by Heather Boerner
The envelope, please! After carefully culling the best of the best that the San Francisco rental housing industry had to offer, SFAA honored its best and brightest at a lavish dinner and awards ceremony at the Palace Hotel in November. And it was no simple process. SFAA members, employers, friends and even the nominees themselves offered names for consideration. Then nominees filled out more extensive entry forms, which could include detailed answers to questions and documents supporting their nominations. Judges then had the difficult task of reviewing these submissions, selecting finalists and choosing the winners. Only then were the names of the winners sealed in envelopes for announcement at the awards.
To say SFAA is proud of its Trophy winners is an understatement. In a year that once again challenged business as usual, SFAA Trophy winners exemplified the best of the business, spoke to the industry's resilience and reminded everyone that excellence is always possible, no matter the economy. Read on to learn a bit more about these accomplished and well-respected members of our industry.
Property Manager of the Year (1-500 Units): Stephanie Gordon, Gordon Property Management
In the 23 years since Stephanie Gordon began her property management company, she's learned quite a bit about balancing the needs of owners and demands of tenants with the constraints of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. “I try to be fair to all tenants regardless of the rent they pay,” says Gordon, who won her first Trophy Award this year. “The property owners are my clients and my job is to look out for their interests. But because of the crazy rent ordinance, we tend to forget that tenants are our customers and without customers, the landlord is out of business.” Gordon, who keeps her Trophy Award on the conference table in her office, credits her active involvement in the industry and her single focus on property management—her firm does not sell property—for her Trophy win. Still, Gordon won't be entering again next year. It's time for someone else to win, she says. It's this spirit of cooperation that she says sets San Francisco property managers apart. “The property management community in San Francisco is special,” she says. “I don't think there are many industries where ‘competitors' are so willing to share their knowledge and expertise. I'm very lucky to be part of this community.”
Property Manager of the Year (500-Plus Units): Nathan Murdock, AMSI
As head of the property management division for AMSI, Nathan Murdock has served small and large property owners for 11 years. In that time, he's learned the attention to detail that allows him to follow up on any request, no matter how small, and learned the best way to serve property owners' interests. “Property owners rely on me more than ever in this economy to look after their best interests, keep expenses low and maintain efficient rent collection so that cash flow remains steady during this slow economy,” he says. “I am most proud of my dedication to service the property owner's best interest.”
This is Murdock's first Trophy win, and the honor means a lot to him. “I feel truly honored to win this award from such a well-respected industry organization as the SFAA,” says Murdock, who keeps his award on his desk so all his clients and colleagues can see it. “I look forward to throwing my name into the ring again next year. I am always thrilled to be involved in San Francisco Apartment Association events.”
Property Management Firm of the Year (1-500 Units): J.J. Panzer, Real Management Company
In the eight years J.J. Panzer has worked at Real Management Company, he's learned from one of the best. His father, Joel Panzer, founded the company nearly 30 years ago. But as Joel Panzer retires, J.J. Panzer has brought new ideas and a new approach to the company, which has increased profits for the company and its client property owners. Read more about the Panzers and RMC in Talking Business, page 34.
Property Management Firm of the Year (500-Plus Units); Assistant Manager of the Year; Residential Manager of the Year: West Coast Property Management
In this down economy, West Coast Property Management brought out the big guns: the 54-year-old company focused on keeping its clients in the black by doing effective, low-cost marketing and smart upgrades to keep high-quality tenants coming. As a result, West Coast's vacancy rates hovered below 5% while the rest of the city, for a time, struggled with 8%-10% vacancy rates. That, along with West Coast's reputation for fairness and honesty, is what Eric Andresen believes made West Coast Property Management this year's Property Management Firm of the Year.
“You have to tailor your marketing and vacancy prep to the specific area of the city that you are in,” says Andresen, president of West Coast Property Management. “You also have to be judicious about what you spend money on, using less expensive materials more prudently, and make due with something that is just all right. We have had to become very conscious and aware of each local market.”
But Andresen wasn't the only one from West Coast Property Management to be honored. Joseph Marousek won Residential Manager of the Year, and he credits his win to his longtime work in the industry and his work ethic. “Recognition for your work really inspires you to keep doing the best job you possibly can,” says Marousek, who admits to having been thrilled, proud and a little embarrassed by his first win in this category.
