In my early days as a commercial real estate manager, I remember coming under criticism for being “too nice.” That is, too nice to be an effective manager. The implication was that with my friendly disposition I couldn’t be tough enough to properly enforce the rules, gain the upper hand, and “win” on behalf of the property owner.
The thinking was, a manager who was not mean and tough could be taken advantage of by the conniving tenant asking the landlord to pay for an unusual repair or improvement, or the tricky vendor not giving the best price, or the unscrupulous leasing broker forcing concessions that would come back to haunt the property owner.
I’ve worked in this industry long enough to learn why they were concerned – but also why it didn’t become a problem for me. I’ve come to know, with conviction, that building relationships aimed at mutual success is the best path. That requires a certain balance.
The evil landlord
There’s an unfortunate old stereotype of the landlord, one depicted everywhere from classic literature to melodramatic films. No doubt this reputation was fully earned through the actions of some property owners in the past. There were certainly many cases of uncaring and unsympathetic owners basing their decisions and actions on the stone-hearted premise that “It’s just business.” However, our experience has been that the vast majority of landlords are willing to work with tenants toward common goals.
This one’s too firm
Like most professional managers, I understand and embrace the concept that decisions and actions need to be based on the bottom-line health and success of the property investment. But I can also cite many examples where unbending adherence to lease provisions, or inflexibility in decision-making, ultimately resulted in a blow to overall success.
For example, I’ve seen a landlord evict a startup tenant that was struggling with rent payments, and then watched that business grow over time and end up leasing 40,000 square feet of office space (elsewhere), or open 10 locations in other retail centers. I’ve seen situations where vendors are treated less than fairly or without consideration or compromise; then suddenly become unavailable on that holiday weekend when everything breaks. I’ve also seen leasing brokers encounter an obvious lack of flexibility in deal-making; after that they don’t seem to bring any tenants around to look at space.
A rude and inflexible approach may produce a quick resolution in the moment, but it never leaves a positive feeling on the receiving end, and it usually kills any potential for a continuing business relationship.
This one’s too flexible
Now, that’s not to say the proper approach shouldn’t be firm and assertive when needed.
For many leasing brokers, the goal is simply getting a signed lease. They may not be concerned with provisions in the lease that give the tenant certain options and rights, as long as the provisions don’t directly impact the rent and signing on the line. An inattentive manager who doesn’t carefully review the details of a proposed lease can allow provisions that might cause future conflicts with tenants, or leave the landlord with unexpected costs.
And while long-term relationships with vendors and tenants can be professionally friendly, that doesn’t mean a property manager should unquestioningly accept higher, non-competitive vendor charges, or give preferential treatment to favorite tenants by letting late payments slide, accumulating unpaid rent balances, or allowing exceptions for parking, signage, or repairs that are not allowed by the tenant’s lease.
If we were to look the other way when something’s not right, let others take advantage of a situation, or employ a manager who doesn’t care enough about the details, both our clients and our professional image would suffer dramatically.
This one’s just right
The property investors we work with understand the importance flexibility plays in their investment’s long-term success. Our job is to help them see all the considerations and consequences of a tenant decision, a leasing consideration or a requested repair or improvement. As managers and brokers, we’ve seen the measurable benefits of treating everyone we deal with in a professional and courteous manner.
As I mentioned, I call it the “friendly and firm” approach. We’re in a customer service business, and for us it’s all about building working relationships with clients, tenants, vendors and brokers. The “friendly” part manifests in timely responses, listening carefully, empathizing with problems and experiences, and following up with information and action. The “firm” part surfaces when we lean on our experience and expertise to make an intelligent and proper decision that’s within the legal structure of the lease and in the best interests of the property. We’re always striving for a solution that we’ve collaboratively worked out between all the parties involved—one that results in the best possible outcome for everyone. Then we communicate the decision to all parties, using the proper proportion of friendly and firm.
Everyone loves a happy ending
As a manager and broker, the most satisfying moments are when I’ve successfully helped a tenant or client meet a need or solve a problem. That sometimes requires detailed analysis, precise worksheet calculations, long drafts and reports, and seemingly endless paperwork—and it extends far beyond me, to an entire squad of stellar colleagues. But the payoff is the satisfaction that our team’s efforts and interactions brought success and a measure of happiness to everyone involved. Over the years I’ve reaffirmed that practicing the friendly and firm approach almost universally results in rewarding encounters and positive business reinforcement. This has been particularly true in my 24 years at NAI Elliott. Our company embodies the friendly and firm strategy—and our team of professionals would never call a colleague “nice” without it being a compliment.