That’s a great point: An easy-to-use, online interface for residents is gradually becoming the industry standard – especially for multi-family units. It’s only a matter of time until the same features become routinely available to tenants who are renting individual houses.
As with most things (investment results excluded), past is generally prelude. The property managers most likely to be able to provide this service for your tenants are the ones who already have a track record of doing it. I’d take a look at some neighboring properties and have the reps show you around the tenant portal.
The resident portal software is going to be a different thing than the property managements’ public website.
A management company can have a very slick website without having anything in place to handle tenant issues via the Web at all.
Unless you own a big property with a lot of units, I would definitely avoid any firm that would have to reinvent the wheel in order to develop a website portal for your clients from scratch. It is impossible for them to do this as efficiently as a firm that can simply add your property to its existing architecture. The only way it would make sense is if web development costs were a relatively small fraction of the overall revenue the property management firm stands to receive. Economies of scale are a powerful thing.
This is especially important when you are taking a company outside of its core competencies. Some companies are excellent at web development, and even have their own programmers on staff, or have a very close, working relationship with a web developer who will create your portal quickly, and follow-through to make sure it works.
These kinds of sites are not simply a matter of putting up a picture of the property and an email messaging system. You will want your website to have some significant security features in place, and have the capability of handling large financial transactions, encrypted, under a secure login. You will also need the back-end technology to ensure that online rent payments are transferred to your business account in a timely and cost-efficient manner. You’ll also need a messaging system that creates an alert for you and the manager whenever there are maintenance requests added through the system.
You’ll also want a site that you can make changes to easily, and have the capability to add and delete accounts and possibly freeze or enable online payments from certain accounts and not from others.
The system should also automatically update your tenants’ ledgers when you receive payment, whether online or manually. The updates should go to the same accounting system. Which means there are going to be compatibility issues. Your online portal should tie seamlessly into the overall financial management program. Quality programming and site development for these kinds of applications doesn’t come cheap – and your nephew or niece who does web design on the side for extra money and even some professional web designers may not understand what they are getting into.
The best way to find property managers who provide this service is to ask around your neighborhood. Your zip code places you in Manhattan, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find people who rent, and they can tell you about their online experiences. Now, that said, there ARE some very good “off-the-shelf” software programs you can buy – and property management firms can buy like Buildium.
Since you are hiring a property management firm, rather than trying to choose a software system for your property management firm to use, I’d concentrate on the former, rather than the latter. If you have the right manager, the software won’t matter. If you have the wrong property manager, the perfect software won’t make much of a difference.
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, Jason Van Steenwyk started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.