If you’re a letting agent, estate agent, or property manager, then you’ve probably asked yourself that very question at some stage. “What is the best property management software for my letting or estate agency?”

Now, asking a software company for their opinion on the best lettings software may seem a little naive and unwise. But we’re decent folks here at Tilt Property Software, so I’ll give you an honest answer, with no sales pitch, just plain-English practical advice. It may not necessarily be our Elevate software at all.

The best property management software? It depends

The best software is the one that suits YOU best and gives YOU what YOU want.

Quite simply, as much as it sounds like a cop-out…

It depends.

On a lot of things, so you need to do your homework carefully.

  • the nature of your agency, and the type of work you do each day
  • your requirements, sorted into must-haves and nice-to-haves
  • how many properties you actively manage, and how many landlords and tenants
  • the tasks you struggle with the most, those causing you the biggest headaches
  • the number of staff, their skill levels, and appetite for technology and change
  • your available budget, both immediate and projected over a number of years
  • your personal likes and dislikes, often based on past experience

In that respect, choosing the best software for your agency is a lot like dating.

Imagine you’re single and looking for a life partner. You’ve a lot of questions to ask and answer for yourself before you make any big decisions. Make the correct decision, you’ll be happier, stronger and fit to take on the world. Make the wrong decision, either too rash or misinformed, you could regret it for a long, long time.

This practical guide to choosing the best property management software will help you cut through the noise and make a better, more informed decision.

Trust is paramount

If you’re going to get into a long-term relationship with a software service provider, you need to know you can trust them. Implicitly. You’re going to give the keys to your core business data to a vendor you don’t really know yet. So it’s vital that you do your homework.

In real-life relationships, it’s important to listen as much as you speak, maybe more so. However, when scouting the market for the best property management software for your letting or estate agency, it pays to not listen too much, and let potential candidates prove themselves to you. It’s important that get a nice warm feeling about the company you’ll be embarking on your business development journey with.

Trust is paramount

How is your data protected?

This is usually the foremost question when it comes to cloud software, and rightly so. It’s such a common question that their website should address concern this head. What if they have a data breach? How will you access the data if they go bust? What if you just want to leave? These are all valid questions, and you need robust responses.

Are they accessible?

Ask them a question, any question. Then wait to see how long it takes them to reply. Then do it again. You’re not expecting lightning-fast responses, but you’re not expecting to wait for a full day either (unless it’s late in the day or the weekend).

If someone is slow to respond when they are trying to impress you in sales mode, it’s a fair guess to say that will only get worse once they have your money.

Can you see real testimonials?

Nobody trusts those glowing but anonymous testimonials nowadays – John S. from London. Yeah, right…

Look for actual, verifiable reviews and feedback from real people. See what they say about the product, the service, and the people behind the brand.

What about bad reviews?

You’re always get a bad review here and there. Remember that unhappy people generally make more noise than happy ones. You’re a lot more likely to be vocal about a bad meal in a restaurant than a good one.

We’ve all seen the Amazon product with consistent 5-star ratings and fantastic feedback, with that lone 1-star review like “what a piece of crap, it’s so useless, I’d have given it zero stars only you don’t have that option”. It stands out. But don’t give it undue weight against the other 99 great reviews.

Look for a pattern. Are there more good than bad? Are they recent or years old? Check for reviews on social media and other platforms that aren’t so easily influenced by the vendors themselves.

At the end of the day, reviews often come down to a gut feeling, but at least check them out before you spent a load of money and perhaps tie yourself into a lengthy (and costly) contract.

Don’t expect to tick all the boxes

I have a friend who, in his younger years, got some great relationship advice from his already-married sister. He boasted that when it came to “wife material”, he was not going to settle for any less than 10 out of 10.

Rather than sisterly approval, he got some harsh advice.

10 out of 10 ain’t going to happen! You should be happy with an 8. She told him he if he got a perfect match, then he was either exceptionally lucky, he was wearing rose-tinted glasses, or he was being mis-sold!

