How to Build and Keep a Great Property Management Team with Melissa Prandi | Fourandhalf

Your team represents your property management business, and today we’re talking about the importance of building and keeping a great property management team with Melissa Prandi, of Prandi Property Management. Many of her employees have been with her for 10 years or longer, and she’s quick to tell us that having the best team she’s ever had provides confidence and opportunities for growth.

Where We Are Now: Prandi Property Management

Melissa owns Prandi Property Management in San Rafael, California, which is right between the Golden Gate Bridge and Napa Valley. She’s been in the business for 37 years, and started working for her property management company as a receptionist at the age of 19.

When she bought the company, it was small. There was a bookkeeper and a full time property manager and Melissa. Now, she has a staff of 15 and three virtual assistants. It takes some work to bring all those personalities together, but when it works – it really works. All you have to do is check out Prandi’s reviews. Customers benefit from a strong and thriving property management team.

Building and maintaining a great property management team may seem basic. But, if you don’t take care of basics, you cannot grow and scale as a business. Your team is your foundation, and that’s why we’re talking about this today.

Where do You Start? Making the First Hire and Adding to Your Team

If you’re just one person or you have a small two-person property management team, your first hire needs to be someone who complements you. Look at your own strengths and weaknesses as an owner or a key manager. Then, hire someone who has a different set of skills and strengths. Melissa is a visionary. She describes herself as a people-person, and someone who loves to share. Her logical first-hire was Christine, who has been with Prandi for 18 years. Christine fills in the gaps while Melissa is busy rushing from A to Z. She is practical, detail-oriented, and really good at implementing.

Find someone to complement your personality, especially if you have a small staff.

Hire for attitude. The first team members you bring on don’t have to have property management experience. Christine didn’t even know what property management was when Melissa hired her. Now, she has all of her designations, including Residential Management Professional (RPM) and Master Property Manager (MPM).

Melissa’s son is the Business Development Manager at Prandi. People love that he’s the owner’s son, and they like being drawn into a family-oriented business. Prandi Property Management markets themselves as being Family-owned and Community-focused. That’s powerful. Matt started working as a property manager; he got his real estate license at the age of 19, and then got his broker’s license.

Most people don’t start out as property managers – Melissa didn’t start out as a property manager. The front desk role used to be where new employees learned about the company and the industry. Now, there are virtual assistants answering phones at Prandi. However, Melissa says her best people have typically come in as assistants and learned the ropes. Good property management team members learn by doing everything.

Keeping Team Members Happy and Motivated

Christine has been with Prandi for 18 years and Melissa’s bookkeeper has been in place for 13 or 14 years. Why do people stay so long?

Respect.

Melissa says she respects them and knows what it’s like to be an employee.

It starts with respect and inspiring a culture of respect in the office.

There’s also a great benefits package including a 401k plan with a four percent match. She keeps her team happy by encouraging them to grow with her. You don’t ever want your staff to feel like they can’t learn more.

Another important tip to keeping your team members happy is this: ask what they want. The retirement plan came about during a staff meeting when they were discussing what they really wanted and valued. Medical is provided after 90 days and dental is provided after a year. The staff wanted a retirement program and because Melissa is committed to listening, respecting, and keeping her valued team members happy – she investigated how to provide a 401k. NARPM members were, of course, an extremely helpful resource.

Conferences are another benefit. Last year, there were eight team members from Prandi at CALNARPM. Bringing team members to an educational conference shows that you’re interested in investing in them. It also demonstrates teamwork and positivity. It gives your employees a chance to step out of the day-to-day duties of putting out fires and it builds a passion for property management. They also get to meet vendors and colleagues. The expense of including team members in these conferences is worth it.

