If you’re new to managing the built environment, it can be tough to find your place. But buildings are full of opportunities for growth, from handling repairs and maintenance for one building to managing a whole portfolio.
Facility management and property management are the two main career tracks for someone who’s interested in maintaining and improving buildings for a living. The two areas have a lot in common, but there are some distinct differences that you should be aware of as you chart the course of your career.
What Do Facility and Property Managers Do?
Many facility and property manager duties overlap. For example, they’re both responsible for keeping buildings safe and secure, implementing water and energy efficiency initiatives and dealing with third-party service providers. But there are some distinct differences.
A third group, asset management, may work with the other two groups and has additional responsibilities, explains Marc Fischer, BOMA Fellow and principal of InspiRE Commercial Real Estate Services.
“The property manager and leasing team are boots on the ground,” he says. “The asset manager is a representative of the owner of the real estate and is responsible for the bigger picture. The asset manager thinks of things like when to sell or hold the building and how the income and expenses for that building hold up against all of the other buildings in the portfolio.”
Both require a person who can roll with the punches and deal with the lack of a typical schedule, Fischer explains. “That has to be ingrained in you because there are no two days that are alike in commercial real estate,” Fischer adds.
Key Skills for Facility and Property Management
Whether you ultimately end up in property management or facility management, there are a few important qualities that will help you find success in either field. Fischer recommends a strong focus on customer service and communication skills. “It’s knowing what to say and when and how to say it,” Fischer says. “Recognize that you may be talking to the CEO one minute and a contractor the next, and after that it could be a visitor to the building who’s upset about something.”
Jake Gunnoe, director of the Leadership Society of Arizona, recommends embracing evolving technology now because it will become an increasingly important part of both property and facility management.
“Everything is starting to move toward automation, so a lot of the technical skills that were really important in the past are becoming less important for managers,” Gunnoe says.
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“In fact, we’re finding that a lot of the students who graduated through engineering or construction management get put into these roles and they’re not very good managers. It’s either you’re trained very hands-on, very specific expertise in the technical, turning the wrenches, boots on the ground work or you’re trained very highly on people management. If you want to go into a management role, the most important thing you need to learn is how to utilize and align expertise. Be somebody who can clearly describe a problem using metrics and information that everybody understands and be able to clearly identify an expert who can help you out,” he continues.
9 Other important skill areas to develop:
1. Basic building knowledge.
“Regardless of whether you’re the facility manager or the property manager, it’s not voodoo magic that creates air conditioning in the mechanical room,” Fischer says. “How does that work and what are the pieces? What maintenance should you do and when? When should it be replaced? How should it be maintained? ‘How do things work’ skills are big.”
2. The ability to work as a fiduciary.
Both types of managers protect the building owner’s financial investment in the building, just in slightly different ways.
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3. Contract negotiation and development.
“Generally speaking, the facility manager and property manager are both contracting for goods and services, so they’re both putting contracts together. That’s a big responsibility,” Fischer says. “They have to do that in a way that’s ethical and shows good decision-making.”
4. Flexibility and being a quick learner.
Facility and property managers must be able to observe what’s going on around them and react quickly, says Henry Chamberlain, president and COO of BOMA International.
5. People skills.
“Whether you’re running a building with multiple tenants, working for the owner or in your own facility, you really have to have people skills and the ability to work with a lot of folks,” Chamberlain says.
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6. Basic finance and accounting knowledge.
“Everybody prepares budgets whether you have one building or multiple. You prep the budget for your department as the facility manager,” explains Chamberlain. “You need the ability to put together those budgets and understand operations enough that you can suggest investments in infrastructure.”
7. Leadership and strategy.
As you establish yourself in the field, the ability to lead a team will become more and more important. Be comfortable with presenting in front of a group, participating in meetings and delegating tasks to people on your team.
8. Health and well-being.
The emphasis on wellness in buildings impacts both property managers and facility managers. Property managers need to offer amenities that will encourage existing tenants to renew their leases and attract new tenants to lease out empty spaces, and right now, activity- and wellness-focused spaces are the key. Facilities managers are charged with creating a healthy environment for building occupants.
9. Community spirit.
Property management in particular is taking on a community manager role that involves coordinating social activities as a sort of experiential amenity.
“Tenants are looking more for activities that allow them to get together in the building. That could be an ice cream social, a happy hour or a health and wellness session,” Chamberlain says. “Facility managers have been doing that for their corporate clients, but now there’s interaction with what’s going on elsewhere in the building or in surrounding areas. People are looking for more service, whether you’re a property manager or facility manager.”
“I’m a big advocate of continuous learning,” Chamberlain adds. “You need to be updating your skills and development at work on an annual basis.”
Which Track is Best for You?
Choosing which stream to pursue is where the lines between property management and facility management become especially blurry.
A corporate facility manager might be responsible for a building portfolio in the same way that a property manager traditionally is, and property managers may find themselves taking care of certain building tasks that are usually delegated to facility managers if their lease with a certain tenant requires that.
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“There’s no standard property manager or facility manager. You have to think about it in terms of a spectrum or a continuum,” Fischer says. “There may be a person who has very few responsibilities for a building and mainly just collects rent every month, and on the other end of the continuum there’s a senior leader with all kinds of skills and a master’s degree with multiple designations.”
William Whitfield, general manager of the Russ Building for Shorenstein Realty Services, LP, recommends investigating in person if possible. Programs like BOMA/San Francisco’s Commercial Real Estate Alliance for Tomorrow’s Employees (CREATE) aim to attract talented people to commercial real estate and develop them as professionals with useful classes, a fellowship program and partnerships with Bay Area employers.
“Interviewing and exploring both career tracks would be really beneficial,” Whitfield advises. “Even at the interview level or the research level, you can get a feel for what would be more interesting to you as a person.”
Marc Fischer recommends a strong focus on customer service and communication skills: “It’s knowing what to say and when and how to say it. Recognize that you may be talking to the CEO one minute and a contractor the next, and after that it could be a visitor to the building who’s upset about something.”
Chamberlain recommends finding a mentor who can help you determine where you’ll fit best and assist with professional networking. Industry groups like BOMA and IFMA can be great places to find people who are willing to meet for coffee once in a while and answer your questions about their career trajectory, training and job experiences.
Continuing Education Opportunities
CareersBuildingCommunities.org, a learning platform supported by 32 participating professional associations (including BOMA and IFMA), is another great way to investigate what you might like your real estate career to look like. It showcases 26 real estate career options and even has a quiz to help you discover how to leverage your strengths in real estate.
Resources like these can be invaluable to someone who’s new to the industry.
Continuing education courses like BOMA’s popular Foundations of Real Estate Management course are essential and can double as a way to explore the different aspects from the industry, from maintaining various building systems to developing emergency management plans.
“Regardless of which pathway you choose, the continuing education after your degree is absolutely critical,” says Fischer. “My personal suggestion is that any employee who comes on board with one of my teams, we do Foundations of Real Estate Management and then immediately enroll them into BOMI’s Real Property Administrator course and IREM’s Certified Property Manager designation. If you have those and maybe your LEED Green Associate certification, that’s a pretty well-rounded property manager. Those are the skill sets that a person really needs.”
“If you’re not learning something new every day, you’ll worry that you’re falling behind. It’s really important to keep up with it,” Fischer adds. “At the end of the day, facility management vs. property management doesn’t matter as long as you’re keeping up with your education.”
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