NREI's annual software review takes a look at the products offered by a dozen top providers.

Perhaps you manage a shopping center and are trying to keep track of the rents and vendor expenses. Maybe you own 50 multitenant industrial buildings, each operating at various levels of occupancy, and you're trying to both keep the books balanced and project what you might sell them for at the end of the year. Then again, you may be managing some apartment complexes and need something to help make detailed financial reports to an owner on the other side of the country. And, just maybe, you are building an office project in a market where preleasing is the way business is done (lucky you!) and need a graphic representation of how the various tenants are going to physically occupy the tower you're putting up.

Whatever you do in commercial real estate, there's some computer software out there that can make your job easier -- and maybe even help you make more money. On the following pages, we present some of the major offerings currently on the market.

Argus Financial Software The news from Houston-based Argus Financial Software (800-332-7372; http://www.argussoftware.com) is the late-1997 release of Version 7 of its Argus Lease by Lease for Windows. This cash flow analysis and investment modeling software "handles virtually any property type in any stage of the development or investment cycle," notes the company's Boomer Cardinale.

The centerpiece of Argus continues to be its Rent Roll Input Screen, featuring a rows/column display of detailed, tenant-by-tenant information, with each row representing information for a tenant's current and option term, while columns contain information for specific terms of the lease. Users can create their own columns, which then can become part of drop-down menus. On the property level, an unlimited number of miscellaneous revenues, reimbursable & non-reimbursable operating expenses, capital expenditures and development cost categories can be created to match existing charts of accounts or desired report styles.

In Argus Version 7 for Windows(TM) , the ability to accommodate properties under development has been expanded. The addition of Land/Acquisition, Hard/Construction and Soft/Development cost screens, coupled with a "Draw Note" financing capability, facilitates monitoring all phases of development. The program provides means for calculating how cash is disbursed to equity partners, as well as accounting for depreciation and taxes. With OpenArgus, an ODBC-compliant database included with every copy of Version 7, data can be transferred between Argus and other programs, including Microsoft Excel.

Colonial Systems Inc. Exton, Pa.-based Colonial Systems Inc. (800-515-0210; http://www.colsys.com) focuses its software on the property management business. With the Colonial Property Management system, says marketing representative Daniel Lehman, "we have worked to provide a product that is especially slanted toward the REIT industry."

The various modules of the Colonial system address the needs of commercial, industrial, residential and retail property managers. The base package includes modules for handling tasks such as multiproject accounting; tenant lease abstracts, rent posting, receivables, late charges, and histories; fee calculations; general ledger with user-defined statements; and consolidated reporting. Additional modules are available for automated expense billing, payroll, tenant services/ work order tracking, inventory management, purchase orders, and job costing/construction management. The product is 100% ODBC-compliant.

Revision 5.5 provides several updates and enhancements. In the payables arena, use tax can now be entered for A/P invoices, 1099s are done with a more flexible calculate/proof edit/print process, and vendors can be marked as active or inactive. In receivables, users are prevented from entering amounts that exceed a customer's open credit limit.

Dyna Software Clearwater, Fla.-based Dyna Software & Consulting Inc. (813-535-0333; http://www.dynasoftware.com) provides software products for real estate investment analysis, "specializing in institutional real estate," says marketing vice president Lewis Foshee. "Dyna's software solutions are utilized for lease-by-lease and operations forecasting analysis, along with portfolio rollups, budgeting, partnership and debt structuring, investment return analysis, appraisal/valuation, and development and construction planning."

The Dyna for Windows(R) suite includes Dynalease for forecasting leveraged/unleveraged cash flows for office, retail, industrial, apartment and hotel properties, preparing individual property cash flow projections, and aggregating individual property forecasts into portfolios. A Partnership/Joint Venture component simulates distributions and investor returns for these deal structures, tracking partner capital and partnership basis accounts and zeroing Capital Accounts at sale. Automated Portfolio Sensitivity Analysis enables users to simulate and quantify the impact of portfolio holding period and acquisition/disposition strategies.

The DynaBase component provides users with the ability to "search, sort and segment data in their own formats, gathering and summarizing portfolio, property and tenant information for both everyday and strategic decision-making," says Foshee. A Construction/Development Analysis component enables forecasting of hard/soft costs and related fundings for construction and development.

ICA Inc. Shopping center owners and managers are the users of CenterSoft(TM) for Windows, a retail property management package from Palm Desert, Calif.-based Integrated Commercial Applications Inc. (800-777-2744; e-mail CENTERSOFT@msn.com). CenterSoft for Windows has visual aids, such as index tabs, to navigate from one area to another, and 'wizards' to assist users with setup and processing.

