Stepping Up Their Screening Game
By Samantha Chalmers, LinnellTaylor Marketing
Recently, operators have started bringing the technology revolution to their screening processes, and with good reason—the leasing landscape is getting more complex.
Apartment owners and operators have embraced technology to improve pricing, better manage leads and refine their marketing campaigns. They’ve implemented mobile apps that allow residents to quickly perform any number of tasks with their smartphones, including paying rent, making a service request and reserving common-area amenities. Many communities are also outfitting units with smart-home features.
Recently, operators have started bringing the technology revolution to their screening processes as well, and with good reason—the leasing landscape is getting more complex. Many applicants have dogs, and operators need to have a good handle on the risk posed by these pet residents. Prospective residents today refuse to be constrained by leasing office hours when it comes time to tour an apartment community.
As a result, an increasing number of communities are offering self-guided tours, and apartment managers want to protect themselves from the potential risk these unaccompanied tours pose. Also, prospective residents want their applications to be processed almost instantly.
Add it all up, and operators say the time is ripe for them to adopt more sophisticated screening technologies.
Automated Rental Payment Checks
Pinnacle Property Management Services, a third-party apartment manager headquartered in Dallas, recognizes the need to screen applicants and process their applications as quickly as possible.
According to Nicole Ellery, Ancillary Performance and Project Manager at Pinnacle, communities across the company’s portfolio have significantly expedited their applicant-screening process in part by moving away from manual rental payment history checks and implementing an automated process instead.
Pinnacle communities incorporate an applicant’s rental payment history as provided by Experian RentBureau. The process saves onsite associates the time and hassle of calling an applicant’s previous landlords in an attempt to get an applicant’s rental payment history.
Besides paving the way for a lightning-fast screening process, using anautomated rental payment history service frees associates to tend to other important tasks, Ellery notes.
“They’re able to devote more time and energy to what we need them to do, and that’s focusing on resident retention,” she says. “It’s valuable.”
Pinnacle also screens for other factors, including credit history and criminal backgrounds. If applicants have provided all the necessary materials, screening can be completed almost instantly by Pinnacle’s partners and applications can be approved on the same day they’re submitted.
Our Furry Friends
The need to screen isn't limited to humans. With so many of today’s prospects and residents being pet owners, apartment communities need to determine if the pets present an unacceptable risk—and they also need to process assistance animal accommodation requests.
High Point, N.C.-based Blue Ridge Property Management has begun using PetScreening to help assess the risk posed by pet residents. Through the automated service, an applicant with a pet pays a nominal fee at the time of application and enters information about their specific pet into a database that analyzes the risk posed by the animal and the owner's pet-related behavior. The platform weighs various pet-related factors to create a score. The score serves as a simple way to comprehensively assess the housing-related risk of allowing a specific animal and pet owner to live at an apartment community.
The service also accesses accommodation requests for assistance animals made by applicants. The prospective resident makes the request at no charge and the supplier-partner's in-house legal review team individually reviews each accommodation request to ensure it complies with the FHAct/HUD guidelines.
Screening pets and evaluating assistance animal requests in this manner has the dual benefit of saving leasing associates time and mitigating liability for a possible discrimination complaint, according to Gina Carter, Vice President of Portfolio Operations for Blue Ridge Property Management.
“Putting these processes in the hand of a third party helps our leasing associates avoid difficult conversations with applicants, and it gives them time back to focus on other parts of the leasing process,” Carter says. “Plus, by having a standardized process, we better protect ourselves from discrimination claims and get real liability protection.”
Screening Those Who Take Self-Guided Tours
In response to prospects' ever-growing demand to visit an apartment community at times most convenient for them, properties across the country are beginning to give apartment shoppers the option to take self-guided tours.
But owners and operators understandably can be queasy about letting a prospective resident roam a property unaccompanied. The solution lies in conducting some screening before that lead ever sets foot at a community.
Tricon American Homes, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based single-family rental home company, uses technology from Anyone Home to offer self-guided tours to lease homes. Anyone Home’s technology, which is also used by apartment operators, screens those wishing to take a self-guided tour through a multi-step registration process.
First, prospects are asked to pay a small self-guided touring fee with a credit card. A third party then verifies the card number and accompanying information to detect possible fraudulent applicants.
A third party also takes the basic guest card information a prospect provides when registering for a self-guided tour and compares that information against a database of previous online and real-life activity. This analysis assesses the likelihood that the applicant is who they say they are and provides a fraud risk rating of “high,” “medium” or “low.”
If the risk of fraud is too high, the applicant is denied the self-guided tour. According to an Anyone Home analysis, of the prospects who undergo the fraud-risk analysis, only 1.7 percent are refused access to the community because of the likelihood that they are fraudulent.
“We are experiencing a new age in customer service and leasing fueled by shifts in consumer preferences for fast self-service on their own timetable. More than 80 percent of our showings are self-tours, which prospective residents take before and after traditional work hours by accessing our rental homes using a lockbox,” says Nicole Conniff, Vice President of Marketing for Tricon American Homes. “We safeguard our homes by leveraging proper screening measures to identify unqualified or risky applicants before they self-tour.”
The way prospects live their lives today is different from five years ago, or even just one year ago. The old ways of screening no longer apply. Apartment operators who apply advanced technology to their screening methods will present themselves as an appealing option to prospects and make the jobs of their leasing teams easier.