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Property accountants form the financial backbone of companies that develop and invest in real estate. Their work helps companies navigate the tax minefield, expand portfolios and remain solvent during economic downturns. Becoming a property accountant typically requires earning a college degree followed by periodic continuing education. The time and effort you expend could pay impressive dividends because the future of the property accountant profession looks bright.
Who Are Property Accountants?
Property accountants handle financial matters for companies such as hotel chains, timeshare companies, real estate developers, real estate investment companies and real estate private equity funds. They work exclusively in the financial requirements of buying, selling, leasing, maintaining and managing real estate. The work of a property accountant helps real estate companies establish themselves in the marketplace, expand their holdings and remain solvent.
What Does a Property Accountant Do?
The work of a property accountant focuses on real estate transactions in areas such as sales, timesharing and leasing of property. The specific duties largely depend on the nature of the business in which the accountant works.
Most property accountants maintain ledgers of accruals and expenditures that document debits and credits during monthly, quarterly and yearly periods. A property accountant for a hotel chain might also produce profit and loss reports during the same periods. The job may require an analysis of the frequency of bank deposits at each hotel location and tracking the frequency and amount of refunds to customers due to service issues.
Typically, property accountants produce tax reports and, in some cases, prepare tax returns. Tax responsibilities can include preparing a federal tax return at the corporate level and state tax returns for properties in multiple states or tax jurisdictions. The property accountant must stay abreast of changes in tax codes, often at federal, state and local levels. An accountant who works for an organization such as a timeshare company or hotel chain may be responsible for submitting sales tax payments to the states in which properties operate. In some locations, property accountants oversee the submission of tourist taxes, hotel taxes or other types of locally imposed taxes.
Property accountants devise and supervise internal accounting controls that apply at the corporate level and property locations. For example, a property accountant for an investment real estate firm that owns apartment complexes might direct property managers to issue printed receipts to tenants when they make rent payments. A property accountant for a real estate development company might implement a purchase order system that applies to construction costs. Typically, property accountants and their staffs make themselves available to answer questions and settle disputes regarding the accounting controls that they oversee.
Many property accountants oversee accounts payable distributions at the corporate level. In some cases, a property accountant might also handle accounts payable for the entire portfolio of properties, or analyze expenditures and oversee staff members who make distributions. Accounts payable duties might also include managing all cash flow issues at the corporate or property level including petty cash.
The property accountant typically oversees accounts receivables. Often, the accountant distributes invoices or handles tenants’ billing disputes. In some cases, duties may include making daily or weekly bank deposits. Accountants who manage the finances of properties in different cities might open and manage bank accounts for each location. They may handle collections of delinquent accounts or work with attorneys to evict tenants with past-due balances.
Property accountants often manage the accounting of their companies’ fixed assets. For example, a hotel chain accountant might manage yearly inventory at all of the company’s hotels, supervising the counting of assets such as furniture, computer equipment, electronic equipment and automobiles. Fixed asset management often includes maintaining depreciation and amortization schedules for tax reporting and company valuation.
Often, property accountants who manage apartment building finances submit applicants' credit applications to credit bureaus and analyze reports to determine the creditworthiness of the applicants. The property accountant might collect rental deposits, devise guidelines for the return of rental deposits and set up bank accounts to hold tenants’ deposits. The accountant must stay abreast of changes in rent control laws and draft tenants’ rent increase notices.
Some property accountants oversee the finances of maintenance and repair expenditures. An accountant who oversees a large portfolio of properties might also establish maintenance contracts with businesses such as heating and cooling companies, exterminators, plumbers, and painting, flooring and cleaning contractors.
The property accountant prepares monthly, quarterly and yearly financial statements for company executives, the board of directors, lenders, company owners and property managers. In publicly owned companies, the property accountant might oversee the publication of annual reports.
Property accountants with real estate investment companies often handle the securing of financing for new properties. They establish relationships with lenders or mortgage brokers and stay abreast of interest rates and changes in lending guidelines. When interest rates are low, the property accountant might oversee the refinancing of properties to lower mortgage payments and increase rental revenue.
Many property accountants assist chief financial officers in establishing annual budgets. They may also oversee or assist with an annual company audit. Some property accountants draft business plans for new projects or divisions.
Property accountants analyze real estate markets and prepare analytical reports to advise company executives, board members and other stakeholders about acquiring or selling properties. They arrange for property appraisals and prepare valuation reports. Some property accountants oversee the sale of properties, working with commercial real estate agents and performing mortgage-closing duties.
