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Property Management Is Now a Global Enterprise

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There’s an iconic New Yorker magazine cover depicting Manhattan as the dominant acreage on a map of the United States. A sliver of land beyond the Hudson River is all that separates it from the Pacific Ocean. Much the same pride of place—understandably—dominates our view today. The U.S. is the epicenter of the world. It’s also on the leading edge of property management. But is it …?

It’s easy to forget that property management is as much a global initiative as a local one, shaped by the culture, the politics and the economic models specific to each country. Property management in one sector of the world can differ broadly from another, and it’s this coming together of different experiences that shapes the profession.

Listen to some of our international IREM members to get a flavor of the unique rendering of our profession from country to country.

“Of the total United Arab Emirates population, which is close to 10 million, only about 15 percent are U.A.E, nationals,” reports Waqar Hasan, CPM, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, president of the Community Associations Institute Middle East, and CEO of Itihad Community Management. “This high expat percentage creates a sense of impermanence in the culture. People are here for work or leisure and will ultimately return to their home country. Occasionally tenants go back to their home country without properly handing back the property, in worst cases defaulting on rent as well.”

Or this from Pepe Gutierrez, CPM, CEO of Megafincas Alicante in Spain, who indicates two of the major points of differentiation. First, is the recognition of the profession officially. “To be an Administrator in Spain, it is necessary to pursue university studies in this subject for three years and with a multidisciplinary training.”

But there is also a lifestyle component at work in Spain, he explains: “The Spanish, and mostly the Latino population, prefer to live in a community of owners, such as a condominium or HOA. In fact, this represents 80 percent of the population, something very different from the Anglo-Saxon world, where it does not exceed 30 percent. That is why the property manager is mostly from the community of owners.” 

Or just think of what the lifting of Apartheid in South Africa did to both challenge property management and raise its profile for professionals formerly disenfranchised by the policy. As Leah Misbin, IREM’s senior director of international programs, explains, property management professionals in this group found a new level of trust and respect by joining our international organization with a meaningful certification program and strong code of ethics.

As we continue to spread our network farther around the globe, the changing texture and nuance of property management in each country becomes clearer. We’ve found countries wherein property managers yearn for that code of ethics in lieu of governmental regulations dictating certification or even strict laws of professional behavior. The laws we take for granted here, that keep people on the straight and narrow, frankly don’t exist everywhere. In such countries, a unified international code of ethics becomes key to dedicated property managers.

Then we discover countries such as Japan, where (much as in Spain) a recently-passed law governing registration of residential property managers proves the government’s realization of the profession’s importance. Serbia, too, reflects that same legislative support of private enterprise, with a recently passed law to standardize community associations and condominium boards.

Another major point of differentiation between the U.S. and certain other countries is the view of property management not as a standalone and unique discipline, but as a sort of subset of the larger real estate industry. In those cases, as Leah explains, practitioners might take a building from development through to management without the latter as specialty. As a result, regulatory oversight and licensing specific to management tend to be light to nonexistent.

Despite such varying interpretations of property management globally, I firmly believe that there’s an underlying commonality uniting us. Issues such as COVID-19, and more recently, the war in Ukraine, shrink our globe and bring us together.

The pandemic has proven to be a great unifier in some regards. It prompted many common answers to shared issues such as the switch to regulating hybrid work and the increased safety of places of public accommodation. And, of course, virtually everyone’s focused on the plight of the people of Ukraine, and from individual, corporate and association standpoints (including but certainly not limited to IREM, the National Association of REALTORS, BOMA International and the Counselors of Real Estate), we’re bringing to bear our collective expertise in support of the country and its population.

What else unites us? Waqar offers the following: “Finding quality vendors for maintenance, retaining quality staff, tenant background and credit checks are global challenges. Property managers everywhere face similar challenges created by technological advancement to deal with such issues as the consequences of short-term letting and sharing and charging ports for electric cars and scooters. Detection of violations and then enforcement of these and other community rules is a universal issue,” as is pursuing sustainability initiatives. “As governments have pledged ambitious goals, working towards them, and achieving those sustainability targets are on the list of all property managers.”

Pepe, too, sees a common bond in the growth of technologies. Customers today, he says, “demand speed and immediacy in answers to problems.”

But there is something more that unites us. “Managers around the world have gone from managing properties to managing people,” he says, with variation only in culture, economy and place.

Zoom, of course, has become the travel analog of the past two-plus years. It’s gratifying to see and hear in a Zoom call members from Dubai and Brazil and South Africa sharing their concerns and solutions. This, above all else, gives further credence to the shrinking globe that international association membership stands for.

The U.S. cannot be the epicenter of property management any longer. We’re getting the world to talk, and in that communication, we find more that binds us than divides us. 

And isn’t that terrific!

Barry Blanton is 2022 IREM President. In addition, he serves as chief problem solver and a founding principal of Blanton Turner in Seattle, Wash.