The Big Three property management firms may soon have to make room for a fourth.

Yardi, RealPage, and Intuit are the providers of choice for the multifamily industry—half of all APARTMENT FINANCE TODAY 2008 technology survey respondents used one of those three systems—but Domin-8 Enterprise Solutions has made big strides in the last year and is knocking on the door of the Big Three.

“Yardi and [RealPage] are just dominating the multifamily market, and [Intuit] is starting to win more business lately and get more aggressive,” said Georgianna Oliver, founder and CEO of Evergreen Solutions, a technology consultant to the multifamily industry. “But Domin-8 is beginning to shake up the market.”

Domin-8 has been growing aggressively through acquisition, and its progress can be seen in APARTMENT FINANCE TODAY’s technology survey. In 2006, just 0.5 percent of respondents used Domin-8, but in last year’s survey, that figured climbed to 2.2 percent, and this year, usage more than tripled to 7.7 percent of respondents.

Domin-8’s rise shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2007, Domin-8 acquired several property management software providers, including the popular RentRight and Property Automation Software, which made the TenantPro line. And more companies are looking at Domin-8 for future needs. When asked what property management software provider are they considering purchasing, 13 percent of survey respondents chose Domin-8, up from 8.6 percent last year.

The majority of the 213 respondents worked at privately owned management firms (86.4 percent) and smaller companies with less than 10 employees (42.7 percent).

The Big Three

Yardi continues to separate itself from the pack. More than 30 percent of survey respondents said they currently use the software, and 47.2 percent said they are likely to purchase Yardi products in the future.

To a degree, Yardi’s steady rise over the last five years can be attributed to its swiftness in moving to a Web-based application, a move that some of its competitors balked at to their detriment.

Yardi is also known as having a bestin- class accounting application, and continues to integrate more features into its Voyager line. The company has been piloting a revenue management application since last June for inclusion as a standard feature of Voyager.

The movement toward a paperless office is the next wave of property management technology, many industry watchers say. Document management applications should become a standard application soon. Document management software tracks, stores, and retrieves electronic documents and scanned images of paper documents, centralizing the many documents that property management companies stuff into filing cabinets, such as rental applications and leases.

“People have opened the book, but they’re only at the introduction,” said David Cardwell, vice president of technology for the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC). “But the property managers all recognize the need to manage their information and documentation much more efficiently.”

RealPage’s OneSite line continues to enhance its document management offering. Rolled out in April 2007, RealPage’s Document Management System provides electronic storage, security, and archiving of property management documents.

In March, RealPage enhanced the product with a barcode scanning feature, allowing property managers to bulk scan documents assigned to a specific tenant, which are automatically filed when scanned. Basically, users assign barcodes to a certain resident or service provider. The user could then bulk-scan large amounts of paperwork into their system, and that paperwork will be automatically filed into the property management software. In the past, this was a two-step process: first scanning, then manually assigning the electronic document to a certain file.

Intuit will soon release an overhaul of its MRI Residential property management software. The new version 5.0 of MRI will be rolled out in phases over the course of 2008. AvalonBay has already signed up to use the new system and is piloting version 5.0. The competition to win AvalonBay’s business was intense, industry watchers say, as Yardi and RealPage also were under consideration.

One of the phased rollouts of version 5.0 is an update of its IMPACT product, which manages complex deal structures and models potential deals. The company will also release a cash-flow budgeting tool in the first half of 2008 that helps forecast future expenses and revenues.

Integration collaboration software

Integrating diverse software has always been a challenge for property management companies, but the process is growing easier. The NMHC has been helping diverse software applications “talk” to each other through an open-standard consortium of software providers that it launched in 2002.

The Multifamily Information and Transactions Standards (MITS) effort gathers the property management software industry’s biggest names—like Yardi and RealPage—helping to link their offerings with other applications, such as leasing and screening software, revenue management software, and accounting systems.

In the early part of this decade, “you had an explosion of applications,” said Cardwell. “We had to integrate all of these applications into a single environment to make it work efficiently within the technology environment that the management company might have.”

For instance, when screening a potential renter, property managers had to move data from the property management software to the screening application, to the accounting system, and then back to the screening application.

The MITS effort has standardized the way these applications work together, meaning that owners no longer have to pause when considering the integration of diverse applications.

And it’s a forward-looking effort. The MITS program is working on updating a standard it released in 2003 regarding application and lease processing. At the time, property managers were not reserving units, taking applications, and executing leases online, but the current effort will make it possible to do so once electronic signature technology becomes more pervasive.

More automation

The clear winners in the leasing and screening category of this year’s survey are TransUnion Credit Retriever and First Advantage SafeRent, used by 25.4 percent and 22.5 percent of respondents, respectively. RealPage’s LeasingDesk product is also making strides. It is used by 15.5 percent of respondents and is being considered by more than 20 percent for a future purchase.

The rise of leasing and screening applications underscores the movement toward integration of diverse software platforms.

In the last year, online portals have become ubiquitous. Through a portal on a property management company’s Web site, residents can reserve a unit, or pay their rent and utilities online. Some portals even include concierge services.

The coming year will be characterized by a movement toward document management and revenue management applications, as the industry continues its trend toward more automation.