Photo by Mika Baumeister
Work smarter, not harder. That’s what HOA management software aims to help board members and property managers do. At its core, HOA management software automates repetitive processes, streamlines day-to-day operations, and creates better, more structured systems that benefit everyone who lives and works in the community. When designed well and used correctly, HOA management software can help you get control of routine disorder, and help save the association some money, too.
There are dozens if not hundreds of programs to choose from, and each system has its own distinct set of features. Some software is free, some programs specialize in accounting, while others have a solution for almost everything. With so many options available, it’s important to think about your specific needs and requirements, as well as the needs of the property you manage.
Why your association might need HOA management software
There’s nothing wrong with managing an HOA without assistance from a software program – developments have gotten along just fine without it. But, if you’re constantly worrying about collecting association fees, stressed out by outstanding violations, or if you feel like your community isn’t as in sync as it could be, then it might be time to look for a solution.
If you and your homeowners are doing any of these things regularly, then it’s very possible that your HOA could benefit from property management software:
- Owners are still writing cheques to make payments, and you’re still going to the bank to deposit those cheques
- You’re mailing community announcements/updates/notices to homeowners
- You’re using email to communicate with owners
- Owners have created a Facebook group to talk about community issues
- You use a bulletin board to notify owners about upcoming events
- You create financial records on Excel and must use the same computer to access these documents
- You create financial reports manually when data must be shared with the board
- The association struggles to reach quorum
- Work orders/maintenance requests take weeks to resolve
- You have trouble issuing/keeping track of violations
- You keep track of maintenance and repairs on an Excel spreadsheet
- Owners must fill out a paper form to submit architectural change requests
- Owners must speak to you before they can book the clubhouse
- Meeting minutes are stored in paper boxes
- Owners must come to you to review governing documents
- You are spending a small fortune on ink and paper
Good HOA management software can assist with all of these things. Most programs are designed to tackle communication, operations, and record-keeping. Many will also provide accounting and security solutions for an additional cost.
Almost any community could benefit from management software, but it tends to make a more of an impact for mid-sized and large HOAs. That’s simply because there are more people to care for. It’s also harder to establish a sense of community when the HOA has hundreds of members. Having a private and dedicated community space can help build stronger, more transparent HOAs.
Property managers who care for multiple properties will also appreciate a good cloud-based platform because they can be more involved with each property without having to physically be there. According to the 2020 State of the Property Management Industry Report, 48% of property managers considered growth as a top priority. 45% also expressed a desire to improve efficiency. 31% of property managers cited profitability as a top concern.
However, fewer property managers reported portfolio growth in 2019 than in years past; though 70% did add new properties to their portfolios in the last 2 years. Portfolio loss has prevented many property managers from achieving significant growth recently, with a strong seller’s market motivating some rental owners to sell their properties. In response, property managers have had to find innovative ways to generate more revenue without acquiring new communities, from expanding their services to revising their fee structures, to using management software.
Finally, functional management software can be used as a selling point when trying to attract potential buyers. You make your community stand out by offering something of value. There are roughly 8,000 – 9,000 community association management companies out there, so it really helps to have something that will separate you from the competition.
5 industry leaders: Top picks for HOA management software
As we mentioned earlier, there are a lot of software options to choose from. We’ve researched many of these options, and have selected 5 leading programs that deserve your consideration.
Less chaos, more control. Don’t let the name fool you, Condo Control is a cloud-based property management system designed with HOAs in mind. Condo Control has been in the business for over a decade, and it continues to thrive because the software is both user-friendly and comprehensive. New features are designed based on real client feedback and requests; the software grows with associations.
Some of Condo Control’s most popular features include announcements, violation tracking, asset management, online payments and e-voting. It also provides comprehensive reports which give communities a clearer idea about things like where resources are being used the most, which violations occur most often, and when and what types of work orders are being submitted.
Pricing is competitive with other software systems. While Condo Control does not have an accounting feature, it does integrate with QuickBooks, Yardi and TOPS.
AppFolio is ideal for property managers who take care of HOAs as well as those who have mixed portfolios. It is a cloud-based solution that is easy to use, and offers a great mobile experience. The company was founded in 2006 and acquired MyCase in 2012.
Some of AppFolio’s most attractive features include rental applications, tenant screening, an online owner portal, accounting, online payments, and work orders. Their rent comparison tools help managers decide what rent to charge to stay competitive.
