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Lee Harvey CAMT, CAPS San Diego owner extraordinaire: with nearly 40 years in the local apartment management business, trailblazer Lee Harvey has seen (and done) it all.

Bacteriologist, bookkeeper, electrical contractor, maintenance technician, general manager of a construction and plumbing company, operator of an outdoor nursery and landscaping company, owner of a pool supply and maintenance firm, real estate broker and property manager--those are just some of the positions held by Lee Harvey, CCAM, CAMT, CAPS, PCAM, who has been a key member of San Diego's apartment industry for more than 30 years.

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She--yes, "she"--started in the construction industry in the early 1970s. At the time, Harvey and her first husband ran an electrical contracting business. When he died of cancer at age 38, she was left with three children to support. Men dominated the industry at the time, and they had no desire to work with a woman. So, Eva Lee Harvey decided to become just plain Lee Harvey. It was a different time back then.

In the November 1999 issue of the San Diego County Apartment Association's (SDCAA) Rental Owner magazine, Harvey recounts taking the test for her electrical contractor's license in 1974. She showed up to find a room filled with 82 other test-takers--all men. At one point, one approached her and said, "Honey, I think you're in the wrong place. They're taking the beauticians' test on the other side of campus."

Thankfully, she says, the industry has come a long way since then.

Harvey remained in the construction industry for 18 years and worked with a developer who built apartment communities. She was charged with hiring managers and maintenance staff for the properties. The developer tired of the increasingly difficult permitting process, which seemed designed to slow development rather than support it. In 1987, she made the leap to property management because she believed it was a good fit with her construction industry background.

"It's a business that's about people and problem-solving," she says. "Where a lot of people run from a problem, I like to face it head on and solve it."

She spent two years working with a friend who was a real estate broker so that she could earn her own real estate broker's license. Soon after, her construction industry friends approached her about managing their properties.

Today, she is Owner/President of Professional Real Estate Management, which operates 17 properties, of which four are apartment communities totaling approximately 600 units."

"I tell young people to 'just do it,'" she says. "Young people think everything has already been done, so there's no way they can contribute, especially without a lot of money. I started my business with $10,000. Today, I could get up in the morning and think of at least five new businesses our industry needs. You just have to grab the opportunities because they are out there."

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Loving Her Job

Harvey still gets excited about working in property management and says she loves what she does. The apartment industry is the "backbone of the United States" because so many people cannot afford to own their own home, she says. The laws regarding rental properties are constantly changing--especially those in California--so it is a business that never stops.

It does take a special type of person to succeed in the industry, Harvey says. Those who choose a career in the apartment industry have to not only enjoy working with people but also be able to listen to them to help solve problems.

"When it comes right down to it, we're caregivers for our residents," she says.

Knowing all areas of the business also is key. Lee requires new property managers to work in maintenance for at least six months so that they learn how to work--and negotiate--with contractors. It's a standard to which she also holds herself. She earned her Certified Apartment Maintenance Technician (CAMT) designation from the NM Education Institute (NAAEI) so that she could better work with maintenance companies.

She believes in the importance of education and has earned numerous professional licenses and designations, including CAMT, Certified Apartment Portfolio Supervisor (CAPS), real estate broker, Professional Community Association Manager (CCAM/PCAM) and Certified Nurseryman.

"Education is the most important thing in the world because when you learn something no one can take that knowledge away from you," she says. "I went back to college 15 years ago to get my degree because I felt it was necessary."

She also occasionally teaches CAMT and Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) courses. As chair of the California Apartment Association (CM) Education Committee, she worked on the ethics text used by the association. Over the years she has taught hundreds of courses for CM and SDCAA. She twice chaired CAA's education committee.

Even today, Harvey's receptionist knows to put students straight through to her. Harvey says she doesn't take calls from just anyone, but she makes an exception for her students. She figures that if they are calling, then they must need her help. She's happy to oblige. Harvey hopes her knowledge and experience can help them avoid the same hurdles she had to leap during her career.

Staying Involved Locally

One piece of advice she always gives her students is to become involved in their local professional development association. Harvey worked in property management for five years before finally joining SDCAA. Looking back, Harvey said she wishes she had joined sooner because S DCAA' s learning opportunities could have made those first five years a bit easier.

Though nowadays she only occasionally teaches SDCAA courses, she says she still values the role the association has played in her career. She served on its board for most of the 1990s, including one term as its president. In 1999, the association recognized her with its Industry Achievement Award. She's also a founder of the California Association of Community Managers.

Throughout her long career, a supportive family has surrounded her. She has six children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One son is CEO of Professional Real Estate Management, and her daughter is the company's CFO. She has been married to her second husband, Dick, for almost 40 years.

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Before she agreed to marry him, she said she had two conditions. "I told him that I wanted to go on vacation every year because I work hard, and I deserve it," she says. "I also told him he had to support my love of reading."

He agreed, though at the time he didn't realize she read seven books a week. Realizing he couldn't afford to keep buying her books, she says, he soon started going to yard sales on weekends and bringing home trash bags full of books. He is now sick with emphysema, she says, but he has always been her "rock."

"If I didn't have him to back me up, I wouldn't be able to do the things I do," Harvey says. "Many husbands and wives don't give you that freedom to do what you want. That freedom is the greatest thing in the world."

Harvey says she has no plans to slow down, saying her children would have to fire her to get rid of her. She says she will know for herself the time to quit has come when she wakes up one morning and thinks that she HAS to go to work. She always looks forward to going to work because it's fun, and it keeps her mentally alert.

"My goal in life is to live to 105 and then be shot by a jealous wife," she says. "I don't feel my age. I just returned from Peru, and I recently visited Egypt and China. I'm just doing my thing."

Meet Us In San Diego

The 2013 NAA Education Conference & Exposition June 20-22, 2013

Mark Evans is Staff Writer, for Catalyst, a public relations firm based in Austin, Texas
COPYRIGHT 2012 National Apartment Association
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Comment:Lee Harvey CAMT, CAPS San Diego owner extraordinaire: with nearly 40 years in the local apartment management business, trailblazer Lee Harvey has seen (and done) it all.
Author:Evans, Mark
Publication:Units
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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