CenterSoft has eight modules to handle the information necessary to manage a shopping center, each constructed with a variety of reports. A Management module handles all lease administration, analysis, tenant billing and retail sales information storage and analysis. A "Cardfile," and a variety of rent roll, lease abstract and tenant-related reports can be uploaded to Microsoft Word or Excel. The Cash module handles all activity concerning incoming and outgoing cash and permits easy cash distribution to any general ledger account. A Receivables module accommodates printing reports and billing statements, while the Payables module handles batch processing needed for entering vendor invoices and credit memos, printing accounts payable checks, generating recurring invoices, printing 1099 forms and generating historical vendor payment reports.

J.D. Edwards This international software company with a home base in Denver (800-727-5333; http://www.jdedwards.com) is in the process of releasing a new suite of all 40 of its accounting, job costing, property and facilities management applications. Targeting the "the upper end" of the market, the focus is on open systems, according to J.D. Edwards director of the AEC Real Estate Unit Jim Tudrick.

OneWorld allows users to disperse and adapt J.D. Edwards applications without regard to platform or operating system. Financial, job costing and development-related applications have been completed, with property management applications being redone. "We have built applications that enable our customers to customize without programming," notes Tudrick. This allows a variety of real estate companies to use the software, which runs in 17 different languages and handles many currency types.

Management Reports Inc. The newest offering of this Cleveland-based maker of property and asset management software (800-321-8770; http://www.mrisystem.com) is the Portfolio and Asset Management System (PaAMS). The Windows-based product enables users to access and manipulate information at any level of a portfolio, such as by fund, property type, project, stage of development or any other user-defined method. The program can calculate returns within a fund or portfolio and compare them against any predefined benchmark.

PaAMS can also present this information graphically, along with generating stacking diagrams. Users can link CAD-generated floor plans to specific lease data; the program also includes a built-in interface with PlanData's(TM) space documentation software. PaAMS integrates with The System, MRI's DOS-based property management software application, which has been re-written for Windows and is now known as MRI for Windows.

ProCalc This Old Westbury, N.Y.-based company (516-484-8080) makes ProCalc, a series of Microsoft Excel templates that allow users to analyze and compare the economics of commercial real estate lease or sale transactions from the perspective of the tenant, landlord, sublessor or buyer. "ProCalc is a tool for comparing cash flows from individual transactions," says company president Alan Bushell.

ProCalc is comprised of four packages. The Tenant Rep package includes a lease analysis program featuring both pre- and post-tax models. Users type in deal points, costs and credits; the program then generates cost data on aggregate, annuitized and net present value bases. Landlord and Sublease packages work in approximately the same fashion, while a Lease vs. Buy Analysis package helps space owners/occupiers analyze the comparative costs of leasing vs. purchasing, or of purchasing different facilities. The Tenant Rep, Landlord and Buy Analysis packages include deal compilation programs, allowing users to analyze and compare multiple tenant, multiple time-period, multiple leases and/or multiple space options.

Quantra Corp. This Northbrook, Ill.-based (800-405-8155; http://www.quantra.com) maker of Skyline(R) and Pro-Ject(R) has been in the process of improving other systems. Quantra's Real Estate Management, Mortgage Loan Management and Portfolio Management systems "are enterprisewide solutions," says spokesperson John Barry. They feature platform-independent Windows-based client/server architecture, open database design that works with any SQL tool and popular database, and Windows NT networking environments with thin intranet support.

Applications within the Real Estate Management System have been designed to represent and integrate functional areas of the real estate investment enterprise. The Registry functions as a centralized relational database for tracking, viewing and reporting on the performance of real estate assets. The database module of this application organizes descriptive, ownership and performance information on properties. A Property Analytics module allows users to present information on the property or portfolio level in the form of standard or user-defined reports, graphics and maps.

Quantra's Mortgage Loan Management System helps mortgage lenders keep track of and report on the data associated with loans, borrowers, property vendors and investors. The loan information function can handle multiple borrowers, properties, repayment schedules, interest calculation methods and methods of calculating late fees and prepayment penalties, with a variety of standard and user-defined reports and borrower notices available. It also supports multiple portfolios and accounting bases, performs portfolio consolidations and supports portfolio trades, and tracks insurance, tax, appraisal, accounting and physical information on properties.

The new version 2.5 of Quantra's Portfolio Strategy System allows users to gather and analyze information from a variety of real estate software systems.

Real Pro-Jections Inc. Developed for property managers/ owners, brokerage firms, asset managers and investors, "WinStack is the first Windows-based system to visually show the impact of lease expirations within a commercial building," says Ted Stearns Jr., president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Real Pro-Jections Inc. (800-774-5077; http://www.realprojectn.com).

Instead of tables and reports, WinStack depicts commercial property activity in a graphic fashion. The program represents tenants of multistoried commercial buildings as boxes "stacked" on top of one another in layers, with each layer representing a floor in the building. The size of the tenant box represents the suite/tenant square footage in proportion to the square footage of the entire floor.