Its pricing makes AppFolio more appropriate for medium and large communities. Some clients have noted that the accounting feature is not as user-friendly as it could be, but those with some accounting knowledge should be able to find their way around without any trouble.
With TOPS, you never have to duplicate entries or juggle requests or information from multiple sources. TOPS was founded in the 1980s, and thousands of property managers have had the pleasure of using this system. TOPS has a very strong accounting feature in addition to good communication tools. It is web-based, and has a mobile-responsive owner portal.
Some of TOPS’ most coveted features include owner access with online payments, automated collections management, vendor management, and board member management. While there are three different packages available, most of TOPS’ features are included in all three.
TOPS is one of the more expensive HOA management software systems, but the accounting feature is very good. Setup can be a challenge, but clients have said customer support is responsive.
Condo Manager is a versatile system that can be used by professional management companies and self-managed associations. It is suitable for HOAs, and easy to learn. The cloud-based software is over 20 years old. It also integrates with other property management software.
Accounting is Condo Manager’s most attractive feature, but it also has electronic announcements, file management, ballot printing, automated task module, and a web portal. It is also available in French. Clients have noted that customer support is very good.
Pricing is competitive. It may take a bit of time to get fully comfortable with the software, but that may be the case with most systems.
Buildium gets it. You’re swamped on a good day, and there is always something to do. This company aims to help simplify and streamline as many tasks as possible. It was founded in 2004, but has quickly attracted the attention of property managers. It is very easy to use; the cloud-based software is appropriate for all types of communities, including those that aren’t completely comfortable with new technology.
Top features from Buildium include property accounting, rental applications, tenant screening, a resident center and owner portal, document storage and violation tracking.
You can try Buildium for free. Pricing is ideal for small communities who are curious about the software, but there are options for larger communities, too. There are small things that could be improved. Clients have mentioned some annoyances with accounting functions, for example, but overall it is a good product.
Features to look for
When shopping for outstanding HOA management software, price is going to come into play. But, that shouldn’t be the only thing you consider. Think about the practicality of the software, its value to you, how much support is available to you if you run into issues, and whether the software can grow with you.
Generally, you’ll be looking for a solution that will help improve
- Day-to-day operations
Specifically, most property managers and HOAs will want to have access to these features.
An HOA cannot operate well without adequate revenue.
According to the most recent Statistical Review for Community Association Data, $96 billion in assessments were collected from U.S. homeowners. Assessments fund many critical association obligations, such as professional management services, utilities, security, insurance, common area maintenance, landscaping, capital improvement projects, and amenities. Of that money, $27.4 billion assessment dollars were contributed to association reserve funds for the repair, replacement, and enhancement of common property.
Clearly, this is a very important aspect of property management, but collecting and processing payments can be incredibly inefficient, especially if you manage a large community.
With a proper online payments feature, you can cut payment processing time in half. Residents can authorize automatic payments for recurring fees and use credit cards, pre-authorized debit, direct withdrawal, electronic funds transfer or ACH payment to cover fees. Best of all, management doesn’t have to collect cheques or make bank trips to make deposits. Payments go straight to the association’s bank account, and transactions are recorded for owners and for management.
A big part of a property manager’s job is caring for the people who live in the community. Having an owner portal available to them can make everyone happy. By providing them with this tool, owners can do more for themselves, which frees up a little more time for you. Some features in the owner portal may include announcements, an events page, online payments, a personal account where they can update information, work orders, and a discussion forum.
Owners like having the ability to take matters into their own hands, and with a reliable system in place, they can always reach management if they require assistance.
Communication can make or break an association. It’s something that many developments struggle with. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic bullet to resolve this problem, but online software can drastically improve communication between boards, owners and property managers.
HOA software gives management the ability not only to streamline communications, but reach owners in different ways. This is key because while most people will view announcements through their online profile, not everyone is comfortable accessing information this way. As such, it is possible to send text messages or automated voice messages to owners as well, and you can always print out notices for people who request to receive paper documents.
Messages can be sent to owners in minutes as opposed to days or weeks, and it is even possible for owners to receive alerts when a new announcement has been posted. This way, they never miss a thing.
Finally, the association will see a noticeable change in print and mailing costs. Our customers generally see a 40 – 60% reduction in paper costs within the first 3 months of signing up with Condo Control Central. By eliminating so many paper documents, you can scale your business without added costs.
