Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 52

Using Software To Better Manage Your Property

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Which software should you use to manage your mobile home park. Or do you need software at all? We’re going to discuss this topic in the fourth installment of our five-part series on “The Top Five Tools of Mobile Home Park Owners”. We’ll identify the different software options and review their costs, benefits and weaknesses. It’s probably time to trade in your abacus for the new power of good software.

Episode 52: Using Software To Better Manage Your Property Transcript

What if I could tell you, you could buy a computer, throw some software in it, push a button, and you totally manage your mobile home park and just automatically send you a check each month for the difference. Well, the sad truth is, you can't do that. Doesn't work. However, in this, our fourth installment on our five part series on The Top Five Tools for Mobile Home Park Owners, we're gonna talk about software. Yes, we're gonna talk about all the different types of computer software there is out there to help you manage your mobile home park.

And, we're going to talk first about QuickBooks. Now, QuickBooks is where most people begin. It's definitely for smaller operators who have just their first park or first few parks. It's relatively inexpensive. For about $300 one time charge, will buy you the QuickBooks. Or, you can do about $30 a month for the online, in the Cloud version. And you won't really hear any or read any negative comments on QuickBooks, because QuickBooks is an excellent product. There's no two ways about it. It's a very, very good product.

You link that together with Excel and you've got a very stable accounting software package that most lenders are perfectly fine with, and most people who use it are very happy with. So there's certainly wrong with QuickBooks and Excel, but the problem is, it does have limitations. It doesn't do a lot other than just the most basic of accounting tasks. So most people are gonna outgrow QuickBooks after they get to just their first few parks. Although there are folks out there who still use QuickBooks on larger portfolios, so I'm not even gonna say you can't use that if you have a bunch of parks. But, typically, QuickBooks is kind of your introductory spot.

Now, there's a lot of other software packages out there. I'm only gonna talk about three others. The three most popular. But there's a lot of new things, and there's new things coming out all the time. Revolution. Propery management cloud. AppFolio. There's a lot of different things. But there's three are the main ones that most mobile home park owners are using.

The first one is called Manage America. And Manage America is a fairly expensive software program, and I'm not going to even give you the pricing. I'm not really sure of it myself. But I know that when we looked at these compared together, it was the most expensive of the three I'm gonna talk about. And one problem, it has no GL side. So it's somewhat limited on its accounting functions. Otherwise, it does a lot of great stuff. It does a lot of good things. But typically that's probably not the choice you're going to make when you're looking at software.

So what are the others? Well, the one that we use is called Rent Manager. Now Rent Manager costs about $200 for initial set up, and about $75 per month per user. So it's definitely more expensive than QuickBooks and Excel. But it offers so much more. It will do all of your invoicing, all your utility billing, expense tracking, track your late fees. If you do a rent credit program, it'll even track your rent credits. In fact, you know what, there's nothing Rent Manager can't do. So when you talk about a software package that's like a robot, that basically serves your interests 24 hours a day, it's really hard to beat Rent Manager. That's the software that we are on.

In fact, when we went to Rent Manager, and bear in mind we were initially were on QuickBooks and Excel, when we converted over to Rent Manager what was compelling about Rent Manager was there was really nothing we could come up with that it didn't do. And it does it on a very, very affordable basis. So Rent Manager is definitely the software that we prefer. It has the GL tied to the rent roll, for you accounting buffs. It can track all your homes. It can just do everything. So we think Rent Manager is probably the best solution.

The third type you'll see out there is Yardi Voyager. Now Yardi Voyager was really designed for the apartment industry, not for the mobile home park industry. So, the jury is still out whether or not that is the most effective route to manage, software-wise, for mobile home parks. It's got obviously a lot of great things going. Yardi, in fact, is probably the pre-eminent software package for all of your larger real estate portfolio owners. So Rent Manager, if you go look at the portfolios of any of your large apartment, office building, retail, any of those types of folks, self storage. You'll see most of them are using Yardi Voyager.

Now, why do they do that? Well, Yardi Voyager is probably the most sophisticated. It probably has the largest support staff you can get. It's very expensive. You definitely pay for that, however, for mobile home park applications, it's actually less expensive than Manage America to our knowledge. So, it's not the priciest. It probably would be second on price. The only problem with Yardi Voyager is it's really new to our space. Now, I know owners who are currently using Yardi Voyager, and Yardi Voyager is making a valued effort to try and bring their multi-family knowledge into the MH space. Maybe they're a little early. It may be kinda like big screen TV, is where possibly you could wait a little while longer and you'll get a better quality TV at a lower cost. Not really sure.

