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Using a Free CRM to Manage Your Real Estate Business

by Ken Corsini on February 15, 2014 · 23 comments

  
CRM Real Estate

A CRM is a software program that is typically used to organize and manage customers for a business. It stands for Customer Relationship Management.

In real estate, many people use a CRM to manage seller leads. Depending on the size of your business, you may or may not think you need a software program to manage this aspect of your business. However, I can tell you from experience that even the smallest real estate company can benefit from using a CRM.

I know historically, many companies would just put any kind of data pertaining to their business in spreadsheets. Over time, these spreadsheets get larger and larger and harder to filter through. While free tools like Google Docs has made it easy to share and collaborate on spreadsheets, I believe that using a true database is almost a better fit in the long run.

What to Track in Your CRM

In my business, we actually use two different CRM’s to track different aspects of our business. Both of the CRM’s we use are free and have been very good tools to help keep us organized.

We use CRM’s to track the following:

  • Properties – We have a module set up where we store everything pertaining to each property (closing dates, purchase price, repairs, agent, source, rent status, rent amount … you get the picture). Because we are buying, selling and putting new houses under contract every week, it’s imperative that we stay informed on every property. Not a day goes by where we are not updating some piece of information in our CRM to keep us up to date on every property.
  • Contacts – We also store contacts in the same CRM as well. Any investor that we’ve spoken to or sold properties to goes into the database. We can write notes, attach emails, log phone calls, etc. for each contact in the database. There is no possible way that we can remember everything about every investor we talk to … but logging this information in the CRM allows us to have a complete history of our interaction with each investor.
  • Motivated Sellers – We recently set up a new CRM just to track our motivated seller leads. With the large number of leads we were generating and from many different sources, we wanted to try a different program for this aspect of the business. Using a CRM to track seller leads is absolutely crucial for any real estate investor. In our CRM, we track things like name, address, source, motivation level, amount owed, offer amount, etc. Over time this list will become very large …. but will remain a very good source for future deals. Even if a seller says no today, chances are that a percentage of those people will want to sell at some point in the future. Being able to call, email drip and mail these leads in the future often times becomes your best source of deals.

Related: The Dirty Little Secret About a Buyer’s Lists

A Look at 2 Good Free CRM’s

Using two different CRM’s may not be ideal and we will probably migrate to only one at some point in the future, but here are the free CRM’s we use right now that I would highly recommend.

  • SugarCRM – SugarCRM is a software company with both a commercial version and an open source version of its application. The open source (or community edition) is completely free and can be hosted anywhere. We host ours for less than $5 a month with one of the big hosting companies … but I know other companies that host it internally and have even done a good bit of custom programming to it. I like this application because its very robust, but also very flexible (okay … I’ll admit that I’m cheap and like the fact that its free too). Through the admin function, you can add and rename fields, add or remove entire modules, integrate your email, use any number of available plugins to communicate with outside applications, etc. While we probably aren’t even scraping the surface of it’s capabilities, it’s been a great tool for our needs.
  • Podio – Podio is a newer, cloud-based software platform that can be used for almost any environment. It’s designed using workspaces where team members can collaborate on different projects. I really like it because it’s extremely easy to customize and has a great webform feature that allows you to set up external webforms that feed directly into the database. We use this with our VA’s who we don’t necessarily want to have access to the CRM, but need to be able to enter data into it. Podio is also free for those businesses with less than 5 users.

For those investors with aspirations of scaling up, keeping good records and staying organized is an absolute must. The days of keeping track of data inside of spiral notebooks or even in Excel spreadsheets is over. With the number of really good free applications out there that can be easily customized to track any information pertaining to your business, there isn’t any excuse to be stuck in the stone-age.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael February 15, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thanks for the suggestions Ken! I work heavily with databases at my 9-5 job and recently started creating one to manage all of my RE stuff. I never even thought to look for a free option that was already developed. I’m definitely going to check out the options you mentioned and see if either fit my needs.

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Ken Corsini February 17, 2014 at 11:32 am

Thanks for the post Michael – hopefully one of these programs can help you!

