The Toronto-based property management company boasts a portfolio of 500 clients and manages over 1,000 properties across the GTA. Brandon is a certifiable jack-of-all-trades within the company. He’s handled everything from property administration to the company’s legal portfolio to client relations.
We chat with Brandon about the services LandLord offers, how the Toronto condo boom has affected the business and why he couldn’t do his job without “The Diary”.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get into the property management business?
Brandon Sage: I started off as a rental agent as a means to saving up money to go to law school. That was about seven years ago. I worked for someone named Bonnie Hoy. She sets up various apartment buildings around the city with rental agents to sit in their offices and handle the leasing agreements. I worked for a number of these companies and bounced from location to location. I found myself stepping into these companies and calling into question a lot of their practices and processes — basically telling people who had been in the business for 50 years how to run their show. Not to say that I was right or that was the best way to approach it, but there was a need there. It’s a very old business. I joke that I’m not sure which is older — property ownership or prostitution. Property managers have probably been around almost as long as there have been landlords.
A fascination grew out from that and I just discovered there was a niche to be filled. The problem with law for me is there’s too much studying the theory with the hope of applying it in practice. Property management is all practice and then hopefully figuring out the theory that led to the successful application of the practice, after the fact. I found that was more appropriate for my style of learning.
BBH: How long have you been with LandLord?
BS: Six years now.
BBH: How did you get your start with the company?
BS: I was first hired as a tenant coordinator. The role involved moving tenants in and out, calling for rent and a lot of the basic functions that a property administrator performs. After a short period of time and an awareness that I had handled a lot of legal work at the previous employer I’d had, they moved me into handling the legal aspect of the company. For the next three years, I was handling the entire company’s legal portfolio as a client legal services manager.
BBH: What’s your current role?
BS: The role has evolved. For almost two years now, I’ve shed the legal component and we now have a paralegal in house. The way the company has worked since I’ve been here is I’ll take on a role and then they’ll hire someone to do it full time. Now my role concentrates on dealing with new clients. When people approach us to manage their property, I’m here to answer the questions and get them set up.
Each client comes to us with a challenge. At the very base, the challenge is to collect as much information as possible about their property so we can set them up under a program and manage it effectively. Some clients will come to us with more challenging issues. I’m dealing with one in Scarborough right now where the tenant hasn’t paid rent in two months. The owner came on board and told us that there are all sorts of issues with the tenant and she has to go. I went to visit the property and saw that the place is very poorly maintained. I went back to the owner and told him that we’re not managing the property unless he agrees to let us do a set number of items. He’s come back and agreed so now my job is to bring both of them to the table. I’m just waiting to hear back from the tenant to see if she’ll pay two of the three months she owes which we’ll use to make the changes to the property.
More generally, I’m always trying to bring someone new into the program and tackle the challenges they’ve expressed to us. And, actually, as of today I’m now licensed under our own real estate brokerage. We also directly assist clients in selling their properties and acquiring new properties.
BBH: That’s quite a broad scope of responsibilities.
BS: It’s been fun. I sort of joke that I have a very short attention span. I started here when there were only five employees and now we’re up to close to 20. It’s been nice to take on all these different roles.
BBH: How would you describe LandLord’s services if you were approached by someone who is interested in purchasing a residential property as an investment, but is holding off because they are worried about taking on the responsibilities of directly managing the property?
BS: It depends on the nature of the client. One of the things I’ve learned, especially working in the high-rise environment, is clients have very different needs. If someone wants to buy an investment property, they’re not falling into the corporate relocation side, so we don’t have to convince them that their home is going to be okay while they’re gone.
If the investor coming to us is new to it, I’ll just explain to them that it works similarly to starting a retail store. You’re the owner of the store at the end of the day but you have a store manager, which is us, and you have the customer, who is the tenant. It’s our job as the store manager to make sure that the customer pays at the till, the stock is maintained and everything is kept in place. We are your eyes and ears and we do everything on your behalf. It’s all about making them feel comfortable in their choice of company and that we have the experience they need.
A lot of that just comes from asking them the right questions — when do they have it rented for, what is their horizon for it, have they had any experience being a landlord in the past, if they’ve been a tenant in the past, where do they want the rent to go. We also describe the features we have in our company. In the unlikely event that a tenant isn’t paying rent we have a paralegal to take care of that. We always strongly stress the importance of the tenant screening process. In real estate you say “location, location, location” but in this business we say “screening, screening, screening”. We have someone whose job it is to screen rental applications. She starts with the assumption that everyone is a fraud and works her way back until she’s satisfied.
BBH: If you’re responsible for a unit in a high-rise building and the tenant calls about water damage that has occurred in the unit. What’s the process? Would the owner need to get involved?
BS: People go to a property management company for one of two reasons — they don’t have the time to do it or they’re not around to do it. People who aren’t around to do it themselves often would if they could, so they can be very demanding. We are set up to handle everything on their behalf so they don’t have to do anything more than replying to an email or occasionally a phone call if it’s a really urgent issue.
If there is a water leak in a place and it happens after hours, we have a 24 hour pager so they can contact us and someone will take a look right away. The tenant is usually our eyes and ears in this respect and we can respond in real time depending on the nature of the emergency. I joke that this business is a lot like Groundhog Day — it’s the same thing over and over again. We have procedures in place and it’s very rare to encounter something new. By finding out the nature of what that item is, there’s usually institutional knowledge or information in our procedures manual that will explain how to deal with it.
BBH: How has the Toronto condo boom affected your business? Is there a correlation between the growth of your business and the boom?
BS: I would say to an extent, yes. Condos make up about half of our portfolio now. However, a lot of those condos are corporate re-locations or “accidental investors”. When people are buying a new condo, it’s the real estate agent that’s going to be doing the management. When you look at the number of units that are out there and you look at the percentage of which are investment condos — which is easily half — we’re barely scratching the surface. Our business as a whole is barely scratching the surface. It’s real estate agents who are the reluctant property managers. The Realtor gets roped into collecting the rent because they’ve being guilt tripped or want to be around to keep the lead hot.
BBH: What’s the one tool in your day-to-day that you can’t live without?
BS: We have a system called The Diary. It’s a tool that we made and it ties together every part of this operation. Our accounting system is called Spectra, which is designed for property managers and similar to Yardi. The Diary is a direct interface with Spectra, it pulls data out and sends data back into it. It’s custom designed to accommodate many clients but few properties. If I conduct an inspection on a property, I can indicate what needs to be done and hit “repair item” and when I save it, it generates a work order that pops up on the dashboard of the appropriate account manager. They can follow up on that ticket, issue the work order to the appropriate contractor who will receive by email. Once they’re done with the repair, the invoice will be sent in and that closes the ticket.
It’s accessible on the tablet computers we have, it’s accessible on our iPhones. Our clients have access to it too. It’s really our technological edge over anyone else in this business.