Start a property management business by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your property management business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the initial costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.
Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your property management business is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
STEP 8: Define your brand.
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Property management is exciting because there is always something that needs to be done. Normal maintenance can be scheduled; however, pipes may break in the middle of the night and emergencies can come up frequently. A property owner (landlord) can act as a property manager, or he or she can hire a professional property management company to take on full or partial responsibility for the management of a property or properties. The goal of a property management company is to reduce risks and maximize income for the property owners.
Who is this business right for?
Your company will be on-call 24/7 and you must enjoy dealing with all kinds of people. The best property management companies treat the properties as if they are the owners, which they also might be. They have full or partial responsibility for the building(s) that they manage and are good at screening tenants to find good ones, without discriminating. They are problem solvers and take appropriate and prompt legal action to evict destructive and/or non-paying tenants. You will have to stay calm and manage emergencies without getting overly stressed about the problems because there will be a constant stream of new problems to deal with.
Real estate brokers are good candidates for starting a property management company as either a division or a subsidiary because they already have many contacts with property owners, as well as relevant experience in the industry.
What happens during a typical day at a property management business?
As an owner of a property management company, you will need to be able to manage properties remotely for routine matters and be on-site for matters that require personal attention, such as emergencies and showing vacant apartments or rental spaces if the building is a commercial one.
For example, if your property management company manages a large group of single family homes that are rental units you will be constantly checking on them. You will be working with the vacant ones to get them rented as fast as possible. You will be constantly inspecting properties to make sure everything is OK with them and any work needed is being done properly.
You will have an extensive list of to-do items, which changes every day. There is industry-specific property management software available that helps keep track of everything. You must be able to multi-task and constantly get the most critical things accomplished as fast as possible.
Rental properties need constant maintenance. Any vacant properties need to be cleaned up and repaired quickly to find a new renter. The main responsibilities are to keep everything in good condition, manage the tenant relations, and show the vacant places, which are made attractive to reduce the "down time" when the rental properties are vacant.
What is the target market?
The clients for this business are real estate investors that own rental properties. The can own a single property or be a large Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that owns thousands of properties.
How does a property management business make money?
Some property management companies charge professional fees for managing property owned by a third party, while other property managers acquire the properties they manage and keep all rents derived from their property. There are property management companies that do both. Starting out, it may not be possible to directly acquire rental properties unless partnered with a real estate investor that can provide funds to buy a property.
There are five popular business models in this industry sector, which are:
- Charging the property owner a percentage of the rental income earned by the properties under management.
- Fixed fee contracts are also common. Under this scenario, the property owner contracts with a property management company for certain services and pays a fixed fee. The property management company may have full or partial responsibility for the property. This type of contract is used when the properties have no income, such as maintaining properties that are vacant and for sale.
- Base rent guarantee contracts are another type of agreement that property owners make with property management companies. Under these agreements, the owner accepts a base rent that is guaranteed (usually below market rates) by the property management company and allows the property management company to sublet the property for a higher rent. The difference between the two rents is the income for the property management company.
- Revenue sharing agreements are used for commercial properties that create income, such as stores or restaurants. The property management company pays the owner a percentage of the revenue generated, instead of paying rent for the property.
- Hybrid agreements are possible, such as a combination of a fixed base rent and a revenue sharing portion that is paid to the property owner by the property management company.
What is the growth potential for a property management business?
A privately-owned REIT called Blackstone in the past years, after the real estate market collapse, bought about 50,000 single-family homes all across the USA, with the intention to convert those properties to rental units. A property management company that lands a contract with Blackstone to manage their rental properties would earn many millions of dollars each year.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful property management business?
Because it is very difficult to remove a bad tenant, skilled property managers will need to be thorough and meticulous in their professional life. Being organized will not only make the job easier, but it will also help you respond quickly whenever issues do come up, whether it is trouble with a tenant, or with the property itself.
You should also be comfortable dealing with all kinds of people.
Having worked for about three years as a property manager prior to starting your own property management company is a very good idea.
What are the costs involved in opening a property management business?
There is little cost to start this business if the property management company manages a single building or a few units because most of the work is done onsite at the property and expenses for repairs and maintenance can be charged to the property owner. For this type of operation, the only expense is having a mobile phone and the time needed to manage the property.
