Paid vs Free Property Management Software:  Which one should I choose?

Thanks to technological advancements, it’s easier than ever to manage multiple properties without breaking a sweat- or your budget. Whether you’re managing a multi-unit complex or a planned development community, you’ve probably digitized one or more aspects of your operations.

Most property managers today use property management software to simplify communication, maintenance tasks and reduce property management costs . But, not all property management software is made equal. There are free and paid options available and they’re virtually poles apart.

If you’re thinking of trying free property management software, read the article below where we compare it to paid software and explore its pros and cons so you can decide if it’s the right option for you.

What is property management software?

Property management software is a program that’s purposefully designed for property managers. It comes with features that’ll help you accomplish all the different aspects of managing a property in half the time it would normally take.

For the most part, using property management software will significantly improve the way you communicate with unit owners and manage maintenance, operations, and other tasks.

Most good quality property management software is flexible enough for use on both commercial and residential property. Some of the key characteristics of property management software include:

The market is full of property management software providers who all claim to be the best. Truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and you have to look at the software that caters to your unique needs. After all, every property is different and every manager has his/her own approach to the management process.

Paid vs Free Property Management Software

Aside from the usual cost difference, there are other qualities that set paid property management software apart from free options.

The Pros and Cons of Free Property management Software

Some property management software providers offer a free trial version of their flagship product with all the features you’d expect from the paid version. However, this limits you to only 15 to 30 days of use depending on the offer presented.

Other providers offer free-for-life software that you can use indefinitely without ever paying a cent. This is obviously an attractive option for smaller property management operators with only a few units to manage.

Advantages of free property management software

Here are some of the advantages that you can expect when using free property management software:

It’s easy to setup
Most free property management software has a simple and straightforward user interface with features that are easy to navigate. Setup is typically as simple as entering your credentials and uploading your information to get started.

It’s budget-friendly
Free property management software won’t put a dent on your budget and this is great news for managers who’re working with a limited budget.

Test before you try
Using free software as part of a try before you buy offer from a paid software provider, gives you a chance to test the software’s different features to see if it’s right for you.

Disadvantages of free property management software

As with anything free, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Free property management software, unfortunately, comes with a lot of serious caveats that will make you think twice before you try it out. Here are a few of the most important ones to consider:

Security vulnerabilities
Because most free software is managed by volunteers, there’s usually no dedicated security expert to protect users from security breaches and vulnerabilities. This means all of the documents and information you store or share through the platform could be compromised at any time.

Limited updates
It’s important to carry out regular updates on any software to keep it running efficiently and fortify it against virus attacks. This isn’t always possible with free online software due to budgetary constraints and the fact that there’s no dedicated person tasked with tracking updates.

Limited features and customization
Part of what makes property management software so appealing is the fact that it comes with customization features that allow you to automate workflows, organize documents and communicate better. Unfortunately, this is usually missing from a free property management software.

No support
With free property management software, you have to figure everything out for yourself. There’s no-one there to hold your hand through the setup process or help you out when something goes wrong.

No integration
Typically, you can’t integrate existing systems into free property management software. This means you have to create new systems from scratch or replicate the ones you have onto the new platform. Either way, it’s a time-consuming exercise.

Frequent downtime
Due to the high demand for free property management software servers, there are times when you won’t be able to access it, thus affecting your productivity.

Ads & privacy
As the saying goes “cash is king”, this rule doesn’t exclude some free property management software. Some free software makes money by displaying ads in their platforms or selling their user's data to outside vendors. The key is to make sure you read the fine print in their privacy policy, to see exactly how your data is being used.

Advantages of paid property management software

Good quality property management software is designed to make your life simpler as a property manager. It automates much of the headache-inducing tasks that would ordinarily take up the lion’s share of your time.

Its features offer seamless maintenance tracking, the ability to collect dues and send reminders online, etc. Although the following benefits and features aren’t ubiquitous with all paid property management software options, they are quite common. Most of them should be included in any good quality offering.

Safe and secure
Paid property management software is backed by a team of professionals with different departments for every feature. Security is paramount, and most providers have measures in place to deal with security threats such as hacking, data theft, and identity theft. You can rest assured that your data is safe and your documents are encrypted so that only you can access them.

There’s no shortage of useful and beneficial features in paid property management software. These features are meant to streamline your work and improve productivity, thus making you a better property manager overall.

Integrates with other software
Paid management software makes it easy to integrate documents, systems and other components from previous software so you don’t have to start from scratch.

You can count on paid management software to perform as advertised, with little if any downtime and quick turnaround time for support queries.

Part of what you pay for when you purchase a property management software plan is ongoing support. If for any reason you don’t understand how something works or you experience trouble with some aspect of the software, you can always contact the provider’s support center via text, email or phone call.

Improved communication
Paid property management software is almost guaranteed to improve communication with residents through online forums, text messaging and customized website creation. You can use it to send well-timed alerts and notifications while communicating in a way to decreases disputes and misunderstandings.

Additional benefits include

  • Creating customized online forms for different purposes
  • Better document organization and storage
  • Facilitates tenant retention
  • Improves scalability
  • Makes it easier to delegate work and meet targeted milestones
  • Provides bird’s eye view of daily administration tasks for simpler planning
  • Offers remote accessibility
  • Improves flexibility and versatility
  • Automates financial reporting
  • Can be used with different types of devices, including tablets, smartphones, and laptops
  • Saves time and money over time

Disadvantages of paid property management software

Paid property management software doesn’t usually come with any downside unless you pick the wrong option. It’s important to pick software that actually caters to your needs. Failure to do so can lead to disappointment as you realize that you’ve chosen an inadequate system that doesn’t work for you.

You’ll know when this happens because the following will occur:

It might take longer to implement
To avoid this, look at how you manage your property before you start using any software. That'll make it easier to figure out what to look for. It’s especially important to consider the scope of your projects because complex software with many features will only complicate your life if you’re a small business. But, if you’re running a mega-development with 50 or 80 units then you’ll definitely benefit from a more complex system.

It’s expensive
If you’re a small operator, the thought of paying a monthly premium for property management software might seem like overkill on your budget. But, in most cases it’s well worth the cost because it allows you to automate most of your tasks and frees you up to take on additional projects, thus increasing your income. It’s better to look at it as an investment instead of an expense if you want to get the most out of your property management software.

Most if not all, property management software comes with a significant learning curve. You have to customize and organize it in a way that works for you while getting used to the nuances of the user interface itself. That’s why it’s important to look for a user-friendly option or one that comes with free training and ongoing support.

The verdict

Free property management software is undoubtedly an attractive solution for smaller operators who’re either starting out or only have a few units to manage. It comes with just the right combination of features to streamline your operations and automate things without overwhelming you. It’s easy to set up, doesn’t break the bank and you can always switch to another solution without worrying about exit costs.

However, you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. Keep in mind that you’ll have to give up a few of the benefits offered by paid software including security, regular updates, a wider selection of features and no downtime.

At the end of the day, only you can decide if paid property management software is worth the investment or if you’re okay with the limited features and caveats that come with free management software.