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Mehran February 15, 2014 at 9:40 am

Great article Ken! Although I have been doing alright with keeping a main folder on my comp for each property and corresponding spreadsheets, etc. I can see that as I scale up and acquire more and more, it would be just so much easier to have it all organized in a program if I could customize it the way I wanted (like you mentioned above). I’m going to look into it! Thank you

SugarCRM is the one you use to keep track of your portfolio?

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Ken Corsini February 17, 2014 at 11:31 am

Thanks Mehran – Yes, we currently use SugarCRM to track property data.

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page February 15, 2014 at 9:59 am

Nice suggestions. I just started using Basecamp, which isn’t free but has similar functions to Podio. Still playing around with it to see if it works, but I’ll give these a look as well. Thanks for the post.

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Ken Corsini February 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

Would love to get your feedback on how Basecamp compares to Podio.

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Alison February 15, 2014 at 11:04 am

Good article, i will check out Podio. But for now I am very happy with Trello, which is based on the Japanese kanban board concept. It can be scaled, shared, and put on your mobile device and it’s free. Check out http://www.trello.com (I have no affiliation with the software, just a happyuser).

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Joshua Dorkin February 15, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I’m a huge Trello fan as well, Alison.

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Curt Smith February 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm

How does Trello compare to basecamp etc for collaboration between folks (VAs or team members)?

Is collaboration different than CRM? To my understanding yes, one manages contacts (CRM) the other activities. Or has these worlds blended. Then which tool to get started?

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Joshua Dorkin February 16, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Curt – Collaboration with Trello is simple. I’m not sure what you need, but most of these CRM and collaboration tools allow you to do a free trial — just test a few out and figure out which you like best. Good luck, Josh

Brian Gibbons February 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm

OMG Podio has Real Estate “packs” and “apps”!!

See https://podio.com/market/functional/65

Thx sooo much!

Brian

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Ken Corsini February 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm

It does … but it’s also VERY easy to make your own.

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Grant Fosheim February 15, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Thanks Ken for the great article. I work extensively with CRM Dynamics in my 9-5 and having a free CRM for my real estate is going to do wonders as I begin to scale up my business. I just signed up for Podio and look forward to working with it.

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relady February 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I was just looking for it. Love it. Thanks

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Mark February 16, 2014 at 2:45 pm

The other advantage of Sugar CRM CE is that it is open source which means all the code is easily accessible and modifiable. Any good PHP programer can modify it exactly for your operation.

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Ken Corsini February 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Good point – I’ve got some friends that have done extensive re-coding to customize it for their needs.

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Susan Cain February 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

I desperately need to organize all my information. I recently moved and lost a lot of contact info when my email account was deleted. At my age, I really shouldn’t have to rely on memory. So far, I’m okay. But I will definitely check out Podio.
Thanks so much

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Adrian Tilley February 17, 2014 at 10:33 am

Ken,
Thanks for this great, and very specific, post.

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Curt February 17, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I googled: compare podio vs trello
this link was in the line up. It also compares (suspiciously) proworkflow

http://www.getapp.com/compare/task-management-software/podio-vs-trello

Other tools are listed at the bottom of the above getapp page.

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Micki McNie February 17, 2014 at 4:33 pm

To throw one more into the mix, I use Insightly (free version, you can pay as well and they are introducing a single user option soon) http://www.insightly.com. It is the only CRM I have ever been happy with, especially since it integrates magically with Gmail/Google Apps so I can sync contacts or create tasks/projects/etc right in my email (which is where I am most of the time). Check it out!

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Shane February 18, 2014 at 2:21 am

In my opinion the best free CRM for realtors is Bitrix24, if you work in a team, and NimbleCRM, if you are a solo realtor.

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Shaun February 19, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Good information.
I am still in the “it can all be done in excel” stage but I want to find a better long term solution before it is a problem.
I’ll definitely look into these and some of the ones in comments.
Anyone use ZOHO? I haven’t but it was recommended by a colleague and wanted to see how it compares with these other ones.

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Dennis Lanni March 8, 2014 at 10:37 pm

I used zoho about 3 years for managing buyer lead (when retail buyers were hard to find). I set it up with form submissions & it worked amazing.

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