Dona DeZube is a writer based in Clarksville, Md., and regular contributor to HouseLogic.com.
Property Management Software for Your Size Business, Your Size Budget
From freebie to expensive, the price of property management software that’s right for you often varies with the number of units you service.
July 1, 1998
Today’s property management software can cost you nothing or $2,000.
The difference may hinge simply on the number of properties the software will manage, which ranges from 10 or fewer to unlimited.
Typically, the free and inexpensive stuff, some of which has become available through the Internet this year, manages only a few properties.
Let’s take a look at the lower end first.
You can download free a copy of Flex Software's Flex/Light, which manages up to three properties and 150 tenants. And you can register as a Flex/Light user for $49 to get a printed manual and the ability to manage up to five properties.
But there's a catch: Flex doesn’t have its own accounting system, so you must use it with another accounting system such as Quick Books.
If you don’t want to go the Internet route, Dayton, Ohio-based RentRight makes two versions of its software. You can get RentRight, retailing for about $800, which helps you manage an unlimited number of units; or you can try the exact same software for only $49.99, but which is limited to 10 units.
Another, cheap option is to use an accounting program you already own—and have already paid for—such as Quicken Home & Business. Angela Wood, a broker at Frank, Howard Allen in San Rafael, Calif., managed about two dozen properties by hand before she started using Quicken eight years ago. Instead of spending 20 hours a month keeping 22-plus checking accounts on tenants and doing spreadsheets by hand for each of the properties she manages, Wood has cut her bookkeeping time in half, spending about a half hour per client with Quicken.
What if You're Too Big for a Small System?
If you have too many properties under management to use the inexpensive systems, then your choices won't be so narrow or simple.
“The software for property management has become much more sophisticated and consequently much more intimidating,” says Max Adrian, broker-owner of Adrian Realty, Costa Mesa, Calif., who uses Investment Property Management software from Realty Automation.
Some higher-priced systems are more complex because they offer so many features, such as accounting, work orders, modules that handle the paperwork generated when tenants move in or out, and a checks system that lets you print checks on blank paper stock.
That complexity can create problems.
“I find most systems so technically driven and so complicated you can’t use them,” says William Ferguson, vice president of Century 21-Judge Fite Management, Dallas. Ferguson is shopping for new software to help his company manage 420 mostly single-family homes. He says, “You need a CPA to run them, but you can’t afford a CPA.”
Further, he says, many systems target the apartment industry, whose properties typically have one owner and multiple tenants. By contrast, most single-family property managers work with multiple owners and single tenants, he says.
Other users complain that the property management software on the market today too often lacks an integrated word processor that helps you write leases or letters to tenants without leaving the property management program.
“Most of the programs out there, if they have a word processor, have one [letter] template, and you have to modify it each time,” says Glenn Dorsey, broker-owner of The Real Estate Connection, Pensacola, Fla., who uses CMS Inc.'s Promas Landmaster Property Management Software.
Some software offers a solution to that problem. Property Automation Software Corp.'s Tenant Pro comes with a word processor loaded with 35 letters written by real estate attorneys.
“You can also change and save the document so that the next time you go in, your changes are there,” says Jacob Garza, president of Property Automation Software Corp.
Let the Software Do the Work
Despite the drawbacks, the property management products we looked at can automate a significant portion of your work.
Yardi ($1,995) and Investment Property Management for Windows 3.2 ($695) offer accounts receivable and payable and will post information to your general ledger automatically. They also offer security measures to prevent fraud—a feature you need when managing hundreds of properties but can skip as a sole operator.
Management + Plus for Windows ($150 to $2,000) and Yardi hold searchable databases of information about applicants, tenants, properties, and investors. With Yardi, for instance, you can track a tenant's noise violations and then search the database to find information on all the violations that you've cited.
