THE MAGAZINE FOR PROFESSIONALS

Getting Your Foot in the Door

Debra Gelbart

PMYour next painting job might come from anywhere, and networking could be the key. Many painting contractors have discovered that property-management companies can be a source of steady work. If you’ve been wondering how to build relationships with residential property managers, keep in mind there’s an art to getting onto a list of preferred painting contractors.

Not surprisingly, you’ll find more opportunities with interior painting projects than exterior. “Exterior paint jobs will usually be scheduled well in advance during nicer weather,” said Ed Shaffer, director of maintenance operations for HHHunt, a Blacksburg, VA-based apartment property-management company that manages 15 properties in four states. “But interior paint jobs may be needed on very short notice, and that’s where property managers can really use the help of a good, reliable painter, so we can get an apartment ready as quickly as possible for the next tenant.”

Some of the industry representatives we interviewed indicated they may want to put a painting contractor on retainer; others said they prefer to hire for one project, or a group of projects at a time.

GET CONNECTED

To connect with property managers, go to the events they go to. Think about attending trade shows and taking part in local fundraisers sponsored by—or popular with—property managers, suggested Tara Carter, the managing director for Luxe Residential Services, an asset management and consulting firm in Richmond, VA. If you connect with a property manager at one of these events, ask for a meeting and be willing to offer your services for the first job with that property manager at a discount, Carter said.

Carter also suggests contacting your local affiliate of the National Apartment Association and Institute of Real Estate Management, an international community of real estate managers, to inquire how you might become one of the organizations’ preferred vendors.

Many property managers rely on referrals—from other property managers, real estate agents, home inspectors, appraisers, and other contractors—to find painters, said Steve Schultz, the 2016 president-elect of the National Association of Residential Property Managers and the designated broker for Blue Fox Properties, LLC, a residential property-management company in Tucson, AZ.

PREPARING FOR A FIRST MEETING

Experts in the property-management industry agree there are several steps you can take to make an initial meeting with someone in a position to hire you more productive.

Once you’ve targeted who you’d like to work with, set up an appointment ahead of time with a property manager. If you just show up at a property manager’s office without prior arrangement, you probably won’t be able to meet with the person on that visit, Carter said.

Before you meet with a property manager, set up a professional- sounding email address and voice mail greeting. Create a business card and appealing marketing materials that you can leave with the property manager, Carter advised (more on that later). And make sure your cell phone’s ringtone isn’t something silly or offensive, she said.

Show up for the appointment on time and wear proper attire. “You need to dress appropriately when you’re meeting with a property manager, especially for the first time,” Carter said. You don’t have to wear a business suit, but you should avoid paint-spattered coveralls, she said, adding that a polo shirt, khakis and business-casual shoes typically are on target.

During the meeting, be honest. If you learn that the available work isn’t a good fit for your skills or interests, say so, said Emily Howard, the community manager for The Reserve at 4th and Race, a downtown luxury-apartment community in Cincinnati, OH.

If a painter can’t deliver, for whatever reason, they should decline the job up front, echoed Paul Rhodes, the national maintenance and safety instructor with the National Apartment Association Education Institute in Arlington, VA. Don’t allow the job to go forward without first letting the property manager know of concerns or issues, he said.

If you decide to move forward with the interview, the industry representatives advise being prepared to answer the following questions:

• Why should we hire you?

• How many years have you been doing residential painting?

• How long will it take you to paint this apartment?

• Do you charge a flat rate or by the hour?

• Are you able to touch up a unit instead of a full paint?

• What are the ballpark cost estimates for both?

• Does that price include paint and supplies?

• Do you have your own equipment?

• Are you experienced with drywall repair?

• What do you do to prep the apartment—remove light switches, caulk, etc.?

• What is your workload now and would we be your priority?

• Do you have additional staff for times when you have a heavier workload?

• Do you have references we can contact? (Be prepared to provide names and contact information at the interview.)

• Do you offer a discount for volume business?

• How long should the paint job last after you’re finished?

• How much lead time do you need before starting this project?

• What associations do you belong to? Are you a member of the Better Business Bureau?

LEAVE THE BEST IMPRESSION

If you don’t get hired as a result of that initial meeting, don’t assume you’ll never get hired, the industry representatives say. There are ways to help the property manager remember you.

Leave-behind marketing materials—a business card or a flier that trumpets your skills and experience, and possibly even a small brochure that details your areas of expertise—may help the property manager recall meeting you months later when a job opportunity presents itself. These materials should be professionally designed and written, many of the experts suggest. One way to find communications and design professionals is to find a company—it doesn’t even have to be a paint company—whose marketing materials you like, and ask who they worked with to produce them.

Don’t let months go by before contacting the property manager again. Contact once a month or so will be acceptable to most managers, Carter said. “But never stop by a property on a Monday or Friday or on the first of the month,” Howard said. “And when you do stop in, don’t take up too much of the property manager’s time.” An easy way to connect with property managers is through gatherings sponsored by the local apartment association, Howard added. “Join the association and come to meetings and mingle,” she said.

“Most contractors will try to meet with a property manager once and move on,” Schultz said, “but I recommend, based on marketing studies, that a painter contact the property manager up to 10 times,” with each contact coming about every four weeks, he said.

GET HIRED AGAIN

When you do get hired, the most important step to take to ensure you get hired again by the same property manager is to show up ready to work on time with all your supplies in tow, unless they’re being provided for you. “Wow the property manager with service above and beyond,” Carter said. “Do something nice for the maintenance team, not just the property manager, such as bringing a gift for the holidays.”

Being able to communicate via email is vital, Schultz said. “The ability to invoice accurately and promptly is also important,” he said. “Most property management work-order tracking systems go through email. The days of calling in work orders or sending via fax are over.”

Howard suggests offering a discount on other services related to painting, and offering to buy the staff lunch in exchange for referrals.

If you’re contacted by the property manager, respond as quickly as you can, Schultz suggests. “Being slow to respond kills us in the property-management business. Time is money and, often, we’re up against the clock, especially for move-outs.” Shaffer said his company’s policy is that an apartment that’s been vacated must be readied for the next tenant in five days.

Respect the residents in nearby apartments, Rhodes said, by keeping noise and odors to a minimum. “Ensure that each paint crew has at least one person who speaks the language of the apartment community.”

Follow through on your estimates without, “looking to nickel and dime small charges,” Rhodes said.

Do quality work on time and on budget, Shaffer advised. “We expect our contractor to act as if he’s on our payroll and treat our residents with the same level of respect as we do.”

Be available for last-minute needs, Howard said.

Rhodes said the first impression a painting contractor should make is that he’s organized and knowledgeable about his trade. The continuing impression, he said, should be one, “of integrity, speed of completion, and the completeness of the job.”

All of these steps not only can lead to repeat jobs with the same property manager, but can lead to referrals to other property managers. “Fellow apartment managers know firsthand the quality and timeliness of painting contractors’ work,” Howard said.

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