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Property management software explained
If you’re looking to buy or change property management software in Australia or New Zealand—or if you’re just new to the industry—we’ve got you covered. Here’s a comprehensive overview of what property management software is, does, and will do in the future. We’ve included an FAQ and buyer’s guide as well for easy reference.
What is property management software?
Property management software is an app, program, cloud-based application or other software system that helps property managers at real estate agencies handle all aspects of renting out properties under that agency’s management.
Property management software typically helps property professionals manage residential and commercial leasing, as well as some holiday letting or AirBnB leasing. Most such software, however, specialises in one type of letting, though many can handle a mix of leasing types. Nearly all property management software is suitable for residential tenancies.
What does property management software do?
Most comprehensive property management software will include a trust accounting component. Trust accounting features are designed to assist with managing rent payments from tenants, disbursements to landlords or owners, paying and raising invoices, and other one-off payments, such as money held on trust (e.g. bond, retainers).
They can in some instances be used for sales trust accounting purposes. Some agencies also use multiple trust accounts—and some property management software has been developed to manage this setup.
Property management software will usually do more than just trust accounting however. In the nearly 30 years that property managers have been using computer-based systems to manage trust accounts and properties, software has evolved to assist with a broad range of activities.
List of property management software features
In addition to trust accounting components, property management software may include features that help with these activities:
- all aspects of leasing
- document storage, control, and management
- key management
- portfolio management
- fee tracking
- contracts, agreements and forms, and electronic signing of these documents
- maintenance requests
- inspection records and tracking
- customer relationship management
- net promoter scoring and recommendations
- arrears management
- compliance activities
- property vacates and lease renewals
- property listings and advertising
- tenant onboarding
- owner or landlord management,
- property databases
- business intelligence
… and more besides.
Types of property management software
Besides the varying capabilities and features, and the different types of leasing they cover, property management software exists in different forms. Some software exists only as a smartphone app, although these apps tend to be feature-light, non-compliant, and often unsuitable for corporate or enterprise use.
Other software is server-based, requiring a dedicated computer and hardware stack to manage your files and data. This type of software is downloaded to your computer’s hard drive. It only lives on your computer, so you cannot access it on your phone or log into it using an internet connection. You can ‘remote desktop’ into your computer desktop to access this software from another computer, but this tends to be slow, clunky, and not ideal for a productive work environment.
The shift to cloud-based software in property management
Increasingly, agencies are moving away from server-based software and app-only systems to cloud-based property management software. Cloud software is software that lives on the internet and is hosted remotely on a ‘farm’ of secure servers. We explain how cloud-based property management software works in more detail, below.
What is cloud-based property management software
Cloud-based property management software by definition allows users to access their property management files and data by logging into their account on a website. This means that all cloud-based software (including property management software) can be accessed anywhere that a user has an internet connection.
When an agency or person signs up to use a cloud-based property management software application, they open an online office which contains all their data within the application. This data is kept secure by using encryption and secure web services that allow the user’s files to be hosted on a remote computer server.
Advantages of cloud-based software
The advantage of remote hosting is twofold. For one, it provides a huge amount of online storage space and computer processing power to the end user without taking up processing power and space on their computer.
For another, it allows software developers to constantly fix and update the software application without interrupting the end user or asking them to install updates. These updates and bug fixes will be implemented automatically, without causing any downtime for the software user.
Features of property management software
Let’s turn now to some of the key features that distinguish property management software from other applications.
Trust accounting software features
A critical part of property management software systems is trust accounting. These features work similarly to other accounting software, in that their purposes is to manage financial information accurately and in compliance with the laws and regulations of the state.
In property management in particular, payments of rent and other funds are held on trust for other parties. Stricter regulations generally apply to the holding of someone else’s money to which you are not entitled to keep. For this reason, most property management businesses must use a trust account to conduct business and handle money in special ways. Software that is specifically adapted to these purposes will be better suited to help users comply with laws when handling money.
In addition to passing on payments between parties, property management software is built to assist the user with other financial dealings as well, such as raising and paying invoices, applying credits, charging fees)
CRM features of property management software
A CRM is a customer relationship management system, and its core function in property management software is to help an agency or property manager to manage interactions with stakeholders (such as tenants, landlords, tradespeople, partners, and other contacts).
Most property management software does not identify as ‘CRM’ software, although undoubtedly all such software contains elements of typical CRMs. Many agencies use a dedicated CRM such as HubSpot, Salesforce, Zoho or monday.com in addition to their day-to-day property management software.
Your tenant, landlord, tradespeople, and property details
Good quality property management software CRM functionality should include at a minimum the ability to keep records of all your business contacts. This includes all people that deal with your business.
Contact timelines and events
It should also at a minimum include the ability to record interactions and events on a contact’s timeline, so that the history and context of a contact is immediately clear to the software user. And finally, it should also be able to dissect your data so as to identify all documents that relate to a particular contact, and any other relationships to other contacts and properties in your database.
Above all, the CRM component of property management software should be able to help property managers make informed decisions about how to manage properties in their portfolio, by providing prompts, notifications, and suggestions for action the property manager (through automated communications, for example).
