International Women’s Day: Women to Watch in Property Management

Last modified on March 8th, 2022
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In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting some notable contributions on The Top Floor podcast by women in the industry. 

These five women have been able to break barriers, build amazing brands, and create space for what matters most to them. Their achievements deserve to be celebrated.

Lisa Wise, Founder & Chief Flockster, Flock DC

We spoke with Lisa back in 2020, during an episode titled “We Built this Community: Purpose-Driven Property Management.” As Chief Flockster, she oversees a management company with four different DC-based brands. Lisa and her team like to consider themselves not only managers of people’s homes, but also part of a lifestyle company. 

More recently, we also had the unique opportunity to learn more about Lisa’s business – watch the story of Flock DC.

What we love about Lisa: Throughout the episode, we loved hearing tidbits about what it means to be an agent of change and how management companies have an extraordinary impact on their residents, teams, and communities at-large. As a business, they’ve decided that they’re only interested in being a purpose-driven company that has a positive impact on their clients, residents, community, environment, and team members.

Flock DC believes that doing good business leads to more business and it’s important to be thoughtful about how they impact our planet, how they impact people, how they advance anti-racism, and how they do what they can to support a community that wholeheartedly supports them.

Our favorite quotable moment: “Your number one asset is the staff that serves your community and your community should be inclusive of your residents and your ownership. Ask your team, where do you guys really hang your ‘values hat’ at the end of the day? What do you want to support? What would make doing this work feel better and more meaningful for you? Do you have lower income portfolios where doing food delivery could make a huge difference? Can you have a rent support program where you raise funds from other parts of the industry that are thriving right now to support those that are less fortunate? 

There are so many moments and windows of opportunity for us to give back. It doesn’t have to be a big financial lift, it doesn’t even have to be a big time lift, but it should inspire people to be engaged.”

Be sure to check out the full episode here.

Kayla Roeder, Chief Operating Officer, Cambridge Management Group, Inc.

We spoke with Kayla in 2020, and her expert advice was included in an episode titled “Property Management Powered by Artificial Intelligence.” With two decades of experience in real estate, she is an expert in marketing, leasing, maintenance and management operations, leadership development, and technology strategies. 

What we love about Kayla: Throughout the episode, we enjoyed hearing her perspective on how the advancement of technology, including the introduction of AI, is creating new efficiencies and improving the customer experience. As she shared her company’s experience with AppFolio AI Leasing Assistant, Lisa, it became clear that she is an advocate for technology. 

For the Cambridge Management team, bringing Lisa on board gave them not only the ability to create a better customer service experience for the people they were interacting with, it also minimized all of the day-to-day busy work. What’s important for her and her team is to strictly focus on the person that’s right in front of them. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all truly want?

Kayla recognizes that finding a home is one of the most stressful things a person can do. By using technology to help them along the way, they can provide a better level of service.

Our favorite quotable moment: “Really and truly at the end of the day we all want the same thing. We want to be looked at and to be seen and be heard and to have people focus on us to help us through the process. Finding a home is one of the most stressful things that we can do. It’s one of the basic needs of life, and we have a really big responsibility as property managers to provide good quality housing and to help people understand that we do really care. We want to find them in the right place — and by harnessing the technology to help us along the way, that really creates a better level of service for us moving forward.”

Be sure to check out the full episode here.

Gozen Hartman, COO & Co-Founder, Fairlawn Real Estate

We spoke with Gozen last spring, during the episode: “Tuning into Women Who Lead in Real Estate.” Gozen’s focus areas include owning all aspects of Fairlawn Real Estate’s property management, leasing, maintenance, and people operations. Since founding the company in 2015, they have grown from 10 employees and 400 units to 80+ employees and 3,800+ units.

What we love about Gozen: Throughout the episode, we loved hearing her story of how she was able to build, grow, and lead a successful property management company. With a background in transportation engineering, her professional career centered around strategy consulting specifically with traveling logistics for over a decade. 

Having some knowledge of real estate, Gozen and her husband decided to step away from the third-party management company that handles some of her assets, to take on the opportunity of managing it themselves. She considers herself still “learning a new industry,” but also enjoys bringing an outside perspective into everything they do. She quickly found that her previous background in consulting — recognizing that the most important assets are the people — was no different in real estate. 

Our favorite quotable moment: “I would encourage leaders to ask themselves, ‘what are your most important assets and what are you doing to proactively invest in these assets?’ For us, the most important asset is our people and so it’s not just about finding the best talent and bringing them into the organization, it’s really at that point is when the real work begins. 

