5 Property Management Tests for Commercial Real Estate Owners & Asset ManagersWith current depressed real estate values and rents, capable property management is more important than it has ever been. It is the main contributor to value in stagnant real estate markets, because while there are prospects for rent growth on the horizon, rent increases could be two to five years off – depending on the market. Management focuses on conserving and building value NOW.Most commercial real estate owners outsource the property management functions to a general brokerage firm that offers property management services or to a specialized property management company. Unfortunately, selection of the property management firm is often made with very little due diligence on the qualifications of a firm, the person who will actually be doing the managing, and the knowledge of the specific market where properties reside. Picture standing on a busy sidewalk and handing a stranger a suitcase stuffed with cash. In essence, that is the same as selecting a manager without due diligence, because you are handing the equity in the property to a mere passerby for care and custody.How do you measure the job a management company is doing? This article attempts to help you figure that out, because it makes even less sense to settle for poor service from a sub-par management company then it does to blame all properties’ problems on th e management company.Below are five tell-tale tests to check the performance level of your management (if your management service is in-house, this test can also apply).Test #1 Few, if any, ideas for improvement come from the property manager for ways to improve the physical property or the leasing situation.You hired a caretaker, not a manager. Managers understand the word “proactive”.Test #2 Property management reports are irregular and hard to decipher.There is no excuse for this and the situation is easy to fix. Have an Excel spreadsheet designed to supply only the information you want, or select one of several comprehensive and off the shelf software programs available. Examples of the latter are the MRI, Yardi, Quicken or Property Solutions software programs.I prefer real-time, online file-sharing between the owner or asset manager and the property manager. This setup does double duty – you can access the information anytime you need it for a lender, partners, upper management, etc. Plus, real-time reporting will insure that the property manager won’t wait until the day before a property report is due to actually do something related to your real estate. A simple, inexpensive service like Go to My PC can set up a multiple user system and share management reports.Test #3 The person you’d hired to manage the property seems to have disappeared and someone else is managing the asset.You have experienced “bait and switch”, a situation where the well-rounded resume of an experienced manager lands the business for the firm but then it is it goes to an underling or trainee for handling. This happens in both very large national firms and in small local management firms. Protect yourself by putting a “Key Man” clause in the agreement that gives you an ‘out’ if the person you thought you’d hired isn’t actually on the job, or quits.Test #4 The management firm location is some distance from the managed property and you are not certain how often the property is physically visited by a property manager.Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of property site visits. A property manager’s responsibility includes ongoing routine contact with tenants. That way, when lease renewal time comes up, there is no unnecessary re-negotiation or delay. Personally, I prefer hiring property managers who live and work in the same market as the property over a big- name firm in a nearby city. If there is not a qualified property manager in the local market and you must use someone in a nearby city, be very specific about requiring periodic on-site visits and what you want to know after each visit. Your manager needs to talk to the tenants face to face before problems arise, and emails, tweets or phone calls are no substitutes!Test #5 You receive regular reports about the property, but no information about the real estate market where the property sits.Your manager is doing half the job. To make educated decisions about assets, an owner or asset manager must understand how their property compares to others in the market and what factors are impacting the local scene. A market condition report is not a canned demographic service report from a subscription service – it is a first- hand, feet on the street report analysis.A good property manager is invaluable and should receive incentives for peak performance. If the above tests indicate that your current management doesn’t measure up, it is time to have a heart-to-heart discussion. Incorporate the above requirements in to the management agreement. That way, if there is no improvement, you are free to look for other options among the competitive firms vying for business.Finally, as property management services are not always licensed or regulated by state governments, one way to shop for the best service is to find managers with certifications by industry groups. Designations such as Certified Property Manager http://www.IREM.org or Certified Shopping Center Manager http://www.icsc.com help insure that a manager has invested in education that will add value to your investment.