Questions to Ask When Evaluating Software Providers for Property Management

The use of technology in the property management industry is not new. Technology solutions have been available since at least the 1990s – before email and internet were widely available. But even 5 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the amount nor the need for these technology solutions, especially for the industry as a whole to tie them to a specific category of tech. Now, PropTech is an established category, receiving $32B in private investment in 2021 alone. 

But it’s not just software companies that are driving the growth of the PropTech category. The explosion of technology solutions couldn’t happen without a growing appetite amongst property management companies for technology solutions that reduce costs, create operational efficiencies and improve the resident experience. Technology is only as strong as it is at making a return on investment. With this as the backdrop, the NAA Apartmentalize conference session, “Integrated or Point Solutions? Get Married or Play the Field?” focused on educating property management companies on how to evaluate new technology solutions and how to strategically manage their “technology stack”.  

Panelists, which included Jennifer Staciokas, Executive Managing Director, Property Management at Western Wealth Communities, Lucas Haldeman, Chief Executive Officer at SmartRent, Ellen Thompson, Founder & CEO at Respage, Guntram Weissenberger, Owner/President at Westover Companies, highlighted a number of points to consider when evaluating new technology: 

The need to continuously evaluate your technology stack: Perhaps back a decade or more ago, you could “set it and forget it” when it came to the technology that you use to run your property and your property management company. This is no longer the case. Technology is evolving at a fast pace and while adding and changing software isn’t seamless and easy for your organization or your staff, you need to continuously review your existing solutions and monitor the market for new solutions to address challenges you are facing or you will fall behind your competitors. Panelists recommended assembling a sort of technology steering committee composed of different groups within your organization to be responsible for identifying and evaluating your existing technology stack as well as new solutions that you want to consider. 

Meticulously defining the problem(s) you expect new technologies to solve: Before diving into the evaluation process, it’s important to define the problem the technology is expected to solve and the goals or results you expect it to deliver. Whether you’re adding a new solution or changing out an existing solution, you want to make sure you understand exactly how the solution you choose is going to solve the specific problem you have. This will guide your evaluation and selection process as well as measurement of early results as you begin implementing the new solution. 

Conduct a thorough evaluation of the solutions and providers you are considering: Walking around the Apartmentalize exhibit hall it’s easy to get excited about the providers that you meet and the new technology that you see. Sales teams will invariably push you to move fast, but it’s important that you take the time to evaluate the solution and the provider thoroughly to avoid any potential unpleasant surprises down the road. You’ll want to enlist your team in the evaluation process and pay careful attention to the following: 

  • Does the technology solve the problem you’ve identified? If so, how? What results should you expect? What results have other property management companies seen when implementing the technology? 
  • How well does the solution integrate with other software you are currently using or might use in the future? Most every software provider will claim that they can integrate with solutions, but many aren’t actually open systems that can be easily integrated with. Ask detailed questions – how many and what data fields are shared between the systems? Is there custom work required on the part of either you or the provider to make the integration happen? Be very concerned if they tell you the integration is on their roadmap. Everything is on a roadmap somewhere. Make sure you understand if development has commenced or not and consider requiring a clause in your contract if the integration isn’t available yet. 
  • Does the product roadmap align with your priorities? Ask for details about what is on their short term (3-6 month) product roadmap and their longer term product roadmap (2-3 years). Inquire about how are priorities for the roadmap determined? You should expect that customers drive the roadmap. There should be a customer advisory board in place or a process for soliciting enhancement ideas from customers and there should be evidence that enhancement ideas from customers actually get implemented. Beware that some of the larger organizations tend to build basic capabilities to address a need and then move on to something completely different versus really investing in building out capabilities in specific areas. Maybe this is fine for you or maybe it is not. 
  • Are they sufficiently financially stable and long term viable for your organization’s risk tolerance?  New capabilities often emerge from new entrants that are funded by someone – venture capital or private equity firms, property management companies, etc. The advantage of these new entrants is that they are focused on the problems they are solving, and individual customers often have a greater say in the direction their solution takes.  But when you implement a solution, you are making an investment in integrating it with your current technologies, training your organization to use it, etc. So it’s important to understand and be comfortable with where this organization might be 6 months, 1 year, etc. down the line. You need to consider whether it has a future as a stand-alone company or if it is more likely to be bought by another provider in the industry. History shows that in some cases an acquiring company makes decisions about the solution that no longer make it viable for you to use, so it’s important to weigh the value of the solution versus any risks that you may be incurring by implementing it. 
  • How will they support you in getting up and running and with any issues that arise? The success of this solution in addressing the problem you’ve identified depends on your team adopting and using the solution the way it was intended. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand: 
    • Onboarding: How long does it take? What are your responsibilities? What are the provider’s responsibilities? When can you get started? All properties at once? One or two to work out the kinks? Divide into waves?  
    • Training: How does your team learn to use the solution? Does the provider offer personalized training? Do you want train the trainer or the provider to train your entire team? Is training done through video tutorials only? Consider what will work best for your team because getting value from the solution is dependent on your team using it. You only have one chance to get everyone comfortable with using the solution. 
    • Ongoing Support: What is the customer support process? What is the turn around time on issue resolution? Some organizations will offer email only support or will charge you based on number of customer support tickets. Ask questions. Check reviews and references. The solution won’t deliver value if your team can’t get answers to questions that they have or if the value is offset by the cost of getting help. Beyond just how support tickets are handled, make sure you understand if they have an account management or customer success process, as having a point person that is familiar with your organization will go a long way in helping ensure you are getting the most out of the solution.  

