Category Archives: Administrator

Property Managers – The Next BIG Data Breach Target

Tenant File Cybersecurity Warning

As a property manager, you are busy – really busy. That is why you are not usually concerning yourself with hacking, data breaches, cyber security, and whatnot … your property management software handles that stuff for you, right? Think again. The property management industry is the next big data breach target for the hackers. It’s like the golden fleece of data and it is there for the taking.  Easy pickings …

Think like a hacker. There are SO many opportunities. For starters, all of your owners information is available. That includes bank account numbers, social security numbers, email addresses, passwords to access the software, and confidential accounting records. That is pure gold for someone wanting to immediately start draining bank accounts.

And that is just the beginning. When a potential tenant makes a rental application, they provide EVERYTHING a computer hacker needs to steal their identity.  Name, social security numbers, addresses, employment, cell phone numbers, references, wages, and much, much more.  That includes all of the tenants you have ever managed and even the ones that simply applied to rent from you.  It’s all in your property management software database.

How about the vendors that you do business with? You have all of their information as well. If you pay their bank account directly, you are responsible for their banking info, too.

What about your own data? That is all online as well, and you could have your identity stolen too. Once that is done, it could take years to get it back and to stop all of the instances of someone using your personal information throughout the dark web.

Angry Property Manager

A property management company is one-stop-shopping for a hacker. There is so much more data in one place, so it is a prime target for nefarious criminals. I understand that you are busy, and feel that you are protected. Why do you feel protected? Because a salesperson told you that you have nothing to worry about. Don’t believe it!

When you purchase a web-based property management software, you are probably overwhelmed by the security pitch designed to put your mind at ease. You’ll hear things like “we have redundant servers”, “we have never had a data breach”, “we have triple firewall protection”, “blah, blah, blah”.  Then you think, “wow, they could never have a data breach with all of that!”.

Think again. For starters, let’s review just ‘some’ of the recent data security breaches:

  • Panera Bread – estimated over 7 million
  • Sears, Kmart, Delta Air Lines, Best Buy – lumped together because it was a customer service company managing their clients – sound familiar?
  • Saks Fifth Avenue / Lord and Taylor – over 5 million debit and credit cards
  • Facebook – you’ve heard about this breach of over 87 million
  • Under Amour / My Fitness Pal – 150 million
  • Adidas – millions of customers compromised
  • Ticketmaster – millions compromised
  • Equifax – confidential customer information stolen
  • Yahoo – updated estimates of compromised accounts to 3 billion
  • Arby’s – undetermined number of stolen records
  • Dun & Bradstreet – they’re supposed to be the rock solid pillar
  • Chipotle – ongoing investigation to determine the numbers
  • California Association of Realtors – payments made online sent info elsewhere
  • Verizon – 14 million subscribers affected
  • Uber – 57 million riders and drivers data stolen from their GitHub repository.

Well, I could go on and on, but you get the point. If these huge companies with all of their sophisticated protection could be breached, do you ‘really’ think your online property management software company is better?  And those figures don’t even include major attacks on universities, government agencies, and our ‘grid’.

Our grid? Yes, the Russians and other countries may already be able to take down large portions of the United States power grid, if not all of it. Think of all the companies affected by Hurricane Florence on the East Coast. They may not have power for weeks. That means the property management companies cannot access their online tenant records, their owner’s accounting, banking, tenant screening, and more. They are basically ‘out of business’ until further notice.

I just want you to think about this. Even as busy are you are managing property, please take a moment to think about the precious data that you are entrusting to people you don’t even know. Of course you should change your passwords often and take other precautions, but is that really enough? Find out if you can download your important customer data to your own computer on a regular basis. Maybe you don’t even need an expensive web-based product when a desktop version will do just as well … just something to think about.

Tips and Tricks – View Information from Previous Backups

Tenant File Previous Backups

As indicated in our previous blog, we highly suggest that you make backups of your database from time to time.  At any time that you click into BACKUPS (from the MAIN MENU) and make a backup of your current data within the Tenant File program, you are required to tell the system where that file named ‘TFDATAFL.MDB’ is to be stored.  This database is your MAIN database file that holds all of your ‘Active’ Owner, Property, Unit and Tenant Ledgers along with all transactions, checks, deposits, etc.  The file created through the Backup Procedure is a database file only meaning it does not include the entire program and you cannot open that one file to view your previous data.

You should never restore a previous database over your current Tenant File data.  If you were to click into BACKUPS > RESTORE > and choose to restore a backup from a previous date, you would be overwriting your current database.  That means that all transactions, checks, deposits, entries, etc. that were entered into your current program would be lost and your data will revert back to the date and time of that previous backup.

The way to view data from previous days, months or years would be to access one of the Tenant File Folder Backups that you would have created prior to running the Year End Closing.   Our Year End Closing Instructions (as found on our website under SUPPORT) gives detailed step by step instructions on how to create a ‘full program backup’.

