North America

What did you just buy?

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People throw around the term “property management software” too easily, like it actually means something.

 And I get it – there is an entire industry built around solving property managers’ problems. They are the real frontline of the rental business.

But in reality “property management software” means a whole lot of things, and therefore not any one thing in particular.

What burger are we flipping?

Years ago, when I worked for a restaurant group, one of my great mentors said something that stuck with me: “Louw, there is nothing more basic yet satisfying than making a hamburger and selling it for cold, hard cash that you can take to the bank.”  

It stuck with me because no-one would deny that a hamburger is a simple thing, but it has clear, undeniable value.

You can see where I’m going with this. Earlier this month I attended an amazing NARPM conference. Walking around the exhibition hall and talking to property managers, I had a hamburger moment. There were rows and rows of service providers, all doing different things to ‘make your life easier’ and ‘streamline your processes’. Innovative people, with amazing products–and yet it pointed to a darker realization. 

If traditional “PM software” is all that it’s cracked up to be, why are these companies selling a list of bolt-on services as long as my arm? Wasn’t the first software package I bought supposed to solve all my property management problems?

Well, no–and no software platform ever could. Property management is a people business, and the range of problems people have when renting homes is practically limitless. 

In turn, that gives rise to a practically limitless group of add-on service providers selling pet screening, inspections, viewings, utility meters, listings, outsourced assistants and ‘tenant wellness’. 

Some of them good and necessary, others less so–but all of them addressing issues that we run into on the job.

Watching all this, I could understand why property managers walk by the booths with their eyes firmly on the floor, trying to ignore every vendor selling them a solution to a problem they didn’t know they had.

Choose the problems you want to solve

So where and how should a property manager draw the line? 
At the end of a long three days, I sat down with a property manager called Hannah who has built her business from scratch to a 100+ portfolio, and finally understood how so many property management software vendors and niche vendors can serve the same clientele. It comes down to how difficult it is for property managers to choose between what they want, and what they truly need. 

Still in full-on sales mode, I pitched PayProp to Hannah. “This is what we do. No, we don’t do that, but we do this. No, we don’t do that either.”  

And then she said something profound. “We will always want everything and keep on asking for more, because what we do is difficult, and we need all the help we can get.” 

“But what keeps me up at night is my trust account. I have property management software that I have used forever–but I still have worries about my trust account not balancing.” 

I was still thinking about that as I drove home through the cold, wet Connecticut night, and in the end it hit me. The world is full of problems–too many to count. And where there are not problems, someone is going to ‘create the market’ and invent one.  The challenge for us in the rental business is to prioritise the problems we choose to solve–and there are really just two basic ones. Owners want a risk-free return for their massive capital investment. Tenants want to know that you have received their rent and they still have a roof over their family’s heads this month.  

If you don’t get those basics right–for example by managing a landlord’s funds in a safe and transparent manner and confirming transactions to tenants–then DNA testing for dogs (I kid you not) is not going to make you a better property manager. None of us has time to major in the minors.

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