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Software review: "The Property Manager." (Software Review) (evaluation)

Michael J. Hanrahan is president of Real Estate Software Test Lab and Real Estate Software Advisors in San Francisco. He has been a software review consultant for the Journal for the past three years and has independently evaluated more than 50 property management software programs.

Mr. Hanrahan has been in the real estate business for more than 20 years. His academic background includes advanced studies and bachelor's and M.B.A. degrees in real estate, urban economics, applied economics, and international business. Prior to his current activities, he was director of research of Questor Associates, the predecessor company to Roulac Real Estate Consulting Group of Deloitte Haskins & Sells,

Mr. Hanrahan speaks to, writes for, and advises real estate companies, trade associations, and publications about real estate software for property management, investment, and other real estate applications. He also maintains the Real Estate Software Information Bank.

Author's note: These software reviews have been designed to accomplish two things--review a program, and keep you informed of some important trends and issues in property management software. Starting this month the two will be separated more formally.

The Property Manager, published by L&L Services, Inc., is a tenant/accounts receivable program that ties into the ACCPAC Plus Accounts Payable and General Ledger programs, published by Computer Associates. The best way to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of The Property Manager is to view the program in terms of initial data set-up and everyday processing. The Property Manager has many strengths in the former and both strengths and weaknesses in the latter

Set-up

The set-up side of The Property Manager is well designed and clearly structured. The program as a whole is simple to understand, and the user is able to see the program's separate components easily. The set-up work itself can be accomplished in a straightforward, yet flexible, manner

The primary design element of The Property Manager is the basic screen used to set up different kinds of entities and tables. All modern property management programs use this approach. The Property Manager's version provides for a high level of clarity and internal uniformity and consistency.

In addition to providing data entry options for the usual entities of management company, properties, units, and tenants, The Property Manager permits records for property owners and buildings. it also provides for lenders and loans, insurance companies and policies, and banks and bank accounts.

The Property Manager is particularly strong in providing fields for contact information. In addition to name and address, every property, building, and unit has a property management contact person and telephone assigned to it. This information is printed on reports and tenant communications.

An additional place for "emergency phone" is provided for all tenants. Moreover, three other name-phone combinations may be entered for references" or for any other tenant phones. Spaces for three separate addresses are also provided-previous, current billing, and alternative address.

Each building record provides for 25 repair records, each containing a brief item description and comment, together with last inspection and last repair dates. Each unit record also provides for 25 such records. In some ways this is better than a more elaborate work-order system.

The Property Manager has some memo fields-for example, Type of Construction in the building record. The program also provides a "Dictionary" to assist in filling out this field. The user can set up different types of construction in the dictionary and provide a code for each type. To fill the field the user then accesses the dictionary and picks the desired type.

This capability is more than many programs provide. But, the implementation is weak in two respects. First, having all items in one big file creates an unworkable structure. Several smaller, field-specific files are needed.

Second, the field content is uncontrolled. Because any characters can be used, the power of features for special inquiry, search, and report-writing are diminished. The solution is to allow only those labels contained in the field-specific look-up file to be entered.

A further weakness is that The Property Manager contains few comment fields and no notepad capability.

Processing

The transaction-processing side of The Property Manager is strong in the primary functions of generating charges and cash receipts. It is considerably weaker in the secondary functions such as editing, adjustments, NSFS, and posting to general ledger

Cash receipts are easy to process in this open-item system. The Property Manager provides for user-defined charge codes, which can then be used to set up recurring charges and assess ad-hoc charges. Recurring charges can be generated in advance and will post to the correct date in the coming month.

At the same time, The Property Manager has some mild to serious nuisances in its secondary processing functions. A mild one is that some intended procedures produce extra, unneeded work. For example, most property management programs that provide for edit/audit reports intend for the user to retain a clean edit report as the audit report. The Property Manager intends for the user to print an "edit list," post to the tenant records, then print a "journal" report.

Other problems are more serious. The transaction batches which are posted to the tenant records within The Property Manager must also be posted, by separate menu option, to ACCPAC Plus General Ledger Then, those batches must be purged, by separate menu option, from The Property Manager. And until they are purged, the batches continue to plague the user when processing the badly outdated, time-wasting, batch-queue printing system.

A separate problem is that, while ad-hoc charges and cash receipts can be edited directly, recurring charges and late charges cannot. The usual process in property management programs is to generate the charges, delay the posting to produce an edit/audit report, and execute the posting or cancel the process. If editing is required, the set-up files and/or charge parameters are edited, and the same procedure is run again.

The process in The Property Manager is to generate the charges directly into the ad-hoc charges temporary file. They must be printed there and edited there on a one-by-one basis. if the source of the problem is the set-up files, users must change them manually, in addition to the ad hoc charges. However, The Property Manager does not permit re-running the process until the following month.

