Property management is their calling

Debbie Phillips, Ph.D, Executive Director, Georgia Apartment Industry Foundation

Debbie Phillips, Ph.D, is the Executive Director of the Georgia Apartment Industry Foundation and also teaches classes at Ga. Tech in property management which is a stable and growing career in the real estate industry. Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC.

By Laura Raines, for the AJC

Property management isn’t one of those careers that kids dream about pursuing when they grow up.

“In fact, most young people have never even heard of the industry,” said Debbie Phillips, CEO of the Quadrillion, an apartment industry consulting firm and instructor for the Georgia Apartment Industry Education Foundation. She’s out to change that by teaching courses in residential property management, leasing and real estate career development at the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology and metro Atlanta’s technical colleges.

“I’ve been in this industry 18 years. I love it because it’s so diverse and offers so many opportunities for either new college grads or career changers,” she said. “As a second career, it allows people with experience in finance, human resources, sales or business management to use their transferable skills without having to start over.”

She loves turning people on to the industry by teaching them the book knowledge, bringing in industry speakers and using apartment communities, such as Icon in Atlantic Station, as a lab for students to see the work in action.

Despite the downturn in housing and banking, this is a real-estate industry seeing job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the field to grow by 15 percent between 2006 and 2016.

Like all industries, property management has been affected in these economic times, said Rob Couch, president of Lane Management, LLC.

“Occupancies have been down and developers aren’t building new projects, yet people have to have a place to live,” Couch said.

But Lisa Kersey, senior regional property manager at Lane Company, is encouraged to see traffic numbers and occupancy rates increasing.

“Apartments aren’t going anywhere and there will always be a need for people to run them,” she said.

Couch calls the business “steady and firm” and expects it to get stronger. The Lane Company is hiring.

“Property management is really about people leadership and services,” he said. “You can’t automate that — you need people.”

The industry is looking for workers with enthusiasm, sales ability, management training, maintenance abilities and landscaping skills.

“We train them well and then let them do their jobs using their own creativity, which is unlimited,” Couch said. “Although the industry is off the radar of most people, it offers enormous opportunities. You can start out as a leasing specialist and grow to a job having huge responsibility in terms of investment, revenue dollars and the effect on people’s lives.”

Students come from a variety of business, economic and architecture majors to take Phillips’ courses as electives, and many catch her enthusiasm.

Wanting to work in real estate, Carolyn Morse took Phillips’ class at UGA in 2004. “She [Phillips] promised me a ton of opportunities and I was excited about having the chance to work all over the country, so I went for it,” Morse said.

“I’ve been extremely happy and feel lucky to have been in an industry where I’ve been able to advance quickly,” said Morse, who at 27 is the director of leasing and marketing for Sales, Inc., an Atlanta-based company that does intensive sales for new and struggling properties.

“We started out with a staff of two, and I now have 15 people who report to me from around the country. We’ve hired those people in the last five months,” she said.

You don’t have to have longevity in the industry to move up.

“People recognize someone who is smart, motivated and hard-working,” said Morse, who had worked in leasing, managing, corporate recruiting and business development before taking her present job.

A 2006 economics graduate out of UGA, Josh Whitfield was attracted to property management courses because of their practical knowledge about the working world and the industry contacts who helped him find a job. He is a project manager with DeNyse Signs, a Douglasville company that supplies signage and marketing services to the apartment industry.

Jiten Patel graduated as a consumer economics major from UGA on May 9 and started as a leasing specialist for Colonial Properties Trust at an Atlanta apartment community on May 11.

“I wouldn’t trade this job for anything. Every day is different and I’m doing what I love best — using my operations skills and working with people,” he said. “My personal goal is to move up to the corporate level.”

7 comments Add your comment

Glynis Melton

August 25th, 2009
1:43 am

I enjoyed your article and I have 20 years experience in finance, accounting and sales. I have been trying to get into a second career of property management and it is a hard career to get into.

Brenda Burch

August 25th, 2009
8:18 pm

I have been in Property Management for sixteen years. I have seen the industry go up and down. I have recently been unemployed due to the economic issues. I worked for one property under four different owners for the past eight years and the property recently went under new ownership again. I worked my way up from being homeless to my first Property Management position in 1995. I love my career ,I do not have a degree in Management , but I do have experience.

Andy Norwood

September 22nd, 2009
10:36 am

Mrs Debbie is the answer. She is a fantatic teacher and a great person. FACS needs more people like Mrs. Debbie.

Tony C.

October 10th, 2009
9:37 am

With a long background in the architectural design and build industry I am now looking to enter into the diverse carreer of property management. What are the disadvantages of entering a degreed program sponsored by a potential employer (am I beholden to them for a period and is the program that in depth) or the advantage of completing a program on my own which seems to be more in depth and ZZI would have the freedom to entertain employment abroad. Would really appreciate some input.


February 2nd, 2010
5:11 pm

I actually heard about the property management field through my work at a self storage company. I started out in telephone sales handling overflow calls for our sister facilities. Soon enough, though, I was taking calls for property management companies as well–setting appointments for walk-throughs, generating leads, and whatnot. I can definitely see how sales skills could transfer into a property management position.



May 24th, 2010
9:58 am

It definately takes a particular type of person to get involved in this industry. As the article says though, not many people grow up wanting to be property managers or owners. Many are glad that they chose this profession.


June 8th, 2010
2:12 pm

It sounds like it has the potential to be a GREAT job. Thank you for this artical.