Shaun Covington’s career in property management spans 35 years—twenty-seven of those as the founder and principal of Covington Realty. He began his journey managing a portfolio of affordable housing in Central Harlem. In the years since, he has grown Covington Realty into a boutique management firm overseeing hundreds of units across condo, co-op, and affordable housing in the neighborhood.
We sat down with the founder to learn more.
Let’s go back in time over the last thirty-five years. How did you first get started?
I majored in psychology at the University of Rhode Island. I quickly realized that was not something I wanted to do for a living. A family friend was in property management, and he suggested it might be a good profession to get into. I started working for a company including a development out in Queens, and it kind of worked for me. Eventually, I went from that company to another one, and 11 years later started my own company.
I went back to school at Pratt Institute and studied City and Regional Planning with an emphasis on Community and Economic Development. I knew how to run buildings by that time, but now I knew the development part. That’s when I was doing the management and actually doing the development of property. Being a developer and doing construction management there taught me a lot. I parlayed that into other properties that I currently still manage.
What has been your approach to growing Covington Realty?
I currently have over 500 units under management and a staff of seven. We have grown purposefully. I’ve tried to keep a boutique management company so that we can handle whatever comes our way in a fashion that shows our caring, personal approach. I enjoy working one-on-one with residents and showing my face as opposed to being a draconian landlord who doesn’t live in the community. I have buildings throughout Central Harlem, and I also live there, so the residents see me around the community.
I got interested in affordable housing and serving people that look like me and didn’t have the means to live in other places. Now, Harlem is a destination place people try to move to, which is a big change. I remember the people who were here, and I stuck by them, and they stuck by me. I want to see them prosper with the rest of the community.
You have a distinct point of view on how to lead as a property manager.
I believe in serving with a certain respect and dignity. Whether you're paying $500 or $5,000 a month, you as a human deserve the same amount of dignity. That's what we try to do here at Covington Realty, and that's what I impose upon people. We treat people in that manner.
Things don’t always go right. It is their home, and most of my tenants have been here for a long time. It’s important that we keep up the quality of the housing. We have to try to let people feel pride in where they live.
The personal approach is important, how do you maintain that?
There are management companies, if you call the office, you get a recording and it goes into the abyss. Somebody might get back to you three to four days later. Residents get annoyed, and then things don’t happen and get done. For years, until COVID, I had an open door policy. They could come into my office and see me anytime to discuss whatever issues they want. I’m still here, when people want to talk or they need to vent. We hear it, we listen to them. We’re breathing the same air they are, so to speak.
As a business owner, how do you keep this high level of service while keeping costs and margins reasonable?
We service the buildings that we have through the natural progression of the things that are needed like painting, little repairs that go on. We do a lot of that in house. It helps keep the cost down and keeps us flowing. COVID was hard for us in our industry. Folks weren't paying, and there was no mechanism for us to collect money. So us having this company and being able to do some of the repairs were helpful—not having to outsource everything to get things done.
Inflation is up, utilities are up, fuel is up, insurance, you name it. Everything in our industry is going up—but the rent. I get it, New York is an expensive city to live in. Us providing what we provide here is important.
How does technology support your business with operating efficiency?
It’s a game changer. It’s a game changer to be able to do things in real time. Doing inspections, having it go straight through to tenants, and then progressing that to a work order. The efficiency of it is fantastic.
What attributes do you look for in a successful employee?
Somebody willing to learn. Patience is important because of the things we have to do. And someone who’s not just willing to learn and has patience but is willing to serve. We are there to provide a service. The reward is that you’re doing your job and helping people who, maybe, don’t have many options.
It makes me proud to see my son Malachi following in my footsteps. He works on my team and I see the same desire to serve the community in him as I have. That persona. If you’re tech savvy, that’s definitely a plus. We are always looking to upgrade and innovate. It makes everything so much easier to be able to integrate things into one platform.
Now, for a few one word answers:
Would you rather give up email or your phone for a day? Phone.
What is your superpower? My caring.
Name one thing you never leave home without: My phone!
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