The Best Property Management Software
The best property management software allows you to collect rent, manage maintenance requests, and generate vacancy listings — all on an interface that is intuitive and responsive. After interviewing property managers and landlords across the country to learn their list of must-have features, we found 15 software programs that met these requirements. Then we tested each one for ease of use and customer service to find stand-out programs for every size company.
Easy to use from the second you sign up, and the most cost effective option for under 200 units.
Just as intuitive as Buildium with additional mobile functionality, and a better value if you're managing over 200 properties.
A reliable free option with a minimalist design for properties with fewer than 75 units.
- January 23, 2018 - For this update, we've re-structured and condensed our methodology for clarity. We will be returning to this review in the coming months to revisit our top picks and conduct further testing.
The Best Property Management Software
It doesn’t matter if you’re renting out a single home or in charge of thousands of commercial units — managing a property requires you to be a salesperson, a handyman, an accountant, and a diplomat, all at the same time. And while software may not be able to help you with the diplomat part (it’s not going to help you negotiate those damage deposit returns), the best property management software make the rest a lot easier by putting every tool you need into one program.
Buildium and AppFolio both met our expectations feature-for-feature. They combine rent-collection tools, maintenance-request systems, robust accounting and reporting, and even marketing systems into one complete package. Better yet, both are simple to set up and use right out of the box — no major learning curve necessary. AppFolio’s only leg up is on mobile: It’s the only property management software we tested that has a mobile-responsive interface with full functionality, which means you can take all of your property management tasks with you wherever you go. Buildium’s app can only handle basic tasks, like managing work orders and manually entering payments.
Beyond mobile, the biggest difference between the two is cost. Because of their monthly minimum fees, AppFolio becomes more cost-effective than Buildium once you surpass 200 units. For that reason, we recommend AppFolio for commercial properties (more than 200 units) and Buildium for residential (fewer than 200 units), although at the software level, there’s really no difference between commercial and residential property management.
If you only manage a few dozen units, though, check out TenantCloud. It’s totally free to use for up to 75 units and has a surprisingly strong set of features that compare to both our other top picks.
How We Found the Best Property Management Software
We scouted out must-have features from property managers and landlords.
We started our search for the best property management software with a wide lens, looking at software tailored to residential and commercial properties, for managers of hundreds of units as well as part-time landlords. We preferred SaaS systems to desktop-only options, meaning that the software is managed by a third-party vendor — faster to implement and less maintenance in the long run. We also skipped over niche software programs like those designed for vacation rentals, which requires the managing of new tenants every week.
With our baseline criteria set, we interviewed property managers and landlords to find out which tools they use and which tasks keep them busy every day. We learned that there are a handful of must-have features for any property management software:
Collecting rent online. Almost all property management sites let you manually record and view rent payments, but the best ones enable and assist with every step of rent collection: processing rent payments online, recording payment status and history by tenant and unit, and automatically incorporating information about each payment into the site’s accounting features. Although we couldn’t actually make payments through the sites we tested without registering bank accounts, we went through every other step in the rent-paying process to ensure total functionality.
Managing maintenance requests. Most property management software programs will allow you to manually record work orders, but to be one of our top picks, a site had to: a) let tenants request work orders online, b) let property managers assign work orders to maintenance workers, and c) let everyone involved track the process. We also favored software that let you pay workers online and, ideally, let you record that payment automatically and accurately for accounting purposes. To test our top picks, we made fake accounts for tenants and vendors to recreate this process from start to finish.
Bringing in new tenants. There’s no point in owning or managing property if there’s no one to occupy it, so we also looked at how different sites let you advertise vacancies online. Can you generate a listing for a given unit or property with the click of a button? Can you easily publish that listing on Zillow, Trulia, and other real-estate sites? Can you screen and manage prospective tenants? The best property management software programs can answer yes to all these questions.
We also assessed each software’s bookkeeping capabilities.
In addition to condensing all your tasks into one place, property management software should let you accurately keep your books, generate reports, and store your important documents. Here’s what we looked for in each of our top contenders:
Accounting. We wanted to find property management software that could take care of all your accounting needs — no QuickBooks or other accounting software required. All property management software lets you manually enter information about income and payments, but the best goes beyond a simple ledger and lets you receive and make payments online, code transactions for tax purposes, and perform bank reconciliations. It should also automate as much of that accounting work as possible.
Reporting. According to Jan Winters, an assistant commercial manager in Chicago, “Reporting out on financials is one of the tasks that commercial property managers spend the most time doing.” Budget reports, forecasting reports, delinquency reports, work-order reports, occupancy reports — your software should be able to quickly and easily answer any question that anyone might have about any aspect of the property you’re managing.
