Ah, the siren song of free—it’s a tough one to resist.
Something for nothing.
No risk; pure reward.
And yet—free isn’t often the whole truth if you’re in the real estate industry and need software. While that free software you chose for your real estate business may work fine enough most days, there are some hidden costs you’re probably not aware of.
When we talk about costs, sometimes we’re talking about actual money, not just things like time and effort (although you should certainly keep those considerations in mind).
If you’ve got a problem and think you’ve found a perfect free software solution to fix it, consider the following hidden costs of free real estate management software before making your entire business dependent on the wrong platform.
1. Your software isn’t actually free
A lot of freeware out there is offered at no initial cost to entice you into a download. The developer is banking on the fact that the free version of their software ultimately won’t be enough to solve all of your business’ problems. By the time you realize it, you’re loath to try anything else, so you spring for a paid package.
This certainly isn’t an ideal situation. If you’re going to pay for software, you should shop around before implementing anything, rather than simply going with the company that got you to download their free version.
As an example, Bitrix24 has a free version that limits your number of users, admins, and online storage. The standard version of the software—which offers unlimited users, five admins, and 100 gigabytes of online storage—costs $99 per month.
Real Estate Cloud offers all sorts of features in its free version, including a sales inventory manager, statistics and analysis tools, and email integration. If you want support for multiple websites, search engine optimization tools, and a lead distribution feature, it’ll cost $35 per user, per month.
2. Maintaining or customizing free software costs money
Your real estate operation is different from everybody else’s. You have different needs and strategies than your counterparts, and you need a real estate management software solution that actually fits your situation.
Sometimes, this means your software needs tweaking. If you paid for software, there’s a good chance you can ask the developer for some customization help. But if you got it for free, you’re on your own.
And while you may be able to get by with figuring things out on your own if you happen to have a little programming experience, or are good at researching this stuff in online forums, is that the best use of your time when you could be out there selling houses?
3. You don’t have any customer support to help you
Customer support is a lifesaver, particularly when it comes to software. Even if you know how to code, dealing with someone else’s code can be a nightmare. If you’re having issues with software, or just need help understanding how to use it, good customer support can help stop headaches before they hit.
Buying software means you’re not just purchasing access to the code, but also to a team of people who know and understand that code, and are dedicated to helping you get the most out of it. If you chose free software, you’re on your own.
Customer support saves headaches and time. Is there anything more valuable than time in the real estate industry?
4. You’re not as productive with free software
Paid software often comes with training to help your organization get up to speed, which is particularly helpful if you’ve got employees or are part of a larger operation. If you’re using freeware, however, you can waste weeks or even months trying to get everyone on the same page with the new software, all while you’re new to it yourself.
Many times, paid software training can be customized for your organization. Again, you’re paying for more than the software, you’re paying for the support it comes with.
Even if you’re a one-man or one-woman operation, you need to set aside time in your busy day to figure out how to use your software effectively. It can take a lot of trial and error to do so when you’re on your own.
By paying up front, you can eliminate the lost productivity that comes from trying to do everything on your own. It’s easy to lose the few bucks you saved up front when you encounter problems down the road.
5. You miss out on essential features
Paid software offers a myriad of helpful features that you may not even know about. Now, I can hear you thinking: “Well, if I’ve survived this long without them, how essential can they be?”
Your goal shouldn’t be mere survival; you want your business to thrive. The extra features offered by paid software can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Consider the following three examples:
- Appfolio offers professional, mobile-friendly websites and prospect tracking. Accounting and management tools allow users to collect rent online, keep finances in order, and utilize flexible real-time reporting.
- Buildium helps organize your business operations with a resident portal, property owner portal, lease and document management, and maintenance request tracking. Detailed accounting tools let you create financial reports and even accept online payments.
- Rentec Direct offers full general ledger accounting, letting you keep track of all properties, tenants, and owners. It provides a free professional website you can use to promote both your company and your listings online. You can also create, share, and store custom forms that can accept electronic signatures.
This is just a snapshot of the incredibly useful functionalities offered by paid real estate management software.
What’s your favorite real estate management software feature?
We want to hear from those of you who use real estate management software. What feature could you not live without? Is this a feature you have to pay for, or that isn’t available in the free version of the program you use?
On the other side of things, are you getting along OK with free software? Do you have any recommendations?
Let us know in the comments below.