Real estate technology has attracted over $9.7 billion in funding activity through the first half of last year, with the number of proptech startups increasing 300% over the last 10 years. The rental property business is changing in a number of positive ways, with technology adoption at the forefront.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best free tech tools for landlords to use to improve profits and cash flow, run rent comparables, screen prospective tenants and collect rent online, and manage maintenance requests without having to pick up the phone.
- Free landlord tools are available to improve financial management, create rent comparables to identify fair market rent, market a vacant property and screen for qualified tenants, sign a lease, collect the rent, and securely store real estate documents online.
- Some of the best free landlord tools for financial management and rent comps include Stessa and Rent Zestimate from Zillow.
- Free tools landlords use for marketing, leasing, and rent collection are Zumper, Apartment List, DocuSign, and TenantCloudPayYourRent.
Tax laws in the U.S. are friendly to real estate investors. By automating income and expense tracking, a landlord can better claim every possible deduction while maximizing profits.
Sign up for a free Stessa account and find out just how simple rental property finances can be. By linking business bank and mortgage accounts, a landlord can automate income and expense tracking to help maximize profits through smart money management. The real estate balance sheet feature from Stessa updates property value and owner’s equity in real time, and exporting tax-ready financials at the end of the year helps investors make tax preparation a breeze. Visit the Stessa website to learn more.
While spreadsheet software isn’t specifically designed for rental property investors the way Stessa is, they could be adequate options for tracking income and expenses. For example, there are dozens of free rental income and expense worksheets that can be downloaded in a Microsoft Excel format and used to keep track of your properties. Go here to download one.
Generic accounting software programs like Manager.io, Wave, and ZipBooks also may be a suitable choice for landlords willing to learn about double-entry bookkeeping. However, because off-the-shelf accounting software is designed for any type of business, there may be an extended learning curve to make them work for a rental property.
As you’re looking to grow your portfolio, you’ll need some software solutions that can help you quickly run the numbers. Sure, you can use a spreadsheet, but there are several online tools that get the job done faster and easier.
Let’s take a look:
Roofstock’s Property Analysis Spreadsheet
This simple spreadsheet by Roofstock provides an easy way to view the potential financial performance of a given property. You can use it to forecast the potential return of a property. Simply enter some information to view projected key return on investment (ROI) metrics, including cash flow, cash-on-cash return, net operating income, and cap rate.
This software is also used by investors to analyze rental properties—including single and multifamily homes, fix-and-flips, and wholesale deals—and includes a feature to browse comparable rental listings and create rent estimates. Visit the DealCheck website.
Identifying the fair market rent
Setting the right rent for a rental property is a mixture of art and science. A rent price that’s too high may result in extended periods of vacancy with no cash coming in, while renting for too little will result in a lower return on investment (ROI).
Here are some free tools to use for identifying the fair market rent:
Learn if the rent is too high or too low compared to similar rental homes in the same area. Simply enter the property address, estimated rent, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms to receive a free rent comparison search. Go to the Rentometer website.
Rent Zestimate from Zillow helps landlords determine how much to charge for rent. This rental comparison tool uses numerous data points such as property characteristics, rental comps, and home updating to help you identify the fair market rent. Visit Zillow Rental Manager.
City rental market reports from Zumper show whether the median market rent is trending up, trending down, or remaining the same. Market summaries can be modified by number of bedrooms with graphs and charts that show longer-term rent trends. Go to Zumper Rent Research.
Marketing a vacant property
In the old days, putting up a “For Rent” sign in the front yard was the best way to find a renter. Today, with virtually everybody using the internet, there are much more efficient and free ways to market a vacant property for rent. Consider these free online rental listing services:
- Apartments.com touts itself as the #1 site for renters and typically has over 1 million single-family homes, townhomes, and apartments listed for rent at any one time.
- Avail is specifically designed for DIY landlords and offers everything from online marketing to tenant screening, online rent collection, and more.
- Craigslist is an online classified advertising website that has listings for pretty much everything anywhere in the world, including homes listed for rent by landlords.
- Realtor.com partners with Avail and may be a good option for quickly attracting a lot of prospective tenants: A vacant home receives an average of 18 inquiries within the first 2 weeks.
- Rent.com is part of the RentPath network of listing websites, including Apartment Guide and Rentals.com, that reaches about 15 million prospective tenants.
- Zillow Rental Manager is another free rental listing website with a network that receives over 1 million daily visitors and nearly 30 million each month.
- Zumper is used by landlords to post free rental listings, screen prospective tenants, and collect rent online for free.
Most websites for marketing vacant homes for rent also offer free or low-cost tenant screening services. Local property management companies often will use their own in-house systems for screening applicants.
According to a blog post from Apartment List, tips for screening tenants and finding responsible renters include:
- Set standards that every applicant must meet, including income, evictions, credit history, and criminal history (if allowed by local landlord-tenant laws).
- Tenant applications may be filled out in person or online and should collect information such as employment status, household income and size, outstanding debts, number of pets, and landlord and personal references.
- Credit reports must be agreed to by an applicant and follow the rules outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
- Background checks to better understand an applicant’s past behavior and discover actions such as past evictions or criminal records.
- Contact references by phone to learn more about a prospective tenant, including whether the tenant paid on time and if a previous landlord would rent to the tenant again.
- Interview applicants in person to get a better sense of what they will be like as a tenant, get answers to gaps in an application, and offer the applicant the opportunity to ask questions of their own.
Signing a lease
Electronically signing a lease speeds up the rental process and allows a landlord to fill a vacancy faster to begin generating cash flow. Many online rental listing services offer the option for signing a lease online. Explore other applications for digitally signing a lease:
- CocoSign provides a free electronic signature plan for a single user to sign unlimited documents online.
- eversign has a free plan to send and sign up to 5 documents per month.
- PandaDoc’s free eSign plan allows a user to upload unlimited documents for unlimited legally binding eSignatures.
- DocuSign also offers a free signature tool with a 30-day free trial.
Collecting the rent
Interest in online rent payment services from landlords and property managers increased 16% in 2021, according to the Boston Real Estate Times. Some potential benefits of collecting rent online include easier, quicker rent payment; safer electronic rent payments; and potentially improved landlord-tenant relationships.
Tools for collecting the rent online include:
- Cozy (now part of Apartments.com)
Managing maintenance requests
One of the many challenges of being a DIY landlord is managing maintenance requests and coordinating with repair providers.
Online tools such as Innago and Rentler make repairs easier. Instead of a tenant calling and leaving a message, a repair request can be made entirely online with photos or videos of the problem attached.
Taking care of a problem quickly can prevent a minor problem from becoming big and expensive and increase tenant satisfaction, which may contribute to low vacancy and consistent rental income.
Online document storage
There’s a tremendous amount of information and paperwork involved in renting a home, including storing rejected rental applications, lease documents, rent rolls, copies of tenant and vendor correspondence, and paid invoices to prove that expenses are correct in case of an audit.
Free standing online document storage systems such as DropBox and Google Drive are a couple of options to consider. However, those looking for a secure way to keep documents away from prying eyes might consider Stessa.
In addition to being an ideal choice for free rental property financial software, Stessa offers cloud-based document storage with the industry’s best security to protect data and organize and store real estate documents. Financial data and account details are secure, and sensitive information is protected using multilayer key management encryption.