Beyond the Bottom Line: Property Management’s Challenge in Balancing Residents’ Lives with Business Ambitions

Property Management is a tough career choice. When I was a property manager, I always felt that I was directly accountable to two groups of people: the residents that chose my community home and the owners and investors who I represented. 

I always felt like it was an impossibility to please both. Either we were spending too much money or not being aggressive enough raising rents for our bosses to be happy or we weren’t spending enough money on the property and we were too heartless with our rental increases to make our residents happy.

 Scroll through LinkedIn and you will see any number of opinions on how to properly underwrite deals, the impact of interest rates on cap rates or what a good/bad sponsor does, but I have noticed that the one thing you see too little of is how to be better to our residents. 

I was an assistant manager at a property in Lawrence, KS the first time it really occurred to me that when someone leased at my property they were trusting me, my colleagues, and my boss to take care of one of their most basic human needs: housing. 

For us it was a job. We showed up in the morning (even when we were too tired/unmotivated), we had lunch (if we were lucky), and went home sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. For our residents, it’s their lives, their security, their peace, the primary place in the world where they could be in their own element.   I knew that I would stand up for my residents whenever I became a property manager. 

My first time walking through my property on the day I became a manager I was so proud. It was a 144-unit property in Lawrence KS, and even though I was working for someone else, for the first time in my life I felt ownership. My goal seemed oh so simple – make money for my bosses and be good to my residents. 

For anyone in the industry, that simple goal is haunting in its simplicity. I immediately negotiated a deal with the local branch of Catholic Charities to help provide housing to those who needed it. I was well on my way to accomplishing my simple goal. 

Of course that was short lived. The property was built in the 1950s and all the pipes in the buildings met under the first floor units. Anyone who lived on the first floor was subjected to constant drain back ups and floods. I tried to do anything I could do to help. I even got a bid from a local plumber to update all the valves in the buildings. Of course, that wasn’t in the budget. I was learning all about my goal on a daily basis. 

I hated evictions. I hated the idea of removing someone from their apartment. I knew most of my residents. I knew their stories and my heart hurt for many of them. I did anything I could to sign payment plans and give them more time. Of course, that only worked until my boss called me and told me how problematic my delinquency had become. Obviously, this was harder than I imagined. 

When I started Vesta, I knew we would care about and value every single resident. When we bought our first property my biggest investor in the deal told me to start a tenant advisory board with residents and let them tell me how we could be better than the group we purchased the property from. 

Again, I had hauntingly simple goals. As we grew, we had more and more properties which meant more and more residents to take care of. It also meant we had more investors, more employees, more problems to fix and less time to do it. 

At the end of summer in 2023, I received a message on Facebook from a woman who lived at one of our properties. It was a long message, and quite frankly I was embarrassed about what she had gone through. We immediately started working to remedy her issues and concerns and after a few weeks she was taken care of. 

Around a month later my wife and I were in New York. We were having dinner with friends one evening, and one of our friends posted a picture of all of us together at a restaurant. A few minutes later our friend got a comment on her social media. The comment was from the very same resident who had reached out to us the month prior. She asked how our friend knew us and mentioned that we were good people who had gone out of our way to help her. 

After all of us had the obligatory “it’s such a small world conversation” (it really is), our connection deepened and we ended up offering her a job. 

Think about this story. If we hadn’t taken our resident seriously from the start imagine how embarrassed we would have been when we found out we had a real-world mutual connection. Even worse than that, our resident never would have wanted to work with us and we would have missed out on a very talented individual who makes Vesta better every day. 

We are so proud of our teams at the properties. For the most part they give their lives working for us and their residents. But sadly, nothing is as easy as I hoped years ago. Sometimes when I post a celebratory post on social media a resident with an issue or a concern will post about how disappointed they are. 

My wife and I get all reviews left across the portfolio, and we see and feel all the positive and negative experiences residents share. It’s definitely hard on both of us. So, I came up with a different goal. 

My goal is to care about every resident complaint I see/receive, while simultaneously supporting our managers who are doing their best and STILL operating in our investors best interest. 

All in a day’s work I guess you can say.  

Marc Kulick

Marc Kulick

CEO of Vesta Capital and Vesta Realty