A year on from COVID: Property Managers are moving onwards and upwards

24 March 2021

By Kirsten Craze

While many residential sales agents are reaping the rewards of a post-pandemic real estate boom, property managers are still reeling from a 12-month rollercoaster of anxious landlords, tense tenants and lost listings. It was a year of high emotions as property managers were thrown in the deep end during the height of COVID but now the tide is turning in 2021. As many rental markets across the state are flourishing with low vacancy rates and increasing rents, there is plenty to be positive about in 2021.

A year to remember

“COVID is still felt everywhere, it's like a swear word now. I’ve been in the industry 26 years, and like everyone, we were hit with something that we've never had before,” said REINSW’s Residential Property Management Chapter Committee Member Edith Byrne of No Bull Real Estate in Newcastle.

“In the beginning we were just asking ourselves ‘So what do we do?’ We had to shut our office and lay staff off. It was horrific for everyone, and of course we had tenants losing jobs too. But our landlords had mortgages to pay. It was a very challenging year physically and mentally.”

Michelle McLean, senior property manager and compliance manager with LeahJay and Chairperson of the Chapter, said 2020 presented new hurdles for agencies.

“Not only did we have to deal with the challenges of COVID, but to make things interesting we had legislation change and property reforms commence at the same time,” she said.

“There was a huge adjustment not only in people’s personal lives, but challenges to take people out of their comfort zone and deal with issues that they would not previously have dealt with,” Ms McLean said.

A silver lining surrounding the COVID cloud

“The effects of COVID are still ongoing, and will be for a while, so let’s look at where positivity can be brought back into the market - and the industry. The light has shone for us all to move forward, the darkness is now gone so let's get on with the job,” Ms Byrne said.

She added that COVID had taught her and her team the value of staying in touch and up to date.

“Communication has always been key for me, regardless of what area you're in; whether it’s sales or property management. How else do you build rapport and gain trust with landlords, and tenants, without communication and education?”

“I hope and pray we don't end up with another pandemic further down the track, but what it has taught us is preparation. Now we know how to handle the situation and that’s a major improvement for the industry. It's given us the opportunity to retrain staff as well as update office policies and procedures. It's not something that we all wanted, but I think it's something that we all needed,” she said.

Lessons from the pandemic

After a year of unpredictability, Ms McLean said the property management sector, and the rental market, was now emerging with a new perspective.

“In regional areas such as the Hunter Valley, we at LeahJay have seen vacancy rates as low as 0.4 per cent due to an increased demand from people relocating from Sydney. This in turn has pushed up rents and demand is high across all properties,” she said.

“In certain areas we have seen great growth for owners in respect to rental return, but then in others we have seen higher vacancy rates (closer to the city), so the outcome is varied. I believe that the adaptability that the industry has had to adjust to is a bonus. Such things as virtual viewings, routines and zoom meetings just to name a couple,” she said.

“Savvy property managers have learnt to be agile in their role, show compassion and empathy towards individual situations and, most of all, be vulnerable,” she added.

Moving forward with positivity

Ms Byrne said an optimistic future starts with falling back in love with the business.

“We’ve been through the worst, let's get our passion back. When I'm out there talking to other property managers I feel what they’re feeling ‘Oh, we’re in a rut because of COVID’. But I say ‘Come on, guys! Let’s get back to it!’” she said.

“Just reassure your staff and colleagues, ask them if they're having a bad day. Let them know they've got a shoulder to cry on and that someone is listening. We need to air how we're feeling. I think once we’ve got that out of our systems, that'll bring a lot of the positivity back,” Ms Byrne added.

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