Technology

A Man(ager)'s Best Friend

Software Solutions Take the Bite Out of Property Management.

Like dogs and their owners, property managers and their software choices seem to share certain characteristics that defy explanation. However, matching up property managers and programs can be as dangerous as recommending pit bulls to beagle lovers.

Choosing the right program is an individual decision based on factors others may not discern. Yet, once the match is made, the pairing seems inevitable. And like a faithful four-legged companion, a good property management program just makes life a little better.

"There are different types of software used by persons in the property management industry," says Linda Day, CCIM, CPM, a property manager who works for Baird & Warner Management Group in Chicago. "There are hundreds of programs."

Yes, there are. When property management technology moved from DOS to Windows, the number of programs burgeoned: accounting programs, with add-on modules to manage various expenses and tasks; proprietary database programs; and less expensive off-the-shelf solutions. Now the move is to the Web and application service provider programs. This will allow more people to access data and spreads the availability of data over a greater range of purposes.

This is a promising direction, given the types of problems property managers now encounter. "The most important feature of any program is extracting the data from the program," Day says. "For instance, the accounting department has every customer name, address, rent amount, etc., in the computer; however, the property manager or leasing agent needs access to the same data," plus more demographic information. "Any company in our industry that is using an open architecture system and is blending this data across accounting staff and property managers is doing an outstanding job," Day says, but her experience is that this is just beginning to happen.

While Day uses many different programs, she finds the mix of open architecture -- programs that can import and export data across platforms -- and Microsoft products the "best combination ... at this time. Because training is such an important aspect of software, using the Microsoft products keeps it as simple as possible."

The Perfect Program
An informal survey of CCIMs who use property management software reveals that they always are on the lookout for something better. Some manage portfolios as small as three properties, others handle more than 1,000 leases; but size of portfolio seems to have little to do with finding a smooth fit with the perfect software.

Joseph W. DeCarlo, CCIM, CPM, CRE, managing partner of JD Property Management in Costa Mesa, Calif., manages more than 500,000 square feet of commercial space for more than 300 owners. Although he agrees that the Windows environment has made it easier for new property managers to learn the programs, he`s looking for "cheaper ways to scan rental agreements and documents to reduce hard copy files," as well as more flexibility in software programs. "A move to Web-based programs so tenants can fill out forms such as maintenance requests online" also would help him serve clients -- and tenants -- better.

Size and type of property managed serve as an informal guide to the type of programs available. Those who manage small portfolios or who manage multifamily properties tend to use accounting-based software. Managers of larger portfolios that contain all types of properties lean toward asset management programs that feature lease administration and link to accounting programs. This may be a result of the growth of real estate investment trusts and other large real estate holding companies that are looking for ways to maximize return of investment through better management of properties using economies of scale.

Beyond Accounting
Most property management programs aimed at companies that manage retail, office, and industrial properties give priority to asset management features. These programs usually target mid-size to large companies that handle more than 50 properties.

Prakash R. Kamath, CCIM, with Insignia/ESG Capital Advisors Group in Washington, D.C., worked with Rembase at a previous company and found it to be a "great tool to complete day-to-day activities as well as long-term forecasting functions."

Rembase is a Microsoft-based "property and lease asset management program, designed to sit on top of an accounting property management system and feed from it," says its creator, Bob Vaeth of Forge Consultants in Arlington, Va. The result is a program that tracks everything from contact management to lease abstraction and property information to maintenance and work orders. Even document imaging is provided.

Vaeth, who has 10 years of commercial real estate experience, calls his company "a small commercial real estate software boutique. My clients deal directly with me on all issues, so they get a very quick response on client enhancements requests." A version of his program also is available online, which makes the data available to a wider range of users. (See accompanying chart for price and contact information.)

