February 2008 (Condo Media) – by Pamela Schweppe – Sometimes, if you can’t find what you want, you just have to create it for yourself. At least that’s what Michael Monteiro, Dimitris Georgakopoulos and Christopher Cheung discovered in 2003 when they left successful careers in technology to start their own company.
They already had formed a real estate partnership that had acquired several multi-family properties in Providence, R.I. As their real estate holdings grew, they began surveying the marketplace for an online property management system that was both simple to use and reasonably priced.
There was none.
That’s when they put their combined 30 years’ experience delivering online solutions to some of the world’s largest companies to work. They formed Buildium LLC, headquartered in Quincy, Mass., with the goal of developing affordable, easy-to-use online property management software for professional property management companies, self-managed condo associations and homeowner associations (HOAs).
“We realized that more and more property managers were dissatisfied with their existing software,” Monteiro declares. “They were tired of dealing with software and hardware compatibility issues. They wanted something that just worked.”
That’s when they started offering property management software online, with nothing to install. With Buildium, property managers and self-managed associations can use Microsoft Windows or a Mac to do their accounting, budgeting and financial reporting from any computer connected to the Internet.
One Size Does Not Always Fit All
Buildium’s founders quickly realized, however, that the one-size-fits-all approach employed by other property management software companies just didn’t make sense. “We recognized early on that the needs of professional property managers and self-managed associations were similar, yet distinct,” says Monteiro. “That led us to develop two different editions of our software tailored to the unique needs of each.
Buildium’s Property Manager Edition™ is designed specifically with professional property managers in mind—that is, those who manage condominium complexes, HOAs or rental properties. With Property Manager Edition, management companies can give investors, unit owners and trustees online access to their information, accept payments and pay bills online, share documents and—most importantly—maintain a complete set of financial records for the properties they manage.
According to Monteiro, “Many of our competitors don’t offer true accounting. But we go beyond basic income and expense tracking by offering full general-ledger accounting, check printing and online payment services. We’re one of the few online software providers that does.”
Buildium’s Association Edition™, on the other hand, is for self-managed condominium or homeowner associations. “Some condos and HOAs have decided to do it themselves,” Monteiro reveals, “and we discovered that there were no products designed specifically for them.”
With Association Edition, condo associations and HOAs can keep track of their finances, create budgets, collect condo fees, keep maintenance records, store electronic copies of important documents and communicate through community forums.
Both editions also give individual unit owners access to their accounts, enabling them to review their payment history, download meeting minutes, participate in community forums, submit maintenance requests and even pay their association fees electronically, all from a secure online portal.
Streamlined Features for the Ultimate Ease of Use
From the start, Buildium’s founders made the software’s ease of use a top priority. “A problem we worked hard to address is that a lot of property management software is difficult to use, with obscure features and hundreds of reports,” Monteiro says. “We worked hard to streamline things so that Buildium is easy to use while still providing everything our customers need.” And while Buildium is not “a la carte,” as he puts it, customers can easily disable features that don’t interest them.
One Buildium customer who is especially impressed by the software’s ease of use is Rebecca Marston, co-owner of Marston Beacon Hill Realty of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. “One of the first things I look at is how to make things aesthetically pleasing to my clients,” she says. “Buildium has a nice-looking interface, and it’s very intuitive. I wanted something that’s as easy to use as possible.”
For example, Marston finds it easier to communicate with association trustees when both have the ledger on screen in front of them. “It’s hard to talk about a line item on the phone,” she points out. “But with Buildium, anybody who’s authorized can see the books any time they want to.”
Another of the functions Marston uses with her Buildium software is the ability to send out blanket e-mails. “If the heat goes out in a building, for example, you want to be able to tell people quickly to hang on, it’s being taken care of,” she says.
She also noticed an immediate improvement in her workflow when she began using Buildium a year ago. “I used to have to use reams and reams of paper copying reports and paying for postage, but I don’t have to do that any more,” she says. “After all, I don’t want to spend my life Xeroxing. I’d rather spend it analyzing financials.”
The Price Is Right
One customer for whom price was “a big factor in the decision to go with Buildium” is Liam Monaghan, owner of Monaghan Real Estate & Property Management in Hyannis, Mass. As he puts it, “When you decide to start working with a software company, you don’t make the decision lightly. You need someone you’ll stay with for years. It’s a big commitment.”
Instead of a contract term, each edition of Buildium is available for a monthly subscription fee based on the number of units under management, which Monaghan considers a “long-term value.” He also appreciates Buildium’s EZ Mailer™ outsourced mailing service, available at a “really good price,” he says.
In addition to considering the service itself reasonably priced, Monaghan also points out that, with Buildium, he can “attract new condo associations, since they know they’ll be able to look at their financials any time online.”
Monaghan also applauds the fact that Buildium requires no special training. “With another company, we were going to have to fly people in to train us at our own expense.” With Buildium, “I have a guy who’s 75 and never used a computer, and even he can us it,” Monaghan says.
In addition, Buildium offers free online support for all customers and free telephone support for premium members during business hours, according to Monteiro. Customers also have access to a library of tutorials and frequently asked questions, and for those who need additional support, “We offer live, one-on-one training delivered online by expert coaches,” he says.
Security Offers Peace of Mind
As software experts, Buildium’s founders understand the importance of providing the best online security available to their customers. “The vast majority of people don’t put the proper backup in place, so they’re just one step away from disaster,” Monteiro says.
Buildium’s primary data center is maintained by a tier-one firm that provides a secure server environment with 24/7 onsite staff, security camera monitoring and biometric scanning for controlled access, along with “fanatical support,” as Monteiro puts it.
In a way, Buildium offers another level of security to its customers by providing complete transparency. One of its customers, a property management company in St. Croix, recently won the management contract for a large HOA that had been defrauded by its previous management company because they “didn’t have ongoing visibility of their books,” Monteiro says. “Our customer won the deal because they were able to give the HOA’s members the transparency they were looking for with Buildium.” It’s just one of the ways Buildium has recreated the art of property management—by putting it online.