5 questions to ask before buying association management software

Jake Belding
Jake Belding | 12 min. read
Get the latest industry insights.

Published on January 13, 2023

Whether you’re on the board of a self-managed association, or you’re a property manager with community associations in your portfolio, there’s a tool that can make your job easier: property management software.

In fact, most property managers—85% according to Buildium’s latest Community Associations Industry Report—already use property management software to help achieve their goals.

If this is the first time you’re shopping for management software—or even if you’ve been using software for other parts of your business, such as leasing and accounting—you may not know exactly what tools you need, or where they can help the most.

We asked some of our association management customers about their experience using property management software, how they matched their needs with specific tools, and features that have saved them the most time, money, and stress.

Here are the five most important questions to ask before you invest in property management software and how the community association managers we spoke to addressed each of them.

Meet Our Experts

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Nick Schilling, Sharper Property Management, Partner & Head of Finance

Nick and his partners started their property management company after the 2008 recession, and have grown from one 6-unit association to more than 100 associations and 10,000+ units.

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Grant Marlowe, Grant Property Management, President and Managing Partner

Grant Property Management is a full-service property management firm that specializes in association management. GPM manages 2,500+ doors in South Florida in a variety of association types, from eight homes on the beach to 400-home communities.

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Brawley Reishman, Westward360, Chief Technology Officer

After 14 years in technology consulting, Brawley Reishman founded the condominium association management company Transproperties Management in 2009. Now, as Chief Technology Officer at Westward360, a Chicago-based property management company with a 20,000-door portfolio, he keeps a pulse on the latest technology in the industry.

Which Part of Your Job Causes You the Most Stress?

Any software is only as good as the problems it solves for you. Technology may look good but, if it’s not making your job easier, then it’s not a great investment.

Start by making a list of the challenges you face every day. Here are a few common problems associations face to help get you started:

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Once you’ve made your list, ask your staff for their thoughts, too. Use this list to evaluate software features when you start searching.

How Association Management Software Can Help:

We asked: Which part of your day-to-day work is easier with property management software?

Nick: 55% of all association dues are recurring EFTs, and they’re processed automatically every month. That’s more than $1 million a month that we don’t have to batch out to the bank.

Grant: The best thing about Buildium is it’s not a single-focus fix. The results have come from so many regular routines we have that Buildium has been able to make more efficient: being able to be remote without missing a beat and assist multiple departments with one tool has brought us way ahead of the curve. With the global search it’s been one-click and I already have my info and I’m on to the next to-do list item that I have.

Brawley: Buildium’s app reduces the manpower associated with handling move-ins and move outs and sale and leases. I would say it reduces it by 70%. In the past, training was also always extremely difficult and took a long time. Now, our user interface is really thoughtfully designed. It’s enjoyable to use and, from an ROI standpoint, that cuts down on training costs.

What Do Your Association Board & Owners Need?

The software you choose should also make life easier for your associations’ board members, owners, and residents. Most association management software has both resident and board-facing components that they’ll likely be accessing weekly or even daily. It’s where residents will submit maintenance tickets and pay their dues, and where board members will access critical metrics and financial information.

Send a survey to your association board and broader community of owners asking them what they need in any software you’ll be investing in.

Keep questions to a minimum so you’ll get more responses. To get them thinking, here are the responsibilities association board members pointed to most often in the latest Community Associations Industry Report:

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In addition, consider asking your board members about their preferences on the following subjects:

  • Accessing reports
  • Viewing meeting notes
  • Accessing information via mobile app
  • Receiving training on how to use the software you choose
  • In-person or virtual board meetings including voting processes

How Association Management Software Can Help:

We asked: How has your property management software helped owners within the community association?

Nick: Owners love the task system. All they have to do is go in and make a request, and we can track the whole thing—and it doesn’t clog up our inboxes. 

Grant: With the eblast [announcements] feature, being able to send emails to the entire association or our entire portfolio in just a few minutes has been a tremendous help. We’re also able to get files uploaded digitally, within an hour or less, it’s already uploaded and all the homeowners are able to view it and be privy to that information. 

Brawley: Anyone who manages community associations realizes that different boards will have different sticking points, but all boards have certain things that they care a lot about. Automating tasks help make sure that we address those on a consistent basis.

What Kind Of Access Do You Require For Data and Reports?

There’s no doubt that managing properties requires that you step out of the office—whether you’re following up on a maintenance issue, checking in on residents, or meeting with potential new clients.

With cloud-based software, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), you can carry all of your data and reports in the palm of your hand.

Solutions like HomeWiseDocs, that are built specifically for associations and their needs, give you even greater control (and the ability to generate revenue) when you’re handling documentation in the sale or refinancing of properties.

Having all the information you need readily available is important, especially when you need to stay compliant with various rules and regulations, all while managing day-to-day operations.

