Enhancing the application process: Secure and simplify applications with digital tools

Laurie Mega
Laurie Mega | 6 min. read
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Published on March 30, 2022

How many rental applications does your team see in a week? A month? A year? And how many of those applications turn into quality residents? Solid listings placed across social and rental sites will bring in plenty of applications, but how do you weed through them all to find the right ones? Optimizing the application process can help you pull in the right residents and enhance the experience for your applicants, so you can build a strong relationship with residents before they even sign the lease.

A lot is accomplished by going digital. But some of it has to do with how you present your applications and how you communicate with applicants, as well.

In this article, we’ll explore four actions you can take right away to simplify your applications and improve the experience for prospective residents.

#1: Simplify Application Questions

Preliminary questions help you narrow down the applicant field. It saves time and money for property managers and owners by shrinking the applicant pool to only those prospective tenants who can benefit most. It also enhances the applicant experience by avoiding a lengthy screening process for a property that isn’t right for them.

But, asking too many questions can put off applicants and may even run afoul of fair housing laws while curtailing your application or conversion rates. It’s best to keep mostly to questions you’ll need to run a proper tenant screening:

  • Name
  • Current Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Employment History
  • Rental History
  • References

Other questions you can ask include:

  • How many residents they intend to have living at the property
  • Whether or not they have pets (and how many)
  • Whether or not they smoke
  • Whether or not they have a disability that will require accommodation

Note that you can only ask the last question to determine any accommodations you will need to add to the property. You cannot exclude applicants based on their disability status.

It’s a good idea to go through your current questions and double check that they comply with the Federal Fair Housing Act, as well as local and state fair housing laws. Speaking with a legal expert that’s familiar with real estate law and specific regulations in your area is the best way to make sure your applications meet these requirements.

An effective property management software solution will include customizable digital applications that you can link to your listings as well as your website.

Customization shouldn’t be time consuming either. Software like Buildium starts with a standard application and lets you type out your own prompts and add or remove questions relevant to your property with a single click. Marking fields as required and adding your logo and other branding is just as easy.

When your applications are ready, you’ll also be able to link them to your website so applicants can apply right from a listing page.

#2: Allow Applicants to Fill Out or Submit Online

According to Buildium’s 2022 Industry Report, more than half of property owners expect their property owners to handle much of their rental processes digitally. That includes applications.

Digital forms, particularly mobile-friendly ones, are now the rule rather than the exception. Applicants want a quick and easy form they can fill out from anywhere.

Property managers we surveyed agree that digital applications help enhance the resident experience and streamline work for their staff. They make reviewing, screening, and approving residents faster for property managers. You can browse applicants and begin the screening process on the go, then reject or approve quickly. You can see the status of all applications at a glance via a dashboard.

Revenue Stream Pro Tip

When applications are integrated with a full-service digital leasing solution, next steps, including screening and lease-signing become seamless. Offering a fast and convenient screening option also lets you charge a fee for the service, one that’s well worth the value for busy applicants and that can also become a reliable, additional source of revenue for your business. If you’re using Buildium, you can also collect all application fees within the platform.

Cloud-based digital applications are also encrypted to make sure sensitive information such as income and social security numbers stay secure. Property managers can limit access to only those who deal directly with the leasing process, as well.

#3: Provide Automated Updates

Residents expect a healthy level of communication with their property managers. And renters in every age group preferred digital channels such as email.

Communication should start when your residents are still applicants and should follow a clear structure that keeps them up to date with the information they need, when they need it.

  1. When an applicant hits that submit button, it should trigger an email confirming the receipt of their application and when they should expect to hear from you.
  2. Another automated email should follow when their application is being screened.
  3. If their application is rejected, they should receive an email letting them know who they can contact should they have questions.
  4. If they are accepted, they should receive a welcome email with instructions detailing deposit and lease-signing procedures, as well as any information they need about the property. Typical details that your soon-to-be residents will find helpful include:
  • The insurance requirements for the property
  • Moving companies in the area that may be of use to them
  • Any building or association rules, guidelines, and contact information they might need
  • Relevant details on the appliances, services, and security features in the unit and building
  • Rent due dates and the preferred method of payment
  • Other contact information for repairs, emergencies, etc.
  • Bonus points: Recommendations on nearby restaurants, amenities, and other local tips to help make their new rental feel like home.

Property management software like Buildium not only helps you share this information and set up a convenient way to communicate through an applicant portal, but also takes care of most of these points (like rent payment, repair requests, and contact details) for you, all within the platform.

#4: Make Your Rental and Application Process Transparent

Transparency is key in the application process. It establishes you as a reputable and trustworthy property management professional, helps you build strong relationships with residents, and keeps you on the right side of housing laws.

Listings

Transparency begins with your listings. Prospective residents are looking for listings with detailed information about the property, its cost, and the requirements to move in.

With clear, upfront listings that include location and amenities, prospective residents aren’t taken by surprise when they see your property in person.

According to a Statista survey, 31.5% of renter respondents said they used virtual tours more often during the pandemic. Our own survey revealed that owners’ interest in digital solutions for processes such as listings jumped in 2020 and remains high.

Moving forward, property managers will need more than a good description and clear pictures. They’ll need virtual and 360- degree capabilities that lets prospective residents walk through the property without setting foot in the door.

Highly-detailed listings give prospects with transparency and familiarity with the property they’re interested in, making it easier to fill vacancies. A resident who has your trust from the very beginning is less likely to leave after their lease is up.

As one property manager told us, “I love the transparency and accountability that electronic payments, screening, and lease applications provide between owner and tenant.”A property management software solution makes it easy to create branded listings that connect directly to leasing agents and your digital applications. A solution like Buildium makes things even easier, letting you syndicate listings across the sites of your choice with a simple click.

leasing syndication software

Application Process

Staying transparent through the application process is important for your business for many reasons.

Full transparency keeps you compliant with the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits owners and property managers from rejecting applicants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Property managers can’t change the application process to favor one group over another, either. Keeping your entire process open helps prevent allegations of rejections based on discrimination.

An open process also further promotes trust between property managers and prospective residents. That trust helps build that relationship property managers find so essential in keeping residents around year after year.

In our Industry Report, one property manager told us that, during the height of the pandemic, closer relationships with residents were a definite plus:

“We developed more personal relationships with tenants, which has been very positive. We had significantly less turnover.”

Even if there isn’t a global pandemic in full swing, building good relationships with residents and keeping vacancy and turnover rates low doesn’t begin on move-in day. It begins with those very first points of engagement: the listing and the application.

Maintaining transparent communication and tech-enabled convenience past the application is also important. It strengthens your brand and creates new opportunities for your business. Giving approved applicants all the resources they need to move into their new home, for example, further cements residents’ trust.

Low-Hanging Revenue Streams

Offering services like renters insurance through the same software you use for the full application process, makes it convenient for your new renters to opt in, providing you with an additional, steady source of revenue.By attaching those fees to an applicant’s account, they’ll also be able to pay online through the platform, saving you even more resources in the process.

By simplifying the application process with digital tools, property managers can create better experiences for applicants, more competitive, enticing listings, new ways to grow revenue, all while saving your team valuable time.

Read more on Marketing
Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega has planned, written, and edited content on a variety of subjects. Her work has been published by HomeandGarden.com, The Economist, Philips Lifeline, and FamilyEducation, among others. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two boys.

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