Gill Meredith is not only the author of “How to be a Property Manager: South of France”. Born in the UK, she managed teams in UK, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. And after a time in real estate she identified that looking after holiday homes after they had been purchased was a potential future career and took the leap to advertise her services and approach the Chamber of Commerce to learn how to start a business in France. Now she is a property manager of holiday homes and here you can enjoy this interesting interview.

What motivated you to write a book about Property Management?

So many of my clients said to me “Gill, you should write a book”.  It was usually following an incident at their property. Some of these were standard issues but others were totally bizarre. I also looked at how many books already existed and I found there were very few that covered the area as I knew it. They were mostly American books that talked about managing blocks of apartments and ensuring they were fully rented and maintained. I wanted to write about the role of managing holiday homes and additional aspects such as holiday rentals in these homes. A book that covered a wider spectrum than ensuring property occupancy, managing contracts, and maintaining buildings.
Now the book is available in digital and paperback formats. The book covers my role as a property manager and also about managing house rentals.  There are a selection of documents that can be used as tools or simply as ideas if you want to create your own.

If you have to mention the top 3 or 5 things that today any Property Manager should have.

(1)A good communicator.

I worked with clients from America, Australia, Italy, Ireland, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Japan, China, Canada and France (Parisians with holiday homes in the South of France).  Some spoke English and some spoke French. I have a very limited knowledge of German. Being a good communicator is an obvious expectation for the role but it cannot be underestimated. If have travelled a lot it will help with understanding any cultural differences in how you express yourself.

(2)Methodical and logical way of working.

Naturally problems occur. Anyone who has owned a property knows that all sorts of breakdowns and issues can happen; particularly if a property is left empty for several weeks or months.  The client looks to the property manager as the trusted “safe pair of hands” who will spot problems, offer up a plan to solve them, and ensure any action is taken to resolve the issues. I know of property managers who tell the client about a problem and effectively hand it to them leaving them remotely trying to fix it. I believe in a 100% service. I would notify of issues, offer solutions, and implement the fix keeping the client appraised of the progress.

(3)Calm and professional manner.

If you imagine yourself in the client’s shoes, you would appreciate that you are looking after their investment being their property. As we all know, property is the only real way of making money in these days of poor financial interest rates.  You are the person in charge of this home and therefore “their money”.  They really want to be at the house themselves and ensure it is in perfect condition. They cannot be at the house so you become their representative. They do not want to be woken by a phone call saying their house is flooded or on fire.  They want to know that the person who is managing their home is not of a character to immediately panic and they want to be reassured that any issues will be assessed in a professional manner and the appropriate actions are taken.

In your book, you talk about “The Property Manager wears many hats!”...

I worked for myself as recruiting people could be complicated and costly in France. This meant that I got to experience a wide variety of tasks at a personal level. I could be translating an official document one minute and project managing a fire at a chateau the next. I could be watering pots in a garden one minute only to resolve a major drains issue from floods the following week. This variety meant that I needed to be a bit of a specialist in many topics. Do you know the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” (bon à tout, bon à rien)?  Over the years, and having experienced so many issues, I could think through logically what might cause electrical problems, water problems, the risk of break-ins, insect issues, etc. It was never dull as I might be wearing a pest control hat one day but replace it with a plumber’s hat the next!

You mention that despite the different nationality, culture and environment there are things or advice that can help anyone, anywhere if you want to be a Property Manager

It references the key requirements for the role.  Not everyone makes a great property manager. You need to be flexible as there is no such thing as a 9 to 5 day and working Monday to Friday. You need to spot problems and fix them – no matter the day or the hour. If you are a good communicator, have a practical and logical mind set, demonstrate a competent and professional approach then you will be a great property manager. This is irrespective of the country or culture. If you are a property manager for a client and you do not know their country or their culture, I recommend reading a little about any differences.

It is also important to periodically review with your client how you are performing. Do not be afraid to ask them what works for them and what does not, are you communicating enough or too much? Ensure you have feedback and adjust accordingly to the feedback. Nobody likes criticism but it becomes worse if you become defensive.

What are the rules/way of working that changed in the last years and after Covid with Property Management?

As I live in France, I think it is advisable to be aware of home owner rules and regulations. As the person managing homes of 14 nationalities, I sometimes found I had to update clients on a change of a regulation as they would be unlikely to hear about it.

I don’t see a big difference with Covid. I spent a lot of time at owners’ houses on my own and I think the role of a property manager rather suits the current need for social distancing.

My role only involved contact with other people if I needed to get a tradesman e.g. electrician to fix a problem. If you maintain a distance, wear a face mask and use hand gel then you should not have any reason to worry.  

How do you see the market this 2021?

I can see a huge potential for more property managers in my area in the South of France (in Occitanie).  There are just not enough property managers in this region which is sought after by holiday home owners worldwide.  There is definitely a need for people to manage these second homes and an even bigger need for people to manage homes that are rented out. I did this role for many years myself but it involves weekend working through the summer so does not suit everyone.  

What kind of profile do you find the most collaborative?

I link the word “profile” in my mind with the best type of working relationship with a client. In every instance it comes down to a client who communicates quickly and effectively and who trusts you. If you imagine that you’ve completed a property check and identified a problem, it can be extremely stressful if you send an email but get no reply or you telephone but get no return call. As a property manager or facilities manager, you can often take on the stress of a problem so a lack of communication by your client can be very worrying.

I think a sense of humour is often overlooked in this role. It can be easy to be bearer of bad news sometimes so a little light and shade when funny things happen will help to develop a good working relationship.  

Interested in collaboration?  5 new ways to make facility management collaborative

Do you think that the property and facilities industry is digitalised or prepared to jump into it?

I do not believe that it is at the moment. I think it all comes down to the character and skills of the individual but it doesn’t have to be that way. Clients are looking for a reliable and stress-free property manager.  There is nothing to say that a uniform way of working via a software tool is not the way forward. Software needs to be able to accommodate the raft of tasks and issues that the property and facilities industry might demand of it. I immediately think of project management disciplines but there can be many smaller issues that do not need this degree of intelligence or approach.

What do you think about the factors that can facilitate the adoption of new technologies for the people who work in this industry?

It depends on the property manager/facilities manager and their client base.  I would encourage study on cultural differences if you are working across wide cultural divides e.g. how you begin an email to a client has the potential to offend!

I am not sure how you instill common sense into people who might not have it but it is true that the longer you live, the more life experience you acquire.  Is there a fast track to gain this?

I found it imperative to have a minimum set of tools: a mobile phone which was useful for phone calls but imperative as a camera to take photos at clients’ homes; a laptop for emailing, noting client activity and invoicing; a minimum of Excel and Word software (or manufacturer equivalents); and a decent internet connection!

If you are interested in this topic save for later The evolution of property management in digital age

Would you like to share a recommendation for the people who are in the property management industry?

"Market yourself by any means possible."

I recommend using clothing as a marketing tool. I soon found that wearing my own clothes throughout the summer heat of 35+° would mean that they quickly faded and tired. I invested in polo shirts that I purchased through the web site that I used and I added my name, “property manager” and my phone number. I won many clients by wearing these polo shirts and popping into shops where holiday home owners spotted the writing and struck up a conversation about their house and their needs.

If people want to buy your book “How to be a Property Manager: South of France” , where can they do it?

The book is currently available in paperback or as an e-book requiring a Kindle device. It can be purchased via Amazon’s web site.

I can be contacted on gill@gillmeredith.com

(Note that this is the link for the Amazon.com site.  If you want to use your country's site, just access it and enter "Gill Meredith" in the search box. It should appear.)