Sterling Property Management – Hire Smart Virtual Assistants
In this episode, Linda Einfrank talks about her property management company Sterling Property Solutions and how they use virtual staff.
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Anne: Oh and we’ll be good to go.
Linda: Okie doke.
Anne: All right. Hi everybody. Welcome. My name is Anne Lackey. I’m the co-founder of Hire Smart Virtual Assistants and it is my absolute pleasure to introduce you guys to Linda Einfrank with Sterling Property Solutions Incorporated and I love always talking with my new clients and finding out more about them. So part of the process that I go through is to say, “Send me a little bit of things that maybe people wouldn’t necessarily know about you.” So Linda was kind enough to say that she’s been an entrepreneur her entire career. She’s had several businesses. She started a nanny agency back in her twenties, she’s done children’s arts and crafts as a retail business in her thirties, a vacuum franchise for 18 years. Wow that is a long, long time. And then 12 years ago, she started in real estate when the retail market kind of took a little bit of a plunge. Investor, with a partner in real estate, which left kind of a demand for her own properties.
And that’s kind of similar to my story too. I love that. And then of course people started saying, “Hey, can you help me with that? Can you help me with that? Can you help me with that?” And so she got her brokerage license and the business just snowballed from her word of mouth. She now manages over 50 buildings and 400 units and she actually has a staff of seven. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about staff and how she does that. And she has three kids, four grandkids, a husband and many friends. So Linda, thank you so much for agreeing to be here. You’re a busy woman. I love it.
Linda: You’re welcome.
Anne: So Linda, why don’t you kind of just tell us a little bit about Sterling and certainly you gave me the intro of how you got started, but kind of expand on that a little bit for some of our listeners.
Linda: Okay. Well like I said, about 12 years ago, I decided it was a good time to invest in real estate and something I always wanted to do. And I bought a two family house and started managing it. And then a friend of mine said, “Oh I always wanted to go into real estate.” And then the two of us started buying properties together and he wanted to be a silent partner. And I was the one that was doing all the work. I was finding the properties, I was renovating them, I was managing them and it was actually my partner’s suggestion to… He goes, “Why don’t you get your real estate license because somebody else’s making the money off of all of your work.”.
So I got my real estate license one, two, three, and then I said I decided to do full time. I had a manager running the store because I still had a retail business. So I had a manager running the store, I got my license. He wanted to buy some more properties and I no longer wanted to partner with him because I was really running the management company. So I started managing his properties and then people started asking me, the office where I was at, people started referring homeowners to myself. And it just kind of went from there.
Anne: Well, it’s so interesting. I have yet to have any of my clients say, “I grew up in and wanted to be a property manager.” It seems like we all kind of got into this business in a different way. Right. So I’m very interested. Interestingly enough, this Saturday, in one of the blasts I get called the Hustle, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but they were talking about the worst marketing promotion ever and it was from Hoover. Speaking of vacuum cleaners, Hoover in their UK division had the worst marketing thing that actually led to their demise in the UK in the 1990s. They were giving away two transatlantic tickets for the equivalent of a $250 USD purchase valuing.
Linda: Devaluing your product.
Anne: All of a sudden here we are. So it’s just kind of funny how all of that works. So you just never know what’s going to bring you into property management or where are you going to come from. So was that the retail store you were talking about, I’m assuming? or did you have a different retail business?
Linda: Well, I had two retail stores. I had the vacuum business, which was an Oreck franchise. Oreck, you know the lightweight vacuum? The Oreck franchise. And then my other retail business was the party, the party business. It was like a children’s arts and crafts where they’d come to birthday parties and classes and things like that.
Anne: Oh, I have fun, fun, fun.
Linda: I started them all from scratch. I never bought from somebody else. All of my four businesses were started from scratch.
Anne: Yeah. And I did that. I did that as well. You know, people are like… Although I have to say HireSmart was the first company that I’ve owned where I actually had kind of an angel investor that said, “I need you to help me with my hiring. I’ll pay you a big fat check. Would you go find me some people?” And so that was over four years ago. And interesting enough, those placements that I placed for her when I got started are still working for her. We’ve had VAs now for working for clients for over four years. Of course I’ve had VAs for almost five and it changed my world as to how all of that happened. And of course we’re going to talk a little bit more about virtual staff and a little bit, but why don’t you tell me… You said you had seven staff, so tell me a little bit about what are the roles and then how do your virtual team fits in with that?
