What's new in property management technology

August 13, 2020

The real estate industry is experiencing an explosion of new technology. But many property management companies and rental owners have been slow to adapt. With so many options out there, it's hard to decide what's a gimmick and what's a game-changer. Backed by decades of scattered-site SFR management experience and led by veterans of the most innovative tech companies in the world, Elara is quickly becoming the premier technology-first property management solution. Whether you work with us or a traditional property manager, we put together a real estate tech primer designed to help you navigate the maze of new options (with a focus on the single-family sector we know best).

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Smart Home

Smart Home is the most logical starting place more most property management evaluations. Smart home solutions can:

  • Benefit the resident experience, which can result in increased rents
  • Benefit the owners of the property by either reducing maintenance or management expense, or by increasing the useful life of specific components such as HVAC, roof, etc.
  • Or benefit both owners and tenants

Most smart home products fall on a value spectrum that differs across price point and market. Therefore the first step in an evaluation is to develop your own value matrix. We break our value spectrum between CX (Customer Experience Value) and AM (Asset Management Value), but you can choose whatever labels you want. In our example we are assuming for simplicity that Owners and Managers are aligned. In reality this is almost never the case and the value matrix will likely look different if you have property manager on the X-axis instead of owner.

We can immediately narrow in on the top right quadrant of your value spectrum as the most promising areas to consider a smart home investment. In other words, which smart home investments have the best chance of increasing revenue, while decreasing expenses? The products that fall in the top right quadrant. While the above diagram is for demonstration purposes, typically we see top right quadrant commonalities across every analysis:

  • Smart Locks & Keyless Entry
  • Smart Thermostats
  • Security Systems

In our experience, these three product categories are consistently among the top three value creators and deserve serious investment consideration at any scale.

What solutions should you consider?

There are tons of great choices for hardware, but the real operational value comes from the management system used to connect, monitor, and control the devices. While there are tons of platforms that offer decent smart home consumer experiences, they generally lack any functionality for property managers and owners. On the flip side the solutions that do offer quality feature sets for property managers and owners have historically been weak in consumer experience. Ideally you want to choose a solution that places equal importance on both manager and resident experiences.

While the space is evolving quickly, there are three primary leaders you should evaluate, all of which support multiple device types and support self showings, a huge time and money waster for property managers cover why self showings are a no brainer throw away the keys post a couple weeks ago).

Our Top Pick: Rently

Given the positive consumer reviews, our current preference is Rently as they offer the best combination of price and functionality for an all-in-one platform. Rently's enterprise software creates a connected consumer journey across physical and digital environments, offering residents a seamless experience and giving owners the ability to efficiently and safely manage properties remotely. That said, any of these three solutions should be viable for the vast majority of rental owners and it will really come down to personal preference and price point.

Runner Ups: Point Central | Smart Rent

Property Management Software

While keeping track of a property manually works for awhile, you can save a ton of time and money by switching to a property management system or finding a property management company that already uses one. Generally speaking the solutions you should evaluate are highly dependent on scale and sophistication of your property management needs. Do you need accrual or cash accounting?  Do you need institutional accounting controls? Do you need API access? Do you need to support multiple owners? Complex entity structures? Entity to entity cash flows? Mortgage securitization?

No matter what your needs are, one of the platforms below will be able to help and are certainly a huge improvement over spreadsheets and email. Generally speaking our expectation is that the level of tooling sophistication will be proportionate to the size of the management team. As such here is how we break down the tools down by the following stages:

Self-manage your own properties (no employees)

Self-manage your own properties and client properties (no employees)

Manage properties for multiple clients (have employees)

Institutional management (manage institutional investments)

There are pros and cons to each of these platforms, but the downside to most (especially in the institutional space) is that they create significant "lock in" effects, particularly for larger operators. For institutional managers especially, the existing options have not kept pace with the technological advances available in the industry, which is why Elara created its own propriety system, Velocity, that brings data-driven decision-making and predictive analytics to property management for scattered-site SFR. It's critical that your platform decision incorporates your growth plans and maps out how the functionality of each system can scale with you, or you will incur significant switching costs at some point in the future.

Similar to our comment about platform openness in regards to the smart home platforms, we should also mention that RealPage, which owns both Buildium and PropertyWare has made real efforts to develop open APIs, and while there is still a long way to go, the effort alone should carry significant weight in any platform evaluation.

Additional Technologies & Services

Once you choose a property management system, you will likely want to supplement it with a number of third party solutions that offer specific solutions better than the out of the box platform solution. Here is a list of a few of our favorites:

We will be updating this article from time to time with the latest and greatest. And let us know if you think we missed any solutions that deserve tobe added to the list.

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About Elara

Elara is a full-service, technology-powered property management solution that handles acquisitions, renovations, ongoing management, and strategic disposition of residential rentals. With a combination of data-driven decision-making and world-class operating experience, we deliver efficiency and quality at scale to help you get more out of every home. Schedule a meeting with our team.