How much time can you save with software that manages an unlimited number of properties, such as seven of the products in our chart (“Your Guide to Property Management Software”)? Before he started using Promas Landmaster, Dorsey was spending three hours on the month-end distributions for 15 properties. “I'm now doing 65 properties in an hour,” he says.
Instant Background Checks
You've automated your property management operations, but how about your tenant background checks?
The Registry Inc., an Internet-based service at registrycheck.com, combines an online credit report with a criminal check and research of local landlord-tenant court records. For about $25, you can find out whether the would-be tenant in your office has a criminal record. Although the credit check is virtually instantaneous, it takes 48–72 hours for the criminal check to come back.
The Registry (800/999–0350), available in 25 states covering most of the country except the West Coast, will fax information to you if you aren’t online.
Before You Buy
Software creators shared these buying tips that can save you wear and tear—and money:
- Call the manufacturer's customer service and ask for the names of practitioners already using the system to manage a portfolio similar to yours.
- Call technical support to see how long you'll wait on hold.
- Try to get a real copy of the software, not a demonstration disk, which tends to be a commercial for the product rather than a test run of the program, so that you can see how the real product runs.
- Before you shop, make a list of your property management problems. Try to find software to solve those problems.
- If you're buying a system for your office, be realistic about your staff's ability and willingness to use a new product. It takes basic bookkeeping skills—or at least significant training—to run some of the products.
- If you don’t know a start key from a mouse and you're buying a high-end, unlimited property system, pay to have it installed and for on-site assistance with loading your data the first time. If you're a three-property up-and-comer, take the time to read the manual.
Additional Software Sources
If you don’t find what you're looking for, try these sources:
- biz.onramp.net/reap/reviews.htm for reviews of property management software and discussion groups
- Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) to search for property+management+software for more companies selling property management software
- Infoseek to search for“landlord software” for small portfolio managers
- Guides offered by the Institute of Real Estate Management, an NAR affiliate: Survey of Property Management Accounting Software ($19.95 for members; $24.95 for nonmembers) compares nearly 30 property management accounting programs in all price ranges. Minimum Standards of Property Management Accounting Software ($45.60 for members; $57 for nonmembers) says every software package should provide certain basic features—general system requirements, general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivable. To order either guide, call IREM's Customer Service, 800/837–0706. Also, go to Today’s REALTOR® Online's Product Evaluation page for links to IREM product information, including Real Estate Software Guidelines: Property Management ($31.96 for members; $39.95 for nonmembers), which answers general questions about this category of software.
Your Guide to Property Management Software
Years in Business
Cost/Number of Properties
System Will Handle
Flex Software, Toronto
Free via Internet
and E-mail; $40 for 10 minutes of telephone help
Free for three properties/
150 tenants; $49 for five
RentRight, Dayton, Ohio
|Free via Internet download||Free||
$49.99 for up to 10 units; $799.99 for unlimited number
Quicken Home & Business 98
Intuit, Mountain View, Calif.
|15% to 40% of product cost||
$150 for one user;
$2,000 for four users,
unlimited number of units
Property Automation Software Corp., Richardson, Texas
|$69 to $99||
Free unlimited support as long
as you own the product
More than 5,000;
|$395 for up to 100 properties; $795 for 101–500 properties; $1,195 for unlimited number|
Investment Property Management
for Windows 3.2
Hayden Lake, Idaho
|One year free||
More than 8,000;
|$395 for 60 units; $695 for unlimited number of units; $100 for MICR check system, which lets you print checks on blank paper stock|
Promas Landmaster Property
CMS Inc., Vienna, Va.
|Included in support agreement||
60 days free;
$300 per year for unlimited toll-free telephone support
More than 1,000;
$395 for 50 units; $695 for up
to 100 units; $995 for up to 250 units; $1,995 for unlimited
number of units
Yardi Systems Inc.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
|$595||Three hours, included in upgrade package; $100 per hour after that||
$1,995 for unlimited number
of units; $995 for maintenance module
This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in company information.
Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.