If you have not run the ‘Year End Closing’ and/or do not have a second installation of the program required to view previous data and if you need to access the information from previous backups, you should choose to create a copy of your entire Tenant File program folder on your computer’s hard drive.  That way, you can access last year’s files or previous database files without having to restore files over your current data.  Be very careful to follow the instructions below. Depending on the version of Windows that you are using, the procedure may be slightly different for your computer.

Note: This assumes your files are in a folder named ‘TF4WIN’.  If not, substitute the name you assigned instead. To see where your Tenant Files are located, go to the icon or program shortcut that starts the program, then right-click on that item. Go to ‘Properties’, and look for the ‘Start in‘ path of your Tenant File program. The file TF4WIN.EXE is NOT part of the path or location! (Note: The steps below assume your Tenant File is in the folder ‘C:\Tenant File\TF4WIN’ which is the default folder upon purchase – if you changed that default location upon installation, yours may be different.)

Step 1:  Open Windows Explorer (or find ‘Computer’, ‘My Computer’ or ‘This PC’).

Step 2:  Double-click on your local computer hard drive letter. (Such as drive ‘C:’)

Step 3:  Find the folder named ‘Tenant File’ and double-click to open it

Step 4:  Find the folder named ‘TF4WIN’ and click once on the folder to highlight the folder.  (Don’t open it)

Step 5:  Press Ctrl-C (or Control-C) to copy the folder. (You won’t see any change)

Step 6:  Press Ctrl-V (or Control-V) to paste the folder. (You may not see any change)

Step 7:  Find the NEW FOLDER, named ‘TF4WIN – Copy’ (or ‘Copy of TF4WIN’). (Probably at the bottom of your current window)

Step 8:  Right-Click on the new folder, then select ‘Rename’.

Step 9:  Edit the name of the folder to a name of your choice.  If this is a folder that will hold last year’s data (for example), you might want to change the name to ‘TF4WIN2017’ or whatever you want to name it as long as you know that it is not your current data.

At this point, you can choose to create a shortcut to this new folder.  Please note: You would want to make sure that this ‘Backup of the full Tenant File program’ is not accessed for current entries.   It is a full program and will allow new transactions, checks, deposits, etc. but previous data SHOULD NEVER BE EDITED.

NOTE: To create a shortcut for the ‘Backup Folder’: Double-click to open the folder you just created. Find the program file TF4WIN.EXE, and RIGHT-CLICK on the file. Select ‘Create Shortcut’, which should create a ‘shortcut to TF4WIN.EXE’ file in the same folder you are in. Drag that shortcut to your desktop. You should rename the shortcut something that is more descriptive, such as ‘Tenant File 2017’ or ‘Tenant File – Previous Data’.  To do so, right-click on the new shortcut that was created on your desktop and choose ‘Rename’.

Note:  If you are running our current Tenant File 8 Version (and you should be) and you attempt to restore a database from a previous version, you will be required to enter your ‘User Name’ and ‘Password’.  That information is saved in your current database and therefore will be required if you attempt to restore an older database.

If this is a little more that you feel comfortable doing, you can always have one of our experts do it for you. They can connect to your computer remotely, create the desired folders and help locate any backup that you want to look at. Or order, just go to the Tenant File website (www.TenantFile.com) and click on ‘Order Now’ at the top.

As always, be sure to make backups of your current data before you do anything regarding file copying and restoration of data.

 

Tips and Tricks – Security Deposits in the Tenant File

 Many states require that the Tenant’s Security Deposits be held by the Property Manager and accounted for separately, requiring a separate bank account to hold those deposits.  Whether you hold the funds in ‘Trust’ or pass the funds to your Owners, the Tenant File will allow the different methods of posting Security Deposits.

The Tenant File allows for up to 10 bank accounts. One main Property Management Account, called the Primary Account, and up to 9 other bank accounts that the User sets up. If your state requires that you hold the Security Deposit in a separate account (and not transfer the funds to the Owner), then you would utilize one of the additional accounts (other than the Primary Account) for those funds.

When a new Tenant is entered into the system, you will need to process a ‘Charge’ to the Tenant Ledger with the amount of the Security Deposit required (i.e. ‘Security Dep Charged’), similar to charging a Tenant Ledger with their Rent.  If the Tenant has an additional Deposit required, such as a ‘Pet Deposit’, you would also process that charge. (i.e. ‘Pet Dep Charged’).  When the Security Deposit is paid, you ‘Credit’ the Tenant Ledger (using ‘Deposit Received’), which will zero out the deposit charged.  The amount of the ‘Security Deposit Received’ would need to be entered under the Tenant information field titled ‘Deposit 1’. You would do the same with the ‘Pet Dep Received’ and enter the amount under ‘Deposit 2’.  This process of posting the ‘Security Dep Charged’ and the ‘Security Dep Received’ is a ‘wash’, yet it allows for a history of what the Tenant has paid and what you, as the Property Manager, are holding in escrow for that Tenant (or has passed on to the Owner).

