The Best Property Management Software – Our Favorite Popular Choices
In order to get your property management business to grow and thrive, you need a good property management software program.
What makes a good property management software program?
Well, the best property management software lets you do all the basics – rent collections, maintenance request management, document management, property listings, and similar tasks – from one convenient electronic location.
After scouring the web and learning everything we could about several different programs, we found what we believe to be the best property management software programs on the market.
Ready to learn more about each of them? Read out ultimate guide to the best property management software below.
How We Selected the Best Property Management Software
We started broadly, gathering all sorts of different software programs built for property management businesses of all sizes. The only exceptions we made were software designed for hyper-niche real estate businesses, as that kind of software won’t be useful to a majority of real estate businesses.
Anyways, we used a few criteria to determine the best property management software
- Property management tools
- Bookkeeping features
- Customer service
- Cloud-based capabilities
More on these up next.
Property Management Tools
You’re in the property management business, so it should come as no surprise that we made property management tools one of our top priorities in our search for the best property management software.
There are a few gold-standard property management features that make for excellent property management software. During our search, we looked for property management software programs that had the following property management tools:
- Online rent collection
- New tenant on-boarding
- Maintenance request management
Online Rent Collection
Rent collection is perhaps the most fundamental feature in a property management software program.
Basically all property management programs have rent collection features. However, only the best programs assist you beyond simply viewing and recording rent payments; good property management software programs also let you track payment history and status for each tenant and/or unit, process your payments online, and flow rent payments through to the accounting side of the software.
New Tenant On-boarding
Without tenants, you won’t be making any rental income. Thus, it’s critical that a good property management software have a solid suite of features for finding, screening, and on-boarding new tenants.
One critical feature is the ability to generate property listings quickly, as well as list those properties quickly on multiple sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin.
When prospective tenants apply to rent your property, you need to be able to screen them effectively. Good property management software will aid you in viewing several important reports regarding the credit history/score, eviction history, and criminal history/record of each prospective tenant.
Maintenance Request Management
Maintenance can be a bit of a headache for property managers. Nowadays, most property management software eases this a little bit by letting your record work orders in the software.
However, that’s not enough to be the best. The best property management software handles things from beginning to end. Tenants can request work orders online through the software’s payment portal; from there, the property manager should have the ability to quickly assign work orders to maintenance workers.
On top of all that, everyone from the tenant to the maintenance worker should be able to track the progress of the work order with status updates or something similar.
Managing your property is just one side of your business, albeit the main portion of it. However, despite your probable hatred for accounting/bookkeeping, it’s a necessary part of running a successful business, not to mention that many accounting/bookkeeping tasks are required in order to follow the law.
The best property management software automates a lot of this tedious bookkeeping work by handling most of the regular bookkeeping, giving you financial reporting capabilities, and helping you manage documents with ease.
These days, it’s hard to find a property management program that doesn’t let you record information regarding payments and income. However, those software programs that rise above the others provide a ton of other features.
For example, good property management software should let you both receive and make payments online. On top of that, you should be able to code transactions for tax purposes to make tax season a lot easier.
Another important bookkeeping feature is bank reconciliations. These are a bit confusion, even for accounting students, so software that helps you perform bank recs should be high on your list.
The best property management software automates as many of these features as possible. In terms of the actual bookkeeping and coding for tax purposes, most regular transactions should flow through the accounting system automatically and be coded the right way.
Same with bank recs. The more the software handles, the less confused you’ll have to be.
Reports are used for a variety of reasons: some reports are used for legal requirements, other reports are used to attract investors, and still others are of critical help to the property manager in budgeting and forecasting for the year.
Unfortunately, due to the large amount and variety of reports, reporting is a very time-consuming tasks for already busy property managers. Whether you’re generating a budget report, a financial forecast, maintenance reports, or something else, your choice of software should be able to quickly provide clean, intuitive reports for anyone who needs them.
Documentation is everything in business. In real estate, you have to manage many types of documents on both the tenant and business sides of your property management business: leases, vendor lists, eviction notices, rental applications, mortgage paperwork, the list goes on and on.
With so many documents, the best property management software will obviously assist in organizing and accessing these documents without trouble.
Some specific features/capabilities we looked for include
- Templates for common documents
- The ability to upload, store, and organize files based on many criteria
- Intuitive ways to access documents, like a search feature
There are definitely a lot of good desktop-only options out there. However, society is moving towards using cloud-based software.
See, cloud-based software is much more convenient. Implementing it is much simpler, and the vendor that sold it to you takes on responsibility for maintenance – freeing up your resources for other things.
Also, cloud-based software can be used from anywhere (say you’re commuting by public transit and want to knock some work out), whereas to use your desktop-only software, you have to be at a computer with the software installed.
Without good customer service, IT issues and similar questions/concerns can really set your business back; after all, your software isn’t very useful if you can’t figure it out or it won’t let you do anything.
And since we went for cloud-based options (which the vendor manages, not you) over traditional desktop-only programs, being able to access helpful customer service when you need it can save the day.
The best software programs not only have friendly, helpful customer service reps that you can access through multiple avenues of communication, but they also contain plenty of learning resources (such as blog articles on how to use the software or troubleshoot problems).
