10 Types of Property Management Software: Which Is Right for You?

Posted by Andrea Drennen, CMCA on May 16, 2018

If you are shopping for software to help you manage your portfolio of Condos and HOAs, the range of options available to you can be overwhelming. We help you make sense of the many types of Property Management software and how they work for community association management.

I sometimes feel Community Association Management (CAM) is one of the last great frontiers of business:

  • It's a small niche (Condos, HOAs and Co-ops) of a market segment (Property Management) of a larger industry (Real Estate).

  • Community Association Management is both organized (Management Companies) and distributed (Self-Managed Associations).

  • The industry as a whole packs a real wallop when it comes to the monies it controls (other people's money), and yet communities and management companies alike are often struggling to make ends meet.

  • Regulation for the industry is like the Wild West, where every state has their own laws, and the associations themselves are governed by a complicated set of rules, often wildly different from their counterparts. 

  • The industry, though highly specialized, is difficult for big business and government to pin down - Florida licenses community association managers with the same organization licensing barbers and cosmetologists. In business, SIC codes, which classify subsets of industries, don't even exist for community associations, much less management companies.

  • Even pinning down what kind of organization a community association is can be fraught with confusion (Is it a small government? A B2B? A service organization? A trade organization?)

It's no wonder that those of us serving this industry have difficulty explaining to friends and family exactly what it is that we do.

The software products that serve this industry are no less confused and confusing. A quick search on Google for Community Association Management Software will serve thousands of organizations vying for your business, few of which bear any resemblance to the others.

As a company that has been creating software solutions for this industry for more than 30 years, we have noted that the gap between the different kinds of available products grows wider every year. And with more companies entering the space to get a piece of the larger pie, we don't foresee these identity problems going away any time soon.

So in this article we will attempt to classify all of the different options that are available to you, and perhaps make your decision making process a bit easier...

Community Association Management...Or Is It?

Contrary to popular belief, not all Condo and HOA Software is created equal. In fact, there can be major differences between products which are billing themselves as community association management software, and yet each option offers wildly different feature sets.

So, let's break it down (the names I am using here are completely made up to provide a way of differentiating the options):

1. Back-Office CAM Software

The most comprehensive option for CAM software is a back-office CAM software. All in One applications like these incorporate the three major aspects of community association management: Accounting, Management, and CRM (customer relationship management).

The CRM piece manages your residents - tracking a full history of every property, communications and contact information, etc. The Management side allows you to perform necessary management functions such as tracking requests, assigning work orders to vendors, deed enforcement, architectural review and maintenance. The last (and most comprehensive) piece is the Accounting, which should accommodate all the unique properties of CAM accounting, including comprehensive budget tools, assessment and collection control and fund accounting.

While a Back-Office Community Association Management Software may also include other front-end features, such as owner portals, online payments, etc. At it's heart, it is a platform to serve your back-office (accountants, admins and managers), pulling all the many varied aspects of community management together so that your team doesn't have to maintain information on 2 or more disparate systems, causing duplication of efforts, slowdowns, inefficiencies and errors.

Verdict: BEST VALUE for Community Association Management


2. CA Management Software

Many of the companies on the market today selling "CAM software" actually fall into this category. A good management software will focus on serving the needs of community association managers with features like enforcement and maintenance, but also meeting management tools and communications platforms. Typically, a CA Management Software will focus on one thing it does particularly well, such as violation management, or facility management.

If you can afford multiple systems, look for CA Management Software apps that plug-in to your Back-Office CAM Software. These programs often sync together so you can gain the advantage of the thing the management software does really well without the need to duplicate your efforts in the accounting software, and suffer the consequences of data silos.

Verdict: Community Association Management without the accounting
               Look for one that plugs in to your Back Office CAM


3. Web Portal CAM Software

In our modern society, a website is essential for prospective and current homeowners and board members to have access to their community information. Web Portal CAM Software provides a front-end website as well as a back-end portal that allows homeowners and board members to log in and download important documents, pay their assessments, etc. Web portals are an excellent communications tool as well, often offering additional methods to reach out to homeowners such as mass email and SMS text messaging.

While a Web Portal may have some overlap with both Back-Office CAM and CA Management software, they are typically not used stand-alone, but rather in conjunction with one or more of the above. This is because web portals generally do not have any accounting functionality, and their management functionality is typically limited to the front-end functions that residents would access. Most Web Portal CAM Software apps offer integration with a back-office CAM to avoid the need for duplicate entry between the two systems.