Linda: Okay. Well I consider one of my staff is my virtual-
Anne: Of course-
Linda: Virtual assistant. She’s one of my staff. Even though she’s really hired by you. So I have somebody that does a lot of the administrative work in the office and she’s kind of like my assistant right hand man. She’s been with me almost from the very beginning and she kind of runs everything. She knows a little of everything, but she’s totally overwhelmed. So I really wanted to get help for her. So we hired an accountant who works part time, evenings and weekends and does our accounting work and she kind of oversees him, I would say. And then we have a property manager myself that does… I do the sales. I’m the only one who does the sales for the most part. And then we have a property manager that is there to do follow up on calls or repairs and things like that.
And then we have a handyman on staff and then we have Michelle who’s our virtual assistant and do you want me now to tell you what she does?
Anne: Why don’t we do that? Because you know one of the questions that we get all of the time and it’s something that so simple in my world, but I think a lot of my potential clients kind of get their head kind of wrapped around like, “Well what can they do? Like I don’t kind of get it.” So why don’t you share with us, what does Michelle do for you?
Linda: People ask me that all the time, because I have friends and I tell them I have an employee in the Philippines. They go, “Oh she’s from the Philippines.” I say, “Yes and she lives in the Philippines.” And they just can’t even imagine. I say, “She’s amazing.”
Well when I first spoke to you Anne, and asked about what they can do, you sent me a list of all these things and it sounded really interesting, which is why I tried it and I don’t even know if she does quite a bit of that. Plus maybe more, I don’t know. She, first of all we have a… What is it called… Skype account that we share with her, so she goes in to through Skype and communicates with us, and with a Skype phone number that we have actually where it’s forwarded to her, our number, so she can actually take phone calls. So she takes phone calls from prospective tenants, prospective landlords. She screens the tenants by phone and or by email. So we have an email system that she actually has one of the addresses in the email system, that’s a software system actually.
So she has an email now. She goes into all the emails and if it’s a bill from one of our vendors, she e-files it and lets us know that there’s a bill. If it’s a request for properties, she will call them, she’ll email them and screen them. When she gets them because she knows what all of our qualifications are for our properties. And then if somebody is accepted by us, I’ll shoot her a little text. “Michelle, can you send out a lease?” So she sends out a lease. And how she does that is we pay an annual fee for some software that connects her to my computer. So she has access to all of our files. So to e-file us our software, everything. So I can see that she’s working all day long while she’s on one of the computers, I can see all these files being named and filed and writing leases and she sends reminders for when insurance is up. Because that’ll come up in the software. So she’ll send a reminder, “Hey, your insurance is up. We need an update.” She’ll send out notices to tenants for various things, whether it’s insurance, whether we’re having an inspection, whether the lease is up for renewal, she’ll send out a lease renewal. I look at them, you know, somebody looks at them just to go over it. But when we would do that with any employee, because I’m a little bit of a micromanager. So-
Linda: It’s the truth. So she’s awesome. So it’s really nothing, I tell everybody, she does everything possible that you can do as an administrative assistant except physically filing papers. And she does some email and e-filing, which I think is more important and physically showing and doing inspections of the properties. Other than that, every single thing in our business she’s able to do. I don’t need her to do or hired her to do accounting work, but I wouldn’t be adverse to thinking of hiring someone else to do that.
Anne: Well, I mean, it’s so funny because you know, obviously I’m on the other side of this trying to tell people about the benefits of this and how it works. And of course everybody’s nervous. I get it. I mean, I remember when I was looking at trying to get all of this started for myself, I didn’t have a me kind of pathway before. And I think one of the things I tried to share with our clients or potential clients is it’s a lot easier than you think. Right? Wouldn’t you say in your head it was a much bigger like thing to bite off than it actually was, right?