The Tenant File Accounts are set to post the ‘Security Dep Received’ to the Tenant ONLY due to the fact that a majority of the states are required to hold those funds.  IF you do not hold those funds and pass the Deposits on to the Owner, then you would need to modify your account settings under PREFERENCES > ADD/EDIT ACCOUNTS and change the ‘POST TO’ Ledger Status of the ‘Security Dep Received’ to post to BOTH (T/U).  The deposit income would then be posted to both Tenant and Unit and the amount(s) would be included in the ‘Paid to Owner’ check.

When the Tenant vacates the Unit, if you are holding the funds in ‘Trust’, you would need to refund to the Tenant the portion of the Deposit(s) that remain once all repairs and expenses have been processed against them.

A new procedure was added to our current Tenant File Version 8 which allows for a compact, easier and quicker way to post Security Deposit Refunds and/or Dispositions. To use this feature, click on the MISCELLANEOUS selection from the Main Menu and choose ‘Security Deposit Disposition’. You will see the following screen:

Security Deposit Posting in the Tenant File

This new feature will allow you first transfer the funds from the ‘Security Deposit’ Bank Account to your ‘Operating’ Bank Account (if need be), transfer the funds back to the Tenant Ledger, subtract any expenses incurred from the Deposit, refund the available portion back to the Tenant and Forfeit any funds to the Owner.  And, of course, all deposits and checks will be automatically created for you.

Simply click onto the dropdown list to select the desired Tenant and the currently entered Security Deposit amount will be filled in for you. This information is pulled from your Tenant Ledgers in the ‘Deposit 1’ and the ‘Deposit 2’ fields, therefore if the information does not show to be correct, exit and view the Tenant Ledger.  It is very important that you make sure that all of the information and accounts shown on your screen are correct prior to proceeding.

Your first step would be to indicate if you keep the ‘Security Deposit’ funds in a separate Bank Account (i.e. Trust Account), but write all of the checks from an ‘Operating Account’. If so, the program will transfer those funds from one account to another if you click in the upper right corner the option button labeled ‘I first transfer from escrow to another account’ under the section titled ‘How do you handle your security deposits?’.  It will also allow you to create a check and deposit for the transfer from one account to the other (if you choose). Once you select the ‘transfer’ option, the screen will display other options allowing you to show the transfer, then to create the disposition of the security deposit.  If your accounting system is set to pay expenses from the ‘Trust Account’, you would indicate ‘I don’t make an account to account transfer’ and checks would be created for your ‘Security Deposit Account’.

Additional settings on the ‘Security Deposit Disposition’ screen are below:

Transfer Security Deposit into Tenant Ledger: This will display the total funds (as entered in your Tenant Ledger information) that will be temporarily credited to the Tenant Ledger. Typically, this is the full amount of the original received ‘Security Deposit’ entered. The purpose of this step is to show that money was transferred out of escrow (your ‘Security Deposit Bank Account’) and back into the Tenant’s Ledger.  You can prompt the program to create a deposit into your Operating Account (if you choose).

Subtract any amount that you want to charge the Tenant: This section will allow you to subtract the amount of any expenses incurred that you want to deduct from the Security Deposit prior to creating the refund.  If you have posted the expenses previously into the Tenant Ledger when paying Vendors for repairs (for example), you would skip this step.

Note:  If you have posted the expenses for repairs into the Unit Ledger, this section will allow you post a ‘Forfeited Deposit’ into the Unit Ledger for those expenses by placing a check mark at ‘Click here to forfeit this amount to the Owner (Unit Ledger). Once selected, the screen will include the information of the amount forfeited and the Account Defaults that will be used.

Tip:  If you create checks to your Vendors for payments of Work Orders or repairs to the Units that are being vacated and you post those expenses to your Unit Ledger, you would want to allow the program to create the ‘Forfeited Deposit’ posting to the Unit Ledger to offset those expenses.  If you create the checks to your Vendors and post those expenses to the Tenant Ledger, you would not forfeit the funds to the Owner, but utilize the remaining funds (not refunded) to offset the expenses.

Refund the remaining Security Deposit to the Tenant Ledger: This is the final amount to be refunded to the tenant. If you want the Tenant File to create a check to the tenant, just click the ‘Create Tenant check’ box and enter the tenant name and any remark that you want to show.

Important Note:  Prior to using this feature, you must make sure that all of the required accounts are set up under PREFERENCES > ADD/EDIT ACCOUNTS.  For new users, these accounts are included in your setup.  If you have recently updated your Tenant File program to Version 8, you will need to follow the instructions included with your order to add the required accounts.  Use your own wording for the Account Names that you set up. Once the Account Names are set, you will need to click into PREFERENCES > EDIT ACCOUNT DEFAULTS and set your defaults for the new accounts.

Remember that any checks created through this process are not posted until you print the checks.