Document management. In addition to reports, we wanted to be able to easily create, store, and search other documents and files like leases, eviction notices, and vendor lists. If a site let us upload and store files according to tenant and unit, that was good. If it provided templates we could populate with specific information — for example, filling in a generic lease with details about a unit, a tenant, rent, and late fees — even better. To get a full five out of five points, the software had to offer all that and a search feature, so that a user can still, say, find a certain lease even if they forgot which unit or tenant it belonged to.
123Landlord, AppFolio Property Manager, Buildium, Cozy, GreenHouse PM, Property Boulevard, Property Manager Cloud, PropertyBoss, Rentec Direct, Rent Manager, Rentpost, Smart Property Systems, TenantCloud, Total Management, Yardi Voyager Residential
After narrowing down our pool of contenders to 15 based on these requirements, we hand-tested each one to see which are easiest to navigate, offer stellar customer service, and increase functionality with features like mobile apps. Three software programs stood out for their ability to make life easier for landlords — one for residential property management, one for commercial, and one for properties with fewer than 75 tenants.
Our Picks for the Best Property Management Software
Best for Mid-Sized Properties
Buildium has all the comprehensive functionality we looked for, including online rent collection; online work orders; and strong tools for creating, storing, and sharing reports and other documents. It also has excellent vacancy-advertising and tenant-screening capabilities. But what especially drew us to Buildium is its intuitive interface. When we began testing it, we realized: This is what “easy to use means.”
No matter how hard your work is, Buildium’s workflow is always one step ahead. There’s even an “Upcoming Tasks” list on the dashboard that gathers together your various tasks for each week and funnels them all into one place. After using it, we wondered why the feature didn’t come standard on more property management software programs.
If you do happen to get confused while using the program, Buildium offers plenty of resources to help you figure things out. Its help center provides detailed instructions and how-to videos, and the company’s customer support is impeccable. Most sites responded to our emails within a few hours, but we were only able to get through to about half of them on the phone on the first try. Buildium got full marks on both counts. It even followed up on our ticket after it had been resolved to see if we needed any more assistance, something no other service did.
Like our other top pick, AppFolio, Buildium has a mobile app that lets you do some important tasks, like managing work orders and manually entering payments. Unlike AppFolio, however, the site itself isn’t mobile-responsive, and you will lose out on a lot of functionality if you’re on the go. Even so, it’s probably enough for most property managers, especially if your business is smaller-scale. However, if you’re handling a larger volume of units (or often in-transit and need full mobile functionality), AppFolio is going to be the better buy.
Another reason? Minimum fees. Buildium’s monthly minimum fee is as low as $45 for 20 units, which seems like a steal considering AppFolio’s lowest is $250. But Buildium’s pricing structure is tiered, meaning you’ll pay more than $45 per month depending on how many units you’re overseeing. It only remains cheaper than AppFolio until the 200-unit level.
Best for Large Properties
Like Buildium, AppFolio covers all the bases of a property management software. You can collect rent from your tenants and pay vendors online; tenants can make maintenance requests, which you can then assign to maintenance workers and track each step of the way; and AppFolio’s accounting features will also let you go far beyond a simple money-in/money-out ledger. In addition, you can generate an astounding variety of reports and other documents, list vacancies across all the industry-standard real-estate sites, and manage prospective tenants without ever handling a single piece of paper.
And you can do all of that for $1.25 per unit per month. Provided you have enough units to cover the $250 monthly minimum fee (and don’t mind the $400+ onboarding fee, which is absent from Buildium), that’s a screaming deal.
What really makes AppFolio stand out is its mobility. You’re not always sitting in front of your computer as a property manager; sometimes you’re out, checking on construction projects, inspecting different properties, or responding to after-hours emergencies. Being able to use your software anytime, anywhere, is a big deal. A few other property management sites, like Buildium and Rent Manager, have apps that let you perform basic functions from a mobile device, but AppFolio’s entire platform is mobile-responsive. You have all of its considerable functionality at your fingertips, no matter where you are — and it’s the only property management software that does this.
The inspections feature, an especially impressive mobile capability, lets you upload pictures from your phone’s camera and take verbal notes with a speech-to-text tool. Even the most old-school, least tech-savvy contractors can easily use it while performing an inspection. Then property managers get instant, paperless access to all the data those contractors input.
