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In this blog I will set out property-management business issues that need to be addressed by a property manager when choosing new property-management software. All the actual business issues should be covered by the features of your new software system. Some of the business issues are essential, so you need to address those first when thinking about your new software features; some software features might seem nice to have, but you need to evaluate them thoroughly in order not to lock yourself into a never-ending software implementation project. Your turn to decide which business issues you want to solve first.
- Type of the property you manage. Managing commercial and residential properties may appear to be a similar process, but the differences between them can be significant. If you have multi-unit properties, or properties owned by several owners/landlords, you should check if the property-management software is capable of covering all your needs, or at least the major part of them. The ability to manage all your properties in one place should be the main aspect when choosing software.
- Integrated accounting. Having one software system instead of two is great. OK, we know everyone loves QuickBooks, yet it is much easier when accountants and property managers work within the same system. In addition to all the technical (and financial) benefits of developing and supporting one system instead of several, integrated property-management software will easily allow you to complete both your accounting-related tasks, such as billing your tenants, distributing CAM fees or issuing invoices, and your property-management jobs, such as searching for vacancies, creating new contracts or sending marketing material to your prospects. And you do not even need to be an accountant to do both jobs yourself! The question is not only entering the information – getting data out of the system should also be easy, so that property managers can check tenant balances, payments due, property budgeting, and other financial data. It saves so much time for everyone: instead of asking, you can take a look at the data yourself, at the very minute you need it!
- Enabling Tenant self-service. Interactions with your tenants are often time-consuming and require a lot of resources. Why not allow them to accomplish some of the tasks, or gather the information they need online? Tenants would be happy if they could quickly check their balances, coordinate maintenance work or review their lease information online, instead of trying to reach you. And frankly speaking, are you always available?
- Are you a captive of your computer? First of all, if your software is on your premises – can you access it online, out of the office, using another computer if needed? We are witnessing the rise of cloud solutions, and more property-management software is becoming web-based. Still, you should check if you can access it using different web browsers (Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox). Even if your software is not web-based but used on-premises, it still should be accessible through the web, so as not to imprison you in the office.
- Get mobile’ised. It is essential that property managers can get the data they need from any place anytime, just through an internet connection. A mobile app for your property-management software and access by tablet or smartphone would be a great help! If you can ensure that checking unit availability, getting tenant contact information, entering notes or creating a work order can be done from a mobile device, then you will make your property managers much happier.
- Everything about your precious data. Property-management software should allow for easy data export and import. You should be able to get your data from any software system – in case something happens to the provider, or you change your mind about your partnership with the recent software vendor. The older your software is, the more concerned you should be about your data. We’ve met customers who had no luck using antique systems with no possibility of getting their data out. So they “enjoyed” dozens of hours spent on manual data input into the new software. One benefit however – they’ve learnt how to use the new system very well J. In order to feel safe about your data, your software database needs to be backed up on a regular basis. When was the last time your data was saved? That’s the problem, we start thinking about that once it’s too late and something has gone very wrong.
- Very few property managers want to view data in the system only – usually they export and share data in Excel, Word, CSV, PDF or other file formats. You should be able to put your data back into the system with the same ease after its import.
- System users should also be able to upload and store various documents related to contracts or properties. Do you have those green “consider before printing” notes at the bottom of your emails? How much paper you waste on contracts and all correspondence with tenants! Software could help turn your office into a paperless heaven.
- Train your brain with ease. Be sure that the software provider not only trains your team on the new software, but has also prepared software-training materials you can use later on your own. The idiom “go in one ear and out the other” was created with a reason… In order to use all the features your software provides, you need to know what’s there and HOW to use it! Therefore spend enough time on training! The training material can be provided in various forms – user guides, use cases, videos, presentations, blogs etc. A help system inside the software also helps a lot to minimize the time required to get comfortable with the software.
- Professional support. Support is very important during the software set-up and the first steps in using the new software. Most of our customers are very active during the first month after they go-live with new software; later the flow of questions decreases. But it is also great to have somebody answering your questions quickly, despite your having used the software for years. Support can be provided through various channels – email, helpdesk system, live chat, phone, on-site or remote support.
- Reporting. As your business grows, reports become a must-have in your software. It is essential for both accounting and property management. Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, budget reports, rent rolls, unit vacancies, lease contracts – these are just a few reports needed by every property manager. Static reports are good, but great systems will provide you with the ability to customize reports and compile them according to your own needs.
Choosing the best property-management software is not easy. Most software providers will allow you to try their software free. You can also ask for a live demo and get functional overviews. Let’s hope you will make the best choice for your business after putting all the pros and cons together. If not – do not be afraid to try again – usually the second time is easier The best people have learnt and tried many times, as I’m sure you know.