From Zero
to Tech

written by
Salman Shariat

A guide to bringing a paper-driven
property management company
technologically up-to-date.

The wonderful thing about property management is that it is focused on people. We focus on our clients and tenants while working to make sure everyone’s experiences are handled smoothly, without hassle. We need the ability to define issues to the three main affected parties: owners, tenants and vendors. For example, a simple plumbing leak will affect the property owner, tenant and vendor in three different ways. It is our job as managers to communicate everything involved in that simple plumbing leak to all three parties involved.

While empathy, consideration and genuine care are the main factors, technology can help make property management a smoother process for everyone. Technology has advanced immensely over the past decade, and it continues to improve. Property managers have an array of methods to incorporate these new technological innovations in their day-to-day business. While price is always a factor, it is the overall time saved that makes using these technologies extremely worthwhile.

Technology can help property managers stay organized, improve communication skills, and expand abilities. At Sutro Property Management, Inc, we looked for ways to save time, improve communication, and increase operational efficiencies. We looked at current operational protocols that could be improved upon and worked toward a solution—more often than not driven by technology. For example, the business was driven almost entirely by paper, heavily reliant on physical documents and the majority of the software tools were desktop based. There were so many opportunities for improvement through technology. We wanted to create a modern environment, which would free up time for other issues.

Getting Started: the Cloud
We started by getting everything in the cloud—and off desktop systems. You can use Dropbox, Google Drive or Box. We chose Google Drive, which allowed us to seamlessly send and edit our documents from anywhere. It allows team collaboration on the same document in real time, rather than sending attachments back and forth. The cloud can be accessed anywhere, anytime, whether you are halfway around the world on your phone, or at home—all that is needed is an internet connection. We now offer a better work environment for our staff by giving them more flexibility.

Keep in mind: Just because your employees have access to cloud files 24/7, doesn’t mean you can expect them to work off-hours. We’ve had to be cautious not to expect our staff to work all hours of the day and night. The benefit of the cloud is that it gives staff the ability to work off-site when they need to or when there is an emergency. We do not expect them to “always be plugged in,” as that can cause stress and burnout.

Finding the Right Software
We had a list of requirements to meet when searching for the perfect property management software for our clients and business. Our top priority was simple remote access (as noted above) via any computer or phone and an efficient, quick and easily searchable operating system. Yardi is the legacy go-to product that many property managers use. A few more options have popped up over the years, including AppFolio, Propertyware, Buildium, and Rent Manager. We went with AppFolio because of its great user interface and the many applications that are already built into the platform. However, this list includes some of the most used and trusted industry software platforms; this is a good starting point in researching the best fit for your business.

Functions you should consider when researching software platforms: accepting ACH rent online (free); the ability to text tenants directly through the platform; a web-browser/web-based system; tenant screening; leasing syndications to 35+ sites; built-in RUBS (Ratio Utility Billing System); and data analytics.

Our transition to new software was fairly smooth, as each platform has a dedicated transition team. The cost savings of technology are quickly realized, as soon as you consider the amount of time saved.

Secure Passwords
As so much of the world is now online, a good online password organizer is not only efficient, but also necessary with the increased need for security. Password organizers allow staff to create and share secure passwords, but also allows the company to share passwords that multiple staff might need. For instance, passwords for utility companies, banks, and various other logins.

There are many viable options in this field: Keeper, 1Password, LastPass and Dashlane. We chose to go with 1Password as it has a great browser extension that allows real time updates, can be easily shared with teams, and has different permission levels for sensitive login information.

Evaluate Risks
When selecting technology, consider the possible risks the new technology might pose. Privacy and security are more important than ever and, as property managers, we are not only protecting our information but also that of our clients and tenants. It is important to do your homework before you incorporate any new technology.

Verify that the new technology is encrypted, has two-factor authentication, and a backup plan should things go awry.

Be Choosey
There are a lot of technologies that would be nice to have, but not always necessary. Professional digital photos are great for the higher priced units, but can be more expensive than they’re worth for older housing stock. Luckily, retail cameras are getting better each year with software that brightens, enhances and filters the photos. Cost effective apps and filters can be used to create photos that show the marketability of a unit.

As technology changes, we need to adapt. Remember: Always Be Changing (ABC). We shouldn’t fear new things, especially if they can save us time over the long haul. For example, spending three hours learning a new technology that can save fifteen seconds on a task that is performed one hundred times a month is always a worthwhile investment.

Changing platforms, processes or adding new tools can seem daunting at first. The transition will require a lot of work (and be frustrating), but remember, if it is not difficult, it is probably not worth doing. The hardest things in life usually reap the most rewards.

When considering different technology, the end goal should be saving time for your clients, your staff and yourself. Technology is useful with the repetitive tasks (bill pays for distributions, automatic utility payments, uniform check stock, report generation, invoicing, etc.) Technology is not an end-all-be-all. We still need the human touch; we are renting homes where people live.

In this industry, our goal is to solve problems for our clients and ensure their properties are meeting their financial needs as well as the day-to-day needs of the tenants. Technology helps Sutro Property Management efficiently and easily do this, so we can focus on providing a human touch to our owners, tenants and vendors.

For a full list of property management software companies that are associate members of the SFAA, turn to page 53.

Salman Shariat, President of Sutro Property Management, has been involved in San Francisco property management and investments for 10+ years.  He is a Bay Area native having graduated from Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo and Santa Clara University. Salman enjoys traveling to new places, attending Bay Area sporting events and is an avid marathon runner.