Overall, the best software programs were all cloud-based and had a great blend of intuitive property management tools, automated accounting/bookkeeping features, and helpful customer service when things go wrong.
The Top Property Management Software Programs
After researching many options currently on the market using the criteria laid out above, we found the following to be the best property management software programs:
- Rentec Direct
- AppFolio Property Manager
- SimplifyEm Property Management Software
Find out more about each of these excellent property management software programs below.
Buildium – Our Favorite Property Management Software
Why Did We Choose Buildium?
Buildium might be our favorite all-around property management software not just on this list, but at all. Here’s why.
Easy and Intuitive
Part of what makes a good software program is intuitive design and ease-of-use. Buildium’s interface fits this description perfectly. Everything is neatly organized and is pleasant to look at.
Still unsure of what is where? Buildium has a “Guided Tours” function that takes you step-by-step through each of Buildium’s functions. You can take these tours as many times as you need to, whenever you need to.
Buildium really wants to educate its users, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their Buildium Academy learning center. This resource is chock full of courses covering the various skills you’ll need and tasks you’ll complete while managing properties.
Unlike some online courses that are just amalgamations of random information from all over, each Buildium course contains clear objectives and quizzes so you can test your knowledge before applying the skill or doing the task in the real world.
They really manage to strike that difficult balance of providing sufficient educational resources without overwhelming the user with information.
Buildium’s customer service is great. They have a human being (read: not a bot) contact you when you sign up for a free trial; this person is ready and willing to answer your questions and provide you demos if need be.
They don’t push the sale hard when you get a free trial, either. It seems like they have a philosophy of “letting the product speak for itself”.
Buildium’s pricing is a sliding scale based on the number of units you manage, starting as low as around $50 for up to 20 units. Their Core plan is available for up to 150 managed units; beyond that, you’ll have to go for the Pro plan.
This is a very fair pricing structure for everyone involved because it scales with your business. At the start, you don’t make much from your first few properties, so you don’t pay much for Buildium’s services. When your business grows, you can afford to pay more, and do so accordingly.
They’re very transparent about this, too: they have a sliding scale tool on their pricing page that’ll tell you exactly how much you’ll pay each month given the number of units you selected.
Independent of the sliding scale, though, the price is pretty great for the tools, interface, and support they give you. We have more about this in our Buildium review here.
Buildium’s only drawback in regards to functionality and features is the mobile experience. Their site isn’t optimized for mobile, so doing things on-the-go won’t be easy.
Although you can perform some of your property management tasks on their mobile app, it’s not as comprehensive as the website.
This shouldn’t be a huge issue for smaller property management enterprises with simpler businesses and less tasks to accomplish.
The problem for smaller property managers, however, is the other drawback: fees.
Although the pricing is pretty good and structured well, the fees for additional services can make Buildium pricey for smaller management business.
Larger real estate businesses will be able to afford a Core or Pro plan and the accompanying fees fairly easily, but smaller ones may not.
All that being said, Buildium is still one of the best property management software programs we found.
Why Did We Choose Rentec Direct?
Property Management Features
Nearly every property management task you might need to perform can be managed inside Rentec Direct. You can pull several types of tenant reports for screening, accept rent payments online, accept rental applications online, manage documents, assign and track work orders, and even help tenants find renter’s insurance through the app.
They also have a suite of accounting and bookkeeping features, and of course, you can sync your accounting with Quickbooks.
Also, it’s important to note that Rentec Direct’s Pro plan (their basic plan) lets you have as many units as you want.
Rentec Direct offers two plans: Pro and PM (the former being the cheaper plan, the latter the “premium” plan). Unlike Buildium, you aren’t required to ditch Pro for PM at a certain number of units; PM simply adds some additional features.
Everything listed above is just in the Pro Plan. They also have a PM plan that adds some additional features:
- Trust account management and reporting
- An owner portal
- The ability to pay owners via ACH (Automated Clearing House)
- Maintenance and marketing managers
- Automated CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges
Free Trial Options
Rentec Direct makes it clear they care about their customers from the get-got: they offer both a demo AND a 14-day free trial, so you can familiarize yourself with the program and be absolutely sure you want to buy it before you actually do.
Rentec Direct is based on a sliding scale and priced pretty well. Prices start at $35/month for Pro and $40/month for PM. As you increase the number of units you manage, the percentage price difference between Pro and PM shrinks. For example, at the low end, PM is 14% more expensive than Pro. At 100 units, the price only jumps 10% from Pro to PM.
Thus, the more units you manage, the more cost effective PM is. Not a bad way to structure pricing.
Rentec Direct’s Drawbacks
The pricing might be great, but the fees can add up for smaller property management businesses. Screening packages cost $7 for basic screening, $10 for enhanced screening, and $15 for premium screening. These are important features that are worth the cost, but it still adds up if you’re doing a lot of screening.
There are also fees for credit card processing (2.75%) and for adding the capability to accept cash payments ($200 setup fee and $3.99 per payment).
AppFolio Property Manager
Why Did We Choose AppFolio Property Manager?
