Another exciting episode! Justin Dean founder of Dean Dewitt Shares Insights on How To Grow a Property Management Business. Since 2005, Justin has navigated volatile real estate markets to come out on top. He will share his journey and experience as well as some best practices.
Just like Justin, you too can enjoy the benefits of improving some areas in your business by hiring a virtual assistant! Book an appointment with me today and I’ll be happy to set things up for you!
Anne Lackey: Hi there, I’m Anne Lackey, co-founder of Hire Smart VAs. And today I have a wonderful guest. We have the president of Dean DeWitt, Justin Dean. And what I love about Justin is, first of all, he works in a great location. He’s in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is actually one of my favorite places to go. He’s been in professional property management. I think he has about a thousand units under management. Is that still right?
Justin Dean: Yeah, that’s correct.
Anne Lackey: Okay. And he’s been in the business as long as I have, in 2005. So I guess 2005 was a great year to start property management businesses because that’s when I did too. He is the president or was the president of NARPM, the National Association of Residential Property Managers in the Tampa Bay chapter from 2017 and 18. And he sits on the council for leasing and property management for the Pinellas Realtor Organization. So what I love about Justin is he loves to embrace things fairly quickly, and when he does, he goes all in.
So that’s what I’ve known after working with him for several years now. So Justin, welcome to the program, we’re glad to have you here.
Justin Dean: Thank you.
Anne Lackey: All right. So tell us a little bit about, so you’ve obviously been in property management for a long time here. You’ve seen a lot of changes. We both made it through the boom and bust and boom again. So it’s always been a lot of fun, at least in my world. And I know in Florida it’s even a little bit crazier. But tell us a little bit about your specialty and how you got started in property management.
Justin Dean: Sure. So I think with like a lot of us, maybe we started out in sales. I had my small commercial brokerage. And within that brokerage I was doing a lot of smaller multifamily buildings. And when the market tanks, people weren’t buying properties, people definitely weren’t buying commercial properties. And I had to figure out what I was going to do. So I had a realtor suggest to me that I manage a house for him. And I said, I don’t think I’m interested. And he said, I promise you won’t regret it. And so I started out with one home. And I managed it, and I didn’t know what I was doing. And I learned a whole lot with that one home, but I had a very patient owner that was a broker out in California that had been a part of management in the past.
And so he helped me along. And so from there, since I wasn’t selling anything anymore, I decided to seek out and offer my services to other owners in the area. So again, in 2000, well in 2005 the market was still okay. So we were working with investors some. I guess the market didn’t crash until around 2007, 2008 was when it got real bad. But I met with every owner, met with every owner, told them about my services. Back then I was one guy and I told them it was personal care, customized attention, et cetera. And as we grew my pitch grew, my pitch grew to, hey there is power in volume, I can leverage the amount of business I do with our local vendors, et cetera. And so my pitch changed, but I always met with my owners. And one by one we’ve grown our portfolio to a thousand units.
The way I manage properties is I’m a department style management, so I have different departments that handle different aspects of what needs to be done on every property we manage, I don’t have one person assigned to one property, which is somewhat common portfolio management. So I knew I always wanted to do that. My goal growing this big, quite frankly, it’s not about money. I could probably make as much money or more with half these properties. Me, the motivation was time. I’m married, I have three daughters and they grow up fast, and so I wanted to have a staff. I wanted to be able to have the option to not show up. Now I work hard and I do show up every day, but if I have something that needs to be done, if I have one of my daughter’s school event or something that I do have the option to be there for them. And so that was one of the main motivations to growing that the company to where I’m at today.
Anne Lackey: So what would you say was one of your aha moments or things that you went, wow, this was something I didn’t realize that happened or that you learned to along the way in your journey? What was something that you could say that you could give to another property manager about their journey?
Justin Dean: Sure. Well first off I wasted a good, I don’t know how long I’ve been a member of NARPM, but I wasted three to five years of time in not being a member of NARPM. And just, quite frankly, when I first started I had a management fee. That was it. I didn’t even know there was a lease fee. I didn’t know what I was doing. And so I was trying to figure it out all on my own and I realized that there’s thousands of people, friendly people, that are willing to share how they do things successfully. And that if I didn’t join NARPM I wouldn’t be in business today. I would be working my tail off for a fraction of the money and getting myself in trouble at every turn. So I mean, you probably hear it a lot. I think that most NARPM members sing the praises of NARPM, but there’s a reason why, it is hands down the number one thing that I’ve done to change my business.