Humility was also the catchword when Melissa Caudill found out she won Assistant Manager of the Year. She says she was both ecstatic and “felt very humbled” by the recognition. “It takes a long time to become seasoned in this industry, with so many laws to follow, which are constantly changing,” she says. “Ten years later and still working at West Coast Property Management, I feel that I have always stayed on top of what is current. I owe this award to our owners and the industry.”
Both Marousek and Caudill keep their awards at home, where they are constant reminders of the excellence for which they strive. “My Trophy award is currently placed on top of my fireplace mantel,” says Caudill, “just a little reminder every day as I leave my house for the day that my hard work does not go unnoticed.”
Green Building of the Year: Parkmerced
When it comes to going green, Parkmerced goes beyond the basics. Building managers have eliminated all toxic cleaning materials from their maintenance supplies, repainted the grounds with low volatile organic compounds paint, installed front-loading Energy Star washers and dryers, placed fog catchers on the roof and embraced new recycling, composting and on-site electronics and battery drop-offs. It's no wonder, then, that Parkmerced won Green Building of the Year.
And Bert Polacci, Parkmerced's director of community outreach and government affairs, says that other properties can do it, too. “When a rental community as large as Parkmerced shows it can be done and done well, there are no excuses for apartment complexes anywhere not to get on board with efficient recycling and composting,” says Polacci.
And while this isn't Parkmerced's first Trophy award, or its first award for green building, it does hold a special place in the hearts of those who run the complex. “It's extremely heartening to be recognized here at home by folks who know what you do on a daily basis,” says Polacci, who proudly displays the award in the Parkmerced leasing office.
And because Parkmerced plans to continue to innovate, you can expect to see the development enter again this year. “Parkmerced will become a cleaner, safer, healthier living community that residents will be proud to call home,” he says. “Parkmerced will provide a proving ground for the most advanced techniques in combatting climate change and providing innovative transportation strategies.”
Repositioned Property of the Year: Bob Mayer
For Bob Mayer, a successful project has to be beautiful, energy efficient and have a good return on investment. “I like to create beautiful living environments that create good financial performance,” he says. “They must also reduce energy waste. I would not consider any project a success if it failed in any of these categories.”
His project at 1515 Greenwich, for which Mayer won the Trophy for Repositioned Property of the Year, was particularly successful in these respects. Though he won Trophy Awards in 2007 and 2008 for green building, he considers Greenwich the cherry on top of his construction career. “This property represents the culmination of everything I have learned since starting my professional life,” he says. “I was very happy to win this award. It's an incredible honor.”
Mayer has his eye out for a new property to purchase and renovate but hasn't found one yet. So he probably won't be in the running for another award this year. “I haven't found another project yet, although I'm working on it,” he says. “So I doubt I'll be entering this year.”
Independent Owner of the Year (1-25 Units): Jackie Tom
Jackie Tom lives by the motto that “the quality of what you put into your units determines the quality of your tenants.” So she's quick to fix problems in her units, spending beyond the minimum to keep tenants happy. As a result, she has buildings full of happy tenants who acquiesce to her maintenance requests, tidy up the building when she's showing a unit and recommend their friends for open apartments. “When you have animosity, it doesn't make it fun to own property,” she says. “I choose to have a different relationship without being trampled over.”
And while her 2009 Trophy Award for Leasing Agent of the Year decorates her office, she keeps this award at home. It, like her property ownership in general, is a labor of love. “The leasing award is about my career. This is more personal,” she says. “I'm so proud of this award. It's confirmation that I'm doing the right things for my buildings and my tenants.”
Independent Owner of the Year (26-100 Units): Ryan Steele
It's been a busy year for property owner Ryan Steele. The two-time Trophy winner spent the year creating a website so his tenants could pay their rent, check their payment histories and submit and track maintenance requests online. At the same time, Steele bolstered his own expertise, getting his contractor's and broker's licenses and his lead-safe certification. “I believe this persistence to be on top of managing my properties is what helped me win,” he says.
Steele is hoping the award will help attract investors and clients for new multiunit projects in 2011 and beyond, and he is already implementing some innovations to add to his entry this year. “It's not so easy to come up with something innovative every year,” says Steele, who keeps his award on the bookshelf in his living room.
As he looks to the future, Steele says the economic downturn hasn't put him off investing. He's looking forward to many more projects in the months and years ahead. “It is so rewarding to take these old, beautiful buildings and give them new life,” he says. “San Francisco is such a great place to live and being able to provide quality housing to match is definitely a key aspect of my business.”