WinStack is geared toward presenting information about mid- to high-rise office buildings, notes Stearns. "By automatically importing tenant data from systems such as Argus, Pro-Ject, and DynaLease," he says, "WinStack augments the valuation and cashflow projections generated by those systems."

Rent Roll Inc. Software for the multifamily property manager is the forte of Carrollton, Texas-based Rent Roll Inc. (888-Rent-Roll), a subsidiary of Computer Language Research (http://www.clr.com/rentroll/). Rent Roll has been busy upgrading its applications, enhancing its DOS product while coming up with a new Windows offering.

Rent Roll 2000(TM) is the year 2000-compliant version of its DOS application, and it offersa property management and accounts receivable system for multifamily properties, automating basic bookkeeping, lease administration, resident screening, maintenance, inventory and contact management functions at the property level for both market-rate and affordable communities. Multiple set-up options allow users to restrict access and customize home office vs. on-site functions, while maintaining standardization for multiple properties. Financial performance can be tracked through more than 100 reports.

A variety of add-on modules are available. AutoCheck(TM) reduces manual data entry and increases accuracy by automatically inputting rental payments into the system via an MCIR check reader and related software. Budget Builder(TM) provides tools to produce and export property budgets. Market Survey(TM) is used for surveys of comparable properties. Telephone Poll(TM) supplies the telecommunications software link for data transfer between locations. AOI Site(TM) brings the financial reporting capabilities of the home-office accounting package, Account on It(TM), to remote locations.

Rent Roll also maintains useful databases for multifamily managers. Apartment Index(TM), a proprietary database, enables leasing personnel to confirm an applicant's rental history and prevent past evictions from being hidden. EvicetNet(TM) is a proprietary database of eviction records from nine states in the Southwest and West available to subscribers to Rent Roll's CI Profile(TM) and RI Profile(TM) applicant screening services.

InSite(TM) is an integrated suite of Windows-based property management tools, incorporating Rent Roll 2000 features and slated for full release in early 1998.

Timberline Software Corp. Beaverton, Ore.-based Timberline (800-628-6583; http://www.timberline.com) makes software aimed at construction accounting, construction estimating and property management markets. It unveiled "Precision Estimating -- Extended Edition," an addition to its Precision Collection(R) line of estimating products for the construction industry. Precision Estimating Extended provides pull-down menus to give estimators instant access to needed information. Three takeoff methods are available with the software, with built-in logic capabilities automatically selecting the correct item and calculation method to arrive at quantities needed.

Using Estimating's "Explorer" feature, estimators can sort and view their estimates by client, location, project type or other criteria. Additionally, Precision Estimating Extended automates the pricing of all crews, giving estimators the labor and equipment requirements needed to complete a job.

Timberline also recently released Advanced Retail, an add-in module for its Gold Collection for Property Management software designed for retail property management. This module automates the entire percentage rent process, storing breakpoints, percentages and effective dates and then calculates overage based on tenant sales figures. Overage can be calculated using either preset breakpoint calculations or formulas.

Advanced Retail offers retail managers 10 user-defined sales types, any of which can be used to calculate overage. Sales types can be set up to track a tenant's budgeted, estimated, reported and audited sales figures. Sales figures can also be logged for the calendar year, as well as the tenant's fiscal year. An on-demand rent calculation process lets retail managers recalculate percentage rent using audited figures.

A new application to the Extended Edition of Gold Collection construction accounting and property management software, "Information Assistant" provides users with one central location for recording and viewing action items, as well as accessing accounting information from onscreen inquiries and reports. Users can document issues requiring attention and assign them to someone for follow-up. An electronic attachments feature lets users link files to any issue, which can be accessed from multiple locations.

Yardi Systems Inc. Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Yardi Systems Inc. (800-866-1144; http://www.yardi.com) has upgraded its property management software for commercial, s ingle- and multifamily housing, retail, industrial and office properties. Yardi Advantage(TM) 2.0, an upgrade of the Windows-based 1.0 version released in late 1994, "incorporates many of our users' requests for specific functions," says Yardi founder and president Anant Yardi, "while providing them with both improved performance and a way of processing information more effectively and efficiently." Features include a New Memo/Event "type" code, providing 30 user-definable types to define events for expedited search and reporting of all note fields attached to tenant, property, vendor and G/L records. CPI rent increases are now based on either "prior year to current year" or "base year to current year" CPI indices.

In other product enhancements, new formats for data exporting, including RTF, Comma Delimited and HTML, are fully supported. A new monthly posting feature posts all monthly charges, rents, recurring charges and CAM estimates in one step. An expanded range of charge codes makes tenant billing more flexible. The software does automatic reconciliation of tenant unpaid charges, allowing immediate access to outstanding tenant balances, and a "right click" on a report column results in an instantaneous sort of report data by the column selected.

Martin Sinderman is a Powder Springs, Ga.-based writer who covers real estate issues.