Campus News

Professor helps build new residential property management program at UGA

Once upon a time, apartment managers were generally viewed as on-site handymen who collected the rent and repaired leaky faucets. The advent of real estate investment trusts, known by the acronym REIT, has radically changed that image and given birth to a new field of academic study.

“With REITs, investors can purchase a share of a group of properties, just like they would purchase a share of stock,” said Russell James III, assistant professor of housing and consumer economics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “They’re very attractive to investors because their value doesn’t go up and down at the same time as most stocks. Also, federal law provides some tax advantages and requires that more than 90 percent of the income from REITs must be distributed each year.”

While REITs initially tended to be focused on commercial and industrial properties, the past decade has seen an explosion of residential property REITs, with some housing as many as 250,000 residents, according to James.

“This explosion of residential property REITs has caused an issue because the majority of the managers in this field have been site managers who don’t have the skills to operate in a large corporate environment,” he said. “There’s a need for a new class of property managers who understand management at the site level, but who have the skills in marketing, finance and communication that prepare them to take those site-level skills and move into corporate management.”

With that in mind, James was brought to UGA to oversee a recently approved emphasis in residential property management that is a part of the housing major.

“Currently, Virginia Tech, Ball State and North Texas are the only other universities with undergraduate programs in residential property management,” said James, who credits the Georgia Apartment Industry Education Foundation for providing the seed money necessary to get UGA’s program started.

Being on the cutting edge of a new field means faculty are developing new courses and the means to teach them since no standard textbooks exist for courses such as “Residential Property Management Technology.” For that course, students will learn how to use financial and facilities management software, as well as geographic information system technology that can be useful in identifying promising locations for new properties.

Although the final details of the curriculum have only recently been approved, a few students already have graduated with the RPM emphasis and have been quickly snatched up by REIT corporations.

“The nation’s largest luxury residential REIT, Avalon Bay, flies in representatives from Washington, D.C., each semester to speak and to recruit,” James said.

While residential property management has opened a new field for graduates, it’s also rich for research, according to James, who already has published several papers that look at resident satisfaction.

The establishment of the residential property management emphasis is also creating international opportunities for James and his colleagues.

“On the European continent, there’s a growing interest in the private rental sector,” he said. “For example, only about 10 percent of housing in the United Kingdom is in the private rental sector. However, as funding for new public housing has dried up, there’s been a growing interest in this area.”

James is helping to lead a new group, the European Network of Housing Researchers Working Group on the Private Rented Sector, that is focused on related research topics.