How to Choose the Best Property Management Software as a Landlord
Table of Contents
- Intro: What is rental property management software?
- Chapter 1: How to make an online property management software choice? Desktop versus app
- Chapter 2: What features do the best property management software have?
- Chapter 3: How many units can rental property management software support?
- Chapter 4: What does rental property management software cost?
- Chapter 5: How do you choose a rental property management software as a small or large landlord?
- Chapter 6: Why you should use a rental property management software for tenant screening?
- Chapter 7: How can a rental property management software save you time and money?
- Chapter 8: Can rental house management and rental property management software work together?
Introduction: What is rental property management software for landlords?
When it comes to managing your properties efficiently, every landlord has their own system: spreadsheets, filing cabinets, a document here, a photo there. But recently in the residential real estate industry, there’s been an influx in landlords adopting rental property management software to streamline the way they manage their business. Especially in an effort to cut unnecessary costs by operating more efficiently to increase ROI.
However, there are quite a few property management systems for small landlords on the market, so it can sometimes feel like simply another chore on your list to research and determine which one is best for your business.
That’s where this guide comes in.
We’re here to help you navigate the murky waters of property management software. (No life jacket required).
But, before you can decide which rental property software is best for your business, it’s important to understand exactly what it is.
What is rental property management software?
Property management software is just a fancy way of saying a site or app that can help you manage your rental properties from your phone or computer. Wow, super simple right?
But the reality is much more complex. Property management software can help you easily self-manage your rental properties yourself. Or, it can be a platform that you use to collaborate with a property manager. Ultimately, property management software can eliminate the cost of hiring a PM or company or reduce costs of working with a property manager by adopting your own system and giving you better insight into how they’re managing your rentals.
Generally, while rental property management software tends to differ in price and features (more on that later), it enables you to input and organize property business-related information (like properties, tenants, payments, leases, maintenance) into an online system so you can organize and track all aspects of your business from one place.
How is it better than the spreadsheets I can use for free or my color-coded filing system?
When you’re trying to manage your properties, even the smallest leaky faucet can surface the hassle of cross-team and tenant communication, lack of clarity around repairs, and time and money wasted trying to resolve even minor issues.
For instance, in the case of a leaky faucet: First, the tenant has to communicate the issue and you have to try and communicate the issue to your maintenance personnel. Then, you have to play the go-between for tenants and maintenance to coordinate a mutually available time to repair the issue. And, after all that, your maintenance personnel arrives at the unit to find the leaky faucet requires a different part and needs to reschedule the entire show after he’s ordered the correct part.
What a headache.
However, property management software was developed to eliminate these renting headaches for landlords, their teammates, and their tenants. Property management software is specifically designed to resolve common landlord pain points: like collecting and tracking rent, listing and marketing their rentals, screening tenants with background checks and applications, managing maintenance requests, and communicating with tenants.
What are the differences between rental payment software companies?
As mentioned earlier, there will be feature and pricing differences in property management software for landlords.
Features: Some rental property software offers basic features, like collecting rent payments, listings, and screening. These are essential components to managing properties, especially if you’re looking to self-manage. Other solutions offer full-service rental property management software so you can also manage repairs and tenant communication, lease management, team management, and other additional services (data reports and exports, lease signing, and document storage).
Pricing: Depending on the software, these property management services can vary by price. Typically, this price varies based on how many units you have, and have plans with tiered pricing that ask you to pay more for more advanced features.
However, we recommend more affordable property management software that will offer fixed-priced (flat-priced) subscription models where you simply choose how often you want to pay (for example, monthly vs annually).
Key feature to look for: Fixed-pricing. When it comes to features vs. pricing, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. A property management software can increase your ROI, so an all-inclusive rental property management software that offers a flat-priced subscription model means you’ll get advanced features for a minimal price.
Chapter 1: How to make an online property management software choice? Desktop versus app
When it comes to online property management software, it’s important to understand that you’re not always limited to working at a desktop. While there are pros and cons to using a property management software on both a desktop and mobile app, it can be beneficial to look at rental management services that offer both web and smartphone versions of their product.
This can give you more flexibility and wider range of mobility when managing your properties.
App vs. desktop for property management
A “traditional” desktop setup, for most of us, is a must-have when it comes to switching to an online property management software. Moving your business online frees up physical space (whether you have an office or you’re working remotely) and ensures all your pertinent rental property information is stored and organized in one place. Not only does it give your business that professional feel, but it also gives you a dedicated workspace—which is important as more work is increasingly done at home or virtually.
