I spent 6 years as a property manager in New Hampshire. This is my story and while I may be sharing things that some previous clients will find uncomfortable, I wanted to document this part of my life with 100% honesty.
If you are a former client who finds this, please don’t take anything here personally. I am writing from the heart but I want this to not get back to all of my clients so please read, enjoy and maybe drop me an email but please don’t send to every owner at your association and disparage my former employer over what is my personal journal. This is my experience as a PM, not a reflection of my former broker or your HOA in particular. I had a LOT of clients that in aggregate caused me to quit this job after 5 years. Every client individually was a great person but, I was a door man and it broke me after many years and hundreds of people banging down my door needing something every day of the year.
To those reading this who are an aspiring property manager you’re probably reading this in a different place than me. I took up property management to make some extra money. I had a career in technology making very good money. I wanted to get into real estate investment and decided that property management would be a great way to become great at that without putting up any cash myself. In fact, the goal was to put away the $3-5K a month I would be making toward buying a multi-family building at some point and knowing everything that could go wrong and how to deal with it. With that as the end goal, everything went incredibly well. I ended up making at most about $40K a year (pre-tax and pre-expenses) managing five homeowners associations as a side hustle that took place outside of my 9-5.
First, a semi-glossary for those who are thinking of becoming PMs.
- In New Hampshire, you must be a licensed real estate agent and hang your license with a broker that is a property management company. I like this because it makes the competition more credible. In Vermont, you do not need to be licensed. It’s more like the Wild West.
- I was an HOA Property Manager. Meaning I did not work for owners and their individual homes or units. I specialized in apartments but did some HOAs that were full of single family homes as well. I did not do rental or vacation management. In retrospect, I should caution everyone to avoid HOA management. I’ll share those economics in the next section
- I worked for a company because, if you’re not a broker, you have to join one and therefore the income was lower than if you were solo. If you are solo, you will have to also be a licensed broker. You’ll have better margins but much more work that is not property management. The crap rolls up hill if you’re owner/broker.
- This is an incredibly competitive market. You will lose clients to national PM firms and you will also get a lot calls from volunteer board presidents griping about how crappy their experience was with a national firm where they were one of 10 thousand associations in the portfolio
- Finally, it feels like the last condo in New Hampshire was built in 1979. I have southern PMs ask me why I’m so disgruntled or why I gave up such a sweet gig. I ask them how often a unit floods or there are roof leaks or how many million dollar capital projects they oversee and they look at me like I’m crazy when I say, 1 flood a month, 1 leak a week and 2 one-million dollar capital projects a year. Old apartments are very hard to manage and New Hampshire is full of them! If you’re reading this in a southern state, you will have an easier time
I’m going to be general when I talk about the economics. Every single association is different. Remembering that I only manage the HOA which means all of the property that is behind an apartment owner’s Sheetrock all of the way out to the property boundary which is still a lot of work because not only are you handling all of the maintenance, investments but also attending board meetings, committee meetings, getting multiple bids for lawn, pool and misc maintenance, handling master insurance policy, helping owners refinances or selling (mortgage documents) and receiving all complaints from board & owners about every issue on-property. It is a job that never ends. You don’t get weekends, nights or holidays. You are on call 24/7 if you’re a small business or an owner / employee yourself. Even if a unit floods, which is not your issue, the water will flood another unit and then it is your issue on behalf of the association.
What did I charge?
$30 per unit per month. That’s roughly what we would charge but my commission was 50% of that. Some HOAs were less and some where more. Some paid extra for their marina (docks, boathouse, clubhouse, pool, marina parking) and some paid for extra work like managing harbor activities (registration + insurance of all boats) for weekly checks of units that were empty all winter, etc but in the most basic economies, $30 a unit per month.
I had about 175 units in my portfolio under those 5 associations. I spoke to almost every single owner once a month and half of the owners every week. I spoke to every vendor doing site wide maintenance daily, I did on-sites weekly and I put in about 25-30 hours a week of work during the busy season (March-August) all for $40K a year. That was taxed at about 27 percent and my home internet, cell phone, medical insurance, gas, car, insurance, everything else came out of my own pocket. I had a full time job so I had an easier time but by my math, I’d have to manage 8 associations or about 250 units to make this a full time job and take home about $7500 a month which would be about $60K a year after tax and expenses assuming I wasn’t paying for health insurance.
You can double that figure if I was the owner of the company and not an agent but like I said, I liked being under a broker. She took care of a lot of things I had zero interest. So if you go in this fully on your own, you’ll get that full income but there will still be expenses. I had a few firms call and try to hire me full time and their offers were $50-$65K a year doing the same job but I’d have to go into an office 40 hours a week which would mean quitting my day job so I declined.
