Women In Real Estate Series: Interview with a Successful Property Manager
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
I love this blog series because I get to talk to and learn from so many incredible women. And even better, I get to share them and their stories with you! So recently I had the amazing pleasure of catching up with an old friend who just so happens to be managing a 50 unit apartment building in Sacramento, California.
Her name is Aliza Rupert, she's in her early 30's, and she is a creative woman of many talents. Her talents range from acting, exploring the great outdoors and being an entrepreneur and lover of hot sauce. She's super innovative and loves tackling new projects. It doesn't seem like anything really intimidates her and what I appreciate most about her is her willingness to take a leap of faith and try something new. So far it has been working out for her quite well.
So when Aliza moved from New York to California a little over two years ago the original plan was to work on her and her boyfriend's hot sauce company, Wide Eyed Hot Sauce. They were hoping to do this while exploring CA for about a year. Her family's property in Sonoma seemed like the perfect jumping off point. But as all good stories go, her plans took a twist.
Upon arriving back, her mother approached her about possibly running one of the family properties, a 50 unit apartment building about 15 minutes outside of midtown Sacramento. Always up for the challenge, and wanting to help the family business, she agreed and took it on. She jumped in head first knowing that quick and decisive actions needed to be taken in order to begin the transformation. And a little over two later she is still working on her hot sauce business, but in addition, has turned this apartment property around and given it new life. She has improved the quality of living for her tenants, enhanced the occupancy rate and increased the ROI. I had to learn more about how she did it, so here's what I found out when I interviewed her:
@MackofAllTradesNY: So when you left for Cali, you didn’t mention anything about property management. I thought you were working on your hot sauce brand, which is amazing, so I’m curious how did you make the leap into property management?
@AlizaRupert: We definitely came out here to work on the hot sauce and when we were planning out the logistics of the move, my mom asked me if I was interested in managing one of the properties. So I said yes.
So let me backup. My great grandmother immigrated to America and invested in property in San Francisco. She had a couple properties and she then sold most of them with her son (my grandfather) and invested in apartment buildings in Sacramento. Altogether at one point our family had 5 apartment complexes in Sacramento, and we have since sold three. There are just 2 now and my boyfriend, Jon, and I manage one while working closely with the manager of the other. We all work as a team for the family business.
We are really the only ones in our generation who are working in the business right now. We are soaking up as much knowledge as we can while low key thinking and strategizing about the long term generational goals of the trust. Altogether there are two properties in San Francisco, two in Sacramento and two in Sonoma, but they are not all in the same trust so we are working with the trust managers and our team to build the business back up to what it once was and, hopefully, beyond.
Currently my mother and her brother are managing the trust and it's interesting to see what they are doing. I enjoy figuring out how we can work with them to ensure that we are all going in the best direction for the longevity of the company.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What were some of the very first things you did to improve the property?
Upon our arrival at the complex, the rents hadn’t been properly raised in about ten years. That’s not something you can fix in one year- it takes time. So our project capital wasn’t where it should have been for what needed to be done. Because of this, it’s taken longer than I’d expected to complete various projects. We have one team working on most of our projects inside and outside of the units, therefore scheduling unit renovations often gets prioritized over bigger exterior jobs so we can continue to increase revenue.
Apartment Building when they First Arrived
The property was also not consistently maintained perfectly throughout all it’s years. It definitely needed some physical improvements and there were so many things influx at the beginning, which stalled a lot of projects. But we have taken major steps like renovating 20 out of the 50 units in the first two years. We are now on track for at least hitting 35 within our 3rd year and potentially more. Our goal would be to continue to do around 10 a year until we are done. While renovating we have also really tried to standardize everything in currently occupied and the flipped units like blinds, ceiling fans, etc. We've improved our systems, procedures, and scheduling which has also helped. And by switching and using various contractors, we have gotten much better deals and lower our costs.
Before Painting the Exterior
It was difficult to balance all that we needed to do between the exteriors and interiors. We did a deep cleaning of everything (multiple units and several storage closets with miscellaneous supplies from over the years) and we selected a more modern color scheme and repainted the entire exterior of the building. We added more exterior lighting- including fun twinkling strands, a stronger fencing closing off the front yard from the public and opened up the side gate so our tenants had easier access to our olive grove. All of that had a major impact and the vibe of the place has totally shifted.
Their Olive Grove
This year we plan to really focus on bringing in more native plants and drought tolerant species when we do a landscaping overhaul along with additional fencing and a community garden. All of our projects have helped to breathe new life into the property. I can’t wait to see what it looks like a year from now when we’ve completed our scheduled projects for 2020!
Aliza and Roscoe Putting in Some Sweat Equity
@MackofAllTradesNY: When renovating the units, what have you learned along the way?
@AlizaRupert: Definitely that fixtures are super important and fairly inexpensive to switch out. Before we had our maintenance supervisor going and buying standard faucets at Lowe’s or other similar stores. I quickly saw that we could spend the same amount of money, and sometimes less, and get some fixtures that are a lot nicer. Same thing with sourcing updated lighting and cabinet handles. These are little cost effective things but they make a huge difference.
