become a residential property manager

5 Steps to Become a Residential Property Manager

become a residential property manager

If you like real estate but don’t want to become an agent, you might want to look into how to become a residential property manager. Increasingly people are choosing to rent over buy, which is leading to an increased need for residential property managers.

Residential property management is a lot of hard work, but many people find the consistent paycheck a better fit for their lifestyle over an agent’s unpredictable commission. Here’s how to get started as a residential property manager.

Step 1: Research your legal requirements

The specific licensing requirements to become a residential property manager vary by state. Plus, there are different rules that apply depending on the properties you manage. For example, managers of government-subsidized public housing are usually required to obtain special certifications. It’s entirely up to you to know which laws and ground rules apply to you.

To get started on your research to figure out how to become a property manager in your area, check out this helpful guide that breaks down the requirements by state. Once you know what is expected in your state, you can start taking the steps to obtain the right licensing and ensure that you comply.

You’ll notice that, for most states, you’re required to get your real estate license before you can become a property manager. That’s because a lot of the responsibilities of a property manager are similar to actions a real estate agent performs.

The requirements for your real estate license also vary by state. The easiest way to look them up is to go to this page and select your state from the drop-down menu. You can also look up all the recommended classes you’ll need by accessing this guide. Usually, real estate students don’t rely simply on their state’s requirements — they also take additional classes such as an exam prep course to make sure they pass their real estate exam.

Step 2: Take real estate courses

While a high-school diploma can be enough for some people to hire you, more and more companies want their property managers to have a bachelor’s degree in business administration, real estate, accounting, public administration, or finance.

Other companies seek out candidates with vocational real estate training or a real estate license. Coursework in real estate development, real estate management, real estate finance, urban planning, affordable housing administration, property management, and housing for the elderly are especially sought after.

If going back to school isn’t an option, you can always invest in online courses to increase your knowledge and build your skills. Also, don’t underestimate the value of on-the-job training. You may need to start off at an entry-level position, but once you learn the business, you can move up the ranks.

Step 3: Obtain specialized certifications

Even if you don’t need a license to manage properties in your jurisdiction, obtaining certifications is wise because it reveals to hiring companies, and potential clients, that you have a high level of commitment and professionalism. Many property managers go on to obtain a real estate license—either a real estate broker’s license or a real estate salesperson’s license. And that definitely opens up opportunities for you beyond just property management.

You can also go after more specialized certifications, such as Certified Manager of Community Associations, Residential Management Professional (RMP®), Certified Property Manager, or Certified Apartment Manager (CAM). For most certifications, you need to apply, complete specific education requirements, and pass a test or series of exams. While it takes some time and effort, such credentials can definitely set you apart from other job applicants.

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Step 4: Get your first property manager job

Once you’ve obtained the proper certifications it’s time to get a job and officially become a residential property manager. Easier said than done?  There are a few ways you can jumpstart your job search and find a property manager job that’s right for you.

  • Use your network: Let your friends and professional contacts know you’re pursuing a job in property management. You never know who will be in a position to hire you for a property management job until you start getting the word out there that you’re embarking on this new career.
  • Get to know real estate agents: Agents in your area will likely hear of openings in this niche first, so set up some informational interviews with agents around town introducing yourself and asking for tips on how to get into the business. This will help you get to know them and they’ll most likely keep a look out if they hear of any new jobs.
  • Search online: Job boards and online career resources can expedite your job search. Make sure you’re checking job listings regularly. When you apply online, some people find success by doing some internet sleuthing to find the name of the hiring manager to personalize their cover letters.

Step 5: Stay updated on best practices

Once you get a job in property management, don’t view it as an opportunity to rest on your laurels. You don’t just want to learn how to become a property manager, but how to become a good property manager. Regularly engage with other property managers in the area and stay updated on best practices. Reading property manager blogs is a good way to stay in the loop on industry trends. Here are a few to get you started:

  • AppFolio: Easy to read news on the property management industry.
  • 30Lines: Focuses on ways to use new technology to make your residents happier and attract new clients.
  • Multifamily Executive: The place to go for breaking news about everything impacting the housing market.

Do you have the right skills?

Before you consider taking the steps to become a residential property manager, make sure you possess these six critical skills.

1. A customer service whiz

You must meet the needs of both the property owner and the tenant. That means quickly and efficiently providing solutions they can live with, being attentive—and serving it all up with a smile and loads of enthusiasm, even when people are being total jerks. If you can’t do that, you aren’t cut out to be a residential property manager.

2. A great communicator

Be honest. Right now, how would you react if a property owner insulted you over something you couldn’t control? Or how would you handle a distraught renter who can’t make this month’s rent? Communication and interpersonal skills are a must. As a residential property manager, you will be working with tenants, property owners, contractors, banks, real estate agents, and more on a regular basis. You’ll have to grin and bear scathing criticism, deal with rude behavior, manage awkward and difficult conversations, and resolve conflicts. It is critical that you know how to actively listen and effectively relay information to others.

3. An expert at managing time

You could potentially field dozens of calls and answer hundreds of emails a day. You’ll need to conduct inspections, attend board meetings, market and show properties, and much more. You must be detailed and organized, or you will never manage it all.

4. Resourceful

Once you become a residential property manager you could be responsible for multiple properties, each with several tenants, and those units could span counties, states or even the country. You have to be able to problem-solve. That means being able to think on your feet and come up with alternate solutions in a moment’s notice. At times, you won’t be able to wait from approval from a superior. You will have to know what authority you have and then be prepared to act within that authority—without second-guessing yourself. Decisiveness, especially in emergencies, is key.

5. Detail-oriented

First of all, each property you manage requires a great deal of paperwork, including legally binding contracts, so you need to be on top of your administrative game. Additionally, you need to be highly observant. On a regular basis, you will be conducting routine inspections of the properties you manage. If you miss or overlook problems or you aren’t paying attention to the work contractors or handymen complete under your direction, you could cost your property owners money. If an inspection is required by a government agency, you could face bigger problems. The inspector’s goal is to discover property violations. If they do, you could be blamed if a property doesn’t pass inspection and is deemed unlivable.

6. Sales-minded

Of course, it’s not all administrative duties and fielding phone calls. You actually have to keep tenants in the property, and that requires you to wear many hats. You’ll need to market the property—writing great copy and sharing images that entice people to take a second look. You’ll need to show the property and sell all the features that make it great. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to sell yourself to property owners, especially those who may have had bad experiences with residential property managers in the past.

Develop your skills to become a residential property manager

If you don’t already possess the six property management skills outlined above, you should at least be willing to develop them. Want to gain the skills necessary to be a rock star residential property manager? Take McKissock’s professional development courses to improve your skills.

For more real estate continuing education opportunities, visit