Leading property management software CRM features
Leading property management software should be able to use your contact data to provide you business intelligence and insights into your property portfolio. It should be able to identify properties in your portfolio that are costing the business the most to manage in terms of resources (e.g. because of a high number of arrears-related events). It should also grade the properties and contacts in your portfolio from best quality to worst.
Net promoter score (NPS) features—advanced CRM capability
While it isn’t a common CRM feature in most property management software, some products such as Console Cloud are releasing new features that allow agencies to track landlord sentiment and record that information within their software.
Besides saving on third party apps, the advantage of using software with NPS measurement built into it is that the data natively sits with the rest of your landlord information and their timeline. It means you’ll have all the information you need about your landlord, what their experience has been and how they feel about you on one screen.
Day-to-day property management software features
Most real estate agencies will use property management software to manage day-to-day tasks arising from their rent roll or property portfolio, as listed above. However, how much that software is capable of assisting or automating these tasks really depends on the product you’re using.
Some cloud-based software still requires significant amounts of cross-keying and double-handling, due to systems that lack integration with other apps and software, or a lack of workflow features to automate and simplify time-consuming tasks. You can learn more about these, and other features you should be aware of when purchasing property management software for your agency, in our Buyer’s Guide for Property Management Software.
Common day-to-day property management software features
Here is a list of common features most property management software will provide:
Residential trust accounting
- Receipting (funds from owners, tenants, creditor)
- Automated receipting (such as with Console Pay or bank file upload, DEFT integrations
- Payments (Electronic funds transfer), cheques, cash
- Centrepay functionality
- BPAY bulk payments
- Automated processing of council rates and utility bills using optical character recognition / intelligent data scanning (E.g. what FlashScan does in Console Cloud)
- Automated water invoice charging and document markup
- Agency fee charging (standard, custom and task-based fees)
- Reporting (trust account reporting, combined statements, financial year statements, statements on disbursements, business revenue reports + insights, KPIs)
Commercial property management
- Recurring invoices for rent
- Multiple trust accounts
Sales trust accounting
- Sales agreements between seller and agency
- Contract between buyer and seller
- Receipt buyer deposits + seller expenses
- Make payments via EFT / cheque
- Commission handling
- Settlement or termination
Property management workflows
- capture and track property compliance items per property
- Automated communications to parties to manage expiring compliance items
- Compliance activity tracking
- State-based compliance measures, e.g. QLD 2022 smoke alarm changes
- Change log to manage compliance with trust accounting laws
Rent arrears workflow
- Automated arrears reminders
- Create breach notices using arrears event triggers
- See lifetime tenant arrears events on timeline
- See arrears activity tracking
- Schedule and conduct routine inspections
- Schedule and conduct condition reports (entry and exit inspections)
- Edit inspection reports
- Re-open inspection reports
- Raise maintenance requests while at the property
- Take unlimited full size photos
- Create maintenance requests with photos
- Receive, view and action maintenance requests from tenants via Tenant App
- Create, send, manage and collate quote requests
- Create, send, manage and collate work orders
- Close off work orders when paying bills and match receipts
- Filter maintenance requests by status, address, type, subject
Tenant and landlord onboarding
- Key management
- Insurance management
- Create, shortlist and ‘favourite’ new applicants
- Manage reference and other checks
- Push successful tenancy applications to tenant file and create new lease
- manage lease signature
- Connect with utilities and connections agencies such as Movinghub
- Track upcoming lease renewals with timeline tracking
- Request and capture owner and tenant intent info with automated communications
- Create new lease agreements (in Console Cloud we can do this via Realworks, REI Forms and Forms Live)
- Capture tenant summary
- Easily leave rental references
- Manage exit inspections and condition reports
- Forms management
- Bond refunds
- Keys management
- Automated Email / SMS communications
Apps, portals communications
- App for property managers to use to manage inspections and maintenance on the ground
- App for tenants managing their rent payments and receipts, maintenance requests, upcoming inspections, tenant ledger and direct debit payment details (where applicable)
- Owner portal with access to property financial details, property manager details, past invoice and disbursements
- Automated SMS and email notifications for specified triggers
- Template libraries
- Form libraries
- Email and SMS capabilities within the software.
- Utilities and connections
- Inspections apps
- Maintenance apps
- Insurance and compliance providers
- Portal pushes
Property management software FAQ
What are the key functions of property management software?
The answer to this will depend a lot on the size and type or types of property in your portfolio. It will also depend on whether you want to use your property management software as a customer relationship management platform, use it for sales accounting, and so on.