Sample Property Accountant Job Opportunities
Perusing job postings for property accountants reveals the assortment of duties and responsibilities companies require and the diversity of portfolios a property accountant might manage. Typical property accountant job opportunities include managing the finances of properties such as retail spaces, apartments and office buildings. Job postings that illustrate the range of responsibilities for the position of property accountant include:
- A Wisconsin real estate development and management company seeks a property accountant to handle the finances of its portfolio of properties, which includes Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn and Residence Inn franchises located in 12 states. Duties include training hotel staff in accounting practices, general ledger support, completing property tax returns and managing fixed asset accounting.
- A real estate investment company based in Lansing, Michigan, needs a property accountant to oversee the finances of its apartment and commercial building portfolio. The entry-level position involves reviewing accounts payable invoices, processing vendor payments, tracking tenant payments, monitoring property cash flows, assisting property managers with accounting issues, recording journal entries and assisting in the preparation of annual budgets.
- In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a real estate investment company owns and operates office, retail and residential properties, along with vacant lots. It needs a property accountant to reconcile monthly bank statements, prepare monthly financial statements, assist in annual budget preparation, monitor investor cash balances, process tenant billing, record electronic payments and manage cash flow spreadsheets.
Property Accountant Education
Most employers look for property accountants who have earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Some employers prefer property accountants with a master’s degree in accounting or a combination of business administration and accounting coursework.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) reports that around 185 colleges and universities worldwide have earned AACSB accreditation in accounting. Typically, accounting programs feature coursework in subjects such as finance, taxation, ethics, accounting, business processes, auditing and management.
Most bachelor’s degree programs in accounting take about four years to complete. In an effort to make education available to more students, some colleges and universities offer online accounting degree programs. For example, Washington State University’s Carson College of Business offers an online undergraduate degree program in accounting. The WSU program allows students to attend part time or full time.
Property Accountant Licensing
Any accountant who files reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must obtain a certified public accountant (CPA) license. Although some property accountants do not file reports with the SEC, many employers prefer CPAs.
State boards of accountancy administer CPA licensing. Many undergraduate accounting programs require students to complete 120 credit hours of coursework. However, many state CPA licenses require candidates to complete a minimum of 150 credit hours. Some colleges and universities offer combined bachelor’s and master’s degree accounting programs, which satisfy the 150-hour requirement and take about five years to complete. A handful of states do not require a college degree for CPA licensure; they base qualification on years of accounting experience.
All states require CPA candidates to pass an examination written by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Candidates must pass all four parts of the exam to qualify for a CPA license. Accountants who fail one or more parts of the exam can retake the parts they fail. However, they must pass all four parts within an 18-month period to qualify for a CPA license. In most states, CPAs must periodically take additional courses to maintain their CPA license.
Property Accountant Essential Skills
In addition to formal education, property accountants must possess certain personal and professional skills. The multifaceted nature of their jobs requires them to handle many tasks at once. They must work with colleagues at all levels of the organization, which requires exceptional written and verbal skills and the ability to work within a team.
Property accountants must understand how to use common and, in some cases, proprietary accounting software programs. They must know how to use business programs such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Word.
Property accountants need good organizational skills to keep up with changing rules and regulations in areas such as tax law and mortgage lending. They must understand the business practices of the industry in which they work, such as hotel management, real estate development or timeshare management.
Since many property accountants spend time in the field, employers often look for candidates who hold a driver’s license and who own or have access to an automobile. Since property accountants must work with co-workers, clients, bankers and tenants, they must maintain good hygiene and a professional appearance.
Property Accountant Salary
In 2017, accountants earned a median salary of nearly $70,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A median wage represents the center of an occupation’s pay scale. Top earners took home more than $120,000.
Property Accountant Job Outlook
In 2016, around 1.4 million accountants worked in the United States. California employs the most accountants, followed by Texas and New York.
The BLS reports that job opportunities for accountants should increase by around 10 percent from now until 2026. Globalization, government regulation and changing tax regulations account for much of the projected increase in opportunities.
Technology has and will continue to create benefits for accountants. Many accountants spend much of their workday working alone. Advancements in computer and internet technology have made it easier for accountants to work from home. Automation and outsourcing may eliminate certain accounting tasks, but these advancements likely will not reduce the need for qualified accountants.
- Joseph Chris Partners: Real Estate Accountant Job Description Examples
- Raymond Management Company: Property Accountant Job Description
- Gillespie Group: Job Description for Property Accountant
- CWD Real Estate Investment: Property Accountant Job Description
- Hungerford Properties: Property Accountant Job Description
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Accountants and Auditors
- Washington State University Global Campus: Accounting
- Washington State University: Accounting
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business: Accreditation
- Gillespie Group
- The Raymond Group: Property Portfolio
- CWD Real Estate Investment
Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.