Affordable housing owners looking to purchase property management software face many different and difficult choices. For smaller companies, evaluating the software market for the first time can be a little overwhelming. There are a variety of providers that all feature similar features, and it’s difficult to know where to start.

So Apartment Finance Today senior editor Jerry Ascierto sat down with Georgianna Oliver, president of technology consultant EverGreen Solutions, to discuss the five tips that affordable housing managers should keep in mind when assessing their property management software options.

1. Involve the end user. Too often, the folks who use property management software every day at the site level aren’t involved in the decision of which software package to use. This can be a big mistake: the ease-of-use level between different software providers can vary wildly. And since there can be high turnover of site-level staff, the learning curve for a new employee can be steep. So, make sure that end users have a chance to test each software package under consideration, or you may find that you’ve chosen the most complex package, necessitating multiple rounds of training.

2. Ensure that all compliance reports are current. Compliance with low-income housing tax credit regulations is a critical part of most affordable housing software packages. But since every state has its own requirements, owners and managers would do well to test each form first. You can’t take that capability at face value. “Your core software, no matter if you have 100 units or 1,000, has to fully communicate with each state that you do business with,” Oliver says. “It has to be updated, and you have to get the state agency to verify that in fact that tool is working.”

3. Stop and Review. For properties with multiple layers of compliance—project-based Sec. 8 vouchers, Rural Housing, tax credits—you’ll want a system that allows data to be reviewed before being entered into the General Ledger. Some software packages take the site-level transaction information and automatically populate the General Ledger—but if a mistake is made, then both your compliance data and accounting data is wrong. A “stop and review” approach is preferable.

4. Make sure there are no integration fees. Before signing a contract with a vendor, make sure there are no fees for you to integrate other software packages with your property management software. For instance, screening tools are a must-have for affordable housing managers, but some software companies charge as much as $250 per property per year to integrate the property management software with the screening tool.

5. Make sure the bill matches your portfolio. Property management software is priced per-unit. But what happens if you lose 100 units from your portfolio? Some companies continue to charge you for them, while others reset the unit count monthly, which is a better approach for the end user. You shouldn’t be penalized for managing fewer units than when you began the contract, so make sure the price of your software accurately reflects your portfolio.