Property Managers Are Translators, Too

2016-06-20

Property Managers Are Translators, Too

I’ve been told that “ruHra’wI’” means “property manager” in Klingon…but that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

A neon sign announcing a translator. Also written in Chinese.We’ve previously written at length about how a property manager wears a lot of hats. We take care of the physical structures our clients invest in, the fiscal aspect of the investments, ensuring that those properties turn as much profit as possible, and the people — oh, the people! We are the hub that connects investors, contractors, inspectors, tenants, applicants, and more, and being in the middle makes property managers a kind of linguist, as well.

The Language of Investors
A property investor has to understand how to talk to an investor. If you don’t understand the relationship between cap rate and the annual net income, you’re not going to be able to talk to an investor meaningfully. It’s a huge mistake to say that investors don’t care about their buildings and the people who live in them — but it’s definitely fair to say that they balance the well-being of those things against their short- and long-term profits.

The Language of Contractors
Contractors — a lot of investors regard them as costs to be minimized, and a lot of property managers make the same mistake. But contractors don’t talk in the language of long-term profitability — they talk in the language of cost/benefit analysis. You can use the cheap vinyl, or you can use the tile, but if you use the tile, you gotta know that the $18/sqft tile is 14x harder than the $6/sqft tile. It won’t matter on the floor, but if you’re building a kitchen counter that you expect to drop pots and pans on occasionally, it will matter.

The Language of Inspectors
Property investors also need to understand the deeply jargon-laden language of city inspectors that are concerned with a huge variety of safety issues. If you can’t turn ‘warped king studs due to unallowable overage on the joist span’ into a job description for a contractor and then explain why you need to access the CapEx account to the investor, you’re not going to be a property manager for long.

The Language of Tenants
Of course, when it comes to your tenants, there’s not just a new vocabulary — there are entire novels’ worth of storylines you’ll have to learn (and learn how to translate)! Because while ‘my mom died and I had to fly to South Carolina for the funeral’ sounds like a disaster to your tenant, it sounds like the loss of a month’s rent to your investor — and learning how (and when) to rely on the investor’s heartstrings and when to be a hardass is a critical skill.

The Language of Applicants
Then we have the hardest language of all: the language of applicants. Applicants speak their own language, and it sounds like English — heck, it even sounds mostly like Tenant English — but there are so many traps for the unwary! “I have a regular job” can mean “I’m a manager at Macy’s” or “I just got hired at Dave’s Strip-n-Dip as a part-time backup bartender.”  “My previous landlord was a jerk” can mean “my previous landlord was a jerk” or it can mean “You will hate me within the first three weeks.” Learning to parse the words and find the meaning behind them from your other sources is one of the hardest linguistic skills a PM has to learn. Be wrong just once, and you can translate for your clients, the investors: “I just cost you seven months’ profit in repair bills and nine months’ lost rent.”

And then they’ll say the worst word you’ll ever hear: “Bye!”

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