SmartMoveScreeningWorks

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In July, SureDeposit, a Livingston,NJ-based security deposit alternative for the multifamily industry,announced a partnership with Resident Data,ChoicePoint's Richardson, TX-based resident screening service.SureDeposit gives residents the option to pay a one-time,non-refundable surety bond premium in lieu of posting a traditionalrefundable security deposit. Prospective residents now receive thatoption automatically during Resident Data's resident screeningprocess at communities owned or managed by clients of bothcompanies.

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Call it a sign of the times. Industry experts say interest inquick, convenient screening solutions is growing because ofincreased demand for rental housing. More people are rentingbecause of the deteriorating housing market and more propertyowners--particularly frustrated homeowners who are unable tosell--are transforming their houses and condominiums to rentalproperties. With an influx of renters, comes the need for fasterways to approve the renting of an apartment or home, screeningcompanies concur.

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Since it can be easier for a property owner to find tenants thanforce existing ones to leave, it's important for landlords to lookbefore they lease, including running credit checks on applicants.Under federal law, property owners can legally access the creditreports of potential tenants and pass along reasonable processingfees as long as they have an on-site inspection, a publicly listedbusiness telephone number and a business license.

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Commercial real estate professionals describe credit checks asone of the most cost-effective expenditures landlords can make,potentially reducing property damage, improving long-termoccupancy, decreasing late payments and even reducing the propertyowners' liability for criminal activity.

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Credit checks aren't new. The National Tenant Network marketsitself as the nation's oldest, national tenant screening company.Property owners who join one of the organization's 25 officesnationwide can run credit checks for modest fees. Property ownerscan also get credit reports through the National Association of IndependentLandlords, Los Angeles-based Fidelity Information Corp.'sTenantAlert and TVS Tenant VerificationService Inc.

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What has changed is the number of companies offering tenantscreening-and the level of interest from CRE professionals. "Whilethe multifamily industry has benefited from an increase in rentalapplications, property owners and managers have become more focusedon their risk management efforts due to the economic environment,"says SureDeposit President Rich Schreiber. This is due to a surgein rental applications from those beleaguered by foreclosures andcompromised credit histories and the fact property owners feelpressured to lower their credit standards to achieve greateroccupancy levels.

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He said SureDeposit gives cash-strapped renters a lower costoption to a security deposit. In addition, combining it withResident Data's tenant screening process makes using it convenient.If a resident selects the SureDeposit option, he explains, theleasing agent instantly generates an enrollment form pre-populatedwith the applicant's data, reducing paperwork for both the leasingagent and renter.

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"Tough economic times affect every consumer," says Marv Steier,president of TVS. "It has become quite evident recently with theglobal financial meltdown that many consumers, including tenants,have overspent and incurred more debt than they are able to handlefinancially. More and more consumers, who are tenants, will leavelandlords stuck with unpaid rental fees and damaged rental propertywhere they are unable to meet the terms of their lease agreementbecause of heavy debt load and unemployment."

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In August, Chicago-based TransUnion rolled out SmartMove andWaltham, MA-based RentGrow introduced ScreeningWorks. TransUnondescribes SmartMove as a tool "to enhance the rental screeningprocess and prevent financial losses." The option differs from someexisting tenant screening services because the prospective rentersare not required to provide their Social Security number or creditcard account numbers directly to the property owner. Instead,potential renters can log in to MySmartMove.com for a one-time feeof $24.95 and then grant the landlord access to review credithistories or run background checks.

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"It takes away the archaic process of providing Social Securitynumbers to just anyone," says Mike Mauseth, vice president,business strategy and development of TransUnion's rental screeningsolutions, adding that it provides renters with "a new level ofconfidence."

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ScreeningWorks says it leverages "new technologies thatstreamline the applicant screening process, deliver convenientaccess and provide instant results on tenant quality so they canmake immediate applicant decisions."

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"Today more than ever, independent rental owners want better,actionable information on their tenant applicants," says AndrewCruickshank, vice president of market and product development atRentGrow. "However, many landlords haven't had access to residentscreening." He said ScreeningWorks gives tenants a pay-as-you-gooption with easy to understand results.

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