Software as a Service (SaaS) is a cloud-based software delivery model in which apps or services are delivered over the internet. It has many advantages over traditional software that are usually installed locally on a computer. Some of its biggest advantages include lower upfront costs, less barriers to entry, and high scalability and flexibility.
These benefits are common across all types of SaaS software and real estate solutions are no exception. We are living in an era in which virtually all industries are going digital, including the real estate sector. SaaS solutions turn out to be the perfect fit for real estate businesses and is helping them automate processes, get real-time access to accurate and up-to-date data and enhance customer experience by improving communication.
However, not all real estate solutions are created equal and businesses need to consider some important factors when evaluating different solutions, which is exactly what this post will cover.
Why Even Evaluate Different SaaS Solutions?
The reasons for why you should evaluate different solutions are pretty obvious. You want a solution that offers the best value for the money. Buying a real estate solution can be a long-term investment, so it’s worth giving the process some thought and consideration. The perfect solution is not just the one that fits your budget. It should also compliment your organizational goals and business requirements, work seamlessly with the software you are already using and be able to scale as you grow.
With so many real estate solutions available, it might not be practically possible to try out each solution. That’s why we have to filter them out based on some key factors as covered below.
Understanding Business Objectives, Needs, and Limitations
Clearly Define Goals and Business Objectives
The first step in finding the right real estate SaaS software is to clearly define what you want to achieve by using the software. Do you just want to enhance the customer experience or are looking at improving overall operational efficiency and streamlining property management? Different solutions are tailored for different objectives.
For example, you might only need a CRM if all you want is a real estate customer relationship management platform. On the other hand, if you are planning to fully transition to the cloud, you probably need a comprehensive real estate or property management solution that covers all aspects of the workflow, including back office work.
Identifying goals includes mapping current processes and workflow and identifying areas that need improvement. Key areas to consider include:
- Lead generation
- Tenant screening
- Listing management
- Maintenance management
- Lease management
Do you need improvement in most of these areas or just a few areas? Specialized solutions are designed to deal with specific problems, while comprehensive suites offer a diverse range of features and functionalities. Choosing the optimal solution requires businesses to map current processes and identify areas that need automation and streamlining for optimized workflows.
Understand Real Estate Needs and Identify Pain Points
The real estate is a diverse sector that includes businesses specializing in different types of properties, including residential (single and multifamily), commercial, vacation, and short-term properties. That’s the main reason there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the real estate sector. Some real estate businesses deal in many areas, while others just deal in specific areas such as leasing, sales, property management, maintenance, inspection and so on.
Although the ultimate objective of real estate businesses is the same i.e. generating profit, they work differently and can have different needs and pain points. Understanding these can help businesses pick a solution that works for them. Needs are an outcome of pain points. Some common pain points include:
- A lot of manual data entry
- Inefficient communication and collaboration
- Limited reporting capabilities
- Decentralized or scattered data
Because of these pain points, certain needs arise, including eliminating manual data entry, more automation, better collaboration and communication and centralized data that is accessible to anyone, using almost any device.
SaaS solutions can address most of these concerns. But businesses still need to take into account functionalities they really need and choose a software that offers the best possible balance between functionality and cost. Afterall, it does not make a lot of financial sense to pay for expensive software or functionalities you might not even use.
Businesses also need to take needs of stakeholders into account, including brokers, agents, marketers, property managers and clients. Each group has its own needs, so a real estate business should consult with them to understand what functionalities they need, their pain points and preferences. Their input makes the process of evaluating different solutions easier and makes them feel more involved and engaged in the transformation process.
Consider the Budget and Other Resources
Small and medium businesses usually don’t have the kind of resources needed to set up everything from scratch. Fortunately, there are plenty of real estate solutions available for SMBs that don’t require any technical expertise or dedicated IT teams. Enterprises on the other hand have huge IT budgets and can afford to built their own solutions on top of existing cloud infrastructure. Determining the availability of budget and resources is the easy part, but finding the best solution within that budget and accessing the potential ROI requires some effort and research.
Businesses need to consider the upfront costs, recurring subscription fees as well as additional expenses associated with using the SaaS solution, including training and ongoing support. An easy-to-use solution might cost more in the beginning, but it will pay off pretty well in the long run compared to a cheaper solution that is difficult to use.