Anne Lackey: Sure. Well and I appreciate you saying that because of course a lot of our clients are NARPM members as well. We’re an affinity partner and I’m a professional member, an affiliate member, and an affinity member. So I definitely am all on NARPM all the time as well. And I think that that’s important. You know, one of the things I find interesting about NARPM versus other organizations that I’m in, is that we will without a doubt help a competitor, like you said, with either their experience or language or fee structure. It doesn’t really matter. Even though they’re competitors, the reality is we all tend to, most of us anyway, have a tendency to say, there’s plenty of business out there. And what resonates with me and my philosophy is not the same as you. And that’s okay, we’re still good.
Justin Dean: 100%. I am probably talking to a, quote unquote, “competitor” on a weekly basis and we’re helping each other out. I couldn’t agree with what you said more. That is how it works. And I had been a part of the sales side of real estate, it is not like that at all. It’s very secretive. You ask anyone for help and they kind of laugh at you. And I thought that would be my experience with any professional organization based off of my experience with the Florida Association of Realtors and my local realtor association. But it could have been further from the truth with NARPM, so it’s been a great experience.
Anne Lackey: Well I appreciate that. So lets transition a little bit about how we got started with each other. Gosh, I want to say it’s been two and a half years ago. I think maybe even longer than that. I’m not sure. So what made you decide to hire virtually? Tell us a little bit about that journey.
Justin Dean: Sure. So as we grew I was looking for ways to grow efficiently. And originally I was looking for a solution for a lot of the routine, mundane tasks that were having to be done at the office, scanning paperwork, entering numbers into our system for bills, things like that. And so I met you at one of our conferences, and there was, I would say somewhat of just maybe the start of a buzz as far as virtual assistants. I don’t think it was really mainstream with us property managers at the time. And so I wanted to look into it. Obviously we had conversations. I’ll tell you, my initial approach was, I just want someone that can, again, take the bills or whatever that come in and just enter them into our system. They don’t need to talk to anyone, it’s going to be very straight forward. There shouldn’t be any questions. And they’ll free us up to do some other things that we need to be here. You know, boots on the ground, taking care of things. So that’s why I started considering the VA. And it kind of went from there.
Anne Lackey: And so now fast forward, what is that? So to somebody that never talks to a client, how did that evolve?
Justin Dean: Yeah. So the first person in that you helped me hire, and to be clear, I know you did offer different services. I think you still do. But I used Hire Smart VAs to not only help me identify the correct virtual assistant to hire, but also to train them. And I think that’s money well spent. They kind of hit the ground running. So the interview process, you brought me multiple candidates. And I got to say, it’s never a easy choice. Usually one will stand out a little more. But I always sit there thinking, any one of these people could do the job.
Anne Lackey: That’s what I strive for every time.
Justin Dean: And it’s, who do I think is going to do the best? Or something like that. And so anyway, with the first VA, Russ, we hired Russ and you trained Russ and he came onboard. And we started giving him those routine tasks. And I will tell you, my memory isn’t that great. I don’t know exactly from when he was hired, but it wasn’t too soon after he was hired that I started asking him to do more and more. And I realized that what you brought to my team was someone that was intelligent, that was hardworking, great ethics, a good communicator, and that I didn’t need to limit them. Russ now today, absolutely on a daily basis speaks with owners, speaks with tenants, obviously speaks with staff inside the office. As far as the outside world goes, Russ is another member of my team. He’s an employee of mine. He has his own extension, he has his own email. And he operates like anyone else that’s working in this building.
Anne Lackey: Yeah, well and that is always what we hope. I mean honestly that is the goal. I actually just took the time to look up. He started in June, 2017. So definitely been there over the two year. And that’s probably one of the questions I get a lot is, well what’s your turnover rate? I’m like, we don’t really have a whole lot of turnover.
Justin Dean: So we’re now at one, two, three, six-
Anne Lackey: Seven.
Justin Dean: Seven VAs? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven VAs at this time. And everyone that has started here, day one of employment. Now there’s a couple, Anne, again, you do a great job. I think there’s one, maybe two that you called me and said, hey, you know what, they’re not getting through the training. Glad you made that call. And then we had to go back to interviewing. But obviously you saw that in the beginning and we didn’t have a challenge when they were handed over to us. But everyone that started with us is still here today. Again, they’re a great team.
