenities such as restaurants, travel agencies, laundry services and car washes” to motivate prospective tenants.

Corporate multifamily community amenities are also growing to include special packages such as furnished apartments, furnished offices, specialty kitchens, and more. Says Stokes, “Fitness clubs, movie theaters, day care centers, dry cleaners, car rental, conference rooms and activity programs will also become popular add-on features.” One thing is certain: The next decade for property managers promises change and innovation.