It is humanely impossible to scale this to $100K a year managing HOAs by yourself. Even in times when I had very little going on at my day job or took a sabbatical, the volume of communications is constant and if you don’t have the kind of personality who thrives on human contact (I’m more introverted), It will wear on you.
The Day to Day:
I averaged about 20,000 inbound emails a year, 20-100 phone calls a day and hundreds of text messages daily. I’d have calls up until midnight 3 nights a week over trivial issues and at least 2 late night calls a month that were an emergency. I had to take days off work from my day job when electrical fires happened underground that took out power to 78 units, propane leaks, decks caving in, roofs flooding, storms with ice and even though I never physically had to lift a finger, I was the property manager so I was there for all emergencies. When 2 different associations were sued, it was me who spent an entire weekend printing out emails and text messages for the board and walking on eggshells because I wasn’t a lawyer yet was being asked to make statements on behalf of HOAs who were our clients. When an association’s by-laws required all board meeting notices are sent via US Mail as Certified and insured letters, I would spend 8 hours at the post office hand writing certified letter forms for each envelope to 120 unit owners after spending a weekend before stuffing envelopes.
When 2 kids were playing ball in their yard and an owner felt the children were in danger for playing outside without an adult, I had to go to talk to concerned owners about safety, get the local police involved, dig through bylaw revisions about if parents are indeed required to supervise children and was asked personally if I care about the wellbeing of children or not. This incident happened on easter Sunday and took away my entire day. I had to sign a police report, create a report for the board, defend my actions to multiple owners and convince them that I do indeed care about children.
I cried a lot doing this job. I had some very well-off people paying thousands of dollars a year in HOA dues call me names and threaten to sue me over tree trimming or clogged gutters. I had a man call me every name in the book because I mailed an annual financials doc to his Summer home instead of Winter and I was told to ‘find another career’ by a retiree who took issue with me not being able to attend am emergency board meeting on July 4th…that board meeting’s agenda, “dog poop by the pool area”. I’m getting off my outline here but if this is all worth $40-$60K a year, you have my blessing.
I intentionally waited 4 months after leaving my job to write this because I was afraid I’d be too negative but all I’m doing is telling my story. I think someone with a different personality (thicker skin who loves talking to people) would probably enjoy this job much more. Also, their ability to market themselves might mean they also do some unit management which pays about 8% of rent (split 50/50 with your broker of course) so that’s $100-$200 a month per unit. Imagine if I had managed every rental unit in my HOA portfolio? 30% of the 175 were rented. 50 units at $150 a month would have made this job worth it for me. It would have more than doubled what I made but those rental opportunities just never came. I was too busy managing the associations and working with every owner for their $30 a month versus the hundreds I could have made marketing and renting their units and having to do much less.
There are a few core basics of HOA Property Management that you must do:
- The annual maintenance calendar. These monthly or seasonal tasks take place every year usually triggered by the PM
- Budget, board elections, owner annual meetings, every association is different but you are the facilitator for all of these and driving those discussions. Don’t forget, every board member is a volunteer and unpaid
- Negotiating all contracts. Most renew annually. You want to ensure the board’s requests from each vendor are in writing at a price that is market-rate and not unreasonable and, if it is, you’ll have to create an RFP and go out for bid which happens quite a bit
- You will have to attend all 12 board meetings every year, some of them are 2 hours but one I had was 4 hours long every month, two of them had their annual meetings on Labor Day and memorial day weekend. One association did not have a secretary for a year so I was the one taking notes and acting as PM. It was tough. Handling all documents and planning while also being a property manager because no one wanted to be Secretary
- Regular on-site meetings and if you’re not social, you’ll have to put on a good attitude when on-site because folks who are home often (worse during Covid) will see you and offer advice on how you could do your job better. I took these in stride. People just wanted to be helpful but remember you can’t please everyone. You’ll be told how the property manager in 1981 did things a certain way and you should do it like them. A few owners go together and signed a letter demanding I break down all boxes in recycling to save $140 a month on double recycling pickups with no consideration of how dangerous it would be for me to climb into the recycling bin twice a week to break down boxes
- Monthly financials, receiving all bills, paying them (after reviewing the work as being satisfactory)
- Handling all insurance claims of property damage. With 150 units, you will always have at least one insurance claim process going at a time. Know the by-laws and 100+ page insurance policy like the back of your hand because vendors, owners, boards and insurance companies will look at you as the glue holding it all together. If you cannot keep track of things well, you’ll be the one responsible
- Representing the HOA for interested buyers into the association, budget, minutes, questions about the place, is it safe, is it being maintained, potential owners will have questions. During COVID, a lot of real estate traded hands and I was getting daily calls from buyer or seller agents
- Assessing for and planning for capital expenditures. A capital needs assessment is important. Get a very good company to do these so you can get a report that gives clear action points and lets you plan a reserve budget that can cover costs 5-30 years in the future
- Managing at least 1 large capital project a year if you’re managing older associations…these are expensive, between $50 and $500K each. If you manage new associations, this isn’t an issue but once one is 30-50 years old, pools, roofs, insulation, these all start to fail