Industry Specific Requirements
Different real estate businesses might have different goals and workflows, but the real estate industry as a whole has to meet certain regulations and requirements. These include financial compliance, legal compliance, tenant privacy laws and property management laws. Does the solution take these regulations into account? Is it suitable for specialized needs such as commercial property management and property development and can it help you meet industry-specific requirements? Understanding the industry specific requirements and determining whether a software solution meets them or not can help approach the evaluation process with a clear mind.
Key Factors to Consider When Evaluating Real Estate SaaS Solutions
Interface and User Experience
The user-interface of a real estate software has to be intuitive and easy-to-use otherwise the adoption rate might be too slow and training costs high. Most real estate SaaS solutions offer free trials, which provide a good idea of the interface and overall user experience. A good software is the one that team members can quickly understand and easily navigate through without extensive training.
Mobile accessibility allows real estate agents and team members to complete important tasks on the go, while responsiveness refers to a responsive design that enables the software to automatically adapt to different screen sizes without affecting functionality and usability. These two key factors play an important role in today’s mobile-centric workforce in which mobile accessibility has become essential.
A worthy candidate should offer customization and personalization options. This allows businesses to customize their workflow, interface and other aspects such as reporting according to their own requirements.
Features and Functionality
Evaluating features and functionality becomes easier after clearly determining business needs, pain points, budget and compliance requirements. Core features can include features such as listing management, tenant management, document management, reporting and tracking. The software should cover all the essential features as determined after carefully assessing business needs and budget. In addition to real estate management solutions, there are a variety of other tools and technologies for the real estate sector that can help businesses grow and manage operations effectively.
You might also want to consider additional customization options or modules for added functionality. These might be add-ons for some real estate businesses and essential for others, so the definition of essential and additional varies from one business to another. These can include lead management, marketing automation, vendor management, online rent collection, and commercial property management.
Scalability and flexibility are the key strengths of SaaS solutions and the same applies to real estate SaaS software. A solution should be scalable enough to accommodate future growth and be able to deal with seasonal spikes and increased data volume. Scalability and flexibility become even more important for real estate businesses that expect spikes at certain times such as holiday seasons.
Chances are good that you are already using a real estate management solution of some sort. When moving to a cloud-based solution, businesses need to make sure that they can easily export their existing data to the new system, which may be in form of spreadsheets or a database. This can only be done if the SaaS provider supports or facilitates it otherwise you might have to pool up data from scratch.
Ideally, the solution should also allow you to export data into a format compatible with other systems, allowing you to export it again into another system when needed. Options for exporting data for analysis and reporting purposes enables businesses to extract valuable insights and actionable information, and should be considered when evaluating different solutions.
Integrations and Compatibility with Existing Software
It’s crucial to evaluate how well a SaaS solution plays with the existing software such as CRMs and other SaaS solutions. Seamless integration with existing software allows for smooth data transfer and minimizes the chances of duplicate data entry, resulting in time and cost savings as well as better accuracy of data. Real estate solutions that offer API integration option enable you to seamlessly sync data between different apps in real-time, ultimately boosting efficiency.
Privacy, Data Security and Disaster Management
Privacy and data security have been a cause of concern among businesses planning to move to the cloud. However, SaaS has come a long way since the early 2000s and improved a lot in terms of security and privacy. Reputable SaaS providers have measures in place to protect customer data, including secure access controls, data encryption, and security audits. When evaluating different solutions, consider the ones using industry-standard security and privacy protocols that also comply with regional and industry-specific standards.
Real estate businesses cannot afford to lose their data, and consequences can be severe if something goes wrong. When comparing different providers, businesses need to consider disaster recovery processes, backup options and how quickly a provider can get everything back on track.
Customer Support and Training
SaaS providers can be evaluated based on the available customer support channels, including phone, email, live chat or a dedicated support manager. Prompt resolution of issues and concerns is only possible when the support is reachable and provides quick assistance and timely resolution. Ways to gauge the quality of customer support of a SaaS provider includes reading customer testimonials and getting in touch with other customers who are already using its services.
The Service Level Agreement (SLA) should clearly specify the expected response and resolution times and severity levels for issues. Onboarding and training programs help boost adoption rates and can range from on-site training sessions to online documentation and user-based forums.