Every morning, I treat them like an employee, I can’t stress that enough. And I don’t know how other people that use virtual assistants, how they utilize them and how they interact with them, but they’re absolutely a member of the team. I think they value that. We definitely value that. Every morning there’s a quick chat, every morning there’s a good morning today, one of our VAs had a birthday. We wish them a happy birthday. Have a little bit of fun and then we all go to work.
And every one of the VAs, they take a lot of pride and ownership in their position. You know, if it’s five o’clock and their job’s not done, they’re going to put in the time to get that job done. So they all work hard. They all appreciate the job. And I’m guessing here, based off of some of the resumes we saw, I think that maybe they were just another cog in the machine. And here they are an individual that has absolute responsibilities and, again, they’re treated like everyone else that works directly with my company.
Anne Lackey: So one of the things that we do, just because it’s important to me that we have good relationships with our clients, but we also have good relationships with our VAs. We survey the VAs. And I have to tell you, Justin, your VAs absolutely love working for you. And I think the reason that they do is exactly what you said. You treat them like the valued team members that they are, they feel that. They, again, want to take that ownership. And I say this to people all the time, and again, everybody runs their business differently so I don’t get a chance to necessarily connect with them like you and I have as far as this. Really, you get the better results when you do that. And like I said, every time I talk to one of your people, they are just thankful that they are with you.
They love your job, they love being there, they love that teamwork. So kudos to you for really creating that environment. I think that is one of the best key to successes that you can do. Because in property management it doesn’t matter whether it’s turnover in your inventory or your staff or your virtual staff, it’s expensive. I mean, even at the rates that we’re paying, which are very low, it’s still very, very expensive time-wise for your staff to retrain them and to do all that. Whereas, if you can just invest just a little bit into your people, the VAs will stay forever.
Justin Dean: They will. And again, I never worked with a VA from the Philippines before. I get the sense now that I have seven VAs, that their culture there, they want to do a good job, and these are smart people and so on. And quite frankly, geez, if I could fly them over here and have them working in the office-
Anne Lackey: But change them.
Justin Dean: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But they’re fantastic. And the only limitation is literally that they’re not here. But for the jobs at hand, I have my VAs handling maintenance issues. I have my VAs handling renewals. I have my VAs handling delinquencies. They use Google street view, they look at the photos we have and the ads we have on the property so that they understand, to a certain extent, what the property looks like and all. But I mean, that is the only limitations that they can’t drive over to a property. But quite frankly, I got a thousand rentals, I can’t tell you the last time I actually got in a car and drove over to one of my properties either. And I’ve got staff here that does it, but as long as you’re set up right, it’s not a requirement.
Anne Lackey: Yeah, no, I totally, again, run my property management the same way. A much smaller scale, fortunately for me. So tell me a little bit about, how did your staff embrace, or share with me a little bit about that. You know, when you bring on the first one, I think that’s probably the hardest thing, because again, you don’t know what you don’t know. Is this going to work? How did your staff react to the decision to bring in a virtual worker? And how, again, fast forward then two years from now, how do they feel about it now?
Justin Dean: Well, so again, so the people in the office have come and go, right? Some of my VAs already had been here longer than some of my staff in my office. So for a lot of my employees, this is just how it’s been. And so my first VA I think it was more like, hey, they were going to help me on some projects. And it was all like, I’m doing this and it wasn’t, I’m changing everything that’s happening and the way we run our business. But once I say, and not because I’m the owner of the company, but once I’m like, wow, again Russ was our first hire. Russ, I can’t believe how much you can get done and he’s hard working, et cetera. I think the rest of my staff is like, why can’t I have one?
And so as it is today, they don’t all report to me. Most of them report to someone else in the company, but I still check in with them on a daily basis. But there’s a team leader, they’re a part of the team, it’s usually two VAs and a lead property manager that work together. And so they couldn’t do their jobs without them. I mean, it would be impossible. The way my company’s set up, I’ve got three property managers for a thousand units. The only way that’s possible is with these virtual assistants.
Anne Lackey: Yeah. I’m glad you talked it because I say it all the time, I mean, I have one property manager for 200 doors and then everything else is done. And I can have another capacity if I wanted to, which I don’t. I could easily add another 75 doors with little hiccups in my processes in my business. But a lot of people are like, well, I just don’t think that that’s doable. And I’m like, it is when you’ve got the right people and the right processes and you’ve got good documentation.
