Property Management Software – What to Look For

While many property managers still use Excel spreadsheets or a pencil and paper to manage their investments, there are much better tools available. The property management software you choose should be flexible, inexpensive and easy to use.

You need a really flexible rental property program because, as a property manager, you never know what tomorrow may bring. You might need to get details about a property or tenant at home, in the office or even out at a property. You might need to have other members of your company get records themselves, from their own computers. Your business might double, and you don’t want a tool that won’t server your needs any more.

The most flexible property management programs are those running over the Internet. Because the records are kept on a Web server, you – or anyone else you authorize – can get to them from any Internet-connected computer. And unlike Windows property management programs, on-line property management software doesn’t limit the number of units (doors) you can manage.

Surprisingly, you don’t give up any security features when using the right on-line property management software. True, the records aren’t on your computer. Instead, they’re maintained on a computer that typically has much better protection than your own. It’ll be kept in a locked room, fire-safe room, with daily backups and multiple storage devices. The best on-line rental property programs also use SSL security so that all of your work is encrypted – and therefore completely off-limits to hackers.

All on-line rental property programs are sold by subscription. Look for one that doesn’t require a long-term commitment or a single annual payment. You want to be able to cancel without any penalties.

Because property management programs can be complex, look for one where support and training are included in the subscription fee. You want a company that looks to maintain a healthy long-term relationship with its customers. This is actually another advantage of on-line tools; they have to keep you satisfied for a long time, not just for the first 30 or 60 days.

Support and training should be offered on your schedule. Make sure your software vendor has extended support hours, especially if your office is on one coast and theirs is on another.

It goes without saying that the best property management software is developed by actual property managers. However, some developers rely on their own very limited experience. For example, they may know all about single-family houses, but have no clue about the special needs of commercial property investing or multifamily units. Make sure the company you choose relies on a wide variety of property managers, landlords and other experts to get product design tips.

In addition, you want your property management software to be responsive to your specific needs. Companies making Windows property management software can never be that responsive to customers, because upgrading the software is such a hassle. Such companies often only release upgrades every year or two, and when they do, their customers have to go through what may be a very messy upgrade process. On the other hand, on-line property management software can be upgraded whenever the company has a new feature that has been fully tested. The next time customers log in, the new features are ready for them to use.

Here are some of the features that you will absolutely want in your property management program.

• A full accounting package. Your program should support whichever accounting method you prefer, cash (simpler) or accrual (more detailed and preferred by most property managers). It should include a number of accounting reports that you can run at any time and for any period. You should be able to calculate late fees and discounts automatically

• Check writing. When you have to write a lot of checks for your business, it’s great to be able to just print them off on your computer. Your software vendor will put you in touch with at least one company that makes the kind of check forms you will need.

One word of caution: to print checks with blank check stock, you will need a laser printer and a special magnetic ink cartridge. The laser printer probably won’t be an issue, but the magnetic ink cartridge may be. A simpler solution is just to order preprinted check forms. These forms will have the basic information such as MICR numbers (the numbers at the bottom of the check, which are always printed in magnetic ink). You’ll still print checks, but just the amount, payee, date and other fields that don’t have to be in magnetic ink.

• Reminders. You should be able to set up reminders for appointments, projects, and other tasks. You should also get automatic reminders for the two things every property manager wants to be aware of: late rent payments and expiring leases.

• Many different data fields to let you store all the information you want, but not that many mandatory data fields. You should be able to use your software for as little or as much work as you like.

• Fast and easy data management. You’ll spend a lot of time entering records and finding what you need in your property management software. You don’t want something that will make it complicated and difficult to handle these tasks. Look for wizards and maybe even a “Quick Start” feature to make loading fast, and fast searching and sorting to let you very easily find what you need.

What if you find a property management program that is great, but not perfect? Many property managers will quit using a program because it doesn’t have the one specific report or calculation they really like. They then have a choice; they can keep on going with Excel or written ledgers, or they can continue on an endless search for the perfect program that simply doesn’t exist.

Instead, why not contact the company you are interested in and see if they can add the feature you want? You might learn that they’re already working on it. If not, they may be happy to add it to keep you satisfied.