If you’re interested in ResMan as a software provider for your daily operations, book a demo to see the product up close.

Introducing ResMan Utilities Powered by AMS

This week we’re pleased to announce an even deeper integration with AMS Billing and introduce ResMan Utilities powered by AMS. ResMan Utilities offers property owners and managers much better control over utility spending and can also help increase NOI by properly allocating utility usage for each resident. You can let AMS Billing handle all the paperwork and they can then update the ResMan resident ledger with the utility costs to be paid with their rent. Water is one of the bigger costs and also a cost that can be difficult to recover…costing your property hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lost revenue. ResMan Utilities powered by AMS can take care of the guesswork and implement a solution that works best for you and your property, including… 

Utility Billing Services 

RUBS (Ratio Utility Billing System): considers number of residents and square footage 

Wireless sub-meter read: resident is billed for exact usage 

Invoice Processing 

Auto electronic import of any utility bill (water, sewer, trash, gas, etc) 

AMS organizes outstanding bills in the dashboard for management

VUCR (Vacant Unit Cost Recovery) 

AMS compares move-in/move-out info to the electric bill to find cases of new residents not switching utilities to their name in a timely manner 

Also finds cases of residents taking utility out of their name too early 

Included with Invoice Processing 

If you’re looking for a way to better manage your utilities, recover costs, and save time; be sure to check out ResMan Utilities powered by AMS today. 

Technology Adoption Doesn’t Have To Leave Disengaged Employees || Rental Housing Journal

Elizabeth Francisco, President of ResMan, was asked to contribute to the Rental Housing Journal this month. As she discusses the all-too-common problem of not only adopting the technology for a business, she highlights how you can also gain the support and adoption from employees to make that technology worthwhile.

She argues having a human-centric approach to technology will be the game-changer and will be essential to getting buy-in from your employees. You can read the full article here.

4 Affordable Housing Software Features That Improve Productivity

Top Affordable Housing Software Features That Save You Time

Your affordable housing software should push your productivity, not your patience. A lack of effective software results in property management professionals wasting work hours duplicating data entry or inadvertently leasing to ineligible households.

With the right software provider, you can increase operational cost-savings while more effectively managing your time and expenses. However, budget restrictions and compliance hurdles can make it difficult to choose a solution that will set your organization up to meet long-term goals, according to Janel Ganim, vice president of compliance at RightSource Compliance.

“The affordable industry has historically run behind in technology as compared with other housing markets,” Ganim said. “I don’t see that changing anytime soon, which is unfortunate. I think a lot of the reason is that the industry does not have the budget that the conventional, student, and military housing markets have to invest in technology. The affordable housing industry has very little control over rents they can charge, whereas the conventional industry can react to different market conditions.”

As a result, many property management professionals in the affordable housing market have not prioritized software. But that’s all starting to change as more and more realize how these solutions can boost their bottom line — and restore their sanity.