As a general rule for portfolios of all sizes that are mostly residential with a mix of holiday and commercial, you should be able to manage the following functions with your property management software:
- Basic commercial and holiday letting property management
- Sales trust accounting
- Advanced residential trust accounting, including
- End of month
- End of financial year (EOFY)
- Auditing and reporting
- Agency fees
- Change of bank account
- Bond and deposits
- Sales trust management
- Day to day property management functions, such as
- Advertising and property opens
- Compliance management
- Tenant onboarding
- Lease creation
- Forms and template functions
- Inspections (routine and conditions reports)
- Lease renewals and break leases
- Rent roll handovers
- Insurance claims
- tenant vacates
- Rent arrears
- Rent reviews and increases
- Notes and tasks + delegation
- EOFY management
- Maintenance management
- Communications (multi-channel, individual and bulk)
- Document storage
- Connect to a tenant app, property management app and owner portal
- Manage keys
- Generate reports
- Keep a change log and audit trail
- Handle tenant, owner and property history on a timeline automatically (i.e. you don’t have to manually make notes of each action)
- Lock down user permissions and portfolios
- Manage landlord sentiment and insights
- Provide business intelligence on your portfolio
- Listings management
- New management processes and prospecting features
- Change of landlord
- Integrations (Console Cloud integrates with a number of technology and training partners. See our [partners page] for an up-to-date list; and
- Legal dispute support.
What questions should I ask vendors when evaluating property management products?
Here’s a list of questions we think should help you find the right property management software for your business—besides measuring its compatibility with your office’s current processes and procedures.
- Is this software compliant with the laws of my state or territory such that a trust account auditor would recommend it to me? If yes, prove this is the case.
- Is your software cloud-based? If so, who is responsible for your web hosting, and how reliable and secure is your hosting?
- Does it require me to change my technology stack (i.e. the other tools, apps and software that you use currently to manage properties).
- How will this software benefit my business? Will there be time savings and if so, where, and how can you prove those time savings are real?
- Will there be cost savings? If so, where will I find these savings? Will it replace apps that I already use and pay for?
- Do you have workflows, and if so, are these more than one-step triggers? Some software companies claim to have workflows, but they tend not to be as sophisticated or complex as the ones first built in Console Cloud in 2018.
- What about if there are any features that I need and you don’t have. What is the process for submitting feedback to get these features built?
- What is your roadmap for the future, and what features do you think are a priority to build next?
- What is your average service resolution time by phone, live chat and email times? For reference, Console answers 80% of service and support requests within 2 minutes.
- Are there any opportunities to earn extra revenue and commissions using your software?
- What are the one-off and recurring costs for the software? Are there any features that are not included in my subscription?
- What training and onboarding options are available and how do you typically onboard agencies of my size? How long does it take?
- What data do you migrate, and what will not come across?
- What business intelligence will this software provide me, and how can I use it to grow my profitability or rent roll?
Can property management software help me make smarter investment choices?
Yes, although much software is still built to be electronic versions of the same property management processes businesses have followed for years. While this may benefit property managers, it does little to further the economic interests of principals and heads of property management.
Some software (like Console Cloud) on the other hand has been designed a bit differently, with the aim of improving the quality of investment decisions and overall profitability of property management businesses.
An example of this is landlord satisfaction scoring, which measures the likelihood of your landlords to recommend your service to their friends. This gives agencies an insight into which landlords are happy with their service, who is a fan and therefore a good candidate for referrals, and who is a detractor—perhaps preparing to leave your agency. Knowing how landlords feel about your business gives you the opportunity to save landlords before they leave, and invest more heavily in your promoters.
Another way that property management software can help agencies make smarter investment decisions is through data and reporting that analyses the amount of time and money spent managing a property, versus the amount of money that property makes for the agency on a yearly basis. By being able to identify which properties earn the most to the least, and which cost the most to the least to manage, principals can fine-tune their rent roll for maximum profit.
What are some drawbacks I should watch out for?
Fluctuating costs and lack of transparency around pricing
If you asked your accountant, they would tell you that their biggest pet peeve is discovering costs that were either hidden or that vary from month to month.
Make sure you truly understand how much your software and technology costs will be once you begin using a different system, and whether those costs are fixed or variable. Also be aware that some software providers charge you extra for the use of features that come included at no extra cost in other software providers.
Lack of service
Not all software provides a service centre capable of providing answers how you need them, when you need them. While this may not seem that important during the buying cycle, service and support is your ongoing relationship with your software provider. You will have to use their service model as long as you remain on that platform, so choose a provider with a comprehensive support service and guaranteed timeframes for support.
Compliance and auditing
Not all software providers have done their due diligence with trust account auditors and offices of fair trading in all states and territories. Don’t just look for a ‘compliance management’ tick in a box. Grill your provider on how they are de-risking your business and what proof they have that their software complies. Ask your trust accounting auditor for their opinion. This will save you heartache and possibly fines or worse in future.
Lack of time savings and product vision
If a product is more or less a cloud-based version of software your property managers are already familiar with, you get the immediate benefit of easy-onboarding. But that is where it ends.
The question here is really: why change software if you are not improving how properties are managed? Look for material, verifiable time and money savings in your new software. Look for business insights and intelligence tools, customisable features and advanced workflows, and look for a product vision and roadmap that shows where the software is heading. If they can’t provide these to you, keep looking.
Lack of integration
Inevitably, your property management platform will not integrate with every single piece of software you use. But check to see there is enough integration and cross-over such that you aren’t losing more time double-handling data and cross-keying information than you gain from using your new property management software.