Every business has its operational foundation but what should be part of that foundation? I would argue that a Policy & Procedure Manual is at the top of the list. As I write this article, I am renewing my broker’s license and taking my continuing education requirements. I find it a good reminder that in every course (Fair Housing, Risk Management, Trust Fund Handling, Agency, Management and Supervision, Lending, Consumer Protection, Property Management along with a new course on Implicit Bias) there is a continual thread, stressing the need for a Policy & Procedure Manual. Below I explain why you need one and how to use it.

  1. What is the Purpose of a Policy & Procedure Manual?

The purpose of a Policy & Procedure Manual for Property Management or your Real Estate Office is to put to paper how you will do business. It reflects your values and principles. It is your guide to how to run your office.

  1. What Goes into a Policy & Procedure Manual?

The facts of how you operate your business are what goes into the manual. Office hours, laws such as Fair Housing, accounting requirements, how problems will be resolved with Owner Clients or Residents, job descriptions and your organizational structure, how you operate the business, your insurance, employee requirements, vendor requirements and expectations are just to name a few areas covered.

For example, what is your policy around renting one of your properties to an employee or vendor? How do you pay vendors and what requirements do you have in working with them? What is the process for resolving a dispute with a former tenant over their security deposit? Do you require staff to be drug tested, sign a confidentiality agreement, or wear a uniform? What are your criteria for screening applicants to rent properties? What day will you disburse funds to your Owner Client? Do you have a sexual harassment policy?

This is just a sampling of things that should be outlined in your Policy & Procedure Manual.

  1. What Are the Benefits of a Policy & Procedure Manual?

Most insurance companies, whether it is for your E&O, Liability or Worker’s Compensation will ask if you have a Policy & Procedure Manual in place. If you do your premiums are usually lower. The reason for this is that you are less likely to be sued or end up filing a claim if you have detailed Policies in place.

In addition to financial savings your manual is a training tool for staff. It allows you to set standards for everyone to follow. It creates consistency in customer service and provides guidance when issues arise as to how to resolve the problem. It sets expectations for those you work with inside and outside of the business.

Your Policy & Procedures become the “bad guy” for when you have to remind or enforce your company policies.  “I’m sorry, our company policy is XYZ and I am unable to compromise or make exceptions. I hope you understand.”

  1. At What Point Do You Need One?

I would argue that you need a Policy & Procedure Manual from day one. One of the biggest issues I hear from coaching clients who are ready to hire and grow their business is that they, the owner of the business, have everything in their head. If you start documenting your procedures and creating your policies as you start and grow your business, it will evolve with you and will turn into that training manual for staff as they start to come on board.

It will give you confidence as you grow so that you are clear about your “rules” for your business, so you know what type of client to take on, and which ones to pass on. Your Manual provides the boundaries and guardrails for your business. As you grow you will be adding to your Manual.

  1. How Do You Use a Policy & Procedure Manual?

Think of your Manual as your Insurance Policy in the event you can’t work. You can hire someone and give them the Manual and they are able to step in and do specific tasks and know how you want things to be done. The Manual is a training tool, a risk management tool to keep you safe from lawsuits, and a guide for best practices in running a sound and profitable business.

  1. How Often Is It Updated?

A Policy & Procedure Manual is a living document. It should be updated anytime you make a change or add something to your business.  A new job description, a new law goes into effect, or a situation goes sideways with an Owner Client, you will want to update your Procedures for how to deal with something similar in the future. At a minimum the Manual should be reviewed and updated annually.

  1. Is a Policy & Procedure Manual a Legal Requirement or Just a Recommendation?

It is not a legal requirement, but in many States requirements of your real estate/broker license are regulated by the Dept./Association of Real Estate, real estate law or state and federal law such as with Fair Housing laws that are an integral part of property management. If you get audited by your association or there is a complaint filed against you, the first thing the auditor or review board will request is your Policy & Procedure Manual. If you aren’t in compliance you could end up being sued in civil or criminal court. Likewise, many insurance companies will ask for a copy of your Policy & Procedures before issuing a policy. Lastly, if you end up in court in front of a judge the ability to show your Policies and Procedures could help lean the decision in your favor. It shows you are intentional in how you do business and that you are treating all customers with the same care.

  1. How Do You Create a Policy & Procedure Manual?

Ok, some of us are Operational/Systems geeks, but the reality even for people who have this skillset is that it takes a lot of time and energy which new business owners don’t have when starting out. It is a catch 22. We recognize that it is needed but it often never gets done.  There are Policy & Procedures out there that you can cobble together for free, but the easiest way to put one in place is to buy a manual written specifically by seasoned, experienced property managers/brokers/business owners. Here is my unabashed plug for the Policy & Procedure Manual that www.PMmadeEasy.com offers.  It is fully customizable, Fair Housing Compliant and contains documentation in areas of the business that you probably never thought of…that was my experience when I bought it and used it in my business. As a business owner it helped me understand what my foundation should look like, how to set boundaries with clients and staff, and the confidence to know I was doing things right and with best business practices in mind.

If you are going to be a legit business owner, and you subscribe to the Code of Ethics your professional associations often require then you will have a Policy & Procedure Manual.