Industry Partner of the Year: Property Management Systems
Nothing ever stays the same in property management, so helping property owners and managers stay abreast of changes is a key part of Property Management Systems' mission, says Michelle Horneff-Cohen. That's a big reason she thinks her company won the Industry Partner of the Year award. “I have trained my staff to support the industry in every aspect,” she says. “The team at Property Management Systems has always been at the forefront of partaking in and providing education on the newest laws and trends of the industry, ethically and diligently providing service to both landlords and tenants in abeyance of the law.”
How did she feel when the company won? “Surprised! To be recognized for a third time in this category was not expected but incredibly appreciated,” she says. And she hopes it won't be their last win. She'll be entering the company again this year. Horneff-Cohen proudly displays the award in the office, where she says it “stands as a reminder to everyone visiting or working in the office to keep looking forward.”
Leasing Agent of the Year: Joanne Fazzino, J. Wavro & Associates
Some things in the leasing world remain constant, no matter what the economy is doing. Chief among them is that well-priced and well-maintained properties will always get rented. But Joanne Fazzino also knows that a slow economy and nervous property owners require leasing agents to be especially attentive. “A lot of communication with owners is essential at this time so that they know you care about them and their properties,” says Fazzino.
So it shouldn't be surprising that her track record renting properties, her community service and her personal touch with clients netted her the 2010 Trophy Award for Leasing Agent of the Year. “This award meant a tremendous amount to me. I am so grateful to work with the Wavros and to have the business I have,” she says. “It shows that with consistent record-breaking results, one does get acknowledged by one's community and it feels great! I have worked hard to help the Wavros build the company to more than 20 agents and I am very proud of our company.”
Maintenance Technician of the Year: Soroush Hassanzadeh, Lightner Property Group
The thing that makes Soroush Hassanzadeh the proudest in his professional life is not public accolades but the smiles of tenants in the buildings he maintains. “I always have a smile for them and take care of their requests,” he says. “We have good communication with each other.”
It's the first award for Hassanzadeh but not for the Lightner Property Group, which won Resident Manager of the Year in 2009 for Ed Milestone. Like Milestone's Trophy, Hassanzadeh says he's happy to keep his award in the Lightner main office with all the others the company has won. “I felt very happy when I won. It means my hard work is noticed by other people,” he says. “It means that this year I am the best … like the Giants!”
General Manager of the Year; Administrative Professional of the Year; Maintenance Manager of the Year: Trinity Management Services
When Mariusz Gajdka won Maintenance Manager of the year in 2009, he admitted that it was his goal to go for three in a row (he'd won the award in 2008, as well). Now that he's achieved that benchmark, Gajdka says he's surprised. “I'm not sure why I won,” he says. “There were so many other great candidates vying for this award. I guess hard work pays off!”
Indeed, hard work is the name of the game in maintenance, and Gajdka says he's proud of how technically strong his buildings and his maintenance staff are. Hard work is also what Human Resources Manager Sarah DeCuir credits for her win as Administrative Professional of the Year. Her hard work came in the form of making sure Trinity hired the best staff it could and rewarded and retained that staff to continue the company's track record of excellence. “Building a solid team to represent Trinity so it can provide excellent customer service to our residents and potential residents is extremely important to me,” she says. “I've been in human resources for nine years and working for Trinity has by far been the most challenging and rewarding of my jobs. This last year, we saw the company grow with the addition of a new building and brought on some amazing new people. I feel very lucky to be a part of that.”
Teamwork was on Rob Willis' mind when he won 2010's General Manager of the Year award, as well. “My team is why we succeed,” he says. “I think all of us knew this was a win for all of us and not just me.”
The year 2010 marked phase two of Trinity Place, which won New Development of the Year in 2009, and the addition of 1188 Mission St. to Trinity's portfolio. Seeing how Trinity's management and ownership are improving San Francisco is the real reward, he says, though he's humbled and honored by the award. “This opportunity to help change an entire neighborhood for the better and see the physical changes on my walk to work each day is beyond words,” says Willis. “I feel that I'm part of something that is beyond property management.”
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the SFAA or the SF Apartment Magazine. Heather Boerner is acting managing editor of SF Apartment Magazine. Copyright © 2011 by Black Point Press. All rights reserved.