If you do not have the current Tenant File Version (and you should), you would need to manually make the transfers, postings, checks and deposits that the ‘Security Deposit Disposition’ procedure will do for you automatically. The manual entries would include posting a ‘Security Dep FROM Escrow’ (Income Account) to bring the funds back into the Tenant ledger.  If you use a separate account for your Security Deposits, you would write a check out of the ‘Trust Account’ and create a deposit into your ‘Property Management Account’.  You would then pay out any expenses incurred by the Tenant (checks created to Vendors, etc.), and then write a check (Security Dep Refunded) to the Tenant for the remaining funds.  If any of the deposit is to be forfeited to the Owner, you would post that Expense to the Tenant ledger (Tenant Deposit Forfeited) and then post that same amount to the Unit Ledger under ‘Deposit Forfeited’.   This takes into account that you are keeping your security deposits separate from your property management operating account.  If your accounting system is set to pay expenses from the ‘Trust Account’, you will still need to post the transactions in the Tenant ledger as indicated above to show where the funds were paid to.

The transfer of the Security Deposit when a Tenant moves out of the Unit should be done prior to making that Tenant ‘VACANT’ and moving him/her to the ‘Inactive Database’.

You are free to set up as many Account Categories as you wish and use your own method. Since states have different regulations regarding handling security deposits, we cannot give advice on the method you should use.

Meltdown and Spectre – Beware of Major Cloud Computing Flaws

Tenant File Cybersecurity Warning

Once again, cloud-based computing takes a big hit. This time, it is ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’. And unlike before, these security flaws are affecting ‘processors’, not just specific web ‘sites’. The processors are built-in to every device that you use to access the Internet, such as phone, tablets, laptops, and other devices that run in cloud computing networks. That includes Windows, Apple, Google, and other processors.

Meltdown affects all Intel micro processors since 1995. Spectre affects ‘all processors on the market’ according to Dashlane’s report by Nicole Perlroth, the New York Times cybersecurity writer. How bad? Well, the flaws can allow the ‘entire memory contents’ of your cloud computing devices that run on cloud based networks to be accessed. For property managers using web-based software, that is everything you have.

The fix? Well, this one isn’t so easy. You can’t just change out the processor of every web device in the world, and there is no final fix for Meltdown announced as of this writing, but Microsoft and Apple are currently in the process of releasing patches. It is expected that software patches will be rolled out in increments to repair the flaws.

And it gets worse … it is expected that the Meltdown patch might slow down the processors by as much as 30%.  What? Are you willing to accept a sluggish computer system when you are posting rent and working on your accounting software?

For the Spectre fix, Google has indicated that while there is no fix to repair existing problems, there is a software update that will make processors ‘immune’ to the flaw available soon.

Here is more detailed information recently released by CNN tech online: https://money.cnn.com/2018/01/04/technology/spectre-meltdown-cpu-flaws-explainer/index.html

Cyber Security HackersThey explain that this will affect billions of devices and some may not even be repairable. According to Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia at a major cybersecurity firm, “Resolving this issue will take time and incur costs,” Boland said. “Vulnerable systems will likely remain in operation for decades.” Others warn that even the mass replacement of computer chips may not necessarily help, and that no actual solution

At Tenant File, we are not running on a cloud-based system, it is right on your desktop. We suggest that you have one computer that is not even connected to the Internet, so that there is no possibility of a hacker taking over your computer and demanding ransom, a malware product stealing valuable tenant, owner, vendor and company information, or a bug that destroys your data.

Even if your processor has the flaw, nobody can get to it if your computer is not connected to the Internet. And if it is, then you should be absolutely sure that you have an antivirus software installed to protect your computer from the bad guys.

We feel that many people are not paying enough attention to what is going on. Our computer security is not keeping up with the dangers, and we all could be vulnerable to have our data compromised. Don’t be a victim when the inevitable happens.

Property Management Company vs. DIY Landlording

Rental Property InvestmentFor a business to be successful, there are a number of questions that you need to ask yourself. Therefore, as a property owner in the real estate business, one of the questions you will need to answer is whether to hire a property management firm or become the landlord and oversee your investment in person. It is an important decision that requires careful considerations for each strategy has both the negative and positive factors as well as the associated cost.

Despite the fact that you have options at your disposal, first things first. As a rental property owner, one of the critical and meaningful decisions you make is to identify and measure the advantages and disadvantages of each path. For sure, managing a rental property on your own can be very financially rewarding, but it comes with a lot of commitments in terms of time and effort. Conversely, hiring a property management company not only brings about a reduction in the day to day responsibility but also gives you more time to relax and engage in other activities. However, that freedom comes at a cost that can have a long term impact on your bottom line. In order to understand your options, we break down the strengths and weakness of each endeavor.

Becoming a Landlord

When you decide to manage your rental property in person, then you become your own investment property’s gatekeeper. More so, you have a responsibility to both your tenants and your rental business. Therefore, it is your job to ensure that the tenants’ expectations are met and also to make sure that operations run smoothly. You also have to ensure that your mortgage gets paid. The duties of a landlord include but not limited to finding new tenants and collecting rent as well as maintaining a clean environment.