Linda: Right, right. And you guys were great because you did the initial training so she was familiar with property management. It was a couple of weeks of training. You were also there when I was doing the hiring because I thought all three of my prospects were great and I said, “Anne help me out. I don’t know which one.” And you felt like from our interview that possibly we were a best fit. I think maybe they all would’ve been great. I don’t know. But we were, and I just.. I love her. I think she’s the best. She’s so great. She comes in 10 minutes early. She signs in, “I’m here, good morning and it’s 10 to 9:00.” Nobody comes in 10 minutes early. And she’s the best. Then she lets me know when she’s taking her break. She lets us know when she’s back. She lets me know when she’s signing off. She gives me a little review of what she did for the day.
Anne: And those are all the things that I train them on to make sure that the relation… because it’s all about relationships, right? So it helps continue the relationship. And so I’m so glad that Michelle has continued that work because I think that that really does make a huge difference in the long-term success. If you were to tell one of your colleagues, one of our colleagues, kind of what was your big aha moment that you had after you kind of settled in, like what was it that you went, “Wow, I wish I would have known this before I…” You know.
Linda: There’s so many because each new thing that I taught her and then it was one less thing we could take off of somebody else’s plate was like that. Like all of a sudden when I realized, “Wow, Michelle can do leases for us and send out leases,” and, “Oh Michelle, could do reminders for insurance.” She even made a spreadsheet to see which ones were, were up to date, which ones weren’t, which ones we didn’t have, because we’re so overwhelmed. So we didn’t have their insurance. That was like a, “Wow.” So there’ve been so many. There have been so many. Each new thing that she learns… And now I haven’t done it yet so hopefully there’ll be a new future wow. We allowed on our MLS, I don’t know what everybody’s MLS but, we’re allowed to have one administrative assistant that does not have a license.
So I just got Michelle signed up to the administration assistant on the MLS and we put tons of our rentals on the MLS system. And again, it takes very time consuming. So the next thing I’m going to train her… What, what?
Anne: It’s like of like data entry.
Linda: It’s data entry, basically, right. So the next thing I’m going to train her on how to put a listing from our app folio which we use, which is our software onto the MLS. And that will be a tremendous, tremendous burden off of everybody here in the office.
Anne: Oh absolutely. Yeah. Bob has been doing that for me for years. I actually make a joke that if I actually had to do the work in my business, I probably like flunk it because I haven’t done it in so long. Right.
Linda: Me too. For that kind of work, I’m terrible at. It takes me forever and I just procrastinate. It’s awful. So that’s awesome.
Anne: Oh that’s awesome. I love that. So your biggest aha moment really is that there’s no limitations, right? I mean literally there’s no limitations other than what obviously license law requires. I mean I’m certainly not going to say they could do stuff a licensed person could do, but anything an unlicensed person can do. If it can be done with a computer and a phone, a virtual assistant can do that for you. Provided you got the right fit for personality and skillset.
So you’re talking about your profile… I’ll just kind of let some of our listeners know is was it a process oriented person, more back office. Right. So she could surely do phones. Customer service is always part of the flavor of what we use. Just how much customer service versus how much admin, processing, policies, procedures. If she’s more on that policies, procedures ground in-
Linda: But she’s doing both. Because remember she’s answering the phones, and I have people call up and ask me, “Can I please speak to Michelle?” I know they’ve already had a little bit of a rapport because they think Michelle is the one that’s going to help them find a property. So that’s awesome.
Anne: People want to meet Bonnie in my office. I’m like, “Where’s Bonnie?” I’m like, “You ain’t meeting Bonnie. You’re not going to be meeting Bonnie. I’m not going to be meeting Bonnie.”.
Linda: Right. That’s great.
Anne: So tell me about the impact of hiring a virtual team member had on your business. I mean you’ve been at it probably I think about seven months now. So-
Linda: Is it that long? Wow.
Anne: I know.
Anne: It has. It started at the end of January I believe, if my memory. Yeah, the end of January. Share with me a little bit about kind of that impact that having her on your team has had within your own organization, as well as just for you personally.
Linda: Well I think it’s helped free up other people in the office, especially Aurora, which is the main person that’s the office manager. It’s helped her free her up for a lot of paperwork. And even actually the most part would be answering all of the calls because we get calls all day long and emails all day long. And if somebody’s sitting there answering and screening, she’s here next to me, saying, “Screening,” the tenants, she can’t do any of her work.