2020 has been unpredictable to say the least. COVID-19 has forced everyone to make changes and adjustments, and several HOAs have elected to delay annual meetings while others tried e-voting for the first time. This may or may not be permissible depending on where you live, however, if it is permitted, then e-voting should be at the top of your list. Owners really appreciate this feature because they can vote from their homes. If they can’t attend the annual meeting for whatever reason, they can still have their say. This also allows HOAs to move forward with their responsibilities and obligations without having to jeopardize the health or safety of vulnerable community members.
Voting is safe and secure, and because owners can vote ahead of the meeting, it’s possible to reach quorum beforehand. HOAs are more likely to reach quorum with e-voting, and property managers have a lot less manual labour to perform.
Speaking of scaling your business, scalability is a feature to look out for. While it’s not a feature in the traditional sense, it is a capability you want your HOA management software to have. As you grow, you need the software to be able to keep up. Can it support multiple properties? Does the software release new features? Can you see yourself using it 5 or even 10 years from now? There are questions you should ask before making a final decision.
You should also have the option to customize and tailor certain functions and fields. This is important because different communities have different needs. For example, if you are using a violation tracking feature, you should be able to create new violation types, and set up actions or responses for each violation type. The software should work for you, as opposed to the other way around.
This is another non-traditional feature, but one you’ll be happy to have should you need it. It’s natural to have questions about any software system, and on occasion, something will go wrong. If and when that happens, it’s good to know that there will be a real person available to help you. We have a support team available to assist owners and management. YouTube videos and written instructions are appropriate in some situations, but for other issues, it’s best to talk to someone who knows the software and has resolved similar issues in the past.
Ability to integrate with other software
Each software system is different, meaning each program will have unique strengths and weaknesses. Some programs do accounting really well, while others excel in record-keeping and communications. While it’s not essential, it does make life easier if you have the option to integrate software systems. This way, you can enjoy more of the best features from two different platforms without having to log in and log out of multiple programs.
How software simplifies HOA management
Once they find the right fit, the only regret property managers have is not investing in HOA management software sooner. There are so many benefits to implementing online software, including:
HOA software can be remarkably freeing in the sense that it automates many of the tedious, time-consuming tasks that take away from time spent building a vibrant community. Instead of booking the clubhouse for each person who requests it, or filling out, filing, and uploading work requests, you can let the software take care of the heavy lifting.
One of the best benefits of HOA management software is that is works for homeowners too. They are given quick and easy access to documents, a system for communications, a place to discuss community issues, and they can take care of payments with less hassle. Plus, you receive fewer complaints and more efficient operations as well. Your HOA software may even integrate with the HOA’s website (if it has one) to instantly display new information, updates, and notices. Some systems offer a community website as part of their package.
Not everyone has a solid accounting background. Honestly, most of us do not. That’s why online accounting software designed for non-accountants can be so useful. The program minimizes human error, and makes it possible to manage the finances of multiple properties from one place. There are also premade templates available for you to use, so you don’t have to create any makeshift excel spreadsheets from scratch. Since the data is stored securely on the cloud, you don’t have to worry about losing it, or transferring a file from your work computer to your laptop. You can focus on what the numbers are telling you instead of trying to figure out where you made a mistake. Having a clear financial picture allows property managers to make sure that the HOA is in good financial health, and create fact-based budgets for the future.
HOA software anticipates your future needs
One of the biggest reasons for getting HOA management software may not be entirely obvious … at least not at first. But successful managers that use the technology can tell you that good software can provide functionalities that they don’t need at the moment, but will require later on. The right software will essentially solve problems for you before you even start to struggle with them.
Moreover, the reports that HOA software can produce will help you and the association with critical decision-making that will impact the future well-being of the development. Make informed choices based on numbers derived from the HOA.
There are many good reasons to invest in HOA management software. These programs can help you reach your goals while saving your properties money and connecting homeowners. HOA management software is an excellent tool for improving communications, simplifying or automating repetitive tasks, and gaining control over day-to-day operations. Different programs will have different qualities, but their core objectives are the same. Before investing in a solution, make sure that it has the proper features that you need to help lighten your workload.
This technology may appear to be a little overwhelming, but most programs are surprisingly user-friendly. They do not have a steep learning curve – and there is usually a team to help you out if anyone runs into trouble. Best of all, your entire community can benefit from the software.