Benefits of Self-Managing Your Property

 Save on Management Fees

No single management company works for free. They charge a fee for their services. Sometimes, the fee is as high as 10% to 15% of the collected monthly rent. However, when you choose to manage your property, you will keep 100% profits of your property. For example, if your property net worth is $20000, the property management company will take $2000.

Direct involvement in day-to-day activities and decisions

When you manage your own property, you will have the power to make all the important decisions without consulting someone else. More so, you will have total control over a number of issues that include where to advertise your vacant rentals as well as which contractors to hire for maintenance purposes. Nevertheless, you will also know how to collect rent from each tenant individually.

Cons of Self-Managing Your Property

Finding tenants

It is up to you as a manager to fill the void once your property becomes vacant. Typically, this is the most time-consuming and the hardest part of managing your own property. Therefore, you have to do marketing and advertising in order to attract tenants. Nonetheless, you have a duty to screen new tenants to ensure that you are leasing the property to the right persons. In addition, you have to collect the deposits from new tenants.

Legal issues

Since you manage you own property, you must know all the property laws so that you can know your stand when it comes to late payment and eviction.
landlord repair for insurance

Maintenance and repair

You are in charge of answering the maintenance calls as well as making sure that repairs are fixed. These are things you can do personally if you are the handyman type. Alternatively, you can hire contractors to make repairs but this will, of course, cost money.

Rental property management

Even though you can manage your own property, sometimes in business, it is better to pay a professional to do it for you In fact; a property management company adds a significant value to your investments as they deal directly with prospects and tenants. The property management company will save you considerable amounts of stress and also give you peace of mind for you know that the business is running smoothly.

Pros of a Property Management Company

Minimal vacancies

The property management company will aggressively advertise your property across a number of major platforms. This way, the vacant will reach the widest tenant pool possible. Therefore, the property will attract top-notch tenants that are likely to stay for long and pay on time as well as those that will take good care of your property.

Time-saving ability

Time-saving ability is one of the most crucial advantages of hiring a property management company. It will free up some time for you to do things you enjoy and especially when you have multiple investment properties. More so, with the property management company, you will not be responsible for the late night emergency repairs and annual inspections.

Fewer legal problems

A good property management company is well equipped with the landlord-tenant laws and will ensure that you are not vulnerable to potential law suits by undertaking stringent screening processes.

Tighter rent collection processes

Landlords can be lenient to tenants when it comes to rent collection. Timely rent collection is the only way to maintain cash flow. Therefore, your tenants should know that rent paying is not negotiable. By hiring a property management company, you put a buffer between you and your tenants for they will be involved in chasing down rents and even eviction when necessary.

Fluid infrastructures

Mostly, property management companies come as an all in one management package. These companies have standard procedures that ensure the leasing process goes smoothly in all stages. The procedures include screening and rent collection as well as eviction of tenants.

Cons of Hiring a Property Management Company

The only disadvantage of hiring a property management company is its higher cost that ultimately affects your profit margin. Most often, the company will take all or part of the 1st month’s rent as the first payment and then approximately 10% of each and every month’s rent after that. The company will use this first month’s rent for a number of expenses such as advertising the property and processing the applicant as well as administrative costs that come with setting up a new account.

Conclusion

So, if you have the time and are willing to learn all aspects of the property management business the DIY landlord option might work best for you. If you are expecting to keep purchasing rental property as an investment, you might want to start your own management business and hire your own personnel. However, it is a lot of work and mistakes can become very costly. You will have to learn about maintenance, find and purchase property management software, learn about the legal aspects of rental management, screen and work directly with your tenants.

If you can find a good property management company to work with, you will probably find that their experience and knowledge will be worth the time savings for you. You will be up and running in a short time and able to focus on new opportunities for investing.

10 Features Your Property Management Software Should Have

property management chartEven if you are an owner of a single duplex, you should have good property management software. This especially rings true if you are a professional property management company managing for a number of rental property owners. There are so many choices, and many of them are very good, but most likely none of them will have every single feature that you might want to have in your property management software.

The initial decision is whether you want web-based Internet software or desktop-based on-premise software. This article is not going to get into the pros and cons of either. The 10 features mentioned should be present in any decision that you make. However, you will need to consider if you want to have an unending monthly payment to use software online (web based), or if you would rather purchase your software once and own it yourself for as long as you need it (desktop based).

#1. Ease of Use – What good is software that is confusing and difficult to use? Generally, I have found that software created by programmers doesn’t ‘think’ the way property managers think. The software companies founded by actual realtors and rental property managers seem to be the most user friendly with the best flow. So when you are looking at software, be sure to see how easy it is to look up a tenant by their name, by the rental address, or by the owner of the property. Also make sure that the accounting for that tenant is not far away, meaning that it takes more than one click to access the accounting once you have displayed the tenant info.

