Sometimes, the answer to your software needs might be hiding in plain sight.

While affordable housing property management software serves some critical purposes— compliance with federal and state housing regulations, accounting, and leasing— certain modules that come standard in these suites often lay dormant.

But in today's economy, when firms are slashing technology expenditures, the need to optimize what you already own, to unlock the hidden value of an existing investment, is more important than ever.

“A lot of modules never get implemented, and often only a portion of a software's functionality is being used,” says Georgianna Oliver, president of Washington, D.C.-based technology consulting firm Evergreen Solutions. “You've really got to scour your software license to make sure you're fully realizing all of the benefits of what you've already paid for.”

The two most overlooked features of affordable housing property management software include budgeting and facilities and maintenance.

The budgeting module that comes standard with Yardi's accounting suite, for example, is an often-overlooked module. “Many of our customers are underutilizing budget,” says Mark Livanec, director of Yardi's affordable housing sales. “Adoption is not where I would expect it to be, especially now, when budgets are increasingly being scrutinized.”

By using a budgeting module, a company can see, in real time, how its current expenses measure up against its projected expenses. Many owners and managers enter their actual and projected budget numbers on an Excel spreadsheet, and have to manually cycle back and forth to compare the actual numbers against the projected numbers.

For instance, if a company assumed 20 people would move out of a property in a given year, but 25 actually moved out, it would have to manually compare the numbers to see why its turnover budget exceeded projections.

This module is made even more powerful when paired with a forecasting module, which is an extra add-on to be purchased separately. The biggest process efficiency gained from the add-on forecasting module may be in reforecasting on the fly.

For Drucker & Falk, which manages about 7,500 affordable housing units in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, the module allows for quicker decisionmaking as it prepares its budget for the upcoming year. The budgeting module gives the company the ability to navigate the seemingly endless parade of variables that may affect a property's budget.

“It really allows you to make some ”˜what if' scenarios on the fly,” says Guy Buck, CFO and COO of Drucker & Falk. “If electricity goes up 5 percent or if occupancy goes up 2 percent, you could check those numbers very quickly, run different scenarios, go over those with ownership, and decide on a strategy much more quickly by using the module.”

Maintenance and facilities

The most overlooked standard module, available in RealPage's OneSite and Yardi's Voyager Affordable, is the maintenance and facilities feature, industry watchers agree.

“It's always included, but very seldom implemented,” says Oliver. “It can really help turn units over more quickly: Every day that a unit is vacant is big money that you're losing.”

The software basically replaces the standard “white board” or “make-ready board” used by maintenance staff to track work orders in process. By integrating that information into property management software, a company has much greater visibility into the speed of the turnover process.

By integrating the maintenance module with an online portal—a Web site where tenants can pay rent online or send work orders—companies can get a better handle on its inventory and manhours while facilitating quicker dialogue between field offices and headquarters.

“Centralized staff can see exactly where each unit is in the make-ready process,” says Janel Ganim, director of affordable housing at RealPage. “It's a management tool that you can use to drive your maintenance staff to meet their deadlines.”

Audit yourself

All of the major software providers urge their clients to do a technology “business process improvement,” to ensure full optimization of software suites.

“It won't cost much to spend some time looking at your system, whether it means additional staff training or a one-day consulting session,” says Tracy Turner, a manager at RealPage. “If you've already purchased the system, you've got to make sure you're using everything available to you.”