When software for the property management industry moved into the cloud, WJD Management’s remained local—in the truest sense of the word. Here’s our story of how a 25-year relationship with a Northern Virginia software developer transformed our business—while allowing us to co-create the exact technology we needed to serve our Northern Virginia clients.
Back in the early 1980s, right at the advent of the personal computing movement, a Fairfax County programmer named Frank Cockrell decided there must be a better way to keep track of the myriad bits of information involved in managing rental property—other than with a calculator and a typewriter. He created a professional residential property management software in DOS and called it simply “The Property Manager.”
As I quickly discovered, this application was unlike anything else on the market. It’s property management software for single family homes—a relatively new field within property management at the time. (One that is a world apart from managing apartment communities or multi-family properties). Cockrell’s program did it all—it kept track of tenants and their leases, it noted all of the important HOA or condo information, and it had a complete maintenance module for generating estimates and work orders. It sent notices to tenants, and it handled lease extensions.
It even came with a complete accounting package for posting rents, paying bills, and reporting the owner’s income to the IRS.
This program did everything imaginable except cook lunch for the user. And when Windows superseded DOS in the early 1990s, Frank added on capabilities for collecting rent from tenants and making payments to homeowners electronically.
It was around that time that I began giving input to Frank, getting in touch with him and asking for changes. He was always responsive, and the next version of the software always moved us closer to having a system tailor-made for our unique Washington-area clientele.
The Property Manager has been a perpetual work in progress and an ongoing client-developer partnership. The biggest change came three years ago when Cockrell transformed the archaic code into a brand-new version with an SQL database. At the same time as many other businesses were moving their databases into the cloud, we were working alongside our developer to keep our business (and the information it runs on) local.
Frank Cockrell, even though he’s got a world-class app after all these years of listening to our needs, has chosen to keep his software exclusive to the Northern Virginia property management market.
For me, it’s been an eye-opening experience on the power small businesses have to co-create the applications they need—and to make processes work well at the most local level. Most business owners assume we must work with the tools and packages software companies hand us—even when doing so goes against our better judgment. WJD’s creative partnership with Frank Cockrell taught us that the best software is created through active involvement over time—and with local customers’ needs front and center.
David Norod is the principal broker of WJD Management. He enjoys keeping his 400+ property owners up to date on the best ways to keep their homes rented and running smoothly. When he’s not managing properties, he’s playing classic rock in local clubs with his band Off The Record.