Ami Kearns is the director of product development at Yardi, and most recently she’s been instrumental in the development of Yardi Breeze and Yardi Breeze Premier. Her team focuses on quality assurance and documentation, working closely with the programmers who turn great ideas into great tech solutions.
We spoke with her about the future of Breeze, the ongoing evolution of property management software and the ways technology can be used to improve our work. It’s all things tech with one of our most legendary team members. Please enjoy this opportunity to hear from Ami Kearns.
What’s your role in developing Breeze?
I’ve been with Yardi Breeze right from the start, since 2018. Our main goal was to get back to our roots. Yardi’s first property management software was for smaller clients, like individual property managers, or those who just had a few houses or a small apartment block. But as Yardi got bigger, some of these smaller clients felt like they were left behind. They still had just a few properties, while Yardi was growing exponentially and expanding our enterprise platform, Yardi Voyager.
We had this product called Yardi Genesis for independent rental owners and small businesses, but it wasn’t really up to date technologically anymore. It wasn’t online or easy to use in a web browser. Then came Yardi Genesis2, but that was a bit too complicated for our smaller clients. So, we decided to go back to basics and think about what a property manager or owner really needs every day. My husband and I have our own rental properties, so I knew firsthand what was needed for talking to tenants and keeping track of things.
I’ve been with Yardi for 22 years now, and I was even a client before I joined the company. This work is really a part of me. Creating Breeze was about making sure we kept our software useful and easy for every business, no matter how big or small.
Why is all-in-one software so important in this industry?
All-in-one software is so important, especially for our small to midsized clients. They just don’t have the resources to piece together different software systems. Our bigger clients might choose a mix of what they call “best-in-breed” software, including our own solutions, but Yardi has always been really good at offering a single solution that does everything.
That’s exactly what Breeze is all about. Your chart of accounts and other configuration items are set up so you can start using the product right away. That’s the beauty of an all-in-one solution: it saves time and hassle for those who can’t afford to spend hours figuring out multiple systems.
How has the role of the property manager changed?
The role of a property manager has really changed, particularly in three key areas: mobility, automation and centralization. In the past, a property manager would physically walk around the property, maybe with a walkie-talkie, then later a pager and a cell phone. But now, everything’s on a smartphone.
With the Yardi Breeze app (downloadable on Google Play and the Apple Store), everything we used to do on paper or a desktop is now right in our hand. That’s incredible because it means we’re always connected, which gives us a lot of freedom.
Some people say cell phones are like a leash, but I see it more as a safety net. You’ve always got access to important information. If a tenant asks a question, we don’t have to say, “I’ll get back to you when I’m at my desk.” The answer is right there on the phone!
Moving away from paper is a big deal too. As with invoices, if you get a bill from a plumber on-site, you can just scan it or take a photo with your phone and upload it to the system. That way, it’s not lost, and even if the paper is gone, the data is still there. This combination of being mobile, automated and centralized has really changed the game for property managers.
How are we evolving as a company?
We’re embracing technological changes, making sure our software supports this new way of working, staying connected and being efficient. It’s all about making work easier for our clients.
Does property management software really help professionals save time, or are we simply doing the same work in a different way?
Property management software definitely saves time compared to how things were done before. Let me give you some examples.
Back in the day when I worked in real estate accounting, we used physical ledgers. Everything was tracked on paper ledger cards with carbon paper between the AR ledger and the general ledger. When you made a deposit, you had to press really hard so it would copy onto the general ledger card. It was the same with the AP ledger when writing checks.
These paper ledgers were subledgers, like the AR and AP subledgers, and the General Ledger brought everything together. There were also general ledger transactions like journal entries. In a typical month, you’d handle all of these, and when the bank statement came in the mail, you’d reconcile the bank transactions with your general ledger. That could take a day or two.
In student housing management, we’d get hundreds of security deposit refunds in July, all done by check. This was a huge time commitment. And when the bank statement arrived, I remember one year we had 18 pages of transactions to reconcile. Everything was manual, and you had to be careful with handwriting because a misread number could cause big problems. It once took us three days just to reconcile the bank account.
But today, it’s all automated. In Breeze, for example, everything from printing checks to bank reconciliations is automated. You can upload a file, and the system will recognize as many transactions as it can. Then you just handle the rest. Plus, with tools like Yardi Bill Pay, Yardi generates the checks for our clients, making everything much easier. So, what used to take days can now be done in a couple of hours. That’s a huge timesaver.
