THE BIG PAYOFF Compensation is always a factor in recruiting and retaining top employees at any level. “Overall salary increases and bonus payments remained steady for the past three years,” says Jim Dick, custom survey account manager for WWDS. However, some key positions—including HR and financial execs—did experience large increases in pay and total compensation. (For more details, see charts titled “Highest Salary Increases” and “Highest Total Compensation Increases” on page 62.)

“The passage of Sarbanes-Oxley and those requirements means that anyone with that experience is getting top dollar at public companies,” says Daniel Stravinski, senior vice president of human resources for Berkshire Property Advisors, the property management arm of Boston's Berkshire Group. “Candidates who have that experience are deviating from the normal trend line by going up faster.” That explains why top financial officers' salaries rose 5.5 percent, helping push their total compensation up 32.5 percent.

With privately held companies also competing for seasoned financial executives, the old supply-and-demand equation created a sellers' market. “Not as many people are going into accounting and finance professions, so companies of all sizes are beefing up accounting and control staff,” Stravinski adds.

THE COST OF GROWTH With so many companies in growth mode, supply also is behind the increase in compensation for senior construction executives (up 17.5 percent). “The demand for experienced construction executives with a multifamily background remains high,” Befus notes. “And the talent pool is relatively small.”

The building boom drove up compensation (11.2 percent) and salaries (6.1 percent) for property management trainers. Carlisle Development Group, the fifth-largest affordable housing developer in the country, raised salaries for property management trainers across the board.

“We had a huge development boom and needed to train folks to staff the properties,” explains Marilyn Barerra, director of human resources for the Coconut Grove, Fla.-based company. Carlisle developed, leased, and manages 6,000 residential units in Florida and has 11 developments planned in Miami alone. “Because property management staff requires a lot of diverse skills—financial, community engagement, [and] operations—training is critical.”

Many employees also cite training as an important factor in staying with a company. “A key differentiator for many companies is how well they provide development opportunities for employees,” Odyssey OneSource's Howell says.

Lane's Garrett agrees: “Talent management is becoming a key part of the company. We found that it's critical to develop talent internally. So trainers' compensation is going to rise because their value is going to rise.”

BENEFITS AND INCENTIVES It's no secret that everyone plays harder when they've got some skin in the game. That's why 78.1 percent of the companies surveyed provide incentive programs. And a large majority offer a benefits package to keep those employees on board long-term. (See “Performance Measures” chart, right.)

At Berkshire, every employee has an incentive plan. “All site-level people—even maintenance technicians and housekeepers—can earn up to 10 percent of their base salary through our program,” Stravinski explains. “Employees have the opportunity to earn bonuses if the property hits a revenue or operations target. And if they really exceed it, they can get an additional 2 percent.” (About 41.3 percent of surveyed companies allow employees to exceed the target). The company also has goals and incentives for every employee at headquarters.