Former Maintenance Worker Uses Degree as Key to Corner Office

Ray Pisco lands dream job and buys dream home thanks to Real Estate Property Management program.

Ray Pisco was frustrated. He had toiled in property maintenance for a dozen years and still couldn’t find happiness in his job.

“I was working as a maintenance man for Bigos Management, the largest property owner in the Twin Cities,” Pisco said. “I was good at my job, but somehow or other I always got a new boss every year and none of them seemed to know what they were doing.”

Pisco would go home at night and spell out his discontent to his wife, Joanne, who eventually got fed up with his dim view of management.

“I’m sick of you complaining about your managers,” she said. “They have an education, you don’t. If you don’t like it, do something about it.”

She handed her husband a brochure announcing an open house at Dakota County Technical College. Pisco wasn’t sure what to expect, but he went to the college and met Martin Otto, a real estate property management instructor who would make a pivotal imprint on Pisco’s life.

That was back in 1997. Eleven years later, Ray Pisco, now 46, is a regional manager at the same company where he once shoveled snow and repaired plumbing fixtures. In 2000, he earned his A.A.S. degree in real estate property management and today works out of the proverbial corner office at the Bigos Management corporate headquarters in Edina. The picture window in his spacious, 14th-floor office provides a panoramic view of the high-end suburb, but Pisco’s path to success wasn’t paved in gold.

“I chose real estate and property management because I didn’t want to waste all my years of experience in the field,” Pisco said. “But after the first two months in the classroom I was ready to quit.”

Instructor Martin Otto knew from the start that Ray Pisco had all the tools to be a huge success both academically and as a property manager. A seasoned teacher, Otto understood that he had to provide Pisco enough room to recognize his tremendous potential.

“At first, Ray seemed self-conscious and out of place in the classroom,” Otto said. “I had trained a lot of people and knew all Ray needed was a chance to show what he could do. My job was to make sure he got that chance.”

Pisco finally approached Otto with his misgivings. “I let Marty know that I was having trouble with tests and topics like income property analysis. He told me to break things into simple formulas and add the zeroes later. He said that I just needed to stick with it and I would start putting my coursework together. Marty guaranteed that in time everything would start clicking.”

“I took textbook concepts and applied them on the job. What I learned in Marty’s classes made all the difference.”

Otto could not have been more correct. Pisco did stick with it and things clicked so well that he made the president’s list the next three semesters. He was also making progress at work. A property management position opened up at one of his company’s most troublesome rental buildings. Pisco applied for the position, which had attracted no other in-house applicants, but he didn’t hear from human resources for three months.

“I called HR and told them that I really wanted an interview,” he said. “I told them that I was going to school full-time after work and on Saturdays to get my degree in property management. I informed them that I had already earned a certificate in the subject and had also obtained my Realtor’s license.”

Bigos gave Pisco an interview and that same day he was offered a temporary shot at managing the property—easily the most problem-plagued in the company. Three months later, he had tenants in every unit and had doubled the property’s income. Now the permanent manager, Pisco could state that the once shabby apartment community had gone from one with “a police car parked out front every night to one with the fewest emergency calls in North St. Paul.”

Ray Pisco (center with dark bowling ball) and his team of Bigos managers.

Ray Pisco (center with dark bowling ball) and his team of Bigos managers.

After three years, Bigos assigned Pisco to manage one of the company’s largest properties—one afflicted with abundant vacancies and in desperate need of an upturn. Again, Pisco accepted the challenge. He was in his element now and knew that his education at DCTC gave him the skill set to handle any contingency.

“I took textbook concepts and applied them on the job,” he said. “What I learned in Marty’s classes made all the difference.”

Pisco was so successful with his new property that Ted Bigos, the company’s founder and owner, drove out to see for himself what his former maintenance worker was doing. Bigos wanted proof that this promising manager was the real deal. After listening intently for several minutes as Pisco explained his management approach, Bigos interrupted by slapping his hand down on a nearby tabletop. “Ray,” he declared, “you’ve done it.”

At the beginning of his journey from maintenance worker to regional manager, Pisco lacked the expertise to leverage his finances to his family’s best advantage. Using his newfound knowledge and with Otto’s guidance, he was able to purchase a rental duplex and move Joanne and the couple’s four children out of a cramped, two-bedroom apartment.

“I never thought we could own our own home,” Pisco said. “But Marty showed me that I had all the know-how I needed to buy real estate off the market. When we bought the duplex, I wrote the purchase agreement myself, and the seller paid the closing costs. We then rented out the other half of the property, which really supplemented our income.”

Today, Pisco and his wife, along with their children, Angelina, 18, Michael, 16, Dominic, 14, and Sophia, 11, and the family’s two dogs, reside in a four-bedroom dream home on a 1.5-acre lot in Becker, Minn.

Pisco credits his amazing success to earning his degree at DCTC. He also singles out Martin Otto as an instructor with the dedication and industry experience to guide him past every obstacle in his path.

“Marty made it his business to help me succeed,” Pisco said. “He recognized my potential and didn’t just teach me about real estate and property management. He taught me to believe in myself.”

Otto recommends patience and pluck during the current market slump. “In my 35 years in the industry, I’ve seen this cycle several times,” he related. “The market was very slow in the early 1980s when interest rates were 18 percent. Yes, 18 percent. Many Realtors quit the business, just as they are now.”

Citing historical performance, Otto forecasts a real estate market rebound and counsels prospective Realtors and property managers to enter the field straight away and not wait until the market starts picking up, noting that “everyone will be doing that.”

“I’d jump in right now,” he advised, “get my license and start learning the business while things are a little slow. When the market has another surge—which it will—you’ll be there to take advantage of it.”

Students in the Real Estate Property Management program learn to appraise, manage and market residential, commercial, industrial and investment real estate. Coursework includes 90 hours of pre-licensing education required for the Minnesota real estate license examination and the registered real estate property appraisers license.

Graduates of the program are prepared to manage residential, retail or office buildings in downtown, suburban or rural settings. Career opportunities are available in areas such as real estate, financing, property management, investing or the exciting new field of community association management.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates faster than average job growth for property, real estate and community association managers over the next decade, with projected increases reaching 15 percent.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development lists the mean hourly wage at $27.60 for the state’s property, real estate and community association managers. The education and employment Web site,, reports a strong 20.5 percent employment growth in Minnesota through the year 2014.