A Selection of Property Management Software

Program

Price

Features

Access
Jenark Business Systems
(301) 840-6292

$25,000 to $100,000, based on number of users and modules used

Accounting software with property management features; offers 22 modules; uses Progress database; has Internet version

Ellipsis 3.0
Realogic Software
(111) 782-5290

Network version starts at $2,200; standalone version starts at $2,995

Used with an accounting program, combines property management and lease abstraction; uses Access and SQL databases; has Internet version

Management Plus for Windows
American Computer Software
(800) 527-9449

$525 for 50 units, based on number of users and units managed

Used with QuickBooksPro and other accounting programs; geared to multifamily properties, has a PDA interface

RealmEnterprise
Realm Business Solutions
(866) 697-3256

$2,400 - $3,600 per user, based on the number of applications used

Accounting program with property management, features five Windows-based modules

Rembase
Forge Consultants
(703) 526-5005

$36,000 for server version; $300 per month, $3 per lease per month for Internet version

Used with accounting program; combines property management and lease asset management; uses Access and SQL databases; has Internet version

Yardi ProfessionalYardi
(800) 866-1144

Starts at $2,800

Accounting program designed for multifamily properties; Windows-based; uses Btrieve database

Ellipsis 3.0 by Realogic Analytics also works in conjunction with an accounting program and combines property management and due diligence features. "The software was written as a tool to standardize the way in which lease data is summarized and reported," says John P. Johanson, marketing director for Realogic. "Once the abstracted lease information is initially keyed into the system, the data may continue to be used throughout the life of the asset." When a property is sold, he says, the seller can give the lease data to the broker, who can offer it as part of the sales package, similar to the way financial information is provided.

An off-the-shelf program, Ellipsis works on a Microsoft Access or SQL platform and can be used over the Web through a Citrix infrastructure.

Multifamily Solutions
Programs designed for apartment buildings, condominiums, manufactured home communities, and other residential properties often are accounting based. Access, produced by Jenark Business Systems, is a customized program marketed to medium-sized to large management firms that handle between 400 and 1,500 properties. It has 22 modules covering accounting, lease administration, residential relations, work orders, purchase orders, broker commissions, and more -- price partially is based on the number of modules used. The program comes in both Windows and non-Windows formats and uses a Progress database. The product also can be accessed over the Internet. The company prides itself on customer service support and uses certified public accountants with property management experience as project managers to train new users, says Mark Jennings, Jenark`s owner.

But not everyone manages 400 or more buildings. CCIMs who track in the range of three to 40 buildings reported using Yardi Professional, one of three programs that the company offers. "This program has allowed our property management department to become more productive and has reduced overall administrative costs," says Teresa Yocom, CCIM, of RealCorp & Associates in Chattanooga, Tenn. She likes the fact that reports can be customized and exported to either Microsoft Word or Excel. "The program also is effective in calculating [common area maintenance] charges and other maintenance tracking information," she says.

Don Brewer, CCIM, of Realty Investment Services in Knoxville, Tenn., uses Realm Enterprise to manage three properties. He found the best feature to be the handling of CAM charges and the various lease provisions.

Realm is a customized Windows product that provides fully integrated core applications, according to Hunter Kirkpatrick, product manager for Realm Enterprise. In the program, reports can be customized and exported to Word and Excel, as in Yardi`s program. It also can be used over the Web through a Citrix platform and the program can be used with Dyna and Argus financial analysis programs, as well as other Realm products.

Finally, Chuck Wise, CCIM, of Wise Investment Partners in Leucadia, Calif., manages three apartment buildings, nine condos, and one holding company using QuickBooksPro. He likes the program`s "broad platform, good reports, [and it] interfaces with my CPA." He finds it reasonably simple to use and the company offers good customer service, he says. The one drawback is that the program is not designed for property management and needs some customization.

The answer for him may lie with Management Plus for Windows, a property management program that works with QuickBooksPro according to Steven Meyer, marketing director for American Computer Software in Madison, Wis. "The QuickBooks integration eliminates the need to re-enter the accounts receivable data," he says. "The program features a menu system that displays the appropriate terminology for specific property types and streamlines the process of tracking multiple security deposits, unlimited tenants per lease, and unlimited unit amenities for any size or type of property." A browser-based version is in development.

What to Look For
These programs, all suggested by CCIMs, merely scratch the surface of the hundreds of property management programs available. A more comprehensive listing of property management and other real estate related software is available online at the Real Estate Center of Texas A&M University ().

Owners and managers looking for a new system or a replacement need to consider the following questions:

  • How many tenants do you manage? Although most programs scale up to an infinite number of leases, that scalability may cost extra.

  • Do you want to track day-to-day activities from an accounting standpoint or an investment perspective?

  • Do you want to share data across departments and possibly with investors, clients, and others who may be outside your physical office? If so, find out if the program you are interested in is or will soon be available over the Internet.

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