#2. Separation of Accounts – You are managing two entities, so you will need to provide separate accounting and reporting for each. First, you are managing the tenant, so you’ll need accounting for the rent charges, rent receipts, tenant expenses and more. Your software program should provide statements clearly showing the charges and income that you receive from the tenant. Secondly, you are managing the accounting for the owner of the property. So, you will need to maintain accounting showing the rent received, management fees (if applicable), repairs and maintenance and other charges. Then, it should be able to provide reporting for the owner that is easy to understand.

#3. Notices and Invoices – You need to stay on top of money due from your tenants. So, your software should be able to easily send ‘Payment Due’ invoices’ and ‘Late Rent’ notices. Be sure that you test this out and see how easy it is to use. Since you may want to use your own wording in the notice, make sure the wording is not ‘canned’ in order for you to create a customized notice.

#4. Easy Date-Sensitive Reporting – Running a report shouldn’t be difficult. Basically, you should be able to click on a report and set the date range. A good property management report will be easy to understand, show totals at the end of the report, and allow you to run the report for any date range, including weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

#5. A Good Vendor File – Vendors are a big part of your business. They repair your rental property and provide goods that you need to maintain their condition. Vendors might be general contractors, handymen, insurance companies, building supply companies, mortgage companies, utilities, or landscapers. So, your software should have a vendor section with unlimited vendors and keep plenty of information on each vendor. You should look for a property management system that includes the vendor name, contact information, phone numbers, email, tax ID numbers, addresses, and plenty of note space for each vendor. Additionally, the program should be able to insert any vendor into any check.

#6. A Reminder System – When you are juggling tenants, owners, and your own business needs, you can’t remember everything. Let your software do it for you. A good rental property software should have a comprehensive reminder system built-in to the product. Tenants are constantly calling with questions, maintenance requests, and possibly complaints about other tenants. If your software has a reminder system, you can immediately log the call and set a future date to take action if necessary. Additionally, the reminder system should be able to remind you of tenants with outstanding balances, lease expiration dates that are approaching, owners that owe you money, and more. Use the reminder for PR as well by putting in reminders for tenant and owner birthdays, and send them well wishes. Be sure to insist on a robust reminder system in your software.

#7. Checks and Deposits – Be sure that it is easy to create checks and deposits. A good software for a property manager should include a check register with reconciliation features and the ability to sort by check number, date, payee, and amount. A single check should be able to be posted to multiple rental properties, such as a check for a vendor that works on multiple units.

#8. Emailing Features – While your software should include the ability to print reports, it should also be able to email to your tenants, owners, and vendors. I’d suggest that it be able to keep two email addresses for each, and have the ability to create and save emails. The email should also have the ability to send attachments, because you might want to include an invoice or receipt with your email.

#9. Paying Owners – At the end of the month, you’ll need to send your owners a check for their net income received. Your software should be able to create owner checks with only one or two clicks, saving you the time needed to write a check yourself. If you prefer not to mail checks, your software should have the ability to send payments to your owners via ACH to their bank account. Typically this will be a small additional fee, but it is well worth it.

#10. Backup Features – Few things are as heart-breaking for a business owner as finding out that their data has been lost. Backups are critical. If you have web-based software, you should not depend upon someone else to do it for you, no matter how safe or redundant they claim their servers are. With desktop software, it is easier to make local copies of your data, but you have to remember to do it. Be sure your software has a ‘reminder’ for your backups, and do it on a regular basis. The better software will be able to backup to any drive, such as a memory stick, flash drive, or network server.

Choosing the right property management software can be daunting, but if you know what to look for, you will quickly narrow down the choices. Be sure that you are able to download a ‘Sample Program’ allowing you to try out the software prior to the purchase. Look for a company that has been in business for at least 10 years and has a track record. Of course, look at online reviews, but be aware that reviews are sometimes written by the competition, so there is no alternative to actually trying out the software yourself and talking to a knowledgeable representative of the company. If you cannot speak to someone in person via a toll free number, you should be wary of their support down the road. Even if the software is easy to use, you should insist on a company that provides free phone support to help you get started, and has a plan for support after that. Too many companies leave you high and dry after you make the purchase.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you! Please let me know if you have any follow up questions!

About the author:
Wayne Gathright is the founder and primary coder of the Tenant File Property Management Software company. He has been in the real estate and property management business for over 20 years. Other products created by Wayne are a Work Order Program, Work Processor for Property Managers, Tax Software, and an eBook “What ALL Landlords REALLY Need to KNOW”.

Hurricane Harvey – Our thoughts for landlords

HurricaneHarveySatellite-NASA
Photo credit: NASA

Hurricane Harvey in Texas has been catastrophic in so many ways and has affected millions of lives. I know because many of us at Tenant File are from that area and have friends and relatives living there.  Though the Tenant File headquarters is in Austin Texas, which was spared much of the fury, our friends to the south weren’t so lucky. Our best wishes and prayers go out to all of those affected as many of them are still going through rough times at the time of this writing.

