Temporary Rental Assistance

Tenant screening in the age of COVID

Why attracting low-risk residents is more important than ever
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
by Peter Altobelli

The multifamily housing industry has undergone major disruption this year, as COVID-19 shut down large swaths of the economy and kept students and workers at home—and there seems to be no letup from the pressure on the horizon as 2020 draws to a close.

Vacancy rates for rental housing are on the rise in some areas. Property managers have had to adjust their offerings to attract residents; almost 15 per cent of respondents to Informa’s Canadian Multi-Res Tenant Rental Survey stated that they prefer to work from home. More tenants felt that their units did not meet their needs. This included demand for unit features that support work-from-home and social distancing, including in-suite laundry, dens or home offices, balconies and walk-up access.

Meanwhile, 36.5 per cent of residents are very satisfied with landlord communication during COVID. This data illustrates that the industry has been satisfactorily addressing the safety of the residents but will have to shift strategies to cater to their changing environment. With such change taking place in the industry, it is crucial that the right systems are set in place to attract the ideal resident.

Screening assumes greater urgency

With softening occurring in some major residential markets and uncertainty a dominant theme of the times, minimizing risk across the business has grown as a priority for multifamily property owners and managers. Many are increasingly focused on strengthening their revenue streams by attracting low-risk residents, and that requires a reliable screening process.

But screening residential prospects efficiently and uniformly without placing an undue burden on already stretched staff members is a formidable challenge. Fortunately, as many property managers have discovered, the process can be facilitated with automated tenant screening systems that are built into the leasing workflow. They are designed to deliver customized recommendations and screening scores based on an apartment community manager’s screening criteria. Some platforms even include analytics that provides insight into applicant traffic and property performance, keys to driving informed decision-making.

Upgrading capabilities when it matters the most

Just how can resident screening solutions help property managers prosper in the COVID-19 era? According to Dean Holmes, senior vice president of residential operations at QuadReal Property Group, his company’s top priority at the pandemic’s outset was identifying ways to best serve residents and protect the health and safety of its field team members.

“We focused on communicating with our residents and keeping them informed. We wanted to maintain community contact while minimizing direct contact,” he says. “That emphasis allowed all QuadReal communities to remain open and operational, albeit with staggered shifts plus some amenity closures and service reductions.”

Along with maintaining continuity and connection, QuadReal leveraged technology to help its staff manage the challenges imposed by COVID-19. One automated function that aided in business continuity was resident screening integrated with the leasing workflow within the property management and accounting system. “The automation speeds up our screening and integrates with the rest of our residential management software solutions to comprise a one-stop-shop for residential community management,” says Holmes.

Delivering a seamless, complete experience

Holmes and his QuadReal team regard tenant screening as one element of the applicant experience that encompasses finding the company, researching properties and transacting applications electronically.

“Our new solution satisfied our need for a seamless automated screening process that’s embedded in the leasing process and able to be activated by a prospect wishing to join our community or by us with equal ease,” he says. “Our new system gives us flexibility in setting credit score thresholds and other approval criteria. So, if our communities are well occupied and we want to take steps to increase the quality of our applicants, it’s easy to adjust the criteria.”

The real value of the new screening system, he adds, comes from its contribution to “full automation of the leasing process from its beginning to the end along with giving us more clarity and comfort.”

QuadReal and other property managers across Canada are navigating an uncertain world. This environment enhances the imperative to mitigate risk with complete, accurate information on prospects’ risk before making them residents and turning over the keys to the community. These companies are using dynamic technology solutions available on the marketplace to make better decisions about prospects, which in turn increase net rental income by reducing loss from collections, evictions and legal action.

Article written by Peter Altobelli, Vice President, Yardi Canada Ltd.

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