However, smartphones provide a lot of flexibility and mobility, which is great for people who like to be on the go and need quick, easy access to their rental business information. A mobile app also means you won’t have to be tied to your computer all day, and you can manage your business on the go. For example, you can be out grocery shopping and review a tenant application on your phone. Or, if you like a prospective tenant while giving a showing you can instantly send them an application via a mobile option.
You can also take that trip you’ve been planning without worrying about missing a rent check.
Key feature to look for: Web and mobile dashboards. Look for an online property management software that gives you options for both desktop and mobile access so you don’t have to choose. You’ll want both for working from home, the office, the car, the beach—anywhere. These services benefit from being cloud-based so you can seamlessly switch from your desktop to your smartphone without worrying about transferring files or losing functionality.
Online property management software should also come with a companion tenant portal or app. For tenants, having a rental payment app can make their lives easier and save them time by being able to pay rent directly from their phone, without the stress of ordering checks, sending one (and potentially losing it) in the mail, or make a withdrawal from the bank.
Tenants are more likely to be smartphone owners than computer/laptop owners and use their mobile phone as their source of internet connection. So, if you’re investing in an online property management software, online tenant portals won’t be of much use. A mobile app provides more accessibility for a larger network of renters and provides an experience similar to Venmo as well.
In terms of features, a rental app for tenants can elevate their renting experience by allowing them to do more than simply paying rent: advanced features will allow them to use their app for every point in the renting experience: from applying to your unit to signing the lease—all in app.
Key feature to look for: Mobile tenant app. Obviously the ability to pay rent via the app is of the utmost importance, but don’t overlook the benefit of additional features—like rent reminders, automated rent payments, video-submitted repair requests, and in-app notifications—that make having a tenant mobile app something desirable for tenants, not just you.
Chapter 2: What features do the best property management software have?
When it comes to features, the best property management software for landlords will make it easy for DIY, self-managing, newbies, and experts to do everything they need to do from one place.
Basic features of property management software
At the bare minimum, an online property management software should allow you to collect rent, list your rentals, and tenant screening. Across landlords of all sizes and stages of expertise, these are prominent pain points in the renting process that landlords face daily that the best property management software should solve.
As more renters have smartphones than checkbooks these days, online rent collection is an efficient method of sending, collection, and tracking rent. The best property management software makes the transfer and tracking of rent payments as easy as literally downloading an app. They can also offer more transparency into when exactly you’ll get your rent. Waiting for a check to be mailed or dropped off at the bank can be a waiting game. But, this is not the case with online rent collection via an online property management software.
Listing & screening tenants
For self-managing landlords, it’s time-consuming and manual trying to figure out the best way and places to market your rental. Then, you have to decide how to prescreen tenants, create and send an application, and scour the internet for an affordable yet accurate screening service so you can run a background check!
And that’s just listing and screening. Everything else gets even more complicated trying to manage for a self-managing landlord: rent collection by mail, tenant & maintenance management by text or email, refreshing listings every couple days, and managing showings.
Advanced features of property management software
A well-rounded feature set of good property management software includes: listing services, tenant screening, rent collection, and lease management. This way, you are tackling the hardest issues of the renting process. More advanced features you want to see an online property management software accommodate are tenant communication, maintenance support, and customer service.
Let’s face it, communication isn’t easy and it becomes even more complicated between landlords and tenants. Texting, emailing, calling—it’s difficult to know which one is the right channel of communication. However, if you have a good property management software that comes with a tenant companion app, it’s simple enough to send an in-app notification to the renter’s tenant portal. This reduces any lost-in-inbox emails or missed calls.
Handling maintenance requests can be a headache. Most online property management software offers some type of method to track, organize, and prioritize repair requests made by tenants. But, not all of them.
Repair requests can be a headache trying to understand the issue, send to your maintenance personnel, and negotiate a time when someone can come repair the issue. Fortunately, online property management software can often provide a way that helps you understand the issue (like by allowing the tenant to attach a video of what’s happening), send to your maintenance team, and notify and track updates for all parties involved.
Additionally, you can add 24/7 Emergency & Full Premium Maintenance services so maintenance requests can be sourced to professionals without you having to go back and forth, schedule with the tenant, or find a technician.
When you opt-in to premium maintenance services, tenants can then submit maintenance requests through call or text on a dedicated line. The dedicated line screens and troubleshoots maintenance requests before sending a contractor. Landlords set rules around the price of repairs and are kept informed every step of the way.
