Choosing Property Management Software the Smart Way

Face it, you don’t need more headaches — property management is hard enough by itself. Now you have to find a good software program to get your growing business organized. Hand scribbled notes and mountains of paper are a thing of the past — hopefully.Get the important stuff first, and then sweat the detailsYou can rule out 50% of the property management software on the market if you focus first on what you ‘really’ are looking for. The two main mistakes many people make is (1) buying software that is overkill for their needs (thus wasting money and time) or (2) going for the cheapest alternative and getting software that has defects and doesn’t fit their need (thus wasting time and money). Let’s look at the differences:Overkill: Do you need software to manage your properties and your office too? Let your property management software do what it does best – manage property. For your office accounting and payroll, there are plenty of inexpensive products that are perfectly good for both large and small businesses. However, if you use another accounting software for your office expenses, you may want your rental property software to export your bank deposits and checks to your office management software. Other features that add to the cost that you may not need include budgeting, double-entry accounting, asset and liability accounting, and tenant background checking. Some features, such as tenant background checking are really done by well-known Internet companies, but the software vendor just buys the service first, and marks up the cost to you. The prices for property management software can range from $100 to $10,000 (or more), so don’t buy more than you need. However, if you do buy a version that supports a smaller number of rental units, make sure that you can easily upgrade to the larger version at a reasonable cost (hopefully the difference in cost between that smaller and larger versions) and won’t be required to re-enter any of your precious information again.Underkill: Anybody with some web software can make an impressive looking web site. But underneath may be a piece of junk software. Look at the product, make sure you can run a full demo, and better yet a ‘trial version’ that allows you to ‘try before you buy’. Make sure the software can do the basic things you need: (1) maintain a separate ledger for each Tenant and each Owner (2) write bank checks and deposits (3) maintain a vendor file (4) automatically post rent, management fees, and late fees (4) easily update your information. Make sure the software will handle a mixture of single family homes, multifamily homes, condos, and commercial without having to buy extra modules. Look for the ability to purchase add-ons, such as work order modules, online rent payment modules, or tax related modules — you may need them in the future as your business grows. Be sure to check the cost!Then, go for the detailsSome things may not be critical in your property management software, but are great to have. These are features, such as a reminder system to keep track of appointments, log conversations and interactions with your tenants, and to pop up a list of tenants and owners that owe you money. Look for the ability of the software to transfer your tenant information to an inactive file, so that you can later look up your tenant info for credit references and to log back payments. Look for features such as the ability to automatically update rent amounts, automatically post amounts to each ledger, and to update your account names. Speaking of account names, you might want to find a software that uses ‘real’ names for your accounts like ‘Rent Received’, instead of an account number, such as ’300021 – Rent Received’.Don’t take the Technical Support baitFree Support! Most tenant management software companies don’t even offer it, but even if they do, there may be big conditions. Some vendors force you to buy their expensive software updates in order to receive their technical support. Others offer free support for a short period of time then charge anywhere from a dollar per minute (with a minimum amount per call) to well over $100.00 per hour for support. You should get at least a 60 to 90 day free support plan as part of the purchase, but better yet, find an experienced vendor that offers free unlimited support. Yes, there are actually some vendors that back their products with free phone and email support.Hidden costsIf you spend a frustrating hour doing battle with your property management software, what is that worth in dollars? Difficult, unfriendly software costs you time. And, if you have employees trying to figure out how to do something, you are paying them to read the 2 inch thick manual, and paying again if they have to call for support. Make sure your software program is easy to install, easy to use, and has plenty of help. You should always receive a printed user’s guide with the program, a comprehensive built-in help file, and an online help page. Another big cost is the ‘update’. Are you forced to buy it even if you don’t need the new features? What have the last 5 updates cost the user base? Will you still receive any technical support if you have an older version? These are important questions you should always ask when shopping for property management software.Follow these simple guidelines, and your property management software will help you grow a thriving and efficient business.

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