THE ART OF APARTMENT MANAGEMENT: Polishing Your Skills and Loving What You Do.
Starting as a leasing consultant, Travis worked her way up, eventually becoming a manager in 1983. In 1986, the property owner became involved with the recently started Apartment Association of Fort Wayne (Indiana) and he suggested that she take NAA's Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) course, feeling that continuing her education would really benefit her and elevate her professionalism. "And he was right, because the attitude when I started in the industry was `Oh, you're interested in an apartment, well here's the key and it's down the hall'," Travis says. "The education put a polish on what skills I did have and opened up the ability to develop other skills. I didn't know anything about a budget or the financial end of the business because that wasn't even handled out of our office. So it made me aware of many other facets that I hadn't been exposed to before that."
Travis is now manager of Port O'Call Apartments in New Haven, Indiana, a 174-unit community. Travis had initially pursued a degree in education but dropped out of school to support her husband's studies. She eventually went back to school with the idea of going into nursing, but abandoned that when she got into apartment management because she found it so rewarding. Becoming certified helped to further enhance Travis' outlook, attitude, and day-to-day operations. Furthermore, it helped her develop a network of other managers. "It's created a connection where I know that there are other people out there who are having the same difficulties or experiencing the same positive results that we are," she says. This is particularly important to Travis because Port O'Call's small size means that she is typically the only person in the office. Just knowing that there are other people she can contact is a comfort to her. "There are a lot of wonderful people in the industry and I've been privileged meet with and work with so many of them," she adds.
When Travis became NAA's CAM of the year in 1997, the property owner publicized it. Although Travis admits that most residents may not know or care about certification, or understand what goes into the makings of a well-run community, many residents did come in and congratulate Travis on her award, which gave her the opportunity to educate them as to what certification means. "I had several people who said, `You know, it shows. There's always someone here to help us if we need help. The attitude in the office is always outstanding and the apartment is well-run and well-maintained,'" she says.
Although Travis was able to become a manager without being certified, she firmly believes that in this day and age, "where the demands have changed so much," she would still be a leasing consultant if she weren't certified--if she were even in the apartment industry at all.
Travis says that one of the biggest things she learned by going through the CAM course was understanding the financial aspects of apartment management: "Everybody thinks the landlord is the guy with the big, bulging pockets full of money, but it isn't always true." It's made her far more sympathetic for the property owner,"and I feel that because I have that picture; it makes me care if we've been billed for something incorrectly. I just have a real interest in seeing my property thrive and I know that it can happen because of things that I can control."
Thanks to her CAM, Travis better comprehends the importance of resident retention. Port O'Call doesn't have the budget to do a lot of resident promotions, but they are "really, really committed to personal service" and do many things to foster a sense of community. For example, if Travis finds out that a resident has a problem or a death in the family, she tries to help. When a resident goes on vacation, it's not uncommon for someone at Port O'Call to water plants or feed fish.
Travis feels ultimately that an owner will reap the benefits multiple-fold on any money that is spent on education for employees. But education does more than just make owners appear more sympathetic to managers: "I have a new appreciation for the owner, but I've also developed skills that make it harder for my owner to want to replace me, so I have a degree of job security. But I also know that I have a marketable skill and strong abilities. I could go to another community and really be an asset."
The president of the Indiana Apartment Association recently asked Travis what she would do if she weren't doing what she's doing now. Travis answered,"I don't know. What other kind of job is there? I just really am thrilled with what I fell into 20 years ago. And it's been so good to me and my family that I just can't imagine not being in multihousing."