Personally, my parents live in Victoria. Hurricane Harvey crept in to Texas around Rockport, which was devastated. Victoria is only 29 miles from the coast, and that is where Harvey parked itself for 3 days. Both my parents live in an assisted living facility, and we got word on Thursday night that they had a mandatory evacuation by 9:00 am the next morning. They told everyone in Victoria they had to get out. The city has around 80,000 residents, so you can imagine the panic and confusion.

The only place to go was my sister’s farmhouse 10 miles away, but my 87 year old mother passed out getting in the car and had to be rushed to the hospital in Victoria. She rode out the unrelenting lashing in the hospital with my sister, and my 92 year old dad hunkered down at the wood frame farmhouse. It was hit with the fury of Harvey but the 100 year old house withstood the winds and torrential rain. After the second night, they had to evacuate my mother from the Victoria hospital, because the hospital was filling up with critical patients. So my mother went to San Antonio. My father had been without electricity since the storm hit. Power came on Monday night for them, but many residents in Victoria are still without power now.

HurricaneHarvey-Boatdock-AdreesLatif-Reuters-50
Photo credit: AdreesLatif-Reuters

The point is, you never know what is going to happen. It could be a hurricane, a flood, earthquake, terrorist attack, fire, burglary or whatever … so you have to be prepared.  If you are a landlord, you are in charge of protecting your property but you also have a responsibility to your tenants. Of course there are legal responsibilities, such as providing a safe and habitable environment for them. But I’m talking about moral responsibilities. Is there a tree leaning over the rental, such as a Chinaberry tree that has a shallow root system? That is dangerous for both your tenants and your property, so you should deal with that before the worst happens.  Is it near a creek or in a low-lying area prone to flooding? Maybe you should consider barriers or improve the landscaping to handle the runoff. Are there loose shingles, siding, or stacks of lumber or other items that could become a hazard in high wind?  Fix it, or get rid of it. Do you have an evacuation plan or a means to contact your tenants quickly? Get one. Can your tenants get in touch with you if they have to leave quickly and need to know the status of their home? Be sure they have the information they need, by sending them a text or email explaining the situation, and keeping them updated on a regular basis. Let them know that you care.

HurricaneHarvey-AP
Photo credit: AP

Also, you should require renters insurance for your tenants. While the structure of your building has to be insured, many tenants mistakenly think that their own belongings are covered through your insurance. It is up to you, the landlord, to let them know that it is mandatory (or should be) that they get renters insurance for themselves. It is affordable and can be tailored to cover their pets, liability for visitors, theft, fire and natural disasters.

HurricaneHarvey-MarkRalstonAFP-50 Getty
MarkRalstonAF-Getty

And of course, don’t neglect getting insurance for your own property! That can certainly put you in legal jeopardy. A friend of mine knows a tenant in Houston that evacuated. Her rental home exploded because of a gas leak caused by Hurricane Harvey. The house burned down, but thank God she had already left. The landlord did not have insurance on the house, nor did it pass the compliance protocol for gas burners.  Image if that was your rental home… this will probably be a nightmare for the landlord as well as the tenant. And to think, what if the tenant didn’t leave in time? There is no excuse for neglecting your rental property, for your own sake, and morally for the sake of your tenant.

I guess the best thing to do is to put yourself in the shoes of your tenants, and think about what you would need if a disaster strikes. Then don’t put it off, because you never know what will happen and it might be too late later on. Fortunately, my parents are ok, but it could have been much worse. For millions of people in Houston, Galveston, Port Lavaca, Rockport, Port Aransas and hundreds of other cities along the coast and inland river ways, this is a nightmare coming true. Please provide whatever help that you can!

About the author: Wayne Gathright is the president of the Tenant File Property Management Software company. For more information, visit https://www.TenantFile.com.

Ransomware Attack Affects the World

We have been warning about computer security for a good while now, and it has happened again – BIG TIME. Last week a world-wide ransomware virus was released, and to date it has affected computers in over 150 countries … and still growing.

Ransomware - Tenant File BlogSo what is ‘ransomware’?  It is particularly disturbing because you won’t know until a message appears on your computer screen telling you that your files have already been encrypted. If you look at your files, you’ll see a long number instead of the file name. For a ransom payment (in bitcoins) your data will be un-encrypted. This nasty bug has infected both servers and Internet connected computers, so nobody is really safe. Because of an alert individual in the UK, the US was spared from the initial attack, however, it is very possible that the attackers can make a few adjustments and send out more modified versions that will be even more devastating than the first wave. At the time of this writing, 3 modifications have been released.

This is not a ‘Russian’ attack; in fact, Russia was one of the first to be hit, along with Britain and Japan. The US is only just now compiling the toll, but we know FedEx and a large number of US based business have been on the receiving end. What it ‘does’ show is that the Internet is very vulnerable to cyber attack on a large scale.

So what does this have to do with property managers? The property management business is one of the most likely and vulnerable targets for future attacks. The property managers hold sensitive information on owners, their bank accounts, email addresses, social security numbers and rental properties. They also have information on millions of tenants, their bank accounts, passwords, social security numbers and other confidential information. Most of the web-based property management software companies were rushed to the market within the past 5 years, and I would venture that most of them do not have even moderate protection against an advanced hack attack.