I will tell you some other broad brush things though about software. Number one, before you enter into any software, you really need to analyze them all, because they're all a little bit different. And you may just find some to be more user friendly for the way you operate than others. There was on out there that some park owners used that seems to me very antiquated, called Park Sidekick. Now Park Sidekick is a one time cost of $525, all the way up to about $3150, so ... again, these prices may have changed. Don't hold me to these prices. But Park Sidekick, if you look at the product, it looks old. It looks from generations back. I almost ... when you look at Park Sidekick, it almost looks like you can hear Steve Jobs calling for Wozniak in the background computer fair.

So, it's a little antiquated, but yet some people really like that, because they like kind of the old school look. So, again, you know, there's freedom of choice out there. When you're looking at software packages, it's not one size fits all. Everyone's a little different. Don't be afraid to go with the unpopular one. Just because we don't use AppFolio doesn't mean that you shouldn't use AppFolio. In fact, I know a lot of park owners that use AppFolio and like it a lot. So, keep your options open. Look at them all. You know, you can go online in the drop of a hat to Google, and you can see demonstrations, right there, real time, right this second, of every package out there.

Look at those free tutorials. See if that is the software you want. Look at the cost. Now, to be honest with you, I don't think this is a cost decision. Because really the cost between all of these is not that much different. So if there's one that you felt you liked so much more than the others, I don't think it's a case where the price is going to stop you. So feel free to not only look at them all, but don't be afraid and think, ah, well that one I can't afford. No, I think they're all pretty similar on cost.

Also, think about who all is gonna be using the software. Will it be just you, or will you have your managers involved? Or will you have others involved somewhere between you and the managers? So which is the easiest for them to handle? Which is the one that has the most efficient cost perspective based on the number of users? So there's lots of decisions. So, again, I'm just giving you very broad brush analysis of what we all use.

And here's the deal. You gotta have a good software package. QuickBooks and Excel is great, but if you're gonna start billing backwater and sewer, if you're gonna start having lots of park owned homes, if you're gonna start doing a lot of things that most park owners do, I'm not sure that is going to give you the level of control that you really need. So, I'm not sure that QuickBooks is the solution as you grow, but it's certainly a fantastic solution when you start, and again, it might be the solution as you grow. But again, check out all your options. Make sure you make the right decision. Make sure you're thinking through everyone else who's going to use it.

Now, will software manage your business? Sadly, it will not. You still have to have a great park manager. You still have to have all the key systems to run the business. Those key systems, again, cause I can't say it enough, collections. Occupancy. Water sewer billing. Budget actual difference, which allows you to follow all of your budgets of what's going on. And property condition. Those are the five big dials on any park owner's dashboard. But think how those five dials can very much be aided by that software.

If you've got really good software, if you have really tight tracking of your numbers, clearly the benefits to collections are huge. Water sewer, huge. If that's tracking all of the bill backs you're doing, and all the comparison of bill backs now, and how much you've spent and how much it was a year ago, again, that's huge. All of your budget actual difference. That's huge. Your occupancy. It's huge. The only one that software can't manage for you is property condition. However, as we mentioned on last week's podcast, you get around that with HD videos. Very simple to use, very easy for the manager to do, and for you to download and look at.

So, again, software won't run your business, yet, it will very much aid you in running your business. And that's why it's so very important that you select the right software package. Because there's no substitute for good software. And also think about this. When you buy that mobile home park, you are going to be providing regular statements to your lender, to your accountant, to do your taxes. Many folks involved. You've gotta make sure those statements are 100% accurate.

Long gone are the days where you could go down and get a bank loan with a bunch of financials that are written in pencil and cursive, like many moms and pops did. Today, you've got to have sophisticated books. So, think about that also when you're looking at your software packages. You need something that can provide statements that not only blow you away, but will also blow away your banker. Because you cannot every scrimp on accounting. When I bought my first park, the very first thing I knew I had to do, cause I am not good at accounting, was I had to get a really strong, competent bookkeeper. So that's step one. And step two, you've gotta have the correct software. That is a very, very important tool for any park owner to do the job effectively.

Now next week at our fifth and final installment of the Top Five Tools of Mobile Home Park Owners, we're gonna be talking about the biggest tool that any of us have. And it's your brain. We're gonna go over gut instinct and different things that you can use your brain for in making the all important decisions on not only parks to buy and parks not to buy, but how to manage your property effectively. This is Frank Rolfe for the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast, glad you're here, talk to you again next week.