One unique feature of The Property Manager is its bank account handling within the tenant/ accounts receivable system. Due to the design, it is easier with The Property Manager to use different bank accounts for different charge codes, such as deposits.

Some aspects of deposits are also handled quite well. They are user-defined, treated as charges, displayed by type in tenant records, and easily assignable to specific ledger accounts and bank accounts. On the other hand, there are no features specifically related to interest or to the application or refund of deposits.

Adjustments are very inconvenient because there is no distribution capability. Only one debit or credit and its off-set can be handled in a transaction. NSF transactions are a designated type of adjustment and are equally problematic.

Some housekeeping functions such as move-ins and rent changes are provided for, but not in a strong way. For example, the move-in function provides nothing that the direct file access does not.

Condominium associations and subsidized units are addressed with some relatively low-level functionality in The Property Manager Commercial units are addressed with some charge-related functionality, such as one level of percentage rent, a tax stop, and a CPI function.

One nice, or risky, element, depending on your views, is that closing is not required within The Property Manager. in addition, posting is date sensitive. A definite benefit is that transaction history is maintained as long as you want.

Reports

Overall, the reports in The Property Manager are not strong. For example, some reports are not available in unit order You can use various report writers to generate your own.

Accounts payable

The Property Manager interfaces with the ACCPAC Plus General Ledger published by Computer Associates. The ACCPAC Plus Accounts Payable program also interfaces to that General Ledger

Computer Associates expects to release Version 6.0 of the Accounts Payable program in the first quarter of 1991. L&L Services is also adding substantial accounts-payable capability directly to its new version of The Property Manager

The current-version 5.0 Accounts Payable module has user-defined aging periods, has check reconciliation, and permits a user to print 1099s. The recurring invoices function is not given much attention, however

The method of handling invoices which have duplicate numbers or missing vendors seems pointlessly structured to frustrate the user Instead of easily preventing these operator errors, the program waits until the posting journal is printed, then prints an oh-by-the-way "error report" with a footnote: "Transactions with errors have been purged from the system and must be re-entered." Very irritating.

General ledger

The ACCPAC Plus General Ledger and Financial Reporter (Version 6.0) program has a very strong emphasis on relating to other programs. A great deal of attention is given to import-and-export and audit-trail functions.

The program has several of the added refinements to its basic functions that are fairly common in generic accounting programs but rare in property management general ledgers. For example, several methods of budget data entry are available including growth rates, fractions, current or previous year data, actuals or budgets, same or other accounts, and detail or summary levels.

Closing a month in most programs involves a great deal of work. In ACCPAC Plus, the countless steps of adjustments, reports, and so on are separated from the actual closing" of the month. A simple status control of "open" or "closed" can be set for each month.

Finalizing the month can be done independently of daily operations. An "open" month can be posted to; a closed" month cannot. Any months in the current or last fiscal year can be reopened, through security access, or left open. The system will not, however, allow posting in such a way that a month is unbalanced.

One problem with the General Ledger program is that the old year must be closed prior to opening the new one. New transactions can be archived until the new year is opened, but this is a nuisance.

Several standard reports are provided, including a comparative balance sheet and an income statement. The Financial Reporter also offers substantial report writing capability. In addition, many other report-generation options are available through use of the export function. And to see the future, just look at the ACCPAC Plus Graphic Reporting Option for graphs and charts.

Documentation

The manuals for this program look good on the surface, but come up short. The ACCPAC Plus manuals are average to good. The primary things missing are more screen shots and cross referencing. They do provide pretty good descriptions of the way things work.

The Property Manager manual does not. The manual is excellent in some respects, but it provides facts rather than explains to the user how different portions of the program interrelate.

Ease of use

The programs are generally easy to use. Two major elements determine that: the basic design of the program in relation to operator procedures and the special features and functions oriented specifically toward ease of use. In its basic design, The Property Manager is above average in ease of use.

In the special, user-oriented features, the programs, especially the ACCPAC components, are excellent. The programs can be run under Computer Associates' own environment programs-System Manager or Windowing System Manager

Windowing System Manager provides for multiple windows that can simultaneously contain different programs or different screens within the same program. The Windowing System Manager also provides for advanced methods of access to pick lists. For example, in a name field, "r m d' will find someone with those initials, while "rmb" will find a name containing that string of letters.

Conclusion

The Property Manager is part of the new generation of property management programs. it has some important strengths that go along with that, such as ease of use. It also has some important weaknesses that are the product of inadequate design. Overall, The Property Manager illustrates the potential of the new generation, but does not sufficiently implement it.
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Author:Hanrahan, Michael J.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Article Type:evaluation
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:2032
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