The Best Property Management Software
"The most important job of a property manager is to keep the tenants happy," one property management associate we interviewed said — and that starts with getting the right technology in place. So we set out to find the best property management software, hand-testing 15 out of a pool of over 50 before landing on a handful that combined the right features with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.
The ability to collect rent online, including processing payments and syncing with accounting features.
Systems to manage maintanence requests, including creating work orders and tracking progress.
Easy ways to generate vacancy listings and screen applicants.
Robust bookkeeping, from accounting to reporting to document management.
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 property management 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 ones make the rest a lot easier by putting every tool you need into one seamless 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, intuitive package. Better yet, both are really easy 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 as soon as you crest 200 units. That volume of units is the reason we recommend AppFolio for commercial and Buildium for residential, although at the software level, there’s really no difference between commercial and residential property management: AppFolio would be a great choice if you manage hundreds of apartments, and Buildim would likely still be your best bet if you managed fewer than 200 commercial properties. You really can’t go wrong with either.
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 — no glorified rent-payment portal here.
Our Picks for the Best Property Management Software
We started with a pretty wide lens, looking at software tailored to residential and commercial properties; for managers of hundreds of units as well as part-time landlords. (We skipped over the niche software — vacation rentals require software that can manage new tenants every week, for example — and preferred SaaS systems to desktop-only options.)
From there our task was simple: Figure out what property management software had the right features, and then see which were the easiest to use.
So we interviewed property managers and landlords across the country on the tools they use and the tasks that keep them busy every day. We learned there are a handful of must-haves: the ability to easily collect rent, manage maintenance requests, and advertise to new tenants, as well as robust accounting, reporting, and document management. We found 15 that met our features requirements; from there we tested each one for ease of use and customer service.
AppFolio Property Manager
Property Manager Cloud
Smart Property Systems
Yardi Voyager Residential
Buildium has all the comprehensive functionality we were looking for, including: online rent collection; online work orders; and strong tools for creating, storing, and sharing reports and other documents — as well as accounting features that go beyond a simple ledger. It also has excellent vacancy-advertising and tenant-screening capabilities.
But what especially drew us to Buildium is just how easy it is to use. As we moved through our contenders, spending hours hand-testing the functionality of each program, we thought we considered programs like 123Landlord and Property Manager Cloud pretty easy to use. We could generally figure out how to do the things we wanted to do, even if it was sometimes a little frustrating or time-consuming.
Then we got to Buildium and realized: This is what “easy to use” means.
No matter how hard your work is, Buildium’s workflow is always easy. There’s even an “Upcoming Tasks” list on the dashboard that gathers together the various things you need to do each week and funnels it all into one place.
After using it, we wondered why the feature didn’t come standard on more property management software programs. Buildium is like Hercules; it has figured out a way to slay the many-headed hydra that is property management.
If you do happen to get confused while using Buildium, you have 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 — in fact, it’s one of only two sites we tested that got a perfect score on our customer-support rubric. (The other was Greenhouse PM, which didn’t have enough functionality to make it into our top picks, but miraculously responded to our email query within a few hours, even though we sent it at 3:00 a.m.) 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.
Buildium’s prices increase the more units you manage.
The biggest reason: minimum fees. Buildium’s monthly minimum fee — the amount you have to pay each month to use it — goes as low as $45 for 20 units, which is pretty great 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 remains cheaper than AppFolio until the 200-unit level.
Like Buildium, AppFolio lets you do everything you could ask for from a piece of 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. (You can actually generate 1099-MISC forms for vendors at the end of the year and differentiate between cash basis and accrual basis.) 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), that’s a screaming deal.
What really makes AppFolio stand out is its mobility. As a property manager, you’re not always sitting in front of your computer. 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, whether you’re on your computer or your phone, 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 — 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 — and 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. The company gave us a very thorough demo (an hour and a half) and let us remotely control a rep’s desktop, but we didn’t get to really dive in over several days. So 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.
When we first started our research, we considered not even including free software because we assumed they just wouldn’t have the functionality to compete. And it’s true that many free property management sites are basically just glorified rent-collection or applicant-screening portals. But we were pleasantly surprised to discover that TenantCloud, which is free for up to 75 units, offers almost everything we wanted and for absolutely nothing.
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 are not 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.
Rent collection is as good on TenantCloud as it is anywhere else (two roommates can even pay their individual shares of rent independently of each other), and online maintenance requests run smoothly. As with our other top picks, you can list vacancies easily, both on a custom site and across Zillow, Trulia, and other real-estate websites. 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.
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, even though its business is selling software, not managing properties.
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. 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).
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.
Total Management doesn’t look as sleek and shiny as some of the other sites we visited. In fact, it kind of reminds us of clicking around on Windows 95 machines during that brief moment in history when houses had “computer rooms.” 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).
Like Rent Manager, however, Total Management has a noticeable learning curve. The ability to open multiple windows at once seems like visual clutter at first, but once you get used to it, it actually helps you multitask. Also like Rent Manager (and AppFolio), Total Management 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, and get back to doing the property management work you need to do.
What We Looked for in the Best Property Management Software
Our most basic critera for finding the best property management software was that it should funnel all the job’s diverse tasks into one manageable, easy-to-navigate space. Mandatory features included:
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.
Buildium’s rent payment tool is clean, concise, and totally integrated.
Managing Maintenance Requests
One former property manager called the maintenance process “a pain,” and the rest agreed they spend more time dealing with work orders than they’d like to. Making one tiny repair involves many different elements, like coordinating between the tenant who needs the repair and the worker who will make it, paying the worker for labor and parts, and, oh yeah, making sure the problem actually got fixed.
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 all our top picks, we made fake accounts for tenants and vendors to recreate this process from start to finish.
TenantCloud’s maintenance request interface includes options for images, documents, and more.
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 couldn’t list units on Zillow or run credit checks on people during our testing process (it’s against the rules), but we tried everything else for ourselves — so if you’re apartment-hunting and come across a bunch of buildings with addresses like “123 Fake Residential Street,” that’s our bad.
AppFolio makes posting a new property as easy as clicking a button.
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:
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.
Buildium’s accounting interface looks a lot like its rent collection interface — and is just as robust and easy to use.
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 answer any question that anyone might have about any aspect of the property you’re managing, quickly and easily.
Check out the sheer number of AppFolio’s reporting options.
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 5 out of 5 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.
Did You Know?
Certain features 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 charges $10 to $15 per 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 real 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 we looked at were cloud-based SaaS products. We think mobile apps would be a great move for property management software: It would enable users to not only manage all their responsibilities from one hub, but also to do that anywhere, anytime, even if they were away from their computers. Right now, Appfolio is the only property management software with truly mobile capabilities.
The Bottom Line
The best property management software offers intuitive tools that allow you to easily accomplish every task associated with managing your properties — except actually dealing with your tenants. You’ll have to manage that on your own.
Take advantage of free trials when possible. Though many of their core responsibilities are the same, different property managers have different needs. Maybe you don’t care about collecting rent online, but you’re dying for a good maintenance-request system. Maybe you want to keep using QuickBooks for your accounting, but you really want a way to let prospective tenants apply online. The best way to figure out what software is best for your individual needs is to try it out for yourself.
Back up your data. You never know when your computer’s hard drive will fail or a cloud server will unexpectedly go down — it’s rare, but it happens, and you don’t want to completely lose all the information you have on properties, tenants, and accounts. That would be bad.
More Property Management Software Reviews
We’ve been digging into property management software for several years now, and have published additional reviews. However, we haven’t finished updating them to be consistent with our latest round of research. Be on the lookout for updates in the upcoming weeks.