How to Hire: Be Direct and Involve Others

Before you can retain, support, and train a team, you have to build a team. Melissa does a few specific things when she’s looking for a new hire:

Request a cover letter, resume, and a simple typing test. Ask for this directly in your employment ad because it will show you if applicants can follow direction.
Ask them to complete a Tony Robbins personality test. This is interesting to see, and a personality test helps you match people to the jobs they will do.
Include team members in the interview. Melissa always interviews potential candidates, but she also wants to make sure her team is comfortable with new hires. And, she wants the prospective employee to be comfortable with the team.
Collect 10 questions before the interview. These are questions like “what are three words that describe you?” She also asks what people love and don’t love about their current or last job. Not only does this give her an introduction to the person she’s going to interview, it also gives the interviewee a chance to really think about what they want in a job.

Everyone will have a different hiring process. As long as yours meets the needs of your company and doesn’t rely on only one person to do all the hiring – you can slowly and deliberately build a great team.

Team Building: The Importance of Relationships

Getting outside of the office is an important part of building a great team. Last year, Melissa’s staff spent an entire day on the coast for some team building. The experience strengthened the team and really allowed people to get to know one another. They laughed, they ate great food, and they spent some valuable hours growing closer together.

There have also been days at the baseball park and breaks at property management conferences. Melissa honors birthdays and anniversary days. Recognizing her team members is an important part of nurturing them and growing her business. During their all-day coastal retreat, they built some really positive energy which stayed with them even when they went back to the office.

Leading by Example: Ownership and Action

Turning negativity into positivity is a lesson and learning experience. Melissa believes in leading by example.

There was one day that Matt was in a hurry and on his way out of the office, he asked Melissa to call an owner – a potential new client who had a duplex that needed management. She waited until the afternoon to make the call, and by the time she reached that owner, he had already met with another property management company and signed an agreement. Matt had explained that he was ready to go, but other things were happening, and the opportunity was lost.

The first thing Melissa did was to take this struggle to her team. She explained what happened and what she meant to do better next time. She used it as an example to demonstrate that responses mean everything.

Next time, she told her team, I’ll call right away.

This is a critical lesson for team building. The owner of the company held herself accountable in front of the entire team – she admitted to not being perfect, and shared a plan for what she’d do to improve herself. That’s some bold leadership.

Keeping your team on the same page as you get larger is hard to do. Trainings help, and so does structure. Communication is especially important. Not only do you have to communicate well; you have to establish a process for communicating. Melissa has a systematic way that notes are to be kept. Every team within her management company follows the same note-taking format. It keeps communication flowing and consistent.

To-do Lists and Not To-do Lists

But, what if you have a really small team? You’re probably accustomed to doing everything.

The first thing you need to do is to take out a notepad or open up a computer and make a list. On that list, you should write down everything that you don’t need to be doing anymore. You can call it a stop list.

Melissa has found success putting a new person in the same office as herself. The right person will immediately begin taking initiative to help out. An employee who was training as an assistant spent two months in Melissa’s office and then was promoted to a lead position. That employee learned quickly, evolved, and is now doing a fabulous job with the company.

Be open to promoting people from within your organization. You don’t want to box them into the role they were hired to do. It’s possible they can surpass what you expected and give your company more.

Hire Slow and Fire Fast

If you hire someone who turns out not to be right for the position, you’ll know pretty quickly. Melissa admits there have been times that she hasn’t hired well. She tends to believe she can fix or change or nurture a person into performing the way the company needs them to.

Check in with your new hires. Find out how it’s going. Property management is not for everyone, and you might find out they don’t really like it. If they don’t like it, you don’t want them to plant a seed of negativity in the office.

Try hiring through word of mouth. Let everyone know you’re looking for a new team member. People know people, and you might find a really good new hire by asking others if they know anyone who would be a good fit.

Incentives that Don’t Cost Much

Prandi’s 401k plan for employees is great if you can afford it – but, what if you’re still small and trying to compete for employees with companies that have larger budgets for benefits and pay?

