What are you really getting when you put through a tenant screening application? Do you know where the information is coming from? Not all tenant screening companies were created equally, and as such, it is important to research the companies that provide you with the information that directly affects your investment and community
A good place to start is with the company that actually supplies the reports; not necessarily the tenant screening company (as in most cases they are authorized resellers of the data). Do you know the name of that company, or how long they have been in business? This is important to determine if they are established or a “fly-by-night” company (some companies update their information every day, some only once a month). The longer they have been in business, the more records they will have on file at your disposal. When checking a person's criminal background, you want to make sure your reports won't miss a beat.
Do they offer only statewide criminal checks, or do they pull on a national level? While state-wide criminal background checks might be slightly less expensive, odds are, if someone has committed a crime in one state, they may believe they can escape under the radar to a new state. Getting a national background check for a few dollars more could save you thousands in damages or court fees later on. And keep in mind - if you are charging applicants an application or screening fee, the money won't be coming from your budget.
Being in property management, we all know that your time is extremely valuable. Do you choose your tenant screening company based on the amount of time to input an application into the system? The shorter the better right? If you aren't worried about missing information, then you might agree with the above statement. Taking a few minutes longer (usually 7-10 minutes tops) to input as much information as possible will arm you with better results from the screenings.
If an application takes you a minute or two to fill out online, does your tenant screening company really have all the pertinent information to give you the best or most comprehensive report? Would you want members of your family living on a property that only required a short form screening application? Sure, it was performed, but is it really effective? Just because you put on SPF 4 does not warrant the same results as using a sun block with SPF 30.
So for all of you out there who say “I have perfect tenants, and no issues with evictions, skips, proxy renters, property damage, or on-property crime,” I'm glad that you have not yet experienced the damages and stress that a bad tenant brings. For the other 95% of the people reading this, I would like to propose a solution to become proactive, and take as much control as you can on what happens on your properties. Don't just screen your residents - make sure you understand what you are getting in your reports, and exactly where they are coming from. If you do not know this information, make sure to contact the rep at your tenant screening company.
There are socially responsible tenant screening, and rental history companies out there with your property's best interests in mind.