Let’s talk about automated property management.
First, a question: How much is your time worth? You can’t be everywhere at once, and yet it can feel like that’s what your residents and investors need from you. The management puzzle becomes even harder for single-family rentals (SFRs) since properties tend to be scattered all over the place.
Okay, but hold on – we’ve seen property managers who seem to have exciting lives outside of the business, while having a strong reputation in the business! We’ve asked them how they do it – and almost always, at least part of their answer is: automate.
Automation has transformed every industry, and property management is no exception. There’s so much communication and activity in property management, which makes it both difficult and rewarding to create systems and efficiency. So we’ve been asking about the best tools to automate property management and ease your daily grind.
What does property management automation look like?
Automation might make us think of manufacturing lines or robots, but in the modern workplace, automation is simply a catch-all term for tech tools that can instantly streamline your work process. Automation tools handle repetitive, time-consuming tasks, speeding up the workflow process, creating fewer mistakes, and freeing us up to do more valuable work.
Without automation, we find ourselves losing time with busy work like:
- Manually entering data
- Writing and sending emails
- Phone calls and followup
- Keeping track of to-do lists
- Fixing mistakes in spreadsheets or other work
- Reminding team members how to do tasks
Think about the last month where you took the same action repeatedly – or saw the same situation and made the same decision – or got the same question and shared the same information. If a task is easily duplicated and policy/rule-based, automation is coming for it.
Step 1: Map out your standard process
Professional property managers don’t just manage property; they manage projects and processes. PMs who have successfully scaled their business first standardize all their contracts and operating procedures. From there, they automate core processes that can apply to every property.
Property management's most repetitive tasks fit into a few core categories. These include:
- Lease Agreements: Signing (Move-In) and Ending (Move-Out)
- Lease Renewal
- New Property Checklist
- Property Maintenance Checklist
For those who haven’t started using automation, leasing and maintenance are the two categories that typically take up the most time, activity, and communication.
Step 2: Identify which processes property management software can automate for you
Here are a few of the most common areas where PMs are standardizing and applying automation tools:
- Rent collection: Online rent payments can automate reminders to tenants, reduce errors, and increase on-time payments to collect rent without creating any additional work for the PM.
- Property inspections: Using an automated checklist on a handheld device can help you stay mobile and get inspections done in less time. Automation can instantly generate reports, so you don’t have to worry about returning to the office and entering all that data.
- Maintenance requests: A 24/7 maintenance portal means you don’t have to take calls every time they come in, and you can quickly and easily triage maintenance requests.
- Accounting and bookkeeping: Bookkeeping was one of the first areas of automation when computers entered the scene. It's hard to find a professional property management business that doesn't use property accounting software.
- Digitizing paperwork: Property managers are always on-the-go. Digitizing records and process management is a game-changer.
- Managing new accounts: With integrations, you can add new properties, trigger automatic processes, and reduce vacancies more quickly. For example, after entering a new property in your CRM, an automation can launch a new property checklist and notify your whole team.
- Communication: Email is the most common form of communication, and yes, it is automation. Some PMs are using even more streamlined workflow communication like Slack, Leadsimple, or HelpScout.
Automation can feel alarming to some at first, but the best property managers are embracing it. They’re quick to do the hard work of developing policies, documenting the process, and then using tools to systemize their expertise and automate the work. The result is more reliable and likely less expensive than people doing it.
The best “no-code” tools to automate your property management
After identifying the processes you want to automate, the next step is to adopt the best tools available to property managers. We’re seeing buzz from PMs across the industry using automation tools at every stage of their operations.
One of the more visible examples out there is Peter Lohmann, CEO of RL Property Management. He has outlined several no-code tools that he uses to automate his property management business. No-code tools are easy for anyone, and most can “talk” to other software through APIs.
Here are some of the tools we like the best and how Lohmann has used them for his PMC:
- LeadSimple: LeadSimple is a sales and operations CRM geared towards property and real estate management. You can approve a rental application in the CRM and trigger other automations like emails, checklists, and more. LeadSimple recently added workflow automation and an inbox product that works like a ticketing system.
- Zapier: Zapier is a workflow automation app that connects all your other apps. For example, when you mark a new property in your CRM, it can “zap” your checklist software to start a “New Property Checklist.”
- Process Street: Process Street is an automated checklist software that gets your entire team on the same page. You can assign management tasks, mark priorities and completions, schedule, and more. It also has email templates that can be automatically populated from your CRM.
- Slack: We all know Slack. Slack is the communications app that puts your whole team in one place, sets up groups, streamlines topics, and more. Zapier can automatically send notifications through Slack about new accounts and assignments.
- Mailchimp: MailChimp automates and sends professional emails. Through integrations, you can connect it with your CRM and other automations, so emails are automatically populated and triggered at the right time.
- Airtable: Lohmann explains that he has transitioned all non-financial data from their legacy system (Buildium) into Airtable, where they have control of it and can connect it to other tools.
How automation benefits property managers, investors, and residents
Why use any of these tools? The more processes you can standardize and automate, the more quickly and accurately you can get tasks done without hiring additional staff. The benefit is that you can grow and scale your property management company while keeping costs and pricing down.
Doing more without adding cost is a win for you, your investor, and your residents. We recently spoke about Property Management Automation for Owners with Pete Neubig, Co-Founder and CEO of VPM Solutions. According to Neubig:
“For the triple win: You have better communication and things are getting done more efficiently for your resident, so they're happier. If the resident is happy, they will most likely re-sign the lease, which obviously is a win for the owner. And [it’s a win] for the property management company, because now we're making more money because we're…reducing churn and capturing some opportunities to make more revenue.”
How 1,000+ professional management companies create Triple Win experiences
Automation sets professional property managers apart. As automation is adopted across the industry, professional PMs are more likely to build the right systems and put together the right tools faster than people who aren’t as motivated or skilled. And as we improve functionality through automation, it creates an opportunity to do the most valuable work – creating new and differentiated experiences that aren’t so easily duplicated or automated.
After all, you can automate a good process or a bad process. Making something efficient is not necessarily the same thing as making it effective. That's why it matters to start with defining your experience and your outcome and getting clear on business policy and guidelines for decision-making. Then the right systems can do the critical work to execute those visions and decisions.
At Second Nature, we believe in the power of innovation, and we see it every day in property managers around the country. Our tools, like the Resident Benefits Package, aim to bring more ease and automation to your work processes so you can get out there and grow your business. Learn more about our benefits and tools at rbp.secondnature.com.