Justin Dean: You’re absolutely right. And Anne, hiring the first VA, obviously there’s a bigger learning curve for us and the VA. But ever since after that one, every hire since him is easier and easier because, quite frankly, I talk to them and talk to them about the big picture about my company, Dean & DeWitt Property Management, our core values, our mission, how we do things, how we go about things. And then I turn them over to another VA who’s been doing this for a while and say, teach them what you know. And they do a great job doing it. So it gets easier and easier to bring on VAs.
Anne Lackey: Sure. So that actually is an interesting thing. So I’ve had mixed bags with that. I’ve had mixed bags with VAs training other Vas.
Justin Dean: Right.
Anne Lackey: And I’ve had, again, it’s probably been about so my general guideline is kind of what you said. You start with them, you spend the time and then you have the other person fill in behind you. But you still drive that training.
Justin Dean: Let me be clear. I maybe said it like it’s too simplistic. Like oh, I spend a couple hours with them and then they’re off. No, there’s absolutely oversight. But that you had talked about turnover and how costly it is and how I was talking to you about how important my time is. To be able to lean on the veteran VAs when I bring on a new VA, it really, really is helpful. They are not responsible for training that new VA, but they are definitely a part of training that new virtual assistant, and I think that really helps us out a whole lot.
Anne Lackey: Absolutely. I’ve got another client up in the DC area that works on a pod structure. And so they’ve got a VA that’s actually the team lead of a rentals division, and they’ve got a homeowners association division. So they have two team leads, one for each department. And that’s worked out very well too. So again, the department heads, who are obviously the clients, do the initial, just like what you were saying. But then they have these team leads that can anchor them and that way they have a little bit of the safe place to go and ask questions and get that development. So that is another scenario that has worked out really well as I’ve seen it.
And it’s been interesting to me, it’s almost been five years since I did this in my property management business. It’s so hard. It is like, time just keeps flying on. And it really was one of the absolute best decisions I ever made.
Justin Dean: Oh, sorry.
Anne Lackey: That’s okay. In my business, because what it allowed me to do is, I only work two hours a week in my property management business. I mean that’s it. And that does include an hour meeting. People are like, really? Like, yeah, really. Because I love Hire Smart, that’s where I really love and that’s where my attention is in helping people like you find those great raw talent. And you’re absolutely right. And I think one of the things that I made the decision early on when I started Hire Smart four and a half years ago, that certification piece, that one week of really working elbow to elbow is the reason that we’ve had such success.
Because they’re soft skills, right? You can’t always test that. I mean I have a great testing model and great interviews, but until you actually work with somebody for more than an hour, or two hours, five hours a day, you don’t really see how their work ethic is. And while in general, the Filipino work culture is great, you still have some people over there that aren’t necessarily as motivated. Right? So interestingly enough, now we have a little bit more competition in what we do. And I do think that is probably the one thing that I do that nobody else does, is really spend that time. And then what we’ve gotten from the testing scores and stuff has really helped too.
Justin Dean: Anne, I am certain that if you didn’t offer that training side of it, that I wouldn’t have all the VAs I have today, because I wouldn’t have been able to prepare them properly. Because I’m running a company and I’m trying to find time to also get them prepared. It would’ve been a completely different experience for them and for me. So yeah. And I know you offer both services, but-
Anne Lackey: Actually, no, at this point we do certification only. That’s it.
Justin Dean: Good for you, because-
Anne Lackey: Only full service. Because the reality for me is, I can’t protect the quality of the people without spending that time with them. I just can’t. So we actually stopped doing that probably about the time that you started. That’s all that we offer. It’s a full service.
Justin Dean: Yeah. Well I never even questioned it after I learned the program. And I mean, I wouldn’t have done if I thought it was, again, seven times and I’ve gone through the program with you each time. It wasn’t like, oh, I’m going to learn what Anne does and I’m going to do it myself. Absolutely not. Every single time it’s the same process. So there’s great value to that.
Anne Lackey: Well thank you. I appreciate that. And I definitely, I’ve run my numbers and feel very strongly that is the thing that makes us unique and the thing that really helps us with our success rate. And we have a 97.2% success rate after certification. So I think that’s pretty strong in and of itself of the way that we work. What advice would you share with someone who’s maybe on the fence of, should I do this, should I not? Because believe it or not, while it is much more commonly accepted, there’s still a ton of people that are nervous and scared and don’t want to move forward. So what would you say?