So to let Aurora who’s really the key person with all of the administrative stuff, being able to do that work has tremendously changed our whole working system here. And then of course my bottom line because of the financials, for me personally is a big deal because if I had to pay somebody here, you know it would be a… I couldn’t even. I couldn’t even, because what she does is so fantastic and I don’t get people with the work ethic like her willing to work for $100,000 a year.
Anne: So we go through that a lot because people are like… Part of the challenge I have on my side of the business is people are like, “Well that’s a lot of money to invest in a new hire.” Because you know we charge $2495. I’m like, “Do you not understand that if you were to pay a recruiter for the same services that I provide, you’d be paying six to 14,000 jobs.
Anne: For that person.
Linda: That’s why it was a no brainer for me because it was really… I think it was like a two or three months trial. Was it three months, Anne?
Anne: Well we had a six month commitment and I’ve got a six month guarantee…
Linda: Okay, six month commitment. But again, the six month commitment would be less than paying a recruiter and you’d have somebody actually working for you 40 hours a week during that time instead of paying a recruiter and I don’t think any recruiter can find somebody that’s as dedicated as Michelle. Honestly.
Anne: I believe it. I mean again, I drink my own Kool-Aid but I think it’s important for other people to understand. It’s not just me drinking my Kool-Aid.
Linda: I tell everybody that you and your service.
Anne: Thank you.
Linda: Yeah! And I tell them, “I’m sure she could do it in any industry. It doesn’t have to be property management. It’s the same-”
Anne: Customer service is customer service. Once I get a good line on the skillsets required, I can nail that down. What would be the one piece of advice that you would give another business owner who’s kind of on the fence or thinking about it? What would you tell them?
Linda: I would tell them bite the bullet because it’s the best thing. It’s the best thing I ever did. It’s the best thing I ever did. I tell all my friends I’ve been in business for, I’ve had my own business over 35 years and I cannot say that I’ve ever hired somebody more dedicated and has worked harder, and I’ve been happier with than Michelle, I’m serious.
I don’t even see where you would hesitate. I know it, again, like you said, it’s unusual and familiar, but they can do everything administrative wise. And we speak in person too because we do Skype so I can actually see her and talk to her. For most of the time, I don’t even… If I Skype call her I don’t even do it with video, I just call her on the phone and say, “Hey, did you understand what I meant? I just wanted to clear it with you.” And she says yes or no and we figure it out and boom we’re off the phone in a minute and then she’s onto doing her work. So to me, it’s such a small outlay of money to get them on board and fit in with your team.
Anne: How do you think she hasn’t impacted the people that she served in your office? So not just you personally. Do you think Aurora feels better having Michelle as part of the company and what does that look like for her?
Linda: Yeah, for Aurora it’s a big relief. I did and I’m still training her to give up some control over everything. Because I’m a control freak too. So you have to learn how to give up some control for somebody that’s super competent, which she is. So to give up the control and to delegate, delegate, delegate. So that’s something you need to train your people, how to delegate work to an assistant. And once that’s there it’s a relief for everybody and it’s a weight off your shoulder. It gives you more time to do what you’re best at and what’s going to also produce revenue for you.
Anne: Is there anything that you would like to add to anybody that’s listening? Any other words of wisdom or any other ideas that you’d want to share with them?
Linda: Well, Michelle has told me I was her best boss she’s ever had, which I find very sweet. I can’t believe it. But yeah, that’s what she says. So I think it’s always… Aurora’s laughing. She can’t believe it either. No.
Aurora: You are!
Linda: Thanks Aurora. But I think it’s important to check in with them and see if they have any questions, problems, if they’re understanding what your needs are. I think it’s great to let them know they’re doing a great job. I think that’s really important. I think to give them some time off, like all of our holidays, something…. Like the other day, last week in the office, everybody was gone early. I think they were gone a quarter to five. She works till 5:30 PM so I just wrote her a note, “Please end for the day. Everybody’s gone.” I wanted her to be gone and she’s so appreciative of that stuff. I bought her a little birthday gift, a little gift certificate and I think it’s important for all your employees but certainly Michelle’s not physically there in front of you. So I think it’s important to let them know how much you appreciate them and make them part of the team.
