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The real estate industry is one of great breadth and complexity, with agencies that specialize in different property types (multi-family, single-family, commercial, vacation/short-term) as well as different occupational areas, such as leasing, sales, property management, and investing. In the modern market, clients have innumerable options and greater control over the decision process, which leads to fierce competition between firms. Agents themselves contend with long, intricate buying cycles and a mountain of clerical responsibilities, struggling to balance relationship management with productivity and compliance.
The right technology can be the spark that turns a small, stagnant agency into a fast-growing agency with a competitive advantage. Real estate software helps agents automate workflows and eliminate tedious, manual processes so they can spend more time building and strengthening relationships. This guide will outline three major categories of software for real estate teams (CRM software, marketing automation, and property management) and provide a case study of a market-leading solution.
Real Estate Software Market Overview
Market fluctuations aside, real estate companies have always been a valuable resource for consumers. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), only 12 percent of home buyers and sellers worked without an agent in 2013.1 But despite these percentages, real estate professionals in the buy/sell vertical face a number of serious challenges. Among the most commonly listed2 are:
- Unreasonable price expectations (84 percent)
- Shortage of buyers (83 percent)
- Informed/educated consumers (81 percent)
- Too many competing agents (65 percent)
Many of these challenges can be addressed through better relationship management and data-driven marketing. But the industry also has a strong need for property and investment management solutions, especially considering 35 percent of U.S. households live in some form of rental housing.3
Agents and brokers have increased spending on technology in recent years, but not by much, as overall investments are still low. The average broker spent ~$1,400 in 2013, and the average agent only ~$848, up about 25 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from 2013, according to the NAR.4
Real Estate Software Trends
Almost one third of real estate agents spend more time on location and at showings than at their office, and roughly half spend at least an hour a day traveling.5 It’s no surprise then, that mobile access (either through a native application or a mobile-optimized web interface) is virtually a standard feature for real estate office software. Instead of creating additional data entry points and doing extra work at the end of the day, agents can access real estate back office software and client accounts from any location using a smartphone or tablet. According to one survey, realtors spend 44 percent of their time working from a mobile device.4
The Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act (URPERA), first passed in 2004, authorized electronic recording of transactional information about property and land, including deeds, grants of easement, sales contracts, and mortgages. Since the passage of URPERA, adoption of e-recording has grown rapidly. According to the Property Records Industry Association (PRIA), 1,200 of the nation’s 3,600 recording jurisdictions now use e-recording.6 Although it primarily affects brokers, mortgage lenders, and title companies, e-recording integration is becoming an increasingly common feature for real estate technology solutions, especially where it affects title production and closing.
Smaller agencies often find software procurement intimidating, since it has traditionally involved large expenditures complex infrastructure accommodations, but Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is changing that. Using cloud-based technology, SaaS** real estate solutions** are hosted on a remote server and priced on a subscription basis (e.g. per month). This reduces upfront costs and eliminates the need for complicated IT management. SaaS makes professional-grade software accessible to agencies of any size or budget. In recent study by NetSuite, 81 percent of respondents said that cloud software has given them a competitive advantage over rivals and a better ability to react to change.7
Real Estate Software Categories
CRM software is one of the most saturated business IT markets, recently valued by Gartner at over $20 billion.8 In the real estate industry, CRM is designed to help agents manage relationships with various stakeholders (buyers, sellers, developers, financial institutions, etc.) and optimize the sales cycle from showing to contract. Most systems are built around contact/account management and workflow automation, but some may also include task management features, which can be useful for house flipping or development projects (examples include JobNimbus, Work[etc], and Insightly).
Buyers will have a choice between:
- Industry-specific CRMs: provide out-of-the box features for specific real estate tasks (contract management, lockbox tracking, listings management, etc.)
- Multi-purpose CRMs: provide standard features for account, customer, and task management, with the ability to create custom fields and workflows
There is a clear correlation between effective client relationship management and professional success. A 2012 survey by ActiveRain revealed that real estate agents whose income exceeds $100,000 are 87 percent more likely to use real estate CRM software than agents that make less than $35,000 a year.9
Here are some common features you can expect to find in a CRM solution:
- Contact / Account management
- Sales pipelines and forecasting
- Calendars and task management
- Workflow automation
- Collaboration tools
- Document / File storage
- Social media integration
- Reporting and analytics
- Native mobile apps
- Geolocation and navigation
Marketing automation (MA) software is one of the most common solutions deployed in conjunction with CRM. That’s because it’s predicated on collaboration between sales and marketing. Your agency can use marketing automation software to build targeted campaigns and engage prospects across multiple channels with the hope that these prospects will eventually become new clients (home buyers, lessees, etc.). Throughout the customer journey, your CRM will accrue contact details, demographic information, and historical data about each lead order to build a stronger relationship in the future. Companies with effective lead nurturing strategies generate, on average, 50 percent more qualified leads at one third less cost.10 For this reason, many consider CRM and marketing automation to be codependent.
