Many real estate agents have realized that their skillset is well-suited to more than just helping people buy and sell homes. They know the markets inside and out, which can help them become excellent property managers. Real estate agents who currently manage or are looking to manage rental units or commercial buildings need the right tools for the job. That means investing in property management software.
Why software? Property management is a full-time job for many professionals, but obviously, so is being a real estate agent — the potential conflict of time could be recipe for disaster! Here’s the good news: The right software will simplify or even automate your most time-consuming tasks.
Property management software is an essential tool for real estate agents looking for some extra income without taking on another full-time job. The right software lets you:
- Market all your properties on the most popular ILS sites
- Make your own website to take in leads and advertise vacancies
- Sign and countersign leases online
- Automate online rent collection
- Leverage easy-to-use, built-in accounting
- Track all maintenance requests
- Attract and retain owners
- Streamline owner reporting and communication
- Get started in a timeline that makes sense for you
- Receive expert support quickly
- Simplify every aspect of your work
- Grow and expand your business (if and when you’re ready)
- Upgrade your toolkit with an assortment of optional add-ons
This article takes a closer look at each of the above capabilities. Our goal is to help real estate agents find the best property management platform for them.
Access powerful marketing tools
Property marketing can help you stand out from your competition. When done right, you increase the number of eyes on each listing, which means more leads, applicants and occupied rentals.
The first step to getting seen by prospects is getting your properties syndicated on an ILS like RENTCafe.com and other popular sites. Because thousands of people visit these sites every day, they’re the easiest way for you to get noticed.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply have a listing. Every property listed needs to look appealing and be full of details that matter to your prospects. That includes:
- A romance paragraph that gives an overview of the vacant unit/property
- A full list of features and amenities
- Professional-looking photos
- A call to action (telling your prospects how to reach you)
- Close attention to proper spelling and grammar
The right property management software can make each of these steps a breeze by offering ILS syndication, which means that listings for your vacancies are automatically shared with rental search websites. That’s important because it means you only have to upload your romance paragraph, amenities and photos one time. Once set up, the software will do the rest; no duplicate data entry is required.
If you ever need to make updates — maybe you recently added a fitness studio and want to upload new photos and edit your amenities list — simply make the change once. Updates will appear on all sites automatically, usually the next day.
Pro tip: Good real estate software makes it easy to manage listings and upload pictures from your mobile device. Leasing agents and experienced managers know it’s more important than ever to make sure your software is mobile friendly.
Create a professional-looking website
Does your business have its own website? If not, it’s something you should seriously consider. A professionally designed website makes you easier to find online. It’s also a reputation booster. On the other hand, if your website looks cheap or unprofessional, it could hurt your chances of securing online renters.
After all, would you offer your credit card, bank account or social security number to a site that looks abandoned, has broken links and/or doesn’t provide updated contact information? Probably not. Likewise, your applicants will be more likely to reach out or even apply if they see that the posted vacancies are current, your photos look professional, the site layout is organized and logical, etc.
If you’re thinking that it’s too difficult to make your own property management website, you’re in good company. Most real estate agents are not programming wizards. That’s why some property management software companies will design and maintain a professional website for your business. This is often the best way to get a great-looking site for reasonable fee. If you want further customization, look into software that offers a property-level website service.
It is incredibly cost-effective to e-sign leases online. In fact, 73% of renters sign leases this way. E-signatures save time, eliminate paper and help you finish the leasing process faster than ever.
Here’s something else to consider. Over 40% of renters are millennials, age 25-34. This age group prefers to use computers and phones to complete transactions, including sending in rental applications. If your applicants can e-sign leases, you’re more likely to bring in members of this large cohort of renters. In the years to come, there will be more renters from millennial and Generation Z, so the percentage of renters who prefer to e-sign online is all but guaranteed to increase.
Types of e-signatures
An electronic signature can be obtained in several ways.
- One way, which is not fully digital, is to print a lease form, sign it, then scan and email the document to a resident to countersign and return via email.
- Another way is to have both parties sign a lease via email with digitally simulated handwriting. This technology is built into the lease document and is very easy to send and receive.
