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The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in immeasurable ways, and some of those changes are likely to have a long-term legacy.

Remote and flexible working, for example, is expected to become the new norm for many, while digital, contactless solutions have taken on greater importance in a time when face-to-face contact has been far less possible or advisable.

But what effect has the pandemic had on the lettings sector, and tenant referencing in particular?

A better, faster way of qualifying tenants

With the pandemic putting paid to face-to-face meetings for large chunks of the last year, letting agents have had to find new ways of effectively vetting tenants. At the same time, demand for rental property has soared, with people’s priorities changing and a greater demand for bigger homes, gardens, office space and fast broadband speeds. This means agents have had to deal with higher levels of enquiries and interest than usual.

We know that the traditional ways of vetting tenants can be slow and cumbersome, and prone to natural human error, but Prop Tech solutions can make the whole process much less painful and frustrating.

Out of necessity, many letting agents have adopted tech solutions to help their businesses become more streamlined and efficient, at a time of wider economic crisis and job losses.

The time-honoured way of referencing tenants has typically involved speaking to their previous landlords, running a credit check, establishing the tenant’s income and, in the last five years, compulsory checks on the right of tenants to rent in the UK under the controversial Right to Rent scheme.  

All this information is vitally important and needs to be gathered to ensure your landlords are getting the right tenants in place, but there is no question it can also be clunky and arduous.

Typically, the process has involved tenants sending photocopies of bank statements and payslips, as well as visiting an agent’s branch to prove they have a right to rent in the UK. Because of the pandemic, the government has allowed Right to Rent checks to happen online, while online copies of key documents are now also more common, but the process as a whole can still take considerable time.

This all comes at a time when rental demand is high and most tenants would prefer to carry out as much of the process as possible on their smartphones or tablets. A long, admin-heavy process is only going to prove to be a deterrent and could simply serve to send the tenant looking elsewhere.

Many businesses have realised this is counter-productive and could see them losing business in the long-run, which is why they have embraced tech solutions that allow tenants to be referenced and qualified in a quick, streamlined, simple and efficient manner.

What sort of technology is on offer?

Tenant referencing tech has been advancing at speed for a number of years now, but has been further boosted by the pandemic and a greater desire for non-contact solutions.

As an example, tenants who create a Canopy Rent Passport are able to fill in all their vital details in a timeframe of only 10-15 minutes, before sharing them with their letting agent or landlord. Fast, simple, hassle-free and fully digital. 

There is also a long-term benefit to tenants in having a Rent Passport, as it allows them to share their details with landlords and agents when they switch home rather than needing to start from the beginning each time. The process is significantly quicker for all parties, and no less secure or thorough as a result. 

This means agents can progress a tenancy much quicker and help to get tenants in place in a much speedier fashion – a win-win for all parties.

Unlimited and free instant tenant screening for renters with Rent Passports, powered by Experian and Open Banking, is also on offer to agents to speed up the process more than ever before. As a result of instant screening, there is no call for paper versions of payslips and IDs, and it can all be done via a smartphone – which will appeal to the tech-savvy generation who make up the lion’s share of renters in the UK.

You can see a sample tenant reference here, to give you an idea of how it looks and works. It includes a financial summary and address history, as well as a record of income, employment reference and rental payment history, giving you a very good idea pretty much immediately if the tenant is good and reliable.

The Rent Passport also compels tenants to fill out a landlord reference and a host of preferences – for example, do they want a furnished property, do they want to keep a pet and do they smoke?– to make your job of matching them to the right property and landlord that much easier.

Admin and decision times will be drastically cut, and you will also be able to work out whether a tenant’s credit history makes them a high or low risk renter. If it’s the former, this means you can make a quick call on them not being suitable for the homes you are letting on behalf of your landlords.

Will Covid lead to a tech revolution?

We won’t know for a while yet, but it has been suggested by many that the pandemic has accelerated the latest stage of the tech revolution by five or 10 years. We have all got used to doing most things digitally – whether that’s working remotely, becoming experts at Zoom, Teams and FaceTime, ordering takeaways or having online doctor appointments – and it seems likely this will continue even as lockdown eases and life returns to something resembling normality.

In the property world, we’ve seen a dramatic uplift in the number of virtual viewings being carried out (a necessity at first, but now being seen as something people demand), while many auction houses have had huge success with purely online-only, live-streamed auctions.

The likes of the Land Registry, meanwhile, have been experimenting with new, innovative, tech-led ways of making the property market more digital-friendly, and it seems likely this work will be supercharged over the next few years.

There is a lot of Prop Tech out there for agents to choose from, and not all of it useful, but what you need to discover and zone in on is the tech which makes your life easier, your business more efficient and streamlined, and gives you the time to offer the best possible service to your clients.

Tenant referencing is a crucial – but, historically, time-consuming and awkward – process, which can be improved in only a few short steps.

It would seem silly and regressive to return to the old ways of tenant referencing post-pandemic, when faster, more efficient online solutions are there and have proved themselves.

Letting agents will certainly welcome ways of making their lives easier as their workload continues to grow.

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