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Broadening Our Scope—The Case for Skilled Property Management

Spreading the word about property management careers must take place throughout the national and international IREM leadership levels.

There’s a major irony at work in the commercial real estate industry. For instance, we can safely say that virtually everyone knows of the hospitality business. That’s understandable, considering there are 5.3 million hotel rooms in the U.S. alone. But size alone cannot account for its familiarity. By comparison, according to the National Apartment Association (NAA), there are also more than 48 million individual rental units in the U.S. (this is per the U.S. Census Bureau, in its 2018 Rental Housing Finance Survey). And yet, many potential property managers are not aware of this evolving and growing profession.

Those figures come from colleague Jesse Miller, a faculty member of NAA’s Education Institute and recently named managing director of Kokua Realty in Wailea, Hawaii.

“What’s more,” Jesse stated in a recent conversation, “there’s over 5.9 million U.S. commercial buildings, which contain 97 billion square feet. This underscores a full ecosystem of career opportunities to manage, maintain and redevelop this massive real estate.”

Using hospitality as an example again, everyone knows the names of the major players. But ask anyone on the street to name just one major, highly capitalized real estate management firm, and the answer will be only a blank stare. Clearly, the real estate management sector suffers from a major case of anonymity. 

But why the disconnect? The frank answer is that not enough is being done to spread the word among potential future real estate management professionals about the opportunities inherent in a career in real estate management. I believe that we and other industry associations do a great job of educating clients, tenants, residents and ownership clientele about the many benefits of professional real estate management, both as a service and as a unique skillset, but we should be casting that net wider.

This is a critical shortcoming, not only in the face of the current talent shortage, but also because our professional population is aging rapidly at a time when the industry stands on the verge of explosive growth. As Miller states, “Globally, the real estate rental market alone was sized last year at about $2.2 trillion, and that’s expected to grow by an addition $200 billion to $2.4 trillion this year.” So, outreach is critical to our current and future ability to do exactly what we say we do–provide our far-reaching clients with quality service performed to the highest ethical standards.

“Yes, leaders of all the major industry associations know that change is necessary in how we spread the gospel of property management,” Miller says. “But consider this: in the US, there are 4,000 degree-granting secondary institutions, but just a handful of those offer some form of property management program. The delta shows we have a lot of work to do.”

Spreading that gospel is a massive undertaking that must take place at the IREM chapter level and throughout the national and international leadership levels. The challenge is that reducing that delta involves massive amounts of red tape. Institutes of higher learning don’t make educational program decisions in a vacuum, and they also have a business perspective to consider. We need to provide proof to colleges and universities that offering a property management curriculum can increase enrollment and help students transition into successful careers.

That’s why such a massive initiative needs to be mounted collaboratively, between the IREM chapter network and national leadership. Not all chapters have the resources to accomplish such a complex goal alone. Ironically, if there’s sufficient critical mass to form a chapter, the implication is that there’s also enough market density in that region to make talent attraction and retention an issue. A case in point would be our Anchorage chapter, one of the smallest by population in the IREM universe. And yet, the University of Alaska has one of the nation’s most robust real estate management programs, a clear example of this collaboration at work and our success to date.

Since a four-year degree is not required to become a successful real estate manager, it’s important to note that the focus should also include outreach at the technical school and high school level. In addition, for students who opt to delay college entrance, entry-level opportunities to get their feet wet in real estate management await them. No matter the plan, anyone curious and interested in exploring real estate management education and skill-building can often find answers by engaging with members from their local IREM chapters.

Happily, I personally have never found an IREM member who’s unwilling to share their experiences and chat with interested newcomers. But first, we need to make those connections. Only then can we share the opportunities, the security and the variety that exist in our profession. Real estate management has exciting opportunities for those interested in architecture, finance, marketing, technology, law, design and so many other disciplines.

There’s so much more to be done to elevate real estate management. And there will always be more that IREM members can do. The goal of broad, meaningful outreach is to make this field more than something newcomers fall into or discover by accident, which is too often the case. The goal here is to make real estate management a profession of choice, and not of chance. 

Barry Blanton is the 2022 President of IREM. In addition, he serves as chief problem solver and founding principal of Seattle-based Blanton Turner. 

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