We haven't done many full renos of kitchens and bathrooms yet but again we like to do things like swap out old lighting fixtures, sand and repaint all the cabinets, regrout, update the handles and faucets and replace the drains in the bathtub and sink. Just pulling out the old drain and replacing it with a shiny new one is a game changer. After reglazing, the bathtub it looks like new. Little reno stuff like that makes it feel modern even though it’s still a vintage apartment complex; each unit becomes nicer to live in.
Their Vintage Kitchen Facelift
While we have a maintenance staff team of 3 guys who do all the major stuff, I have painted cabinets, switched out handles, cleaned, etc. I'm more into selecting the flooring and fixtures and then ensuring the details come together- which I’m still not perfect at - but the final edit is important to me. There are so many tasks to coordinate, even little things like making sure paint dries with plenty of time, which seems silly, but it can be an issue if you are not on top of it. I'm in charge of making sure everything comes together in the best way. It’s definitely a learning process- I am still always finding ways we can improve our work and the property as a whole.
Completed Exterior Paint Job
@MackofAllTradesNY: After managing this property would you consider buying another one for yourselves?
@AlizaRupert: Another property building like this? Probably not. And currently Jon and I are not planning on buying anything ourselves. Maybe we will with the company down the road, but we think we might want to invest by ourselves eventually. We were thinking maybe a cabin or a lodge- more like a destination getaway or an Airbnb situation.
Because rent control was just passed in California it makes it much more difficult to own an older, existing apartment building. The legalities are complicated in terms of making money here. Whereas Airbnb properties are not quite as strict in those terms. Plus when buying and designing a vacation property there is so much more creativity involved. I prefer the idea of curating sacred spaces for people to enjoy whereas individual apartment renos are more like blank canvases for others.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What are your favorite parts of being a property manager?
@AlizaRupert: I think my favorite part has been the designing process. We redid the building paint, which looks amazing. It was exciting to see how much of an impact that has made. I'm a creative person so I enjoy the design aspect. I like making this place more inviting by making the best use of the space. So I have really enjoyed updating the lighting, the fencing, opening up the access to our olive grove and changing the property’s security and flow. My current obsessions are the upgrades to the hallways, our entry foyer, the pool area and learning all about California horticulture to tie it to all together.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What are your least favorite parts of being a property manager?
@AlizaRupert: For me it's the nervousness and stress over the legalities and dealing with issues on my non- office hours. I can usually de escalate situations fairly well, but I felt really nervous about all the legalities and logistics my first few years - even after we got certified as property managers. We spent countless hours with our lawyer learning from him, crafting tenant paperwork, clarifying issues etc. I want to make sure I do everything right for the company, the property, our tenants and my family. That pressure can be stressful for sure!
@MackofAllTradesNY: What is your next project?
@AlizaRupert: Right now I am getting ready to paint the tile in the foyer and ultimately the stairwells. We don't have enough money in the budget at the moment to replace the flooring, but it desperately needs to be updated. I'm going to do most of it myself as it's so detail oriented and needs to be cost effective. It’s this old terra-cotta tile with most of its glaze peeled off. Honestly, it looks pretty rough right now. We will be painting it because we can definitely do that for now. We've chosen a great pattern that will make a statement. It’s not a forever-solution but will make a big difference while we put our money into other more vital projects.
@MackofAllTradesNY: Being female, and a millennial, have you ever felt you weren’t taken seriously or have you ever doubted your own ability to jump into real estate? Can you tell me about a time that happened?
@AlizaRupert: Realistically working with contractors hasn't really been problematic because they generally want you to work with them. Always get at least three bids and don’t give away bid numbers to competing contractors unless you’re deep in negotiations. Most importantly, do your research!
I think the challenge can sometimes be working with an owner or investor if you are running a property for someone else. In my case I work with family, which can sometimes present it's own challenges but I think we've worked out a good system and we are all usually on the same page. I know we all have the same goal, to make the properties function fully at their best capacity and to build out the business for future generations.
My great grandmother started the business and pretty much ran the show. When she passed on my grandfather inherited it. That was a difficult period where the business took a lot of hits, but now my mother and uncle have been running everything. I haven’t doubted my abilities- I’ve felt strongly confident about making the most out of these incredible opportunities. I think I must take after my great grandmother. Jon and I came in to help support the business and are here with the goal of ensuring it’s thriving again. I think we are well on the way, which is great. There is still a lot to do, but we are moving in the right direction for sure!
And honestly, I am so proud of Aliza and her boyfriend Jon! It's super motivating and inspiring to see young people using real estate to create a foundation to use to pursue their other dreams. Their hot sauce company, @WideEyedHotSauce, has already achieved success in its own right. By taking this opportunity to manage and turn around this apartment complex, they have saved money on housing, helped restore a family business back to positive cash flow and now will be able to harness that in order to build their spicy empire! I'm stoked for them!
Thank you @AlizaRupert for sharing your story with us!