- Dealing with emergencies, calls about clogged drains (could be association if the clog extends beyond the unit), grass cut too short, kids partying in the pool without adult supervision, roof leaks, bee hives, trespassers, non-residents using trash cans, ants, folks driving too fast or on the lawn, the pool heater breaking, a pipe bursting and flooding more than one unit and on and on. Emergencies can happen at any time. You’ll get one elevated call per week that will require dropping everything and springing into action
Property Management in New Hampshire is almost seasonal. The slow season (after Labor Day) is about 25% of the work you’ll have during Summer. There will still be monthly meetings and you’ll be preparing for Summer by getting bids and contracts renewed but it is quieter since most units are empty which means you’ll go to sleep most nights wondering if there is a unit or two flooding or has frozen pipes right now that you won’t know about until the Spring when the owner shows up who declined your Winter checks for $75 a month but now it’s your problem with a massive water damage, insurance discussions, finding vendors to come out Sunday night to pull carpets and dry things out and this kind of stress of impending doom will keep you up even though Winter is relatively quiet. The good thing about HOA PM work is the contract is fixed. That’s also a bad thing. January when all you are worried about is if the snow company kept driveways clear and there are no ice (trip hazards) issues, you feel like you’re making bank. In July, you feel woefully underpaid when someone berates you over the size of their shrubs and why you can’t find the right person for the job when you know you presented a few quotes to the board and they chose the cheapest one and you knew the cheapest one would be more work for you in management but that’s how it goes.
It sounds like you weren’t very good?
I’m not going to say I was great at this. It was a side-job but nearly full time. What I will say is that I had very high overall satisfaction and never had anything escalate to my broker as a complaint. One of the most important parts of the job is finding and cultivating great relationships with hired help. If the landscaping company does grass, fertilizer, weeding, planting and snow removal and your’e their favorite client because they service all of your associations and charge a market price (meaning you don’t have to go out to bid every year), they’ll drop everything to help you out and do great work the first time. Unfortunately, I lived in an area where there were 3 plumbers…total. So if it was a deep freeze, no one was giving you preference. Servpro, a national firm with 24/7 response time wasn’t 24/7 where I lived. There weren’t hundreds of laborers on Craigslist so this further made the job difficult. Given I worked almost entirely alone and with a very small group of contractors, I feel like I did my best. The only improvement would have been a model where we hired in-house labor that would be on our payroll but the firm was boutique with 3 property managers each covering their own region (an entire county or two) and us doing all of the work except financials ourselves. This was a strain both age of properties, shortage of labor and working alone that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
I had a company with 50 employees that does not do HOA management call me to recruit me. I work with a lot of rental management companies because I run the HOA where their properties they manage (along with their tenants) reside. In 2021, they offered me $65K a year to do unit management for them. Knowing the back of house numbers, I estimated they’d be making about $100K a year off my $65K salary. I asked if I could do the job virtually and the answer was no and they were happy to offer up health insurance which to some is a big one. I informed them I was making a LOT more than $65K a year at my day job and if they weren’t interested in having me join remote on my own hours, I wasn’t interested. They moved on but mentioned that I was the best HOA PM they had ever worked with. That meant a lot to me…shit, I should write a book that’s more organized than this post.
Thinking of doing this as a job?
Should you take up HOA Property management? I don’t think you should. In New Hampshire especially, everything is stacked against you. Not being able to sell real estate because your agent hat is hung at a broker that can only do property management is severely limiting. The fact that almost every company will have you as a contractor where all expenses are on you is another. Then there’s the cut you make off each contract and the amount of time you have to put into it. These HOAs are expecting a property manager to have clerical / administrative experience. You have to be both a project manager, real estate expert, building inspector, be able to navigate “old house” issues, deal with the town, work on large projects and be on call 24/7 all for about $40-$60K a year. It’s just not much money. If you could tell me I could some how make $150K a year doing it part time, I would still be doing it. Call me picky and choosy but it’s a tough gig and pretty high stress.
Here’s the thing, now I want to be sort of opaque but also helpful here. If you are able to do what I did which is to work a lot on your own, all call 24/7 all year and stop taking vacations and yet have a very high satisfaction rate and really own this role and blow it out of the water, my opinion is you could double your salary working as a project or program manager at a company that is 9-5, 40 hours a week with medical insurance and paid time off. $40-60K is a lot per year and a livable wage in most low cost of living areas especially if your partner works too but if you’re really good at the process, management, organization, driving change, managing projects, getting things done and you’re a real people person and can work through tough situations, you should actually transition to project management in a construction company or almost any other trade. Go out and get a project management certification and make that jump. Property Management for me served a few different purposes as a jumping off point. Either I’d transition to real estate sales because I wanted to be in that industry, loved people and yet didn’t want to manage the same units or projects for multiple years or I’d transition to project / program management in another position or finally, start my own property management company where the margins were much better than 50% take as a contractor.
