Giving a tour of Realty Management Services Inc.'s corporate headquarters, Beth Ross proudly points out the tell-tale signs of expansion – crooked hallways formed from adding office space over the years and the separate entrance into the human resources department, even though it is on the same floor. It's as if each imperfection marks a stepping stone for this vibrant property management company, which Ross started in 1988 with three employees operating out of her basement.

Today, Realty Management sports more than 350 employees, and Ross runs the company out of its corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md. But Ross hasn't lost the personal style that she employed in the beginning. As she travels the halls, the president says hello to nearly everyone. She is close enough to her employees to ask one getting over a cold how he is feeling, parents about their children, and associates dressed in new outfits about their latest shopping sprees.

Beth Ross, President, Realty Management Services Inc.
Beth Ross, President, Realty Management Services Inc.

This personal touch carries through to the company's highly successful customer relations and property management programs. And it's a big reason for the success of the company, which has quickly risen to No. 4 on the 2002 ranking of the most apartment units managed in the Washington metropolitan area conducted by Delta Associates, a real estate research and consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va.

On the Map The company's versatility has aided its growth as well. With its first management project – Sutton Walk and Lenox Court, two communities managed together in New Carrollton, Md. – Realty Management earned a reputation for being able to manage any type of community.

Prior to Realty Management's takeover, these properties were blighted. The county had issued 18 pages of code violations. Drugs were being sold out of a first-floor window, Ross recalls.

"We needed to make sure the county wouldn't close down the communities before we took over," explains Ross. "It was a challenge working with [county officials] and getting them to agree to a work out plan based on the existing rehab budget." However, Ross saw the buildings' potential despite their problems; they were very close to mass transit, including a subway station.

"We were able to show the county that most of the violations were [covered by] the rehab budget," recalls Ross, whose plan was impressive enough that the county didn't require all the work be done in 30 days. Instead, the work was done in stages – starting with life safety issues. The communities went through an extensive $20,000-per-unit rehab.

It helped that Ross was not new to the area, even though the property management company was. Her previous work in Maryland allowed her to build a network of contacts, including a key relationship with Sutton Walk's and Lenox Court's new owner, Ross Development & Investment, which is owned by her husband Scott Ross.

"The county knew what Scott had done at his other communities," explains Ross. "That's where relationships come in. There was a level of trust." The county knew Realty Management and Ross Development were not companies that would hurt the neighborhood.

In the first year, Realty Management evicted 25 percent of the residents for not paying rent. It remarketed and remerchandized the communities, turning them into high-end properties. Neighbors realized the renovations would eliminate the existing blight and create a community that would care about the neighborhood, she adds. The communities are now luxury buildings, offering residents everything from intrusion alarms to in-unit washers and dryers. Occupancy is at 97 percent.