Verdict: Community Association Websites with few back office functions.
              Look for one that plugs in to your Back Office CAM


Big Brother... Property Management Software

Like the market segment itself, Property Management Software, (also Property Management System) or PMS is really a larger term that encompasses many kinds of different industry segments. However, there are some commonalities among PMS applications, for example, they almost always provide features to handle rentals. Let's see the different options:

4. Commercial PMS

Commercial refers to business rentals, such as office parks and building complexes, shopping malls and retail strips. While there are software apps designed exclusively for commercial properties, many of the available products simply incorporate commercial options into their generic rental property management software.

Verdict: NOT for Community Association Management


5. Multifamily PMS

When you see a product billed simply as property management software, multifamily is almost exclusively what they mean. Multifamily refers to the management of apartment buildings, student housing, government assisted housing, and more. It is the largest growing sector of Real Estate today, and for software products, it's where the money is. Multifamily PMS software is often cross-functional with Commercial and/or Landlord support. Typical features include rent rolls, marketing to help fill empty units, unit inspection management, move-in & move-out and more.

Community Association Management companies may choose to use a Multifamily PMS, particularly if their portfolio includes both community associations and rental properties. However, you should beware that a product designed for rental accounting is not going to fit your accounting methods like a glove. Fund Accounting, reserve studies, and balance forward accounting are not features a Multifamily PMS has perfected.

Verdict: Works for Management Companies with Varied Portfolios, but may be too generic for community associations


6. Landlord PMS

On the opposite spectrum of Multifamily is the landlord. These are typically individual investors trying to rent out their properties, either directly, or through a property manager. Functionally, the only difference between a Multifamily PMS and a Landlord PMS is the size of the client, and the amount of money they are passing through the system. However, lately there has been a growing demand for a short term rental management solution for investors that are buying property exclusively to rent it out on Airbnb and other short term rental sites. I expect to see a growing segment of the Landlord PMS (possibly called Short Term Rental PMS?) in the future.

Because of the smaller client size, Landlord PMS's tend to be cheaper, or less feature-rich than the larger multi-family software. But most multifamily applications are easily adapted to serve landlords, so there is an obvious path for advancement. This type of software might be a good option for smaller, self-managed associations that likewise do not have big IT budgets to blow. However, Management Companies would do well to keep looking for a product that better meets their specific needs.

Verdict: Cheap option for self-managed communities but not well suited to larger organizations or management companies


7. Hospitality PMS

Also sometimes called Hotel PMS, this kind of software is designed to manage the short term rentals that are most often employed by hotels. Specialty features include check-in and check-out management, reservations, occupancy, work order assignments (for cleaning and maintenance services) Unlike the other options in this category, Hospitality PMS systems are typically stand-alone, and not cross functional with other property management software categories.

Verdict: NOT for Community Association Management


Sounds Like... the Red Flags

Finally, we have the red flags - these are the software products that seem like they might be good for managing condo associations and HOAs but are, in fact, designed for other industries:

8. Community Management Software 

While the title sounds right, community often refers to an online community, such as Facebook groups and Salesforce customer communities. A community management software (CMS) allows the community manager to control online access to the community, manage communications, create reward or incentive programs, and moderate user generated community content.

Verdict: NOT for Community Association Management


9. Association Management Software

This title also sounds like it should work for you, but association management software is typically designed for managing clubs and voluntary associations, such as The Sierra Club, or the NRA. Association Management Software (AMS) allows associations to track membership, fundraising, dues and more. While it is conceivable that a community association could use an AMS, the application is not designed for the unique needs of community association management, and would likely be difficult to meet all the needs of your stakeholders.

Verdict: NOT for Community Association Management (but you could shoehorn it if you HAD to)


10. Membership Management Software

Like AMS, Membership Management Software (MMS) is geared to clubs, social groups and other voluntary associations. With similar features to an AMS, MMS is often targeted to smaller organizations such as local social clubs, and has fewer feature options.

Verdict: NOT for Community Association Management


So there you have it – all of the many and varied software application types that will come up when you Google “Community Association Management Software.” Do you agree with all of these classifications? Have you encountered a different type of software out there? Let us know in the comments below!

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