Leveraging Web Technology to Streamline Property Management : As improvements in web technology and browser innovations advance web applications from online brochures to rich interactive programs, it is important to consider how their eventual takeover of traditional desktop applications can improve business methods. An efficient business spends more time increasing profit and less time handling customer support issues. In the property management profession, this is especially true. Issues such as a broken dishwasher, a misplaced key, or a dispute over property damage charges often deeply involve more than one party, it is more imperative than ever to have a cost-effective method of communication that simultaneously leverages your staff, and requires as little maintenance as possible.
Why A Web Application?
I came across an interesting problem when I began my property investment business a few years back. I had purchased a few fixer-uppers, restored them, and rented them out. For the most part, things were fine (minus a few issues that arose here and there). I kept a copy of all the finances with Quickbooks, organized each tenant’s records into folders, dealt with property issues as they came along, and ran a report with an excel spreadsheet. In fact, things were going well enough that it prompted me to ask my aunt (a real estate agent and property manager) about starting my own property management business. It seemed simple enough; the volume of records would increase, and the accounting involved a few more zeroes, but that’s why we have computers, isn’t it?
To my surprise, she advised against it. Property management was a daunting task for her company, and she had a staff of 6 people working under her (they originally only engaged in real estate buying/selling; the occasional property management duties geared on the side to pick up more business). She handled about 30 properties for some clients and a few family members. I was skeptical at first, seeing as how they utilized the exact same tools as I, only they understandably had more of them: the latest version of Quickbooks, large filing cabinets, several powerful Dell computers networked on a company server (using a networked Excel spreadsheet to keep track of issues as they came along). Perhaps her company wasn’t using the correct tools, I thought. I then contacted Darryl, an old client of mine who trains about 700 property management agencies and individuals (though the training is primarily concerning how to comply with California landlord laws). To my shock, he told me that his clients use Quickbooks, a large filing cabinet and a computer server with a networked Excel spreadsheet! At that moment, I concluded the answer lies in a web application.
I used to be a server administrator with experience in developing Content Management Systems for legal and medical firms. Surely, the same advantages would carry over to resolving property management issues?
Web applications are inherently networked. Everyone sees the same problem at the same time. When you have a central communication system delegating messages from one user to another, it resolves one of the biggest communication headaches any business has to deal with.
Web programming technology has also made possible rich internet applications whose functionality far exceeds the capabilities of a networked Excel spreadsheet. You can designate permissions to each user; you can implement custom data exchange; you can make data entered by one user interact with data from another user; and you can make that data react to each user differently. But perhaps the most overlooked advantage is that you drastically reduce the amount of time you spend on the phone with customers!
For example, let’s say the tenant has a problem with the sink. You create a portal account for them, allowing them to report the problem directly from their computer or smart-phone, and that information gets logged into a central list of workorders to be completed. One of your staff views the problem, adds a note to it, and then contacts the contractor. The contractor arrives on-site, checks the workorder with his laptop/smart-phone, adds his own notes, all the while another staff member views the update, and adds their own notes. The contractor takes a few photos, creates an invoice, documents the issue, and the tenant can see the workorder’s history immediately.
A communication system like this, coupled with a bill manager, an audit trail, a report generator, a dispute archive, a photo log, and a quick way to instantly back up everything into one convenient file sounds like just what my aunt and Darryl needed. Not only could they could access the control panel anywhere, they also didn’t need to install any software since the application is entirely web-based. Any changes made to the application take effect immediately for every user accessing it. You can imagine how much time this would save for a property management firm with a staff of twenty-five, handling over 1000 properties.
Of course, one can never entirely take out the human element of the equation. A few phone calls here or there will no doubt be inevitable, but I believe that even in such cases, a network-based property management communication system would greatly expedite resolution with far greater efficiency than 10 file bins, 20 different copies of Quickbooks sitting on 20 different networked computers trying to fumble with an Excel spreadsheet.
I quickly got to work and presented my solution to them. They are all currently using it with great joy, as are their tenants, property owners, and myself included. It’s been so well-received that I decided to publicize the principles behind its virtues, not to mention the web application itself.