Property Management Tools
AppFolio has everything you need from a property management software program. You can collect rent, receive maintenance requests from tenants, assign these work orders and track their progress, pay vendors, the list goes on. It divides everything into several tabs:
- People (Your team)
It’s a very intuitive system. To top it off, they of course have a dashboard that presents the most critical information to your property management business in a digestible format.
Many top property management software programs have basic mobile apps, but AppFolio lets you use their entire platform from a mobile device. It’s quite responsive, an impressive feat not seen throughout some of the other top programs.
Customer service is responsive, helpful, and friendly. Not much else to say except for that it’s great overall.
Choice of Plans
AppFolio offers several plans, each for a different type of property management business:
- Homeowner’s Associations (HOA)
- Student Housing
A good choice of program for a variety of niches.
AppFolio Property Manager’s Drawbacks
AppFolio’s pricing seems cheap at first – only $1.25 per unit per month. However, you have to be paying $250 per month minimum. In addition, they charge a setup fee that varies with the size of your portfolio, but it’s $400 at the minimum.
If you’re just getting a small property management business off the ground, AppFolio might be out of your budget. Larger enterprises that can afford this software will find that the benefits within justify most of the cost, though.
No Free Trial
You’d think that any company selling important business software, a big purchase, would give their customers a free trial. AppFolio unfortunately does not.
It’s not all bad, though – AppFolio will give you a very thorough demo if you request it. A sales rep will reach out to you and walk you through 1.5 – 2 hours of demo, answering any questions along the way.
It’s not as good as a free trial, but you do get to still see the software in action in some form.
SimplifyEm Property Management Software
Why Did We Choose SimplifyEm Property Management Software?
SimplifyEm has tons of accounting features. First off, you can track your income and expenses for each property. Using this data, you can generate several detailed reports for tax and business purposes.
SimplifyEm also has the ability to export data to Quickbooks or Excel.
Banking features are big, too. You can monitor your bank accounts, perform bank reconciliations, and manage paper checks all from the software.
Property Management Tools
With SimplifyEm, managing your occupied and vacant units is easy. You’ve got online tools for collecting rent, monitoring insurance, storing and organizing important documents, tracking deadlines, and more.
The maintenance side is excellent, too. Users receive notifications when a tenant submits a maintenance request, which can then be assigned to a maintenance person right in the software.
SimplifyEm has great customer service, responsive through both phone and email If you’re overwhelmed by the program, SimplifyEm also has free training available for customers.
Oh, and they have a free trial as well so you can get to know the program before you buy it.
SimplifyEm is quite cheap – it costs almost half the price as Buildium to manage 100 units. Prices start as low as $20/month for up to 10 units.
On top of that, pricing after 100 units is simple: $7 extra per month for each additional increment of 10 units. You can cap out at 2,000 units for $1,410 per month.
Their pricing pages lays out what you get with every listing pretty well.
SimplifyEm Property Management Software’s Drawbacks
Lower-End Plan Features
You gain access to all features as long as you pay for the “up to 50” or more units per month. Unfortunately, some of these features are excluded below that rate.
For example, if you manage 30 units or less, you don’t get communication history, document sharing, various portals, bank rec stuff, or Quickbooks export capabilities.
In addition, you have to pay $3 per vacancy listing and $3 per online rental application. Smaller property management businesses won’t find this program as effective as some others, but at least the price is much lower than a lot of the competition.
Quick Guide to the Picking the Best Property Management Software for You
Having trouble picking between all the excellent choices in property management software? Here’s a quick guide to finding the right property management software program for you.
Prioritize the Features You Need
Real estate businesses vary in the types of properties they hold. Some specialize in commercial property, while other focus on residential properties; beyond that, there are even more niche areas of real estate.
Aside from the standard features you should expect from good property management software, prioritize programs with features catering to whatever niche of real estate you’re in.
Think About How Many Units You Manage
As you saw above, each property management software company offers a different pricing structure. The best software for you heavily depends on the number of units you manage.
Think about how many units you currently manage, but consider your future plans as well. Are you planning on expanding your business? Shop as if your business has already expanded, because switching software programs is an expensive, time-intensive process.
Test Each Program Before Committing
Any good property management software will have either a free trial or a thorough demo. Whichever one you come across, take full advantage. Explore every feature of the program, and look for programs that are the most intuitive to use for your specific property management business.
Also don’t be afraid to barrage a sales rep or customer service with questions. They’re there to help you.
If you’ve identified an excellent program early on, test some other programs just in case. Who knows: you might find an even better program for your business.
And even if you don’t find anything better, the first amazing program you found isn’t going anywhere, so just go back and buy it.
Analyze Their Customer Service
The best programs aren’t great if their customer service isn’t helpful. For every program you test out, contact each company’s customer service via both phone and email to check if they’re responsive through both avenues of communication. If they have an online live chat, test that as well.
This final step is important for any property manager; however, if you’re new to the property management business, it’s even more important because you’re going to have tons of questions after your purchase as you familiarize yourself with your chosen program’s full range of features and functionality.
Even if you found a program that works great for your business, things can always go wrong, so don’t skip this step.