Sometimes, people just want a day off. Send everyone home at 1:00 p.m. on a Friday. It doesn’t cost you much money, but it does provide your employee with value.
Monitor workloads. No one wants to burn out. Foster a culture where team members who aren’t swamped are willing to pitch in and help others who are swamped.
Close the office for lunch. It’s too easy for your employees to sit at their desks and work through lunch. Send them away so they return to work refreshed.
Recognize when your people need a break. It doesn’t cost a lot to give employees a beach day or a day off with pay. If you can’t afford a retirement plan, do small things to keep people happy.

And, ask what’s important to them. Personalize the incentives. A lot of employers don’t ask; they make assumptions. It’s not always about money. Remember that respect and meeting their needs is just as important.

December is known for Fun Fridays at Prandi Property Management. The team members are put together with individuals they don’t normally work closely with, and they plan a meal every week and play games. One day they might wear pajamas to work, and the food might have a theme like Mexican or Italian. It’s never boring.

Don’t get Discouraged and Learn from Mistakes

When Melissa decided to elevate her two best employees (she calls them her bookends) – Christine and Matt – she knew she had to get them away from running the portfolios they were currently managing. Hiring their replacements was not as easy as she anticipated, and she made some mistakes. Stress levels went up. She didn’t do it right the first time, but that’s okay.

You can quickly see what you did wrong, and then learn from it. Don’t get discouraged.

Melissa hired the wrong person to replace Christine and then held on too long to the wrong person she hired to replace Matt. Sometimes, you have to go through some difficult situations and spend some time with the wrong people to see what you really need.

Another mistake Melissa is willing to acknowledge was made when she and her team had three candidates for a single position. The property management team keeps a scorecard during interviews and Melissa’s choice was the one who scored in second place. The rest of the team liked the person who scored first. Melissa hired her favorite, and that person worked for them for a week.

The lesson here is to trust the process, and trust the scorecard.

Vendors and Partners are Team Members Too

Vendors are often invited to do Lunch and Learn events where they can get in front of the Prandi Property Management staff and talk about things like what to look for in a plumbing problem or how to handle water restoration. Vendors work hard and Melissa believes in treating them as part of the team because if something goes wrong during a repair, she will hear about it.

Educating the vendors and providing them with expectations is an important part of team building. Let your vendors know how quickly you need them to respond. Vendors are an important part of your success as a property management company.

With Melissa, it always goes back to accountability. She recently had a tenant who was rightfully upset while trying to get a fridge replaced. After spending an hour on the phone with the angry tenant, Melissa sent a handwritten card and a $150 gift card to a local restaurant. This responsiveness almost certainly saved her from a bad review.

Lead by example and show your team that you support them. If they’re being screamed at by an owner or a tenant, let them know it’s okay to step away and pass the situation on to someone else. Leaning on a manager goes back to respect.

Everyone celebrates five-star reviews at Prandi Property Management. Melissa’s team believes in treating everyone the way they want to be treated. Every relationship is a two-way street.

We received some good information from Melissa today, and we’re able to share the 10 pre-interview questions she uses while building a team as well as her scoring model when she’s interviewing contenders.

Be open minded. Be respectful. Never stop learning. And, contact us at Fourandhalf if you have any thoughts on this podcast or ideas about who we should talk to next.

Marie Liamzon

About Marie Liamzon

Before joining Fourandhalf, Marie worked for one of the largest banks in the world. She took on different roles, but couldn’t find what she was looking for. She pursued a variety of side projects until she finally decided it was time for a career change. She started as a member of the Fourandhalf Account Management Team in 2015, and is now the Director of Product Development and Marketing. Marie is very passionate about helping people and learning new things. In her spare time, you might catch her exploring new places and taking far too many pictures.

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Alex Osenenko
President and CEO

Alex’s professional mission in life is to help small businesses grow and thrive. He is the President and CEO of Fourandhalf.com and is serving his 5th year on the Board of Directors for CALNARPM.

After spending 9 years in the trenches with his property management clients, Alex draws on his experience to host “The Property Management Show” Podcast and co-authors a weekly Property Management Blog on Fourandhalf.com. Alex has extensive experience speaking for various NARPM events at the local, state, regional and national level.

