For landlords, the internet provides unrivaled convenience for getting things done without needing to travel, wait around for late clients, or waste gas delivering physical contracts. Thanks to the convenience of internet technology, being a landlord could soon become a work-from-home job.
Tedious tasks can be managed online
For property investors, being a landlord is a full-time job that involves daily tedious tasks. In addition to collecting rent, landlords have to play the roles of bookkeeper, investor, marketer, property inspector, and more. It’s no wonder they’re quick to use software and other tools to manage their properties online.
With cloud-based software applications, landlords can perform background checks, post listings, market vacancies, and track their finances without leaving their home office. Landlords can also outsource most or all of their responsibilities to a property management company.
The way businesses are moving to a fully digital presence, it’s only a matter of time before all human interaction disappears from a landlord’s job description. There might be people who will interact with tenants on a landlord’s behalf, but property owners will be tucked away behind the scenes.
Being a landlord is destined to become a hands-off job
Before the mobile device revolution, being a landlord required meeting prospective tenants in person to show the property and get a feel for them. Landlords would either collect rent from tenants by going door-to-door, or request the tenant mail them a check. Maintenance and repairs were done by the landlord or a trusted contractor, but the landlord would always show up to assess the situation first.
Today, many landlords outsource their tasks to a property management company to free up their time. An investor can’t play the role of landlord and grow their portfolio at the same time. A property management company, on the other hand, exists specifically to fulfill the duties of a landlord. However, even property management companies use digital tools to manage tasks online.
For example, many property management companies collect rent online or through an automated system. Tenants can either pay rent each month or have rent deducted automatically. When rent is automatically deducted from a tenant’s bank account each month, the tenant can’t come up with an excuse for not mailing a check. Some landlords provide a discount incentive for a tenant to choose automatic deduction just to avoid hassling with late rent and late fees.
Several popular real estate apps used by landlords and property managers include:
- Trulia and Zillow. Although these apps list properties for sale, they were created to serve real estate agents.
- MobileLandlord. This app is for landlords to manage up to five properties in one spot. For example, users can set reminder alerts for renewals and permits.
- Property Buddy. Similar to MobileLandlord, Property Buddy helps landlords keep track of information like payments, lease information, and any other trackable data.
- Rentometer Express. Landlords use this app to check the average rental price for apartments and houses in a specified U.S. city.
- Ask a Lawyer. This handy app is a free resource for getting fast answers to simple legal questions.
- RentTracker. This app makes it easy for tenants to pay rent and receive a receipt online.
- Landlordly. This app is more sophisticated than most, and integrates with iPhone’s camera, email, and messaging features.
- Houzz. For landlords who prefer to furnish their rentals, Houzz provides endless ideas and inspiration for every room in the house. The app also provides links to purchase the items seen in the inspirational photos.
- TenantCloud. This app is a good solution for landlords to manage multiple aspects of a property. Tenants can use it to pay rent online, and landlords can use it to screen applicants, track contractor invoices and other bills, and it creates communication between landlords and property managers.
Digital real estate tools support landlords more than tenants
While digital tools exist to support landlords, tenants aren’t so lucky. The tools that exist to facilitate property management tasks are mostly built for landlords, not tenants. Although some landlord apps benefit tenants (like online rent collection), apps like that were created for landlords and the features are geared toward landlords.
There’s a shortage of software development specifically for meeting a tenant’s needs. The apps are one-sided. For example, most tenants can’t submit a rental application entirely online, but a landlord can fulfill all of his or her lease duties online.
For instance, some property managers will email prospects a PDF of the rental application, but the tenant needs to print it, fill it out with a pen, sign, and return the document in the mail. Few landlords will prepare fully digital lease agreements to be electronically signed by tenants.
Anything that makes a renter’s life easier also makes a landlord’s life easier. Unfortunately, application developers focus on making the landlord’s tasks easier, forgetting that a tenant’s ability to complete their obligations directly affects the landlord.
Landlords can fulfill duties completely online when apps meet renters’ needs
Currently, a landlord can’t fulfill every duty entirely from home without outsourcing tasks to a property management company. However, once software developers realize the untapped market for real estate apps that benefit tenants, we’ll see land lording morph into a truly home-based business. Property investors will be able to manage their own properties easily without having to pay a third-party company to do the job. They’ll be able to outsource individual tasks without having to use ten apps to do it.
Renters need convenience built for them
Apps that make a landlord’s job easier sometimes benefit the tenant. For example, some online rent payment apps allow landlords to apply discounts for tenants with automatic rent withdrawals. The discount might only be $10 to $20, but it adds up over the course of a year.
Aside from online rent collection, there aren’t many apps used by landlords that benefit tenants directly. Renters need innovative solutions, including the ability to download, fill out, sign, and return a rental application directly from their mobile phone. Online applications should be standard practice by now.
Electronic tools for landlords are great but numerous
It’s unclear how many digital tools the average landlord uses, but it’s easy to guess. Many landlords manage the following online:
- Maintenance requests and repairs
- Profits and losses
- Property taxes
- Rent collection
- Invoices for contractors
- Credit checks and background checks
- Tenant screening
- Advertising empty units
- Accounting tasks
- Property inspection reports
There are plenty of digital applications to track the above tasks, but a serious investor only has so much time they can devote to handling minutia. No landlord wants to switch between ten or more apps just to manage their properties. Paper and pen are faster at that point. It makes more sense to have one application to handle all of a landlord’s needs.
So far, there doesn’t seem to be an all-in-one solution. However, if that solution did exist, it would also need to function as a portal for landlords to communicate with tenants and respond to maintenance and repair needs. A feature that serves landlords and tenants, and handles repair requests would virtually guarantee the application’s success.
Maintenance and repairs: a tenant’s worst nightmare
Some tenants won’t call in necessary repairs because they’re used to being ignored, brushed off, or blamed by previous landlords. If tenants could submit repair requests directly to the landlord online, the repair is more likely to be completed in a timely manner. For example, a simple ticketing system can be used to document and prioritize tenant requests without requiring a phone call. The landlord could review each request, set an appointment to handle the repair, and the tenant would be notified electronically.
Online landlording: we’re not there… yet
Since all landlord duties can be managed online (even by a property management company), landlording has the potential to become a genuine home-based business in the future. However, that potential won’t be realized until we have a single system that streamlines functionality to benefit both landlords and clients.