Don't expect to get a perfect 10

Now, I’m not suggesting you settle for second-best. Not at all.

But if you’re looking for a solution to score a perfect 10 against your requirements, you could be looking for a long time. Decide which checkboxes are most important, and which you are willing to sacrifice if needs be. Which leads us nicely to the next consideration.

Must-have versus nice-to-have

Following from the perfect scorecard, this reminds me of recent sales demo with an estate agency in England. The meeting went extremely well. They were very impressed with our lettings software, its ease of use, its strong accounting, its modern interface, and its configurability. They were happy to learn that they could assign different roles to their various staff members, and they were wowed with the wealth of reporting on financial and compliance tasks.

Brilliant. Almost sold. The manager told me it had ticked all of their boxes.

But… she had one final question. Could integrate with their phone system?

No, I told her honestly, it doesn’t have that feature. That, she told me, was a deal-breaker, end of conversation.

You may not need to tick every box

That was a real shame, and left me wondering. Were they just looking to tick every single box? I imagine this really was such a big deal for them, and that’s perfectly fine. They know their key requirements. But their existing system must have had other shortcomings. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been looking elsewhere in the first place. Not every box has the same weight, so consider what is a must-have, and what is a nice-to-have.

Does it fit with your personality?

An often-overlooked element of the decision-making process is that gut feeling about how the look and feel of the software fits with your personal preferences, and your own likes and dislikes. Nobody is perfect, nor is any property management software package. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Someone else’s ideal match may not float your boat at all, and the perfect property management software for your agency may just not tick someone else’s boxes.

Does it fit with your personality?

Some people will go for the simplest uncomplicated option, whereas other “power users” relish the challenge of a fully-featured comprehensive package with all the bells and whistles. The only real way to know is to try it out, performing some actual tasks, ideally on your own free trial account. Many software packages now offer a free trial for a week or even two, so that you can conduct a proper valuation.

You will also need to consider that it may not be yourself as purchaser that uses the system day and daily, so it’s a really good idea to engage with other staff members in your agency, ideally a few people in different roles. They may spot opportunities or shortcomings that have escaped your own attention. Often when evaluating software products you will unwittingly adopt a blinkered view and miss some blindingly obvious observations.

Whatever solution you settle on, everyone needs to fully engage with it or it won’t be used properly, and if that happens the money will have been wasted.

Consider a trial period

Like a romantic relationship, investing in a property management system is a big step, one for the long-term.

You need to be absolutely sure that you have found a good fit before you get in too deep. Make the wrong decision and it could prove to be very painful and result in a lot of wasted time, energy (and money) for everyone involved.

A lot of cloud software, including Elevate, comes with a free trial period, encouraging you to explore it in your own time.

I’m not talking about the slick, sugar-coated demo you get from the silver-tongued salesman. I mean a fully-featured account you can play with for 7 or 14 days, with no commitment or hard sell.

Sure, we’ll show you a demo version, but you really need to take it for a test drive yourself to be confident that it feels right for you.

Consider a trial period

Add test data, or actual tenancy and rent schedules. Verify balances, and print or email statements. Record receipts. Make payouts. Perform the tasks you do daily, and then run through your month-end activities.

You’ll soon get a good feeling about how easy it is to use, how comprehensive the reporting is, and how responsive the support team are when you hit a hurdle.

Is it likely to be high-maintenance?

You know the story, everything looks great at the outset.  You are so impressed that you’re telling all your mates about the great new love of your life.

But before long you hit a speed bump, something that wasn’t covered in the brochure. Perhaps conveniently.

Your team is growing so you need to add another user.

“That’s going to be an extra £100 per month. I know it doesn’t say it on the website, that was just our standard package.”

There’s nothing wrong with add-ons. In fact, they can bring a lot of extra value to already great core systems. Most products and services have up-sell options to offer more engaged users. But, beware of a product that is of limited use out-of-the-box.

A process has you confused, and you need some help to work it through.