Alex is a graduate of San Francisco State University with an Electronic Commerce Systems Degree. His business philosophy is simple: Happy Customers are created by Happy Employees, which results in Happy Shareholders. Alex serves on the Board of Directors of CALNARPM (California Chapter of National Association of Residential Property Managers) and hosts a Podcast “The Property Management Show“, available on iTunes.

 

John Bykowski
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After graduating from the University of Michigan with a film degree, John proceeded to do everything but. During his career, John has specialized in operations and has developed processes for small companies in diverse industries, such as bleeding-edge marketing technology, social networking, trade shows and exhibitions, and cloud software. John and Alex had worked together previously, and when he needed someone to help take Fourandhalf to the next level and beyond, Alex brought in John as his first employee, and later, business partner.

In addition, now that he’s using his film school know-how to help property managers look their best in their blogs, his mom no longer feels his degree was a complete waste of time.

Danny Morris
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Born in Australia and growing up in Israel, Danny has spent a lot of time traveling the world between those two places. After completing his military service in Israel, Danny began following his biggest passion, writing, which he discovered while backpacking South America and publishing his first book.

When it was time to unpack, he returned to Australia to complete his Journalism studies amongst the beaches of sunny Perth. Danny is a huge online fan and after working in a number of related jobs, he finally gets to combine his two favorite things, working with media and people.

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Marina draws upon her real estate, business operations and customer service expertise for Fourandhalf. Her favorite part of being with Fourandhalf is the opportunity she has to really get to know our clients, build professional customer relationships and truly be part of a team that assists in their success.

Her time away from work is happily spent watching her children grow up and attempting to keep up with them! Any spare moments beyond nurturing her children are filled with hiking, spending time with friends, exploring the Bay Area and squeezing in a non G-rated movie every now and then.

Marie Liamzon
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Before joining Fourandhalf, Marie worked for one of the largest banks in the world. She took on different roles, but couldn’t find what she was looking for. She pursued a variety of side projects until she finally decided it was time for a career change.

Marie is very passionate about helping people and learning new things. In her spare time, you might catch her exploring new places and taking far too many pictures.

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After a few years as a freelance court reporter, Kyle has joined Fourandhalf for an opportunity in sales and digital marketing. In addition to reading and writing, his hobbies and interests include gardening, hiking, soccer, coffee brewing, and craft beers.

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Originally from the Philadelphia area, Karen moved eight times in seventeen years all over the East Coast and to the Midwest before settling here in Northern California six years ago. She is an alumna of Brandeis University with a BA in American Studies and earned a MBA in Marketing Management from Indiana University in Bloomington. Karen’s business career has been well-rounded, with experience including advertising, direct marketing, corporate retail, product management, new product development, and new customer generation. Beyond an office setting, she has been thrilled to volunteer her time giving back to the community with KPMG’s Family for Literacy, at her daughter’s school, and as a Girl Scout Troop Leader. Karen enjoys music, good food, traveling to new places, completing jigsaw puzzles, meeting people and making connections.

Karen became a part of Fourandhalf’s Account Management team in 2016, relaunching her marketing management career after a pause to raise her family. She is excited to rejoin the business world and to work with such a strong marketing management team.

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After graduating from CSU Chico with a Degree in Business Marketing, Logan moved back to the East Bay and pursued a career in sales. With an attention to detail and a relentless drive, he strives to improve himself and his passions each day. When not at work Logan enjoys playing guitar and writing songs, and occasionally performing around the Bay Area. He is an avid sports fan keeping up with everything SF Giants, 49ers, Cal Bears, and Golden State Warriors.

Hope Lumbley
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Hope recently moved to the Bay Area after graduating from Chico State University with a degree in Journalism. She is coffee crazed, dog obsessed and hopes to visit all National Parks. One of the greatest times in her life was when she lived abroad in Costa Rica and hopes to travel more of Central America in the future. She feels blessed to work for a company who supports her love for travel and the need to learn more about what the world has to offer.

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