  • Access documents on the go. If a staff member at the office uploads a new document, you’ll be able to access it from a mobile device or computer in real time.
  • Provide logins for your entire staff. Software that you download to your computer often has licensing requirements, which limits the number of people who can access and download the software. With SaaS, nobody needs to download anything.
  • Never worry about software updates. You know those annoying pop-ups that remind you to update your computer (usually while you’re in the middle of something else)? SaaS is updated on the server side, so you’ll never need to authorize an update or restart your computer for changes to take effect. Your provider will take care of it all for you.
  • Know that your data is secure, no matter what. If you keep all of your files on your computer and your hard drive crashes, you’re out of luck—all of your files are long gone. That’s not the case with property management software, where providers keep your information on their own servers, with redundant data backups and disaster recovery systems.

How Association Management Software Can Help:

We asked: What advice would you give to community associations as they’re shopping for software?

Nick: Look for good data exports. Make sure you can get to it from any device, and investigate software uptime. 

Grant: Look for a tool that’s intuitive, easy to use, nice for the residents to be able to navigate around, and that there’s good support systems behind the scenes. That’s just a few of the criteria that we had on our checklist. 

Brawley: You already probably have a pretty good feel for what makes life hard. Once you have that feel, you can start to think about what kind of solutions can be implemented. I think that the powerful use of technology starts with that understanding of the business process.

How Will You Communicate With Board Members, Owners, Vendors, And Employees?

Conducting a survey of board members, residents, and staff should give you an idea of how people prefer to communicate. But, at the end of the day, one of the most important considerations is how you prefer to communicate.

If you hate having a cluttered inbox, you don’t want software that sends you a million emails. If you hate answering the phone, you don’t want software that makes online communications difficult, because people will just call you to avoid it.

It comes down to personal preference, but that preference can make a huge difference. You want software that:

  1. Fits your communication preferences
  2. Is easy for others to use
  3. Saves you time, money, and stress

How Association Management Software Can Help:

We asked: Has your software saved you time?

Nick: I hate emails. If I get a request for something that takes longer than a minute, it will get buried. But I’m able to paste long emails into tasks, so they’re never lost and someone is always accountable. 

Grant: For operations, it’s been a huge time-saver. 5-10 hours a week just in our front office. On the accounting side, we’ve probably saved 15 hours a month. For property managers, at least an hour a day has been shaved off in the ways that Buildium can assist with things. 

Brawley: The tenants, the homeowners, and the board members all have their own set of problems they expect us to solve. Instead of spending a bunch of time doing it manually, our team members have a button they can click and produce the information or the solution that they need and it doesn’t take them any time.

Will Your Software Grow With You?

One of the greatest benefits of property management software is that it can enable you to scale your business over time. Here’s how:

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However, as your business grows, will your software scale with you? Here are 4 important factors to consider:

  • You’ll be processing more payments as you take on more units. Processing a few payments manually is fine, but the more that you receive, the faster you’ll become overwhelmed.
  • You’ll be communicating with more people. That includes vendors, employees, board members, and residents. If your email is already full and your phone is ringing off the hook, you should be sure that any software you choose will lighten your load instead of making it worse.
  • Your taxes will get more complicated. Imagine processing hundreds of 1099s manually. Many software providers offer easy 1099 processing to simplify tax prep.
  • You’ll have to train more employees. The bigger your business gets, the bigger your staff gets. Will you be able to train them easily on the software you choose?

Essentially, take whatever you’re doing manually now, and multiply it by 10 or more. The right software should save you time now and in the future.

How Association Management Software Can Help:

We asked: What do you wish you knew about community association software before you signed up?

Nick: Moving data from one system to another can be a hassle. We bought another company three years ago, and their software didn’t export data, so we had to move everything manually. 

Grant: We’ve had some of our communities for 10, 15 years. It’s surprising how adding Buildium has refreshed those relationships. Just having them feel like they’ve gotten this additional asset to leverage, it’s a brand new start in a sense. 

Brawley: What Buildium provides is the opportunity for all sorts of other solutions that may not be available in any other software packages. Open API allows you to tap into data and use it in creative ways. We’ve actually been able to automate some processes that previously just couldn’t be automated. That’s been so huge for us in terms of profitability.

No matter which software you end up with, it should fit you and your business. In fact, that’s exactly what our customers told us when we asked for any final words of advice.

Nick’s been able to grow his company from just 6 community associations to over 100 (with more than 10,000 total units) in 9 years. He said, “As we grow, we’re able to use Buildium as a selling point for new clients.

Grant mentioned that training and support was a big part of his purchasing process and has helped him to get the most ROI out of property management software. “I don’t think we could have been at where we’re at today without that gentle and gradual onboarding process that we were provided with,” he explained.

Brawley said that the successes he’s had around technology is rooted in a firm understanding of business processes, and what his team experiences working with community associations. “It starts with an appreciation of what their day-to-day is like and what problems they have,” he explained.

Manage your community associations from anywhere and experience one purpose built platform for all of your association management needs.

Jake Belding

Jake is a Content Marketing Specialist at Buildium, based in San Francisco, California. With a background in enterprise SaaS and startup communications, Jake writes about technology's impact on daily life.

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