If you want to expand to managing multiple properties then you will need an office and staff to help handle the workload. Real estate brokers who already have an office and staff can enter this business by simply adding more staff that is tasked to provide property management services for the property owners.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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Growing Your Business
How to promote & market a property management business
You prove the ability for your property management company to manage properties by doing it. Real estate owners notice this success and if your company does the job well for a single property, you will get plenty of offers to manage other properties.
Sending reports to property owners about your property management successes is a terrific way to find new business. The owners of properties and their contact information are easily found by simply searching the public tax records.
Going to seminars or conferences that real estate investors attend, networking with them, and handing out business cards is good. Joining business associations, social clubs, and the local chamber of commerce helps promote the business.
Networking online by using the LinkedIn social media system for business persons is a good idea. Having a website with high-quality content that is designed for search engine optimization (SEO) and using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns on the Internet to create web traffic to your website are also effective.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Property owners appreciate property management companies that keep everything rented. The goal is always to have a high occupancy rate. Owners also appreciate property management companies that are very successful at finding good quality tenants by conducting a credit and rental history search to make sure the rental applicants have a good history of renting from others, without any record of evictions.
A track record of proven, superb performance in managing buildings will help you retain your customers. This is also the attraction for other property owners to engage your company for managing their buildings and will help expand your operations. Real estate owners are always looking for great property management companies, so if you show a job well done you will retain your existing property owners and find many more property owners that will contract with you for property management services.
How and when to build a team
There needs to be an appropriate level of staff that is capable of managing the workload. Adding new staff when increasing the numbers of properties that the company has under management is fairly straightforward. The workload sets the pace and the income earned sets the price you can pay for the additional staff.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
In most states, you need to have a real estate license or a property management license. All Property Management provides a list of each state’s licensing requirement.
In addition to broker licensing requirements, additional state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a property management business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Local licensing or permitting requirements may also apply. For more information:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Property management businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a service agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example service agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your property management business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Most states require property managers to have a real estate brokers license. Requirements for obtaining a broker’s license vary by state. These requirements typically include the prior attainment of a real estate agent license, hours in the workforce, coursework, and the successful completion of a broker’s license exam.
How much can you charge customers?
Property management companies that provide full-service management, which means the management company has full responsibility for the property, usually earn 10% to 15% of the rental income collected, with the balance paid to the property owners. This is the most common metric used in this business.
For example, a property management company has the contract to manage a multi-tenant complex with 100 units that rent for an average of $500 per month each. If they maintain an annual occupancy rate of 90%, which is really good, the annual earnings for the property management would be calculated as follows:
- 100 units at 90% occupancy equal 90 units rented on average over one year.
- The rental income would be 90 units times $500 per month times 12 months. This equals (90 x $500 x 12) $540,000 for a year.
- The fee earned by the property management company would be either 10% or 15% of this amount, which is $54,000 or $81,000 from this single contract.
What are the ongoing expenses for a property management business?
If the company manages multiple properties, you will need to pay rent for a small office, pay for utilities, and pay staff to answer the phones and manage the workload. Typical office rent is around $2,000 per month. Utilities are around $200 to $300 per month, which includes electrical, telephones, and an Internet connection.
The amount needed for staff depends on the size of the company. Payscale reports that the typical pay for an administrative worker in this sector is about $30,000 per year. Assistant property managers make about $40,000 per year. Company managers and regional managers in this sector make about $73,000 per year.
How much profit can a property management business make?
A staff of one manager, one assistant manager, and one administrative assistant with a modest office costs about $143,000 per year, employee taxes and benefits would be about 30% of the pay, which is around $34,000 and a small office costs about $27,000 per year. This means expenses for the year would be about $204,000.
To make a profit using our example given above for managing 100 units, the property management company would need to have 400 units under management that are similar to the example given. Gross revenues would be $216,000 to $324,000 per year. Gross profits before taxes would be $12,000 at the lower end of the scale (10% fee) and $120,000 (15%) at the higher end of the scale.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Besides managing the properties, you can provide the repairs and renovation services as a sideline business. Everything that needs to be done for the rental properties is a source of potential extra earnings as long as the price of the services is competitive with the local marketplace and full disclosure of the potential conflict of interest is made to the property owner.
A few examples of the possible sideline support businesses include:
- Handyman services
- Carpet cleaning and installation
- AC or furnace repairs and maintenance