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Interview with Nick Scarabosio from Jackson Group Property Management

We interviewed Nick Scarabosio from Jackson Group Property Management in San Francisco, CA. We wanted to understand how they run such a successful and profitable company with only three full time staff positions.

Tell me a little about your office, how big is your team and how many properties you manage?
We’re running our office with about 3 full time positions. We currently manage 537 units, a mixed portfolio of apartments, single family and condo associations. While the typical staff to property ratio in our industry is around 50-100 properties per staff member, we’re at 179 properties per staff member.

How much has your portfolio grown over the last few years?
In the past 5 years we’ve grown over 200% in 5 years, so this is about 30-40% increase every year. And we’ve actually gone down in staff every year.

How do you grow your business / add units?
We actually don’t do much outbound marketing to new owners. Our website and word of mouth is how we grow. I don’t spend our marketing dollars on print advertising – we use Google, free business listings, and social media sites like Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, etc.

How do you keep such a lean ratio of staff to properties? What do you think are the keys to profitability for your business?
There are a few reasons:
1. We maximize our use of technology. We use AppFolio’s web-based property management software and are using every single feature – online rent payments, accessing data from our mobile phones, online applications, the website, etc. We take full advantage of technology streamline our tasks.

2. Everyone who works here knows everything and has access to all data. Instead of specializing in different positions, we hire people we can trust and cross-train them to solve problems. We all have quick and easy access to info – it has to be complete information and on a single solution. If you run your business out of multiple systems you can easily mix up info and make mistakes entering data into multiple systems. When you have so much going on, you have to minimize the amount of errors.

3. Because we’re mobile and we all have flexible schedules, we can spend much more time in the field and this time is 100% productive because we can access our data all the time.

4. We’re always looking for new ways to streamline tasks. For example, we used to have to post to Craigslist, Homerentals, Rent.com, etc – posting vacancy ads 5 times each is a full time position!

What technology do you use in your office?

  • We have a company policy that as much as possible tenants use the Internet to contact us. We have forms on our website, we respond really quickly to emails, we encourage them to pay rent online (contests, etc). Our goal is to really reduce the number of incoming phone calls.
  • Everyone has smart phones so we can do our work from anywhere – I can respond to tenants when I’m doing an inspection on another property rather than waiting to get back to my desk.
  • I have apps on my phone that are auto-responders so I can write canned responses. We spent $1.99 for “Text Expander”, it allows you to cut and copy messages- this definitely saves a lot of time.
  • We use AppFolio’s web-based property management software to its fullest extent. When there is a new feature that makes tasks easier, we implement immediately. We have over 37% (and growing fast) of our tenants paying rent online – you can see how this really saves time.
  • We use an application called “Market Circle” for billing clients. It is web-based too and like all of our applications, I can use it from my iPhone.

What profitability mistakes do Property Managers often make?
I think the number one mistake is not appreciating that profitability is directly related to time. I tell clients that the perfect relationship for us to have is that unfortunately the only time we call is when there is an issue at the property. If you’re talking to the client more than once a month you’re not doing a great job, you’re answering questions they should have the answer to from your reports or other online info. In our business, the number one drag on profitability is all of the little time consuming tasks that add up.

What’s next for Jackson Group?
We try to do things as cheaply and as efficiently as possible. I always think there are even more opportunities to increase our profitability. I tell everyone the harder we work, the more we make. We were able to give raises this last year in a year where many people got fired.

We’re still a service-based industry so you have to be available and responsive. My ultimate goal for Jackson Group is we won’t have a brick and mortar office – the more time I spend shaking hands, meeting people the more money we make. We would do everything online if we could!

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