Choosing the right provider is not easy, especially when you couple budget restrictions with the many different features each vendor offers. How can you quiet the chaos to find a software partner with the features that will best meet your organization’s long-term needs?

Below, we explore 4 affordable housing software features that are guaranteed to help you operate in the most compliant, efficient, and logical way.

1. Ensure the Affordable Housing Solution Supports Multiple Subsidy Layers

One of the most important reasons property managers opt to use affordable housing software is because of compliance, said Ganim. In particular, most properties have multiple layers of subsidies which equates to multiple sets of rules to follow. Without software to support these multiple layers, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for on-site staff to keep up with regulations and requirements.

Most vendors support basic eligibility tracking, but it’s important to prioritize solutions that can handle multiple subsidies, Ganim said. The property manager’s goal is to lease to eligible households to avoid losing money — a task that is exasperating if you are manually tracking eligibility.

Your affordable housing software should support a combination of programs — including HUD, tax credits, and rural development — through a single platform.

2. Prioritize Software That’s Up-to-Date on TRACS Standards

Another critical feature to consider is a modern platform that keeps up with Tenant Rental Assistance Certification System (TRACS) standards, such as electronic signatures and document storage.

Soon, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will release a notice to allow the use of e-storage and e-signatures for tenant certification and monthly vouchers, Ganim said. The notice will provide detailed requirements on record retention, encryption, how to properly destroy data, and more.

“One of the things we see with HUD is they have to come in and [recertify the household’s] income on a yearly basis,” she added. “To do that electronically with your residents and make sure those re-certifications are completed on time, would be great. If those aren’t completed on time, it results in adjustments that have to be made on the accounting side. If the rent changes or if you have to terminate their subsidy because they didn’t recertify on time, then you have to reinstate it retroactively. It’s just a lot of headache for on-site staff to go through, as well as for the resident.”

Additional benefits of electronic document storage are that it offers a way to preserve paperwork and tenant files in the event of a natural disaster, and it provides a more seamless way to handle file reviews and audits.

“If you have e-storage of documents, you don’t have to have that auditor from the state agency physically on your property going through your files; they can do that from their office,” Ganim said. “This saves travel costs for the state agency, and let’s be honest, it saves stress for the on-site staff because it’s that much less time that you have an auditor physically on your property.”

3. Scout for a Seamless System and User-Friendly Workflow

Affordable housing software should offer a seamless system to help process move-ins, certifications, and compliance hurdles while eliminating operational losses. It is critical to scout software with a user-friendly workflow that allows you to easily customize approval workflows, regardless of whether or not you use a centralized compliance department.

Having the ability to access all the data and documents needed to qualify a household on one screen is a game-changer. Compound these features with the ability to track certifications, monitor compliance issues, and set up email notifications when certifications are submitted through the workflow, and you have a platform ripe for the picking.

4. Make Sure the Software Offers Efficient Reporting Capabilities

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the affordable housing industry is keeping up with state and federal reporting requirements.

Not all tax credit properties are required to submit electronically, but HUD and rural housing properties must submit at least monthly. Additionally, there are specific reporting requirements for tax credit properties. Considering the subsidy is granted at a state level, some states could require quarterly reporting while others require monthly. The agency may also ask for an electronic report in one state and a paper report in the other.

“A lot of the state agencies require electronic data submissions, and most software packages can export that data into whatever reporting format the state agency wants, or there are ways [the software] can upload the data onto an agency website,” Ganim said. “For people who don’t have that software, that is manual data entry, and in some cases that is a year’s worth of data.”

Affordable housing software significantly eases the process, minimizes human error, and cuts down on precious work hours spent on manual data entry.

The Bottom Line

Keeping up with the details of compliance, operations, and overhead costs for even the simplest affordable portfolios is challenging — especially without compliance technology. While most solutions offer standard features to help mitigate risk and manage expenses, it’s worth the time and effort to search for innovative affordable housing software that will help you reclaim productivity and increase efficiency.

With the right technology system in place, you can ensure your organization operates seamlessly to meet long-term goals. Keep these 4 features in mind as you scout for providers to better position your organization for continued success.

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