- The last and most efficient way is with a “true” e-signature. This process is done on an online portal, not through email, so it is faster for both you and the signing tenant(s).
If the property management technology you’re reviewing works online (cloud-based), it should have one of the last two features, if not both.
Automate rent collection
After signing a lease and moving in, many tenants will have limited interaction with you and your staff. With property management software, all or most interactions can begin in their tenant portals — a place they can log in online to complete transactions, view lease documents and more. The most common instance of this will be when they pay rent each month.
Software makes it easy for tenants to set up automatic rent payments each month. Or they can simply log in and pay when rent is due. Some systems also give real estate agents unique capabilities, so you’re not constantly rushing around to collect payments. With the right management platform, you’ll be able to:
- Collect rent via debit, credit card and ACH
- Allow walk-in payments at participating retailers
- Automate recurring rent and fee postings
- Manage delinquencies and collections
- Set up rent deferment plans if needed
Handle maintenance requests and follow-up
Maintenance work requires communication and coordination between the property manager, the tenant and the maintenance person or vendor chosen for the job. Without property management software, this can require a lot of relaying information back-and-forth, ensuring everyone is on the same page. With software that offers easy-to-use online communication and tracking, you’ll find yourself spending very little time on each request. The entire maintenance process is streamlined, and much of it is completely automated.
Here’s how easy it is to field maintenance requests with the right system:
- The tenant finds an issue and enters it via their tenant portal with a photo attached (if necessary)
- You assign a vendor and create a payable in the same step
- You can track the progress and follow-up with the tenant after the work is done
A permanent digital record will be kept, which includes the request, photos and payables. You’ll always know what job was done, when it was finished, which vendor did it and how much you paid.
Plus, each tenant will have a maintenance record attached to their account.
Streamline bookkeeping with built-in accounting
Real estate agents know all too well that property accounting can be time-consuming and complicated. If property management is supposed to be additional income, the last thing you want is to outsource the job to an expensive third party or purchase even more software and try to get it to interface with your property management system.
That’s why you want property management software that includes built-in accounting. With the right platform, you’ll be able to:
- Manage AP, AR and GR capabilities in one place
- Keep escrow and trust accounts
- Create easy-to-read financial statements for owners
- Track budgets and find trouble spots quickly
- Prepare and manage 1099s faster than ever
For some property managers, these basic accounting functions are enough. If you’re taking on commercial properties, larger residential operations or simply need more advanced capabilities, some real estate software allows you to:
- Get batch processing and advanced general ledger controls
- Customize financial statements for owners
- Track job costs (e.g., budgets, contracts, payments, retention)
Be sure to ask what your accounting options are so you get the right software for your needs.
Simplify owner reporting
In some cases, you’re managing properties that you own. But in others, you’re managing property for an independent owner. Or maybe a group of owners who pooled their money together for an investment property. Every property owner is different. Some want to review full, customized reports every month, and others just want to know that things are running smoothly and the money is flowing in. Without software, catering to owners’ wishes can be time-consuming and difficult. Software simplifies the reporting process by automatically pulling financial, maintenance and other tenant data at your command.
Before you invest in any property management technology, make sure it gives you the ability to create report packets. Each packet is a collection of reports, so owners can see the information they want without having to sift through a mess of data points and extra detail. Some properties have more than one owner, so your software should be able to create custom reports based on ownership level as well.
After you tell the software what each report packet needs to feature, your monthly reports should be easy to generate. Keeping owners happy is as important as collecting rent (often those jobs are one and the same), so you shouldn’t have to spend hours each month counting and re-counting your financial data before sending reports. Your software should take care of that for you.
Integrate renters insurance to save time and money
As we go down the list of features necessary to manage properties, it’s probably easy to see why the system you choose should have everything you need built in. It would be a hassle to track down all these individual but critical components, then try to piece them together and connect the accounts. One of these critical components is renters insurance.