A sticking point of any online service, and property management software is no exception, is customer service. Unfortunately, a landlord might not realize until too late that the property management app they’ve already paid for has terrible (or worse—non-responsive) customer support. Before purchasing an online property management software, you’ll want to investigate the range of customer service they offer, onboarding tools (especially for tenants so you don’t have to), and product help tools (such as customer onboarding, personal walk-throughs, tours, videos, and articles).
In terms of features, here’s how the top property management software stack up:
|Zillow Rental Manager
???? Key feature to look for: Full customer service. We firmly believe that—above everything else—customer service and support is the defining feature of what makes the best property management software the best. Make sure your rental property management software offers you AND your tenants customer support—regardless of the plan. You’re a human being trying to manage a business, and customer support should be a human being helping you to do just that.
Chapter 3: How many units can rental property management software support?
When it comes to unit support and rental property management software, you’ll want to focus on your current and long-term portfolio goals. Some systems are betting for self-managing landlords, some offer better scaling options, and some are better for commercial or multi-family buildings. Ultimately, you’ll want a solution that accommodates where you are in your portfolio and scales with your real estate investing strategy.
Most online management services won’t necessarily limit you on the number of units you’re allowed— but they will charge you more for them. And, depending on how many doors you have or want to have, there will become a point where the software is no longer scalable at that price point. And then you’re stuck with having to transfer all your data to a new property management software.
We don’t want that for you—or anyone. That’s why we recommend a flat-priced software that doesn’t charge you more for growing your business or for access to different features.
Best features for # of doors
Don’t be worried if you’re just getting started in real estate and aren’t sure how many units you’ll end up with. There are plenty of online property management systems (like RentRedi) that allow you to scale from 1 unit to 100 (or even thousands) without scaling the price you’ll pay. Depending on what stage you’re at in your landlording business, here’s what we suggest:
- 1-10 units: Self-managing, easy communication with tenants, way to prepare for vacancies, list property easily
- 10-50 units: process for screening, leasing, maintenance, reporting
- 50-200+ units: team support, ways to reduce expenses
Arguably, all these different components are equally important no matter how many units you have. Whether you’re just getting started or managing an established practice, you’ll need to make sure the landlord software you have is scalable, sustainable, and affordable.
Key feature to look for: Unlimited units, no minimums. Online property management software will sometimes try to charge per unit but also require minimums. So, if you have 2 units you could get charged for a 5-unit minimum. If you have 50 units, you’ll pay more money for more units.
Chapter 4: What does rental property management software cost?
Property management software pricing can range from $0-25 per month—or more, depending on how many units you have. The cost tends to vary depending on the type of the software (residential vs commercial, for example) and features offered.
What should I pay for a property management software?
What you should pay for the best property management software will depend on your budget and your goals. However, whether you’re managing a single unit, 5 units or planning to scale should impact who you choose in terms of property management software for landlords. You’ll want key features (rent collection, listing, screening) and, if possible, advanced features (tenant communication, lease management, team members) at a minimum price.
Watch out for hidden or scaling costs
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s important to understand the payment model of the software and if it charges per unit or by features. They will also often require minimums (meaning if you only have 1-5 units, you will still have to pay more).
This is why we talk about how important it is to consider your goals in terms of the number of doors you own or want to own because most property management softwares charge landlords per unit or offer “basic” vs “advanced” plans, which inevitably cost you more for highly-desirable features.
Top 5 Rental Property Management Software under $10/mo:
- RentRedi ($12/mos., no other costs ever)
- Cozy (free with limited features)
- Avail (free, pay for additional features)
- Zillow Rental Manager (free with limited features)
- TenantCloud (free, pay for additional features)
Best Property Management Software for Scaling
At RentRedi we believe you should be able to scale, here’s the top 5 rental property management companies that support scaling
- RentRedi – scaling cost: $0
- TenantCloud – scaling cost: +$26 for 150+ units
- RentecDirect – scaling costs start at +$10 for 16+ units
- Yardi Breeze – scaling costs start at $1 for basic, $2 for premier, minimums apply
- Buildium – “Growth” plan starts at $160/mo
Key feature to look for: A subscription plan that saves you more—not costs you more. For example, RentRedi’s annual plan actually saves you more per month when you sign up for a year. All our plans are all-inclusive: you get access to all features and support regardless of plan. We don’t charge minimums or to scale, so you save money year-over-year.
Chapter 5: How do you choose the best rental property management software as a small or large landlord?
If you’re trying to determine the best property management software—especially as a small business—a key factor to look at is team management.