I put her picture in her little bio on our website and it’s important to make them feel like they’re definitely part of your business. An important part.
Anne: That’s what I tell people too, I’m like, “They are the important team members that they are, and the more you integrate them, the more…” Like Bonnie’s in our corporate meetings, talking about moving ins, move outs, whatever. And it may not be her particular role, but she at least has the context of what’s going on in the industry. She’s a lifesaver when it comes to my owner reports. Like how many viewings have we had in preparing those reports? So all I have to do is just look at them and go, “Okay, yep, it’s good to go,” and ship it off to the owner.
It means I don’t have to go through some of that drudgery of is something priced right or not. It’s still the broker, all the listings in the way we are organized, all the listings come underneath me anyway. So as the broker, I’m still responsible for final say so in setting, but I don’t have to go research all the costs. I don’t have to research all that material. Like she can bullet point it for me. So I know, “Hey, okay. The CMH really it should be at this level. I need to have a conversation with the owner to either address it one way or the other.” But it’s amazing to me just how seamless having a virtual team member can be. So I love the fact that my clients are having this much success.
What is your specialty in your marketplace like? So tell us the areas that you serve. Tell us a little bit about why or the perfect client for you and we’ll make sure we give you guys a good shout out in your area.
Linda: Well we serve all of West Chester County, which is about a half hour North of Manhattan, West Chester County in New York. We’re mostly residential, but we do some commercial and mixed-use buildings as well. Commercials something I like to get more into, but right now we’re mostly residential. We do single family, multifamily and private apartment buildings. Mixed use, no more condos and cogs. We used to, but we’re getting out of condos and cogs, we hate them. So I’m sorry for any condo owners out there but we’re getting away from condos and cogs. But we like private owners where one owner can make the decision instead of 50 owners and people that are moving out of town, out of country for work, or parents who’s either in a home or just recently passed and they have to worry about the real estate. We help everybody with that, managing it, renting it, selling it, renovating it. We do all of that for them.
Anne: I have one final question that came up. So I know we were wrapping up but something came up in my mind because you’re from New York, so very much, you know kind of a different style than me down here in the South. The kind of questions I get all the time about my virtual staff… By my virtual staff, all my clients staff. Like every VA we place is my VA. Like they may work for you but they’re still mine. Keep a good head on them. But one of the questions that come up a lot of times with people that are thinking about this is what about the accent? Like have you ever had anybody complain that they couldn’t understand her or were offended by her in any way?
Linda: No, not at all. Not at all. I mean I’ve never heard of it. If they were thinking it, they never told me but when I speak to her she’s got… her English is great. So I’m assuming if I can understand her and Aurora can understand her that all of the prospective tenants are understanding her.
Anne: People are really afraid of for whatever reason. And I’ve never gotten a complaint nor have I heard any of my clients say they’ve gotten any complaints. But I just thought I would ask, because I know New Yorkers tend to be very kind of high clipped-
Linda: We are tough.
Anne: A tougher crowd. Personally.
Linda: I was worried about it but when I did my three interviews with you to hire somebody, all three of them we were speaking with by Skype, our interview. So that made me feel a lot better when I felt I can… if I can speak to them and I’m a one raised New Yorker and I’m tough and quick and everything else and I felt no problem speaking to all three of them.
Linda: English was not even a question.
Anne: Yeah. Well thank you for that. Because I that’s one question I haven’t really brought up in some of these and I think it definitely is something that people are concerned about before they ever speak with me. Okay. So you were too. So this is an opportunity to say, “Really that’s a non-issue.”.
Linda: And they will see when they interview the three prospects because you’re only going to have people that speak great English otherwise you’re not going to make them out to be one of the interviewees. Yeah.
Anne: Well Linda thank you so much for being with me today.
Linda: You’re welcome.
Anne: And taking the time. I certainly appreciate your information. We’re going to have a splash page for anybody that’s interested in getting in touch with Linda directly. So certainly feel free and we thank you for your time and wish you a best rest of the day.
Linda: You too. Thanks, Anne. Bye bye.