Landlord Credit Bureau

Virtual Reality: Social Distancing Reshapes Tenant Screening

The COVID-19 outbreak is challenging landlords who are looking to fill vacancies, especially in tenant-occupied properties. Where it may have made sense a few weeks ago to run tenant screening tours through a unit before the current tenant moves out, that’s no longer a viable option, not for the time being.

This pandemic has raised the stakes of social interaction. In fact, the fallout over the virus accentuates everything that is risky about showing a property, whether it’s bringing a stranger into a tenant’s home, holding an open house, or allowing multiple tours of a vacant property.

For instance, prequalifying prospective tenants has never been more important. When every social interaction counts, the last thing a landlord can risk is providing a property tour to someone who does not have the income or rental history to qualify in the first place.

Because most renters have been ordered to stay at home, it is not feasible to bring a prospective tenant into the unit. Some landlords have attempted to avoid this reality by “screening” the prospect regarding their exposure to the coronavirus. Let’s be real. Even the CDC can’t provide an accurate profile of who is contagious.

Meeting a prospect in a vacant unit also creates safety issues for the landlord or property manager, the applicant, and the next person to walk through the property and touch door handles, light switches and other surfaces. There are costs involved with sanitizing units after every tour to rid the property of the tenacious COVID-19 germs, which experts say can hang around on surfaces for days.

Professional property managers are rising to the challenge by going virtual. Video or photo tours provide a comfortable layer of distance and allow a prospective tenant to view a unit at their leisure. Prospects can imagine their furniture in the space rather than focusing on keeping a six-feet bubble between them and the leasing agent or subconsciously holding their breath during the tour.

Some property managers are reporting great success with going digital. The owner of The Garage, a luxury residential development in New Orleans, developed this compelling virtual tour which effectively showcases the many unique features of the property and allows viewers to pick a spot on the floor and then spin into a 360-degree view from where they are “standing.” The Garage reports that leasing activity has remained strong despite the pandemic. In fact, the complex secured three new leases just this past week.

Video tours have an upside by allowing landlords to emphasize amenities. Even better, a narration can be added and then played over and over, so landlords don’t need to repeat themselves and tenants don’t need to strain to remember everything the first time through.

Large rental businesses are not the only ones who can successfully switch to virtual tours. Simply piece together a slide show from previous photos, like those used in the last rental ad. In vacant properties, hire a local videographer who specializes in real estate, or compose your own artistic creation. For tips on making the best impression, see our post, Looks Matter: How to Take Good Rental Property Photos.

With occupied properties, landlords may need to wait until the unit is safe to show — vacant and disinfected. However, if the tenant is moving out voluntarily, he or she may agree to take photos for you.

As is always the case with tenant-occupied units, if the tenant is not leaving voluntarily, do not attempt to show the property to prospects. That will be an exercise in futility, and currently not worth the risks.

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This post is provided by the Landlord Credit Bureau to help landlords and property managers reduce the risks of rental income loss and avoid rent theft. The Landlord Credit Bureau provides articles on Reporting Tenant Rent Pay and Tenant Screening to ensure necessary information is readily available to all Landlord & Tenants.

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The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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