Turn Yourself into a Commercial Real Estate Superhero


Being a commercial real estate superhero doesn’t mean taking on more work—it means finding smarter ways to make a big impact. Even though the demands on property and facility managers continue to increase, true superheroes learn different disciplines and new skills because they want to find better ways to make tenants and occupants happy, keep their management team satisfied and improve the bottom line.

“To be noticeable in our industry, you have to do something different than what others are doing,” says Ali Khan, manager of Facilities, Security and EHS (Environmental, Health and Safety) at Siemens Building Technologies Headquarters, a BOMA 360-designated corporate building in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.

Without running yourself ragged, what can you do to go beyond the call of duty as a property or facility manager? Four property professionals share their experiences with finding new ways to do more with less.

Play All Sides

As Khan points out, property and facility managers face a tricky trifecta: balancing the satisfaction of customers (tenants or occupants), employees (the management team) and the boss (ownership). Each party often wants something different, and it’s up to you to find a solution that appeases everyone—without spending money unnecessarily. “Be someone who runs the organization as if it’s your own,” suggests Khan. “Spend the money as if it’s coming out of your pocket.”

Finding ways to improve tenant or occupant satisfaction, while improving the owner’s bottom line, is key, says Susan Engstrom, BOMA Fellow, RPA, FMA, senior manager at Main Street Real Estate Advisors in Phoenix. Case in point: After sitting empty for months, Engstrom decided to market vacant storage areas in one of her properties to local businesses to generate additional income. Not only did this improve the bottom line, but it also gave tenants the opportunity to bring their off-site storage onsite for the first time.

Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind

Working in a silo can hurt your chances of getting buy-in from others. Understanding what other groups involved in the commercial real estate industry do—and what’s important to them—can help you more effectively state your case and relate to your colleagues.

“When I was an engineer, I wanted to understand why the answer was sometimes ‘no’ when trying to convince my property manager that something needed to be done,” explains Murray Greene, BOMA Fellow, RPA, SMA, CPM, president and COO at Greene Commercial Real Estate Group in Hollywood, Florida. He started taking BOMI International’s Real Property Administrator (RPA) classes. “They didn’t directly relate to what I was doing at the time, but if I understood the property management side better, I knew I could do my job more effectively, especially when I was trying to get items into a budget.”

Seize Every Opportunity to Learn

“Never get to the point where you say, ‘I know everything I need to know,’” adds Greene. “I still learn something new every day.” In addition to running his company, Green also is a court-appointed receiver; he takes on assets for the court when they enter the foreclosure process. The Florida State Bar Association recently held a webinar for attorneys on receiverships. Even though he’s not an attorney, Greene attended the webinar because he knew that understanding how attorneys think about receiverships would give him a better understanding of how to work effectively with them.

There are many opportunities for facility and property managers to increase knowledge, and those ways don’t have to be expensive. Which leads to the next tip…

Get Out of the Office

Take your team offsite to visit different commercial buildings. You also can look for inspiration from other types of businesses, like grocery stores, car dealerships and organizations known for exceptional customer service (Disney, for example). “It might seem like there’s no correlation, but there are best practices all around us that can be ‘borrowed’ for the commercial real estate industry if you look hard enough,” says Marc Fischer, BOMA Fellow, CPM, RPA, CCIM, LEED Green Associate, principal at InspiRE Commercial Real Estate Services in the Baltimore area. “Watch how other companies do things. How do they create a unique experience? Do you feel welcome? Do you feel connected? Do you feel like someone cares about you? For customer-service legends, it’s so much more than a business transaction—it’s about creating a lasting, positive feeling for each customer.”

Searching for other organizations to learn from not only can help you find examples of things you can do better, but may also showcase examples of what not to do.

Create an Experience

Regularly walk your property from the perspective of an occupant or tenant, employee and visitor. Was the parking garage clearly marked to easily find your way to the building? Will it be simple to remember where you parked? Does the lobby attendant greet you or ask if you need assistance? Are the floors and windows clean?

Fischer believes you’ve reached success once the people who interact with your building don’t actually think about the building at all—instead, they pay attention to the impression they have from the moment they step through the door. When everything works, the “building” becomes a place to conduct business; it disappears into the background. This allows you to create an “experience” where tenants and visitors feel something positive onsite. “I was recently teaching a BOMA International Foundations of Real Estate Management class at a building with a broken entrance door,” says Fischer. “Instead of taping a handwritten sign to the door, the management team hung a pre-designed sign that read: ‘A bit out of kilter today, but on the mend. Please use other door.’ Even that sign is part of the experience.”

Create a Process Manual

To establish a consistent experience for people in the building, Fischer highly recommends creating a process manual: “When it rains, for example, here are three things the lobby attendant does: puts out umbrella stands, rolls out extra floor mats and places ‘wet floor’ signs.”

Part of creating an experience involves the ability to repeat a certain level of service over and over again. By making a process easy to replicate and then documenting it, everyone on the team can follow it.

Form a Building Council

Get tenants or occupants, service providers and the management team together once a month to solicit feedback and identify areas that need improvement.

Regularly check in with people across the building to ask what they’ve noticed. “Your lobby attendant may repeatedly hear, ‘I had a tough time finding the parking garage’ from people entering the building, says Fischer. “That information is valuable to know so you can turn it into an action item.” Establish a way for lobby attendants, parking attendants, janitorial staff and others to relay to you what they hear.

Show Genuine Interest in Tenants and Occupants

“Happy tenants make happy owners,” says Main Street’s Engstrom. “If you don’t show interest in them, they won’t show any interest in you.”

Engstrom likes to personally follow up on requests placed via an electronic work-order system. “The tenants still need to hear from us and understand that we want to know if their needs were met.” She explains one situation where the elevators in an 11-story facility weren’t working. Instead of hanging a sign, Engstrom chose to stand in the lobby to explain in person what was happening—and to apologize for the inconvenience. It also gave her the opportunity to explain an upcoming elevator modernization project to tenants.

“I view a building like it’s a small city,” says Engstrom. “As the ‘mayor’ of the community, I want everyone inside to know that I’m here for them no matter what.”

Don’t Forget to Show Your Value

Just as important as finding new ways to approach career challenges is tracking the results of your efforts. Siemens’ Ali Khan suggests translating results into terms people can relate to: tons of material sent to a recycler instead of to the landfill, average number of lightbulbs lit from an energy-savings project or number of trees saved from paper recycling.

“Document everything and forward the information onto ownership and upper management,” says Main Street’s Susan Engstrom. “We send flyers and take pictures of every successful thing we do. They need to know what’s happening because they typically aren’t there to experience it personally.”

Before he owned his own company, whenever Murray Greene came back from meetings or events his company paid for, he sent an email to property and asset managers outlining what he learned and how those lessons would positively affect the property. “Take it upon yourself to say, ‘Thanks for paying for this. Here’s the value I received and how it will improve the company.’ ”

This article was originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of BOMA Magazine.