Justin Dean: Yeah. I mean I guess some of my… First off I thought there was going to be a cultural and language barrier. These VAs, they watch the same TV shows we watch. They know the same lingo, the same slang. There’s a slight accent, but it wouldn’t be any different from someone that could be working inside my building anyway.
Anne Lackey: Right.
Justin Dean: So by all appearances, or for my tenants to my owners, they don’t know the difference. And so that was one thing. It was one reason why I was like, ah, I don’t know, how am I going to explain how this person I’ve hired, this overseas person that no one even knows. And oftentimes people walk in my office and in the last, while I’m here to see one of the… Sometime I’m like, oh, you know what, they work remotely, let me get you in touch with them by phone or via phone or whatever.
So all my staff is trained. And it’s just, quite frankly, they work remotely. It’s not that they work in the Philippines or overseas or that, they work remotely. That’s it. But yeah, so everyone from the outside, everyone thinks they’re part of the team. So that was one concern was just, what would people think? Was it going to be obvious? It’s not obvious. These RVAs get along great with us, and they can communicate very well. And then I think the other thing was just, what could I trust them to do? And again, we’ve been talking about this work ethic. And they’re intelligent people. And they will figure it out. I mean, they have a solution oriented mentality. Now, like you said, I’m sure not every Filipino has that work ethic and just like every other country.
But you are definitely identifying and bringing to me people that are problem solvers. That they, to a certain extent, may feel bad asking me for help. I’m like, don’t worry about it. You know? Feel free to ask for help. They will take the time to try to figure it out on their own and they’d come to me with just, my gosh, I wish every person in my company had that same attitude. And so, yeah, I think that a lot of the not knowing, I’ve never dealt with this before. Like those were some concerns I had and none of that came true.
Anne Lackey: It’s interesting that you say that. So culturally the Filipinos I think overall are very prideful. Like you said, they like to figure stuff out. So part of the training, it goes back to the certification. I have had to rework and rewire them a little bit to say, don’t spend more than X number of time trying to figure it out on your own. Like don’t go down a rabbit hole five hours from now and still be stuck. Raise yourself up and ask the question. We would much rather you do that, right? Notate the answer and then move on.
But don’t make mistake again. That’s what’s I always tell them, you can ask me any question, there’s no question that’s off the table. Ask me whatever questions you want. Write down a good note. When you asked me the same question again I’m going to tell you what my response is, which is, we’ve had this discussion, what did I say? And if I have to ask you the third time, the thing is, you know the answer, go research your notes. And if you asked me a fourth, you’re done. We’re done. I won’t allow that.
Justin Dean: Yeah, they definitely will come and be like, oh I’m sorry boss, I should have known. But it doesn’t happen much. And I don’t give them a hard time, because again, they do what you said, they research it themselves and then come to me.
Anne Lackey: Yeah. Well Justin, Justin Dean, always kind of get that. Justin, tell everybody a little bit about your specialty in the St. Petersburg area so that in case they are looking for services, they know who to come to.
Justin Dean: Oh sure. So our niche, we have, again, a thousand rentals. We’re kind of split with single family homes and condos, but we also manage small apartment buildings that need offsite management. Meaning, it wouldn’t make no financial sense to have an onsite manager at these apartment buildings. So we’re heavy into our investors, we love our investors. We understand the financials behind investments, what their goals are. And they change depending on each investor. So I think what really separates us is two things is that we understand the investment side of real estate, we understand the numbers. And then the second thing is that we have a robust maintenance department. If you’re an investor, I think every owner is very sensitive to repairs and expenses. We had a little conversation about that before we started this interview. And so I have 10 to 15 full-time maintenance technicians at any given time.
We save our owners lots of money by having in-house maintenance, and they love it. We’re not having to go to a outside contractor for everything. We still do with a lot of business with outside vendors, but all those little things or make readies or minor repairs we can take care of. We don’t have to worry about scheduling with an outside vendor, we handle it all. If there’s an issue, and sometimes there is, I can send my guy back out there without arguing with an outside vendor. So I think those are the two big things is that we’re very investor friendly and that we do handle a lot of maintenance in-house.
Anne Lackey: Oh, that’s great. So Justin’s information is going to be at the end of this video, and certainly if you’re looking for property management services in the St. Pete area, I would encourage you to use Justin and his team. They’re fabulous, including my seven VAs. And you never know which one you’re talking to you on the phone. So thank you so much for being here with us, Justin, and have a great rest of your day.
Justin Dean: Thanks Anne.