Some CRMs offer basic marketing automation features out-of-the-box, but these are typically limited in scope (web forms, mass emailing, automated follow-ups). A dedicated MA platform, on the other hand, will provide more robust features, including:
- Email Campaigns
- Templates and Editing Tools
- Drip Programs
- A/B Testing
- Lead Management
- Social Marketing Campaigns
- Landing Page Builders
- SEO and Content Management Tools
- Reporting and Analytics
Property management software addresses the administrative needs of owners and investors across a variety of rental property types, including multifamily, single-family, homeowner’s association (HOA), commercial, vacation/short-term, and even self-storage facilities. Most solutions provide tools for managing the leasing relationship (screenings, inspections, rent collection, move-out and contract renewal) as well as maintaining the property and related assets.
More so than with CRM and marketing automation, you’ll notice the segmentation between different scale property management solutions — namely, integrated solutions vs. “best-of-breed.” Best-of-breed tools are designed to automate specific functions within the broader property management spectrum, such as rent collection or maintenance management. They may be simpler and more affordable, but they don’t offer the end-to-end usability of an integrated system (like Yardi, for example).
Here are some of the features you can expect to find in a property management solution:
- Tenant/contact management
- Tenant self-service portals
- Rent payment processing
- Applicant screening
- Work order/maintenance management
- Accounting and financial management
- Document management (lease agreements, 1099s, official notices, etc.)
- Prospect/lead tracking
- Unit inspection forms
- Integration with ILS (internet listing service)
- Native mobile applications
- Reporting and Analytics
Leading Solutions: Yardi, Appfolio, Buildium, Landmax.pro
Real Estate Software Case Study
Company: Ontario Property Pros11
Solution: Insightly CRM
Ontario Property Pros is a Keller Williams Edge Realty partnership led by broker Brenda McKinley. They offer residential, commercial, and investment services to clients in the Burlington, Ontario area, with a mission to manage the buying and selling process from A-to-Z and provide valuable market knowledge to maximize the value of properties.
Before switching to Insightly, the Ontario Property Pros team was managing contacts in a real estate-specific CRM they found expensive and difficult to use. In 2014, McKinley decided to search for a new solution — one that offered the best value at an affordable price point. After testing the software out through a free trial, McKinley and her team agreed that Insightly was the best real estate software for their needs.
The Ontario Property Pros reported a number of key advantages they gained:
- Successfully manage over 5,000 contacts
- New contact follow-ups are faster and more accurate
- Integration with everyday business tools (email, file storage, accounting, marketing automation) centralizes digital work
- Using sales pipelines and lead management, better able to convert prospects into customers
- Introduced Insightly to 120 fellow agents in the Keller Williams brokerage
Choosing the Best Software for Your Agency
That’s where we come in. At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to connect businesses with the technology that best meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the real estate software programs listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you about it. Call one of our experts for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a personalized recommendation based on your industry and desired features.
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- “2014 National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends.” National Association of Realtors. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.realtor.org/sites/default/files/reports/2014/2014-home-buyer-and-seller-generational-trends-report-full.pdf
- “Top 5 Challenges Facing Agents Today.” Real Estate Wiki. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.realestatewiki.com/wiki_content/Top_5_Challenges_Facing_Agents_Today_cat57553894_cid67820734.htm
- “Quick Facts: Resident Demographics.” NMHC. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.nmhc.org/Content.aspx?id=4708%20
- “NAR Survey Shows Realtors Continue to Invest in Mobile Technologies.” NAR. Last modified June 25, 2014. http://www.realtor.org/news-releases/2014/06/nar-survey-shows-realtors-continue-to-invest-in-mobile-technologies
- “Life as a Real Estate Agent: Survey Results.” Placester. Accessed May 20, 2015. https://placester.com/real-estate-marketing-academy/life-as-an-agent-survey-results/
- “Milestone Achieved with 1,200 Counties Now eRecording.” PRIA. Last modified Novermber 11, 2014. http://www.pria.us/files/public/News/Press_Releases/PRIA/2014/PRIA%201200%20eRecording%20Counties%20-%20FINALdocx.pdf
- “81 Percent of US Businesses Cite Cloud Computing As A Competitive Advantage Over Rivals.” MarketWatch. Last modified November 18, 2014. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/81-percent-of-us-businesses-cite-cloud-computing-as-a-competitive-advantage-over-rivals-2014-11-18
- “Gartner Says Customer Relationship Management Software Market Grew 13.7 percent in 2013.” Gartner. Last modified May 6, 2014. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2730317
- “Rich Real Estate Agent, Poor Real Estate Agent.” ActiveRain. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://files.marketleader.com/pdfs/activerain_rich_poorreport.pdf
- “The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics.” HubSpot. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics
- “Insightly contributes to team growth for Ontario Property Pros Team.” Insightly Accessed May 21, 2015. https://www.insightly.com/customers/ontario-property-pros/