The New Asset Manager

Asset Management has changed significantly over the past few decades. Twenty years ago, asset managers were more interested in form and process than content. As long as management companies conformed to reporting formats dictated by asset managers, they received passing and in some cases, high grades. Performance was generally secondary. Asset managers visited their portfolio annually or semi-annually to conduct routine physical inspections.

Today, an asset manager needs to be multi-dimensional. He or she needs to think like an entrepreneur, act like an operator and have a solid foundation of analytical abilities. An asset manager must have the ability to translate economic goals into measurable short and long-term tactical strategic plans. Maximizing cash on cash yields, return on equity and long-term economic values of assets are at the heart of any competent strategic plan.

Although an asset manager is not expected to be a property tax, risk management or HR specialist, considerable knowledge in these disciplines is essential. Property taxes, property insurance, worker’s compensation and medical insurance premiums represent an increasing burden to the economic viability of investments. Twenty years ago, the aforementioned represented an average of 25 to 33 percent of total operating expenses. Today, it could be 50 percent or more depending on the geographic location of the asset(s).

Today’s asset managers are also expected to be much more hands on in the monitoring of their operating partners and/or third-party management companies. The days of quarterly conference calls and annual site visits are long gone. They have been replaced with weekly or bi-weekly conference calls and quarterly site visits. The conference calls review a detailed outline of income and expense issues that relate to short and long-term financial goals. Capital improvements are carefully reviewed to determine scope, timing and appropriateness of large expenditures.

An asset manager needs to look with great circumspect toward a management company’s recommendation to spend value-added capital improvement dollars. This is where detailed demographics and market knowledge are critical. Management companies traditionally like to lobby to spend money on value-added capital improvements. These are purported income producing expenditures—those expenses expected to generate additional rent. But without an understanding of market dynamics, how can a decision be made to spend significant capital improvement dollars? If demographics and market trends are unfavorable, how can this information support a value-added approach? So, before an asset manager acquiesces to the typical request for approval of value-added dollars, he or she needs to make sure demographics support their decision. If, however, the asset manager and management company agree that value-added dollars need to be spent to remain competitive but not generate additional rent, then those dollars should be signified as asset preservation and NOT value added—a very different approach.

In conclusion, as the real estate business continues to evolve, the asset manager’s role in the stewardship of the property or portfolio business plan will evolve as well. Remaining constant for the asset manager, however, will be ensuring that management companies continue to drive return on equity and long-term economic value.

– Terry Schwartz

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