Readers in the Real Estate and Property Management fields might find this article useful in assessing which cloud-based solution would be optimal.
Yardi is a provider of cloud-based ERP and accounting software specific to the Real Estate sector. Oracle’s NetSuite is a leading ERP software provider, with modules and add-ons (“Bundles”) that are geared for various industries – but does not yet have a specific module for Real Estate enterprises. I had the opportunity to spend about a year learning the Yardi “Voyager” software and found it interesting to note the differences and similarities between it and NetSuite. Each has its strong and weak points which highlight different approaches to solving common business problems. I’ll focus on a few here, to illustrate.
Like many traditional accounting systems, Yardi requires a separate “posting” function to cause transactions to impact the general ledger. In NetSuite, transactions are designed to directly impact the general ledger, unless an approvals process is activated. This distinction is significant, and might reflect a different view on the relationship between Operations and Finance. NetSuite’s approach requires cohesiveness between finance and other departments. The teams entering transactions often develop sensitivity to how the ledger is impacted, and the finance team needs to develop awareness as to the functions of the operations department, since operational tasks will directly touch the ledger. Yardi’s approach seems to assume less interaction between finance and operations, and might reflect a more common company culture in Real Estate, as the operations people are often in an on-site office at each property, whereas the finance team typically is centralized in an off-site location.
Basic Structure – Entities/Subsidiaries.
Yardi’s basic table structure represents the industry they serve. Typically, Yardi’s customers are large management companies or groups of real estate investors that own multiple properties, with each property or each group of properties legally “owned” by its own entity. Often, the properties that are tracked in one system have no legal relationship with one another, rather they share common individual investors or managers. Yardi thus allows for unlimited number of entities, allows unrelated properties, yet also holds the concept of an “owner” or “investor” with the percentage contributed. The number of entities within a single Yardi instance can vary frequently as properties are bought and sold, and Yardi easily handles this.
In contrast, NetSuite has a limit to the number of Subsidiaries (125), and there must be a parent-child link between the ultimate “parent” company and all of the various child companies. It takes a few days to add licensing for extra subsidiaries, and the general orientation reflects industries where the number of entities inside a consolidated entity change infrequently and there typically is significant lead time before a new subsidiary becomes part of a parent entity structure.
Yardi’s reporting engine is usually one of its best selling points over other real estate management tools. There are a variety of out-of-the-box reports and these can be configured or customized with moderate effort. Sql experts can create custom layouts and bring together virtually any data in the system using traditional joins. Users without programming background will find it hard to customize reports, though. Additionally, the standard dashboards are quite rigid and don’t allow for much customization.
NetSuite offers 3 different reporting tools (reports, searches, and analytics) and arguably the most powerful of the three – “saved searches” – is far superior to Yardi’s reporting capacity, in my opinion. Even users with little or no sql background can customize reports with relative ease. Likewise, dashboards can be easily customized to create beautiful, clear outputs that make sense for each role.
Out-of-the box, Yardi Voyager contains records for Properties, Buildings, Units, Tenants, and Roommates, aside from the standard Vendor, Customer, and Employee records. The Commercial module contains additional layers representing Leases, Floors, and Square footage. These special records provide powerful reporting tools and transactional automation relevant to each part. Yardi also contains special records such as a “legal card” to track legal actions relevant to tenant relations, and integrated tables for Rent Control rules in jurisdictions where this is applicable. Its commercial module has powerful capacity to calculate CAM reimbursements, and its “Affordable” module has the capacity to track compliance with complex government regulations for affordable housing concerns. Conversely, NetSuite does not (yet) have a module which contains any these pieces (see next section, though).
Overall, although Yardi does contain the ability to create “packages” to automate certain functions or to drive reporting, it does not have the same open platform that would allow significant changes to transaction forms, to create new record types, or to create completely new user forms.
Here is where NetSuite is strongest. Aside from the native, point-and-click ability to change forms, add fields, and add new record types, it is highly extendable with scripting.
To illustrate, if we wanted to make NetSuite better suited for Real Estate, we could create custom segments to represent geographic regions, and custom records to represent Properties, Buildings, and Floors. We perhaps would use Statistical accounts to track Units, and custom transaction types for Rent transactions and CAM reimbursements. This of course would require scripting to maintain the relationships and interaction between these parts, but in theory, I believe it could be done. The bigger challenge would be creating the records and integrations needed for the compliance rules, but this too would not be insurmountable.
I personally prefer NetSuite’s user experience, as it is more modern looking and intuitive. Yardi’s seems a bit more dated, with smaller fonts, with more rigid form navigation. Additionally, many of the Yardi tools take multiple steps to navigate through and set up, and it often is hard to determine where to go for what task, whereas in NetSuite, generally the design is efficient.
NetSuite is constantly expanding the list of the business Verticals that they serve. I would venture to say that it won’t be long before a real estate module emerges. In the meantime, all things equal, a real estate company having upwards of 4000 units should consider Yardi due to the advanced features that are very industry-specific. Smaller concerns might consider using a separate Rent Management software such as RentManager and integrate with NetSuite to gain the more robust reporting tools, rather than invest in Yardi. Large conglomerates having significant real estate holdings aside from other business activities like retail or manufacturing might consider using Yardi for their real estate segments and NetSuite for their other operations, and it would be interesting to create an integration between these two softwares. We at Prolecto Resources, Inc. are NetSuite Integrators, which means we have developed creative ways to bring data from different sources together, and this type of project would be an exciting challenge for us.
If you’ve had experience in either using NetSuite to manage real estate, or in integrating Yardi with NetSuite, I would be very curious to learn. Likewise, if you need help understanding how NetSuite can be customized for Real Estate, we’d be happy to hear from you!