Pricing Models and Cost Considerations
Although comparing different providers based on their pricing is pretty straight forward, there are some important factors that real estate businesses need to take into account. These include different pricing tiers based on different factors such as the number of users or properties, additional expenses or hidden costs such as extra charges after exceeding allocated limits (bandwidth, space, additional licenses etc.), and fees for integration or extra customization.
Consider the direct as well as indirect impact of using a solution and how it impacts operations. The ROI analysis can be conducted in terms of increased revenue opportunities, time savings, reduced manual work, improved efficiency, and better reporting capabilities. Compare the projected benefits with the cost to determine if investing in a SaaS solution is worth it in the long run.
Best Practices for Evaluating Real Estate SaaS Solutions
The key points below are essentially the crux of what’s covered above, and considered to be the best practices for evaluating SaaS solutions in general and real estate SaaS solutions in particular.
Reputation and Experience
Consider vendor experience and reputation and conduct a thorough research. The research should at least include reading testimonials and reviews, and case studies to gain valuable insights into its track record and how satisfied its existing customers are.
Financial Stability, Future Growth
A SaaS provider should be experienced and financially stable, which indicates it has the resources to invest in R&D, customer support and the ability adapt to the changing business environment. Checking financial statements and key metrics can help businesses gain valuable insights into its growth trajectory and funding history.
Almost all reputable SaaS providers offer some kind of free trial to help businesses determine if a solution is right for them or not. Product demos from shortlisted SaaS providers help get a fair idea of how a software performs in the real world, but also make sure to keep the provider engaged through interactive discussions to clear any questions or doubts.
Ask the vendor for customer references. They would not hesitate to provide you some if they are confident about their product. Gather first hand insights by reaching out to customer references and inquire about their experience and the level of customer services they received. Look for success stories you can relate to and see what worked for them and what didn’t.
Inquire the vendor about its future plans and ongoing innovation. Regular updates, fixes and security patches are a good indicator of a vendor’s commitment to adopting emerging trends and staying ahead of the competition.
Service Level Agreement
The SLA should clearly state vendor’s obligations and how it will respond in case of SLA breach. Key elements of an SLA include uptime, mean time-to-respond and repair, the escalation path, penalties and exclusions, pricing and billing structure, and security requirements.
Ensure that the vendor is using recognized frameworks and industry standards such as ISO, SOC 2, GDPR (EU), CCPA etc. or other compliance standards a real estate business has to meet.
Many SaaS providers intentionally make it either impossible or very difficult to move to another provider. It’s always a good idea to choose a provider that does not lock you in and make it impossible or very difficult to move your data out of their system. Finding answers to questions including, how long will it take to move out your data if needed, in what format will the data be exported and will the exported data compatible with other platforms, make it easier to determine if a provider is trying to lock you in.
SaaS Solutions for Real Estate Businesses
Specialized real estate SaaS solutions are designed to solve specific problems, which might not be the same for all businesses. Although there are plenty of specialized and comprehensive real estate and property management solutions available, real estate businesses can also benefit from other SaaS solutions to automate specific tasks and minimize manual input. Some of these SaaS solutions for real estate businesses include:
- Marketing Automation
- Electronic Signature
- Lead Management
- Virtual Tour and Visualization
- Document Management
- Collaboration and Communication
- Transaction Management
- Listing Management
- Accounting and Finance
- Facility Management
- Data Analytics
- Work Order Management
SaaS solutions for the real estate sector are created keeping specific needs in mind. We have already covered how SaaS can transform the real estate sector and the top 10 real estate saas solutions in a dedicated post. In a nutshell, SaaS real estate solutions help businesses, especially SMBs to get started without having to invest heavily in the infrastructure and paying for regular maintenance. The sector has transformed into a data-driven industry in which all team members need up-to-date and accurate information without getting tied to local computers.
SaaS real estate solutions offer numerous benefits, but businesses need to make sure they are buying the right solution according to their own requirements. Understanding business needs and pain points, determining budget, integration with other systems, data migration, user experience and security are the most important factors to consider when choosing one. Through vendor research, comparing trial versions, and consulting others who are already using a particular solution, can help real estate businesses make the right choice.