With Covid, literally everything changed overnight for us. We had to pivot in everything that we did from accounting to maintenance, to our frontline operations at our properties and we had to make a lot of decisions very quickly. I think that one thing that made it easier for us is that we’ve always been a tech forward company. So we had a lot of great technology in place, including AppFolio that enabled us to really do a lot of things remotely and it really forced me to take a step back and think about what needs to be done?”

Be sure to check out the full episode here.

Donna Block-Smith, President of Property Management, Enclave

We also spoke with Donna (along with Gozen), during the episode “Tuning into Women Who Lead in Real Estate.” Based in Fargo, ND, Enclave, formerly Lux Communities, is a mission-driven property management firm that oversees over 2,000 investment properties throughout the upper Midwest. By keeping communities beautiful and well-maintained, their hope is for their properties to “inspire residents to do their best work and live their best life.” 

What we love about Donna: Alongside Gozen, she also shared her story of success and challenges within the industry, in a raw, honest way. By having a background in property management, she understands that this can be a tough business, but also knows that it can also be very rewarding and impactful.

In just a short amount of time after starting her chapter at Lux Communities, Donna’s contributions helped them to grow their company and portfolio from 13 employees and less than a thousand units, to now 42 employees and 2,300 units with almost a million square feet of commercial space. With such rapid growth for the company, Donna knew that as a leader she would need to be able to guide this growth and help her team remain efficient. And with the new challenge of working from home due to the pandemic, Donna asked herself, “How do we get everybody on the same page? How do we make sure everybody knows what their purpose is in this organization?”

We love how Donna jumped right into action, not letting the shift to remote work or the change in processes stop her. Donna was forced to create many efficiencies that now are great for their business, and replaced some of the old ways of doing things, such as selfshows, virtual tours, and electronic leasing. By taking advantage of technology, her team is now able to do work more efficiently and communicate from anywhere. 

Our favorite quotable moment: “The number one question that leadership should be asking themselves is what is your communication strategy? If you don’t have a strategy around how you communicate as a leader, you’re going to be left open to a lot of liability for interpretation. What can you do to really think through on what your team or organization knows as the values of that organization, as the purpose of not only the organization, but them in that role, and also what are the goals? What are the long-term goals and vision?”

Be sure to check out the full episode here.

Denise Dunkle, Chief Financial Officer, The Management Group, Inc. (TMG)

Denise was the third voice we heard from last spring in our special episode, “Tuning into Women Who Lead in Real Estate.” Denise’s career spans more than 30 years of varied experience in financial management, business leadership, and corporate strategy. With TMG developing and managing residential and commercial projects with over 21,000 residential units and 500,000+ square feet of commercial space in their portfolio, Denise is responsible for the company’s financial functions as well as strategic growth initiatives.

What we love about Denise: Just like the other women featured during this episode, Denise shared her story of how she got started in the property management industry. She also shared how she had to adapt to changes pretty quickly and the people who were there to help her along the way. 

Working at TMG since the mid-1990s, this was her first exposure to real estate — and most specifically, property management. With a total of 6 employees and half working in the accounting department, Denise’s first thought was that everything was a whirlwind. Even though she was young and didn’t know ultimately what she wanted to do when she grew up, she loved the business and was drawn to the blend of client and customer support and interaction, as well as the analytical, financial side of the business. Often asked what kept her at TMG so long, her answer was always the same: she loves what she does and TMG’s business model really fosters that. 

As the company grew, she also knew that she couldn’t just rely on those that were here before her at the organization. Looking outside of the company, she had to find resources and mentors in the industry, as well as the community, who would be able to help guide and mentor her. Another challenge she knew she had to overcome was technology. She knew  that the use of technology would help them work smarter and provide better service to their clients. With this in mind (and over time), Denise and TMG were able to implement software like AppFolio Property Manager to assist with automation and that has made all the difference, even to this day.

Our favorite quotable moment: “There has to be a point in time as an organization, as we grew that we can’t keep doing what we used to do and expect different results because the market is changing, what clients are looking for are changing. And so finding ways to really make it easier to do business with us became a priority.”

Be sure to check out the full episode here.

We hope the stories of these dynamic, accomplished women have inspired you. We feel honored to work with so many talented leaders in real estate. 

In addition to the inspiration we draw from our customers, we also learn from AppFolio employees who bring their diverse backgrounds and voices to deliver innovation and impact to our customers today and every day. In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked team members to tell us what makes AppFolio a great place for women to grow their careers. Take a look at the video here.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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