While any computer connected to the Internet is at risk, we think that desktop software is much better protected. You would be smart to even have a computer that is not connected to the Internet in any way, so that you can run desktop based software in the event of a cyber attack or another ransomware attack. It will happen to you eventually, it is just a matter of time, and it could even come in the form of a natural disaster that is man-made or comes via Mother Nature. No matter what kind of property management software you have, be sure to make local backups of your data – don’t count on a stranger’s word that they maintain ‘redundant’ copies of your data. Since the servers are connected, a massive attack is likely to affect all of them. Your best defense is a copy of your data that you can hold in your hand.

At Tenant File, we have already saved a good number of customers that had their data encrypted, by helping them restore their program and backups. We’ve heard horror stories of web-based software customers that lost everything, and had to start from scratch, hunting through file folders to try and re-create their owner and tenant financial history. And they are left wondering if they will be held responsible for the owner and tenant data that is now in a hacker’s hands. We hope you never have to experience that!

How The Internet Has Affected Property Management

property management chartWhile the real estate market is traditionally slow to change, it is now embracing the Internet. Here are some thoughts on how the Internet has affected property management.

Nearly every profession has been affected by the rapid pace of technological innovation. Technology has created entirely new fields, eliminated some fields and dramatically altered others. One profession that you might expect to be relatively insulated from the intrusion of technology is property management. After all, property management will always involve the management of a physical property. While it is true that property management will always involve dealing with people and the places they live, and while that implies the use of a skill-set that is to some degree independent of technology, the field of property management has certainly been affected by technology and the internet. Here are some of the ways the field of property rental management has changed over the years.

Property Leads

For those looking to break into the field of real estate or property management by acquiring an initial property or by expanding their current portfolio, the process of locating a property has been made more efficient by the internet. While many property managers will tell you that there is no replacement for scouting out properties in person, there is no doubt that the internet is now utilized by many to find properties. Online search engines allow property managers to search for properties and filter their search by variables related to size, price and location.

Property Management Software

The process of managing property has also been affected by technology; specifically, many property managers now use property management software to assist them with the many tasks involved in managing their tenants and properties. The software allows things like calculating payments, collecting payments and paying bills to be done automatically. Previously, these tasks would have taken up a considerable amount of time for a property manager. The software frees them up to focus on other areas of their business.

 

Massive Cyber Attack – Are Property Management Companies at Risk?

Property Management Company Post Cyber AttackI told you so. I’ve been warning about this for a good while now, and this is only the beginning.  In particular, if you are using web-based property management software, you should think about what you are doing. You are putting your own security, your tenants, and your property owners at risk, and probably paying a hefty monthly sum to do it.

I’m talking about the huge cyber attack that came in three waves on Friday.  If you were not directly affected, it was probably (1) because the hackers didn’t bother with smaller websites or (2) because it wasn’t your turn yet.  Here are some of the ones it did affect:

Airbnb
Etsy
Spotify
Twitter
The New York Times
The Financial Times
CNBC.com
Amazon
Netflix
Github

Ladies and gentlemen, these sites are no pushover sites for hackers (or are they?). Supposedly these sites are some of the best secured sites in the world, and hackers managed to get to them all at once. If these sites are vulnerable, how secure do you think your property management software website is? Most of them weren’t even around 5 years ago, and I would venture that none of them have anywhere ‘close’ to the level of cyber security protection of the sites that got invaded.

In a recent NBCNews.com post I saw the comment for consumers to “think carefully about what and when they connect devices to a cloud or even to the internet in general.” In a previous blog, I speculated on a scenario specifically for property managers called “A Day in the Life of a Property Manager Post Cyber Attack”. It is almost scary how real that seems now.

My experience is in property management and I admit it is in my financial interest for people to purchase desktop software. But the reason we have continued to offer on-premise rental property software is because there is a large market of landlords and managers that don’t want to risk their business and their client base. Plus, the monthly fees for web-based software companies are never ending, and will wind up costing a fortune in the long run.

This year, on the Buildium blog (a web-based competitor) it was stated, “Is your company at risk? Basically: yes. Every landlord, property manager, or real estate professional has access to (and stores) sensitive, confidential, personally-identifiable information on tenants and employees.”

And who is vulnerable? Basically everyone, but consider this information from the same blog “Businesses with fewer than 250 employees account for somewhere between 20-30% of all cyber attacks.”

And how easy it to recover from an attack? Read on,60 percent of small businesses close their doors within months of a successful cyber attack.”

I LOVE technology so don’t get me wrong! We always are looking for new ways to innovate and provide our customers with the best experience possible. But that can be done without storing your valuable data on a remote server that can be attacked at any time. And when that happens, you might suddenly find yourself in an office with no access to your tenants, your owners, your vendors, your accounting, and your customers. And I ask, is that worth the risk?