Working in property management with those near and dear, whether sibling, spouse or significant other comes with challenges but the payoff tremendously rewarding. Find the joy and overcome those challenges of working with relatives by knowing the impact, benefits, pitfalls, and best practices. 

Working with Relatives is Bound to Make an Impact 

In 2013, it was estimated that 43% of small businesses were family-owned with 53% of those in management shared responsibility with their spouse. It’s a growing trend. In 2017, The National Federation of Independent Businesses indicated that 80-90% of all business enterprises were a family business

It’s bound to make an impact on the relationship, the family, residents, owners and the community at large with so many family members working together. The impact of working with relatives could be one of benefit (see next section) or detriment (see pitfalls below) depending on the approach and the personalities.

The Benefits of Working with Family Members

Working with a significant other can be a joy to those involved and a benefit to those they serve. 

Residents benefit from a united front and a family atmosphere. Owners may prefer that family vibe as well, knowing their properties are cared for by a management team versus a corporation. Both residents and owners would benefit from the pooled skill set of talent and experience. 

Tackling challenges can be easier with this built-in brain trust. On that note, you also have a built-in trust factor. The partnership can create flexibility in schedules that a traditional management position might lack. 

Empathy in the workplace is a shared understanding of the vocation, daily pressures, and successes. With the added time together and the workplace empathy, the relationship bonds can grow emotionally stronger 

A community is enhanced and strengthened when families participate. Legacy is created by sharing a vision and working towards the same goals. Bottom line, the benefits make for an enjoyable environment to spend your workday and may spill over to increased profitability from lower turnover rates to less stress-related illnesses. 

Pitfalls to Avoid in a Family Business

Nepotism, the hiring and working with relatives, carries a negative connotation in many industries but not in property management unless it involves cronyism. Cronyism is elevating a family member to a position they are not qualified to hold. Just as in any hiring practice, the appointment of anyone to a position of authority without regard to their qualifications can ruin a company and its reputation. 

On that note, carefully select each person’s duties to create balance. For instance, decide who will conduct property inspections, bookkeeping, property marketing, etc. An imbalance of tasks and responsibilities can be a breeding ground for resentment and bitterness towards those not pulling their weight. A clear understanding of individual responsibilities also diminishes the likelihood of a potential power struggle or delays in decision-making. 

Be also mindful to not show favoritism to family and friends within your organization. Favoritism leads to a decline in morale and an increase in turnover and inefficiencies. 

One of the greatest pitfalls to avoid is blending home and work in a dysfunctional manner. The stress of work at home coupled with the stress of home at work is a volatile cocktail. Set aside the concerns outside of the property environment (see commandment one and two below). 

Working with Family Doesn’t Work…for Everyone

With the pitfalls in mind, working with loved ones isn’t for everyone. Meaning working with relatives could be a joy, but only if it’s right for you both. For that cause, planning out how to start a property management company with a spouse, sibling, or significant other, or simply deciding to hire a relative should be done thoughtfully. 

There are many pros and cons of working with a significant other. Before jumping headfirst, here are some questions to ask yourself and each other before making the leap:

Do you get along now? If not, why are you considering this option? Clearly, if there is no joy now, more time together will only fuel any current issues. 

Ready for odd hours? Although working with a partner can create flexibility in schedules. both parties need to be aware of any additional time commitments of the job. Typically most jobs within the property management world come with emergencies and after-hour issues to consider. 

Will you trust the other’s judgment? Just as you would need to trust a traditional co-worker or vendor, trust within a marriage or partnership should be paramount. If trust is lacking, then working together will not be a joy. 

Can you offer negative feedback without damaging the relationship? Your words matter always, but your words in this scenario should be even more diplomatic and graceful to protect the relationship. 

Prepared to hear negative feedback from the other? Don’t take it personally. Come to all discussions with an open mind.

Have you made plans if the industry takes a downturn? When working together, all your eggs are in one basket so contingency planning is important. 

How have you prepared for child-care, illness, or other concerns? For instance, decide how much involvement your children have, how you will care for them, transportation, illnesses or other family matters while working together is a must. 

Successful partnerships realize the need to hire outside help to fill in the gaps and cover downtime. Secondly, they also know that having the right tools, property management software, resources at their fingertips lifts some of the burdens. Most importantly, they have thought long and hard about budgets, retirement, insurance, long term savings, exit strategies, contingency plans, and other important considerations.

What Residents and Owners Really Think About Your Partner

From experience, residents and owners have expressed they experienced added value in dealing with a family team versus a corporation. For that reason, corporations often hire management teams that are either related or partnered in some manner to create that homey, welcoming atmosphere. Mobilehome parks and other multi-family communities most often have an onsite team comprised of related partners who are members of that community as a liaison between the residents and the company interests.

Residents get the feeling that they are more than just a rent payment or house number. Similarly, owners feel that the team is managing their properties with care. Conversely, when executed poorly, both residents and owners will be negatively impacted by any drama or neglect. In either case, one’s integrity and reputation are at stake making it all the more important to only work with your significant others when you know it will be a joy for all parties involved. 

The Ten Commandments of Working with Significant Others

Business relationships are tricky, from dealing with tenants to working with vendors, your partnership needs to clearly make all other business relationships better. There are many tips and tricks for working with relatives. Best practices to accomplish that goal is to remember these ten commandments: 

  1. The relationship comes first — leave work issues at work. 
  2. Business comes first — leave home issues at home. 
  3. Set clear boundaries for and respect of the other’s role, responsibilities, and time.
  4. Empower each other. An important step to accomplishing this is to create an organizational chart of tasks and duties, stay in your own lane, and trust the other.
  5. Encourage and appreciate each other, meaning don’t take the other for granted. 
  6. Hire outside help when needed. Those extra hands, eyes, and support will help keep your sanity and give you breathing room. 
  7. Invest in tools. No one should be burning the midnight oil under piles of invoices in hours of bookkeeping. The better the tools, the better the business overall.  Trust me, it can also save a marriage. Property management software these days is absolutely affordable and a must-have. 
  8. Create downtime together. Take vacations (yes, you can!). In addition, don’t forget mini-vacations, coffee breaks, and other special moments to remember why you decided to work together in the first place.  
  9. Schedule downtime for your self. Have individual interests outside of work. Cultivate special interests and friends and have separate identities.
  10. Celebrate! Resolving challenging moments is a reason for rejoicing. Meeting goals are an opportunity for reward. Celebrate each other and your decision to pursue your dreams together. 

Take it from someone that has worked many years with relatives, it can be very fulfilling and joyful if done with proper intent and purpose. Most importantly, this opportunity produces personal growth and from that, both home life and work-life are further enriched.