Are people still skeptical of online software?
Yes. An interesting outcome of the pandemic is that it actually helped change a lot of minds. Once we were forced to do so many things online, people realized it was much more convenient. Instead of exchanging checks and receipts with tenants, they could just make payments online, and there was no need to physically go to the bank.
Of course, there are still some clients and tenants who prefer paper. It’s often just a matter of getting used to a new system and learning to trust it. For some, it might take a few payment cycles to see the benefits.
Another important thing to note is that online payments aren’t just about convenience. They’re also about security. Checks are actually much riskier than secure online payments. There’s something called check washing, where the ink on a check is erased and rewritten for a different amount. So, while online payments and banking might seem scary at first, they’re actually less risky than dealing with cash or paper checks. It’s all about getting people comfortable and educated about online tools.
Has the vision for Breeze evolved over the years?
Yes, the vision for Breeze has definitely evolved. When we first created Breeze, we kept it simple and pre-configured, intentionally limiting its functionality. This was to ensure it was user-friendly for our clients, especially those new to property management software. One of the key features of Breeze is the ability for clients to send feedback, and that’s been a big part of its evolution.
As we started getting feedback, both from clients and our sales or services departments, we heard a consistent message: people loved Breeze but needed just a bit more functionality. Once we had a sizable client base, we began seriously collecting and analyzing this feedback. It became clear that adding all the requested features would essentially create a new product, moving beyond the entry-level market.
This led to the development of Breeze Premier. We’re committed to keeping Breeze refreshingly simple, as we like to say. Breeze Premier is for those who need more advanced features, catering to businesses with more complex portfolios. For instance, a client might only have a single family home, an apartment building and a strip mall, but this mix can create more complexity than managing several apartment complexes.
When looking at Yardi’s property management offerings, we have Breeze, Breeze Premier and Voyager. This range ensures we have something for everyone across all market segments.
Does your team read every piece of feedback?
We do. All feedback comes directly to my team. We read all of it, and we care.
How do you implement client feedback when making updates?
Implementing client feedback is something I really value, even when it’s born out of frustration. Unlike our other products, where feedback usually comes through colleagues who interact directly with clients, Breeze gets it direct from clients themselves. They use the feedback option, submit screenshots, and we hear their thoughts in their own words. You can really feel their passion for the product and the work they do.
This feedback can be quite impactful. Clients share what they’re trying to achieve, and this gives us a clear direction. We then need to figure out if the issue is due to inadequate documentation or explanation. We may need to discuss whether it’s something we hadn’t considered, requiring a code change.
The best part is when we get it right. Clients tell us how the changes have positively impacted them. That’s really rewarding. Their satisfaction is especially great when they’re happy with a change we’ve made based on their own feedback. It shows that we’re not just making updates for the sake of it but truly responding to our clients’ needs.
What updates are you most proud of so far?
I’m particularly proud of a few updates we’ve made in Breeze, especially the owner portal and the Yardi Breeze app. From the beginning, we had the owner portal in Breeze, which gives property owners a view into what their property managers are doing. Before software offered this ability, owners had to wait for reports sent by snail mail or email, but now they can see everything on the owner portal.
One update that really stands out is the tool allowing owners to make capital contributions through their portal. This addition made the portal much more useful, similar to the resident portal where renters can view their ledger and pay rent. It’s gratifying to see how this feature has enhanced the visibility and convenience for owners in managing their investments.
But the update I’m most excited about is the launch of the Yardi Breeze app, which happened earlier this year. It’s a fantastic tool. Not only does it have some great features, but it also has a beautiful design. We’re constantly working on it, adding new features and fine-tuning.
More recently, we released a separate app specifically for owners. These updates reflect our commitment to improving and expanding our software to make it as useful and user-friendly as possible.
What’s something users can expect to see in 2024?
I’m excited about an update to something we get a lot of requests for: the bank reconciliation feed. Right now, you can upload a bank reconciliation file, but we’re working on including a feed. That way, you won’t have to worry about the upload part. It will just show up as part of the feed that auto-reconciles transactions as they come in.
As Ami made clear, Yardi Breeze’s development has been marked by responsiveness to client needs as well as rapid technological advances. The software showcases our unwavering commitment to the property management industry, balancing simplicity with a comprehensive feature-set while catering to diverse client requirements. The work of talented people like Ami Kearns and her team ensures Breeze remains a crucial, easy-to-use tool for property management businesses.