I was already a global engineering program manager at a billion dollar technology company with a team of direct reports and a 15 years of experience. This was fun side money but I felt that folks who really excel in this that aren’t huge fans of real estate really should just move on to something more stable that isn’t on-call…unless that’s you’re thing than start your own firm and go all in!
What am I doing now?
I’m working 40 hours a week at a financial technology company leading a 60 person organization as a program manager, with teams in 3 time zones & 2 countries and about 1000 contractors (frontline support teams) and I’m doing it quite well. I’m making about 5 times as much as I did as a property manager and, honestly, using many of the same soft skills I used there. You could transition from real estate to another industry as a junior project manager making the same and then move up from there where if you’re an HOA manager, you really aren’t going to grow. It’ll be the same pay and work for as long as you can do it. I was an excellent property manager but I’m also a very good global technology program manager as well and I’m here to tell you honestly, there is not much different except now I’m treated with respect and love from my team. I think that’s truly the main reason I quit….
It took 5 years to come up with this analogy but I’ve used it with a few people, never clients but the analogy is property managers are like doormen (sorry for the gendered term). The door man at you apartment complex is there 365 days a year. It’s raining, it’s snowing and he’s there just holding the door for you, taking messages, having small talk, calling a cab for you and yeah, you give him $20 for Christmas but he’s just there to open your door. When he’s not here, you notice. When he is, you barely do. If your door isn’t opened for you on a random Monday in July you don’t really think too much off it. When you hear that the doorman died and he was your door man for 25 years you think for a second “oh that’s sad” and that’s it. There is no respect or admiration for that role and that’s how I felt as a property manager. I had a job to do like the person hauling your trash or holding your door but you didn’t respect me or care for me. I was a service-person and when I wasn’t there, in the hospital having my gallbladder removed, I got the nastiest and meanest messages when I didn’t call people back in just 2-3 hours and I woke up from surgery, happy to be alive to that….to wealthy property owners chewing me out for dog poop and trash and grass cutting. They never asked how I was doing. I was the door man and as soon as that day occurred a couple of years ago waking up from surgery to nasty messages, I realized that job just wasn’t for me and I started transitioning out of it.
There were a lot of situations like that, calls and emails and texts on my wedding day. I had my out of office on and one board member called me over and over to demand an email go out about recycling. My out of office said I was getting married that day. She didn’t care. It was something, that lack of respect that made every thing about the job I enjoyed mean nothing.
Will you go back to Property management?
Heck no. For one, my wife has barred me from returning. She is incredibly supportive but the 5 years of our 10 years together as a PM was a rough spot for us. We lived in an 800 square foot home so the nightly phone calls or having to stop watching a movie to go unlock someone’s door or spending a road trip on the phone was too much for her. I’d talk to contractors at 6AM until I started my day job at 9 and then our lunches were me calling back owners or vendors with questions and 3 nights a week, attending committee or board meetings until 8 or 9PM while eating dinner. She didn’t have all of me on nights and weekends and of course knew my stress and how unhappy I was. I will one day own more rental properties in general and, like I am with waiters after waiting tables for 4 years in High School, I’ll be gracious and kind to future property managers who work with me. It’s not an easy job and I understand what they’re going through. But it’s just not a job for me. I could have worked nights and weekends at a restaurant for the same money with health insurance and not been on call 24/7. I may have worked holidays but at least I would have gotten a free meal there and not had to take my work home with me. There are a lot of jobs now that pay 40-60K a year where you’re not on call and you get benefits like health insurance.
So I encourage you to give it a shot if you’re interested. You’ll learn a LOT about construction, HOAs, property management, property investing and you’ll really get your hands dirty like that one time I had to clean up human feces from an HOA clubhouse because I couldn’t get a cleaning person out in time before a birthday party but you will change and while it’s not much money, it is an experience and if you aspire to do real estate as a profession or do project management in construction, it’s a really good jumping off job that will help you in your career. You just have to swallow your pride and remember that you’re the door man and that’s okay.
I had a lot of fun and I learned a TON. It just wasn’t the job for me.
PS: I had a great team in the company I was working and overall, a lot of great clients, especially town, county reps and vendors who I enjoyed working with. There were board members, all volunteers who were great. I think no one personally was a bad or evil person. I just had a tough time at it being so well respected at all of my previous jobs then what I went through at this one. My boss broker knew how hard it was for me to be stepped on and she knew I couldn’t deal with that forever but I do think there are folks out there who can. They don’t take things too personally..it’s just a job and “all jobs suck” but I have loved every single job I’ve had except this one. And that’s why I wanted to write it.