Without insurance, you can be held liable for damages or theft. Even if you’re not liable, do you really want to spend a day in court, at your own expense, to find out? Of course not! Not only is renters insurance inexpensive, it:
- Reduces personal risk
- Speeds up claim and complaint processing
- Offers residents easy enrollment and peace of mind
- Protects pet owners, who pay an average of $37,000 per pet-related injury claim
When you choose management software with built-in or integrated renters insurance, it’s easier for your renters and easier for you. Renters can apply online as part of the leasing process without having to find a separate provider and submit proof of insurance. And you can easily enforce insurance requirements and track policies at a glance.
Consider when you need to be set up
Property management software can take as little as a few days to set up. It can also take months. Everything depends on the features you want. Real estate agents who are just getting into property management will probably want fewer features than an established LLC with hundreds or thousands of properties.
The good news is that there is excellent software that does everything discussed in this article. Not only that, but it can be up and running in days, not weeks or months.
But that’s just the beginning, and not all software is equal. Make sure that whatever platform you choose includes helpful articles and video tutorials designed to help you learn at your own pace.
Receive expert support when you need it
Customer support means more than assistance when things go wrong. What if you just have a question about a specific accounting or rent collection feature? What if you want to make a change and don’t want to risk deleting something important?
Every property management software supplier is going to tout the availability of their customer service. The best way to separate fact from fiction in these claims is to look at each company’s history. Know how long they’ve been around, their general reputation, how many markets they’re in, whether they’re established or brand new on the scene, etc.
Here are a few basic support tools that go beyond traditional, over-the-phone customer service (although that is important too):
- Live chat with a real human
- Phone support to help you get started
- Online learning programs
- Client conferences and webinars
- Thought leadership sessions
Just as real estate businesses need to expand their knowledge and capabilities as they close more deals, a property manager is never done learning. Make sure the technology provider you choose is there for you at all stages of your business’ growth.
Make work easier than you thought
Real estate agents are far from the last ones to take advantage of the benefits of property management technology. There are still thousands of experienced managers who use basic spreadsheets and non-integrated programs for their accounting and reporting. This means they spend more time and money than necessary. They also increase their room for error.
Day-to-day property management is easier than you might realize with the right tech.
- Without software, real estate agents are left doing multiple jobs that could easily be automated.
- Tech lets you share information instantly with multiple residents or properties via text or email.
- Ledgers are updated whenever a payment is made through a portal, so you don’t have to do it manually (eliminates possibility of human error).
- Training and reference documents are kept in one place.
- Property management software reduces or even eliminates paperwork, so you’re never refiling or misfiling important documents.
Get ready to grow
There’s no limit to how many properties you can manage. When real estate agents expand their business, they hire showing agents, office assistants, etc. As property management companies become more sophisticated, you might find yourself in need of a dedicated accountant, leasing agent, office manager, etc.
No matter the size of your business or capabilities you need, you want to work with a company that has seen it all and knows how to best position you for success. Larger portfolios often require more features, but even smaller operations may require specialized functions.
For instance, if you manage manufactured homes, affordable housing or properties in a housing association, you have different needs than multifamily and single family residential properties. Some property management software companies will be versatile, while others will cater mainly to limited or specialized markets. Make sure you’re getting all the features you need before you buy.
Pro tip: Seeing is believing, so contact the company you’re considering and ask for a demo of their software.
Look for optional add-ons
It’s common for property managers to build slowly as they go. There is extremely powerful tech out there that can do just about everything you could imagine: utility management, chatbot services, search engine optimization (SEO), vacancy forecasting, property-level website marketing and more. If you only want one or some of those advanced features, you shouldn’t have to buy the whole bundle. Look for software that lets you start where you’re at and add features as you grow.
How to find the best property management software
Start by looking at the reputation of the property management software company that interests you. The more you can find out about them, the better. You want to see integrated software solutions, a reputation for delivering stellar customer support, years (or better yet, decades) of experience in the industry and even a look at their corporate culture. How they treat their own team is a great way to determine how they’ll treat you.
You know real estate, so you’re probably familiar with some of the property technology businesses. Do your research and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable buying from them. Property management software can be a long-term commitment, so make sure you end up working with the best one for you.