We didn’t get to do as extensive hands-on testing with AppFolio as we did with our other contenders, though the company gave us a very thorough demo (an hour and a half) and let us remotely control a rep’s desktop. While we can say confidently that it’s intuitively designed and its features are strong, we can’t speak to AppFolio’s responsiveness to, say, a support ticket or other customer service queries.
Best for Small Properties
TenantCloud skirts the bad reputation of free property management sites by offering all the functionality of our other top picks (and sometimes more!). Online maintenance requests, vacancy listings, and rent collection are as good on TenantCloud as it is anywhere else (two roommates can even pay their individual shares of rent independently of each other).
Comparing prospective tenants is actually easier than on most paid software, due to the site’s exceptionally intuitive design. Minimalist visuals, pleasing colors — TenantCloud is actually kind of fun to use (and we dig that cute little cloud icon.) And did we mention it’s free for up to 75 units? If you’re just managing a property or two on your own, TenantCloud is a fantastic option.
Its customer service is not on the same level as the rest of our top picks; there’s no option to reach the company by phone, and its response to our emailed question wasn’t very thorough (and ended with a bizarrely punctuated “Thank’s”). TenantCloud’s accounting and reporting features aren’t as comprehensive as our other top picks, either. Accounting is limited to a basic money in vs. money out model, and there are only seven types of reports offered (compared to dozens on Buildium and AppFolio). But if you only manage a few units, these basic functions will get the job done.
Other Property Management Software to Consider
Rent Manager has, for all intents and purposes, just as much functionality as our top picks. It’s also the most customizable property management software on the market. You can tailor everything to your individual needs, down to what icons appear in your menus and what choices are available in your drop-down menus. In fact, Rent Manager actually runs its business using a very customized version of its own software.
Rent Manager charges $75 per user per month (most companies charge by the rental unit), so if your property management firm has relatively few employees handling a relatively large number of units, it could also be the most economic choice.
However, Rent Manager didn’t quite make it as our top pick because it’s simply not as easy to use as Buildium and AppFolio. It’s remote-desktop-based, rather than browser-based, which can make it a little laggy if your WiFi is bad or if you’re using a Mac. And the design is more overwhelming than intuitive — there’s a tricky learning curve when you first start using it (though they do everything they can to ease your transition, including a virtual training course called Rent Manager University).
Total Management doesn’t look as sleek and shiny as some of the other sites we visited, but don’t let the outdated aesthetics fool you. Total Management handily beat most of the rest of the competition. It also has some extra goodies we didn’t see even on AppFolio or Buildium, like a call log (so you can track phone calls to your office) and a package wizard (so tenants can pick up their Amazon deliveries). It’s also cheap, ringing in at $1 per unit per month with a $75 monthly minimum.
Like Rent Manager, however, Total Management has a noticeable learning curve. Because of its Windows 98 vibe, it’s harder to navigate than our top picks. The ability to open multiple windows at once introduces visual clutter, though it is a good multitasking tool — once you get used to it. As if it understands the navigational challenges of its site, Total Management (like Rent Manager and AppFolio) provides webinar-style training in addition to the tutorials available on the website so you can get over that learning curve as quickly as possible.
Did You Know?
Online rent collection and tenant screenings almost always cost extra.
Virtually every property management software, including our favorites, charges extra for two features: collecting rent online and conducting background/credit checks on prospective tenants. The extra money is to pay the third-party companies they usually rely on to perform these tasks, like Dwolla and Rent Payment for rent collection, or TransUnion SmartMove and Experian for background checks. You’ll typically spend between $0.50 and $15 per use to take advantage of these features. Buildium charges that exactly; AppFolio’s online rent payments are included, but it charges $10 to $15 per tenant screen. If you don’t want to absorb that cost, you can always pass it along to your tenants by raising rent or your application fee by a small amount.
Although it costs extra money, collecting rent online has advantages. It saves you time and effort, and, as Landlordology phrases it, “eliminates the factor of human error — i.e., tenants ‘forgetting’ to pay their rent.”
Property management software has a complicated relationship with mobile.
“There is a lot of important functionality that absolutely needs to work,” says Paul Belmore, a property management associate in Lynnwood, Washington. “And because of that, the vendors are very slow to upgrade their systems, as nobody can afford any downtime.”
Some companies offer a sort of mobile supplement that lets you perform a few key features through an app. Buildium, for example, allows you to manage work orders and manually enter payments. Other companies offer no mobile capabilities at all — which is surprising, given all 15 software programs we looked at were cloud-based SaaS products. Right now, AppFolio is the only property management software with truly mobile capabilities.