The assistant manager position is changing. A few companies are working on ways to move many of the back office assistant manager functions to the corporate office.

“We will let the communities focus on strictly sales and customer service, but that can become a challenge in terms of allocating property operating costs,” says Susan M. Ansel, chief operating officer of Atlanta-based Gables Residential.

With technology, many of the functions that used to be associated with assistant managers, such as keeping books, collecting rents, and handling accounts receivable can be accomplished at the corporate level. “Almost everybody I know of is trying to figure this out, but I do not know of anyone [outside of Alexandria, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities] that’s made much progress,” Ansel says. “Everybody still has that role primarily at the property level.”

Looking for Efficiencies
The primary goal, for the most part, is to make the position more efficient. “We continue to provide efficiency enhancements and automation to the assistant manager position,” says Nancy Freeman, executive vice president for the Southeastern region at Dallas-based Riverstone Residential Group.

The problem, at least for companies who do third-party management, is the allocation of costs that are associated with the position, which is a “very sensitive topic,” Ansel says. 

“If we can demonstrate how it works and how it benefits the owner by costing them less, then I think we can figure out how to pay for it, but it’s an education," Ansel adds. "You need to let owners know that there may be more efficient ways to do it than have the person sit on site. The struggle is how do you do that and then make sure that the costs are allocated appropriately.”

Holding Steady
In many ways, Gables is ahead of the pack on this point. Others say that they aren’t really looking at the assistant manager position. Property manager FPI, based in Folsom, Calif., continues to utilize the function at properties that are large enough to support it. “We have not sought to automate this function or move it to the corporate office,” says Dennis Treadaway, president of the company. Riverstone feels the same way, Freeman adds.

Jared Miller, vice president of marketing for The Bainbridge Cos., an apartment owner and manager based in Wellington, Fla., says the company still sees significant value in the position. But that wasn’t because of the back office functions. “The assistant manager has been focused on leasing and the residents because we were so lightly staffed on the leasing side,” Miller says. “That person, obviously, plays a key role in income and chasing down bad debt and, these days, chasing down delinquencies.”

The importance of the assistant manager in doing things like dealing with resident issues, resident leasing, and servicing is the main reason Miller doesn’t expect to see it phased out anytime soon. “We still see some significant value in that position,” Miller says. “In this business, every time we add a technology, something else needs to be done. I don’t foresee that going away. Maybe it could happen a few years down the road, once we embrace technology more and it evolves, but not in the near term.”