Your team can be an assistant, maintenance personnel, property manager or anyone else helping you to manage your small business. When it comes to property management software, you’ll want to make sure that this software can also accommodate your needs in terms of managing your team and sharing property details with them. Another important factor to consider when reviewing the price of property management software because some services might charge you for team accounts.
Key feature to look for: Free team and maintenance accounts. If you have a team, they’ll need access to whatever system you use and shared accounts can be a security risk. RentRedi enables you to share property-specific data easily to your teammates or maintenance personnel for free You can also create customizable access rules based on properties and more.
Chapter 6: Why use rental property management software for tenant screening?
While it is possible to run background checks via tenant screening software, when you run them through a property management system, it organizes all tenant screening in one place for review. This can be especially beneficial if you need to run multiple screenings for different units or have teammates with whom you’d like to share the results of the background checks with.
Notifications about screening
Time is money when you have a vacant unit, so it’s crucial to request and receive tenant screening as quickly as possible. With a property management software that includes tenant screening, you’ll get alerts when the tenant screening is complete and be able to view the results immediately.
Cheaper for tenants
Additionally, rental property management software often offers a discounted price for alternative tenants, so it makes tenant screening more affordable for potential tenants as well.
What does tenant screening include?
- Credit score check (general rule, tenants should have a credit score of 600+)
- Background screening
- Eviction or criminal report
Key feature to look for: Automatic tenant screening. If you’re looking to optimize your application process, including automatic tenant screening with your online application means that tenants complete both the application and background check all at once and you get your results faster.
Chapter 7: How can a rental property management software save you time and money?
When you have rental property management software, it can do a lot to save you time and money. Ultimately, it’s a great long-term investment: using an online property management software reduces your monthly management expenses, streamlines your business, and helps create a repeatable and scalable process for your rentals.
First, you can avoid costly first-time landlord mistakes with rent collection by offering auto-pay, late fees, and the ability to apply other expenses that tenants might incur such as pet fees, maintenance fees, or utility bills, and book it to the right accounts to properly track your expenses.
Second, you can also stay compliant in your state when it comes to evictions. With RentRedi, for example, you have the ability to block payments directly from the landlord dashboard. This is critical for in-process evictions, as any payment made towards rent can often delay the eviction process in some states. Any landlord who’s faced evicting a tenant before knows just how costly it can be.
The more features available for an online property management software for landlords, the more time you save. For example, a rental property management software that offers syndicated listings to major networks and personal marketing pages can cut down having to manually add and create listings across multiple sites.
This way, you can share your listing not only across whatever sites you prefer, and you can have tenants prequalify directly from the listing page. Look for features that help keep you organized such as in-app tenant communications, maintenance requests & reminders, lease & document organization.
Key feature to look for: Free marketing page. An increasing number of renters are using Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to look for rentals, so a free marketing page means you can copy and paste a direct link to your listing to share on social media and network sites—or even your own website. Bonus: RentRedi’s free listing page also lets tenants directly prequalify to your unit.
Chapter 8: Can rental house management and rental property management software work together?
When it comes to rental house management, it can be difficult to know where exactly a property management software fits into your business.
However, as this guide demonstrates, rental property management software increases your yearly return on investment by streamlining monthly management fees, decreasing tenant turnover time, and reducing lost time and money due to miscommunications.
Property management software comes in a variety of packages, so it’s important to think critically about the features best-suited to optimize your operations: rent collection, screening, listing, leasing, maintenance, tenant communication.
Another way in which online property management software benefits rental house management is renter retention. Tenants like using apps to make their lives easier, and renting is no exception. Take the case of handling repairs. It’s a common source of frustration for tenants and landlords and can cause a lot of friction in the relationship between them. However, software that provides landlords, tenants, and maintenance personnel with all the tools like they need to upload a video of the problem, contact the maintenance person, and track and update the status eliminates a lot of that friction and frustration.
Key feature to look for: Repair request tracking. It’s easy for maintenance requests to get lost in the fray of email, texts, and other digital clutter. But when a tenant submits a repair issue from RentRedi, they’re updated automatically and can easily track the status of the request when you or your maintenance personnel update it from your side.
There’s a lot of options, however, there is one rental property management software tool that does it all: RentRedi!
- RentRedi offers access on both desktop and app, and a tenant app too to help with onboarding.
- RentRedi is priced to scale with you no matter how many units you have, you pay one price.
- RentRedi fits both small and large landlords by offering team accounts for large landlords, and end-to-end management for the smaller landlord.
- RentRedi offers a competitive tenant screening price.
- RentRedi offers maintenance tracking which most rental property management software doesn’t even have!