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The property manager of the future

At the 2020 Virtual IREM Summit education session, “On the Ground in Toronto and Shanghai: International Property Management Best Practices,” presenter Roman Brailovski asked participants a challenging question: “What does the property manager of the future look like?”

Brailovski is Head of Property Management and Operations for First Gulf, a Toronto-based, class “A” commercial developer. He and fellow keynote speaker Echo Zhang are on the front lines of property management in different roles – Brailovski works mostly with mixed-use and office properties while Zhang has experience with retail properties – yet they both came to similar conclusions: The property manager of the future is someone who will combine a high level of emotional intelligence with detailed knowledge of their properties. They will need to use both of these to create value for owners.

“In addition to being a leader, a strong communicator, and at times a psychiatrist, frankly, the property manager of the future will have to be a citizen of the world,” Brailovski says. “That’s absolutely imperative. Understanding global trends and recommendations and best practices, be it from the World Health Organization or BOMA or ASHRAE, from anybody, is absolutely imperative.”

2020 has challenged property managers to incorporate new practices at a pace never seen before. Among these, Brailovski highlighted communication. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential for property managers to be explicit and direct in a way they perhaps haven’t been in the past. The communication should also happen on multiple levels, both at the property level and at the executive level.

Zhang is General Manager for Shanghai Lingfeng Real Estate Development Co., Ltd. in Shanghai, China. During her more than 20 years of experience working with properties, one of her strategies for working with anchor tenants has been to get to know them better. “It’s not only about having a cup of coffee and chatting,” she noted. “Whatever happens, you are there to support them. The more you understand their business, the more you know how to offer them something they need, which will earn their respect.”

This respect is critical to future profit sharing, Zhang says. And you can only know what profits there are to share if you’re analyzing the performance of your anchor tenants. This is true for both successful anchor tenants as well as those who are having challenges. “It could be that their service is not good enough or maybe they don’t have enough new products,” Zhang notes. “Give them feedback based on your performance analysis.”

Brailovski also highlighted the importance of the financial bottom line, despite the global pandemic. “Find savings where possible,” he says. “It’s never enough savings, but it’s also important to show that our management approach is flexible, and it’s adjusting to the circumstances. And the circumstances are such that the buildings are substantially unoccupied, particularly on the office side.”

Brailovski also notes that PMs will be the ones to determine which changes will be maintained at the property long-term, and which become redundant. Many of the buildings will have longer life cycles than COVID itself.

Ultimately, though, a property management team is made of people, Brailovski says: “Investing in assets is secondary to investing in people. In the end, capable and motivated people can get the best out of even mediocre assets. It’s about the driver.”

The property managers in the driver’s seat during 2020 have faced a challenge that does not appear to be ending just yet.

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