Is Free Property Management Software Right for Your Business?March 21, 2014 by Nicki Howell
Property management software, while extremely beneficial for many organizations, can be a significant financial investment. This is especially true for smaller property management firms operating on tight budgets, which may not require the extensive features found in many paid systems.
Opting for a free property management solution can be a great way around this—but many companies wonder if a no-cost solution can adequately meet their needs. Here, we take a closer look at some of the most popular free solutions on the market today to highlight what each offers and the most important factors to consider before making a decision.
What Free Solutions Are Available?
While not the only free options available, Property Solutions, Property Hawk and T-Rex Global are a few well-known vendors in the free property management arena.
- Entrata Core by Property Solutions offers general ledger and accounts payable functionality, vendor, resident and facilities management and the ability to run an extensive variety of reports.
- Property Hawk allows property managers to generate tenancy agreements, track tenant details and rental payments and view detailed inventory forms.
- T-Rex Global offers professional monthly owner statements, online rent payments, complete income and expense tracking and customizable reports.
|Entrata Core by Property Solutions||Property Hawk||T-Rex Global|
|Number of Users||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Number of Units Managed||Unlimited||Unlimited||4 or less|
|Integration Capabilties||Property management software, Web-listing and resident-screening services||No||No|
|Training & Support||Video and live training||Online forums||Email support, product demos|
How Do Free Software Companies Make Money?
Vendors offering free property management solutions typically generate revenue in a couple of ways:
- Upgrades to paid solutions. The company creates a highly functional free tool to demonstrate the effectiveness of their product and encourage you to upgrade to a paid solution for greater functionality.
- Affiliate relationships and advertising. Revenue is generated from third party partnerships or advertising revenue.
For example, Property Solutions offers an impressive array of features in Entrata Core, hoping that you’ll eventually seek out additional features offered only in one of the company’s paid products, such as tenant and owner portals.
Entrata Core by Property Solutions allows users to quickly and easily run a variety of reports
Similarly, T-Rex Global offers a free solution that allows you to access basic product features. The company also offers upgrades to paid versions that offer expanded features and the ability to manage up to 400 units. These versions range from $9.95 to $179.95 per month.
Unlike the other two vendors, Property Hawk earns revenue solely through advertising and affiliate relationships with a small number of specialized providers. They offer one level of service that is free to everyone, and have no limit on the number of users or properties you can manage.
With Property Hawk, users can view data at a glance, including outstanding rent,
inventory and utility bills
How Large Is Your Company and How Great Are Your Needs?
While all three vendors mentioned above offer free software options, the best choice for you will depend on the size of your business and it’s specific needs. Are you a small-scale agent managing a few units, or a large company managing dozens of properties? Let’s take a look at a few common situations property managers may find themselves in:
➔ The small-scale manager requiring little functionality. While Property Hawk’s solution doesn’t offer upgrades or additional modules available for purchase, you can manage an unlimited number of properties. This makes it an ideal option for property managers with several properties, but who don’t require functionality beyond basic things like tracking rent payments and storing tenant information.
➔ The growing company managing a small number of units. An option like T-Rex Global is best suited for property managers with a small number of units (four or less).The free software is compatible with multiple unit types, and allows you to upgrade to a paid version should your company outgrow the free solution.
With T-Rex Global, users can easily view income and expenses from a single screen
➔ The firm with a mid-to-large portfolio of units. Property managers with a large number of units may find Property Solutions’ Entrata Core an ideal solution to start with. “It was built with medium-to-large-sized property management companies in mind, but can be utilized by smaller companies as well,” says Coby Rich, associate marketing director at Property Solutions.
The software has the ability to manage a variety of unit types (including student housing), and users can add paid upgrades that include a mobile app, prospect portal and online rent pay.
What Level of Customization and Integration Do You Require?
For smaller property management firms, a one-size-fits-all approach may be all you need. However, companies managing a larger number of units or different property types might require a higher level of customization, and may even wish to integrate a solution with existing software or platforms.
Many paid property management software products can integrate with external solutions, such as property management software, Internet listing services and resident screening providers. Free solutions, on the other hand, sometimes have integration limitations—or don’t offer integration at all.
Property Hawk, for example, doesn’t offer customization or integration with other programs. T-Rex Global allows users to customize reports with both the free and paid versions of their products.
Entrata Core by Property Solutions offers the ability to integrate with other property management software, such as AMSI, Yardi and Intuit MRI. It also integrates with websites like ApartmentFinder and Craigslist, along with resident screening providers and analytics services such as Google Analytics.
When evaluating vendors, here are are a few questions to keep in mind:
- What software are you using now, and do you need the new software to integrate with other platforms or technology?
- Does the vendor charge a fee to integrate with other platforms or technology?
- Will the vendors that host your other software and technology solutions charge a fee for integrating with the new property management software?
What Kind of Training and Support Is Offered?
There’s nothing more frustrating than troubleshooting new software without adequate training and support. Avoid these headaches by asking about training and support options before signing up for a new solution.
For example, T-Rex Global offers free email support for their software. If you want to troubleshoot over the phone, however, you’ll need to upgrade your service, and paid subscribers receive priority over free users when using the no-cost solution. All software users have access to live product demos, which cover getting started, data entry, running reports and tenant management.
In contrast, Property Solutions offers a variety of free training videos and documentation, along with free monthly live training at their Utah headquarters. The company also offers custom onsite training, but charges a fee for this. Property Hawk offers free support through an online forum for their software users.
What’s Covered in the Service-Level Agreement?
When evaluating a free solution, it’s important to review and compare service-level agreements (SLAs) to ensure that you’re covered in a variety of situations. When speaking with potential property management vendors, consider the following questions:
- Does the vendor have safeguards against downtime?
- What recourse do you have if your information is suddenly unavailable?
- Can you retrieve your information if you decide to switch vendors?
Some SLAs are customized—Property Solutions, for example, builds the SLA into the contract on a client-by-client basis—so you may have some flexibility in regard to working the specifics out with a vendor.
Free property management software can be a valuable asset for many property managers. But in the end, you’ll need to consider your own unique needs, including desired level of customization, functional breadth and the number of properties you manage to determine whether these solutions are right for you.