“Ah, yes sir, the training? That will be 5 days on-site. Please make the £5,000 payment into our bank account by close of play today to secure your place next month.”

Bolt-ons are fine to add value, but not to unlock the inherent value which was promised in the first place.

Your subscription will increase if you manage more properties in future? No problem, that’s to be expected, but ask how much at least.

You need to purchase extra SMS credits in order to send text messages to tenants? That’s no issue, it clearly says so on the website.

Are you getting enough flexibility?

You don’t want to be getting tied down with unreasonable constraints, or feeling suffocated because you can’t do things the way you normally do. Some really attractive offerings promise that you the moon and the stars, but the first time you want to go off script a little the chains and handcuffs appear, and not in a good way.

The best property management software systems will be configurable to the way your agency works. They won’t require you to make significant changes to the way your business operates. Letting agencies apply rent on different schedules, and charge management fees differently also. You should not have to make sweeping changes “to suit the software”. That will just lead to a drop-off in staff engagement, and productivity and profits will follow.

Does it give you enough flexibility?

Having said that, some adjustments may be necessary. Whether it’s the all-night parties with your mates, or that habit of paying a landlord from the client account before the rent comes in, you may have to acknowledge some bad behaviour and make changes.

Getting better systems in place, and forming strong partnerships with capable and trustworthy service providers who are a good fit with your aspirations, will undoubtedly leave you in a better place, in both personal and business terms.

If your friends tell you that you’ve changed, be happy and proud to say “yes, I have indeed”. Let your profits and happy customers be the proof that you made the right choice.

Would a break-up be a nightmare?

Let’s face it, only the most cynical Romeo should be thinking this at the outset. But sooner or later in any relationship, people wonder would happen if they broke up. Will they still be friends and move on amicably, or will there be broken plates, and court battles?

Will a breakup be bad?

All joking aside, the equivalent scenario for your letting agency would be no less dramatic. You could lose everything you’ve spent years building in the blink of an eye, and spend months in court fighting over the who should have done what. It achieves nothing, so make sure you ask the important questions up front.

Who actually owns my data? Can I export my data at any time, and in what format? Am I tied into a minimum-term contract, or are there cancellation fees?

Can you see yourself growing old with it?

Once you have chosen the ideal property management software for your agency, you’re likely going to be in it for the long haul.

Your vision will be to grow your business into something stronger with you at the helm, supported by your agency staff, perhaps with a sale exit or early retirement in mind.

The worst thing you’ll want to do is choose property software that is fine for cruising along in smooth waters, but just won’t allow you to plot your own path.

Can you chat to your proptech provider? Not just when there is a problem or support query, but just to pick up the phone and discuss how your business is doing, and enquire what is happening at their end? So many companies are now faceless and unreachable, especially in the online space. Two-way conversation is important.

Can you see yourself growing old with it?

Relationships which mature and last many years require mutual respect and understanding. It’s not all about looks and features – there will always be a newer and more exciting, more attractive product, giving you the hard sell.

It’s about them being there, steady, confident and supportive, when you need them. To help you solve a problem, or just to have a chat.

So, is Elevate the best property management software?

The best software for YOUR letting or estate agency? It depends.

But hopefully this practical guide will help you reflect and ask the right questions when you’re looking for your ideal match.

Only you can decide if our property software is the best fit for your letting agency. Don’t fall for someone who sweet-talks you into believing they are the best thing since sliced bread.

I can just assure you, honestly and genuinely, that we’ve been around a long time, we’re wise and trustworthy, and there are hundreds of agents who will vouch for that.

Plus, we offer a free 14-day trial of our Elevate property management software, backed up by first-class service and support. Take it for a test drive today and see what you think.

Photos from Unsplash by Jonathan BorbaHarley-DavidsonSven MiekeKelly SikkemaJelleke VanooteghemTaylor Deas-Melesh, Cristina Gottardi, Glenn Carstens-Peters, Toa Heftiba