Sunday, March 27, 2016

Renting Property? What You need to Do Before You Choose a Tenant Part 1

Investing in real estate is a common financial goal. 
You may start with something as simple as buying a single family home, condo, or duplex. Or it may be as ambitious as investing in an entire apartment building. Whatever the case may be, the chance to own property is often considered part of the “American Dream”

However, when it comes time to find renters to make your investment profitable, it can soon become a nightmare.
Instead of finding the perfect tenants, you discover that they are anything but what you expected. They may be constantly late in paying their rent. Or they are the continual subject of complaints from your other tenants or neighbors. Or, worst of all, you discover they have ruined your property or been party to other damaging or illegal behavior.

No matter what the problem, your dream of securing your financial future is now in jeopardy.

Don’t make this mistake!

Screening Prospective Tenants is Key to Protecting Your Property and Your Reputation!  “Tweet This”
As a landlord, it is your responsibility to do background checks on anyone you are considering as renters. Not only is it good business to protect your property, it is also an essential step in protecting your other tenants or neighbors.  

Knowing your potential renter’s past simply makes sense.         

This 2 part series is dedicated to Helping You Discover Good Practices for Choosing Your Tenants.

In Part 1, you will find out What You Need to Do Before Renting Your Property. Then, in Part 2, you will learn How you can Use Your Background and Credit Check to Make an Informed Tenant Decision!

Before you even consider finding renters, there are critical steps you should take to protect you and your property.

What You Need to Do Before You Rent Your Property
  • Hire a Screening Company to do the Tenant Background Check
According to the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Agency), you should hire an outside background check company to screen your applicants.  The FCRA classifies these companies as Consumer Reporting Agencies.

These agencies will be well versed in FCRA guidelines when it comes to screening your tenants. They will be able to guide you in your applicant’s rights concerning background checks and help keep you compliant.  

Not sure what to look for when hiring a background check company? These 5 Tips will help you find the Best Background Check company for You!

The cost of a Tenant Background Check will vary. It is dependent upon what services you request and the fees related to accessing those services. A good background check company will help you decide what you need based on your prospective tenant’s application information.

Worried about the cost of the tenant background check? You can request that any potential renters cover the cost themselves as part of the application fee.  

If you choose to cover this expense yourself, a background check is still a cost-effective step in renting your property. The key is to focus the scope of the background check on the information that best meets your specific needs.

Find out more in “Think a Good Background Check Costs too Much?  Think Again!”.

Getting your background check company in place before you even advertise your rental makes sense.
  • Obtain a Completed Rental Application
This is the first step in getting the information you need from any prospective tenant.   

Find Answers to Your Questions about Tenant Background Checks Here!

A good application will request your prospective tenant’s:
  • Full Name + Any Previous Names Used
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Current Address + Previous Addresses for the past 7-10 Years - including dates of residence and contact information 
  • Contact Information - Phone / Cell Phone / email
  • Driver’s License / Photo Identification - Make a copy for Your Records
  • Current & Past Employers + Current Salary - including dates of employment & employer contact information
  • Banking Information (for Credit Checks)
  • 3 - 4 References - ideally 2 Personal and 2 Professional 
Make sure that your prospective tenant fills out the application entirely and, most importantly, legibly
  • Obtain a Signed Release for the Background and Credit Check
It is best to do this at the the same time your potential tenant is completing the rental application. You are free to use a release of your own, but most times it is easier to use one provided by your chosen screening company.

FCRA guidelines require that landlords obtain written permission for a background check from all prospective tenants. This assures that all renters know a background check is being performed and consent to the process. You cannot proceed with the background check without this release being signed.  

If your prospective renter refuses to sign the background check release, you should stop the renting process immediately and move on to another potential tenant.
  • Interview Your Prospective Tenant
A face-to-face meeting is the best way to get to know a little more about your potential renter.  

The first thing you should take note of is whether they show up for the interview on time! Then you should ask questions that will give you a better picture of them as a possible tenant.

Those questions could include:
Are you able to pay the deposit required to move in?  
Be clear on whether you expect first and last month’s rent plus security deposit, or any variation of these.
  • Why are You Moving from your current residence?
  • Do You Smoke? You have every right to require a renter to not smoke inside your property.
  • Do You have Pets? It up to you whether to allow all pets, certain pets, etc. However, you will need to consider any laws governing service animals.
  • Who will be Moving in with You? It is within your right to set up a maximum occupancy policy for your property. 
Pay attention to “How” they answer your questions just as much, if not more, as “What” they answer. You, along with your other tenants and the property’s neighbors, will be dealing with your renter. Choosing someone who is friendly and forthcoming is a plus.
  • Determine the Scope of Your Investigation and Run Your Background Check
This is where hiring a qualified Background Check company makes all the difference. They are experienced enough to guide you in deciding the best scope of the investigation for your needs.

Deciding what to check starts with your prospective tenant’s application. The information included in that application will help you determine where to begin.

The most frequently requested item is a criminal background check. Here you will be looking for past convictions that would directly impact your decision to rent to this individual. Examples would be records for felony convictions, violent behavior, or drug offenses. Checking the sex offender list is also crucial. 

Doing a civil court record check is also good business. Learning whether your applicant has ever been evicted due to late or non-payment of rent makes sense. You can expand this search to include any lawsuits either file by or filed against your applicant.  

Learn more about Civil checks and what they can do for you in; “Civil Court Record Checks ~ The Forgotten Screening Tool”!

Other possible items to check during your tenant screening could include verifying past and present employers, contacting any previous landlords, or checking personal references. These can be done by you or you can outsource them to your background check company.  

Checking with your applicant’s employer will help you determine whether the information they listed on their application is true. It will also help you discover whether their income is sufficient to pay the rent.

Contacting any previous landlords will tell you a lot about what your applicant will be like as a tenant. You can find out if they paid their rent or if they damaged the property in any way. The most telling question you could ask is if they would rent to your applicant again. 

Checking references is also a good step. You may believe that contacting references listed by your applicant is a waste of time. After all, your applicant wouldn’t list them unless they only had good things to say, right?  

That is not always the case. A good background check company will know what questions to ask and how to ask them to get the answers you need. At your request, they can also develop additional references that were not listed by your applicant.
  • Run the Credit Check
A credit check will supply you with information on your applicant’s financial stability. It will include things like bankruptcies, foreclosures, and certain lawsuits.  You will also see their credit score.

There are 3 major credit reporting agencies you can use to obtain this information ~ Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. As a licensed landlord, you are able to set up an account with the agency of your choice to run a tenant credit check. 

There is no doubt screening your prospective tenants makes sense. Discovering as much about an applicant before taking the leap and allowing them to rent your property is simply good business. 
In Part 2 of this series, you will discover How you can Use Your Background and Credit Checks to make a sound tenant decision!
API has also added Tenant Screening to our services! We are focused on helping you rent your property more safely and effectively ~ 
and always with your bottom line in mind!

Authored by        

Find out how API can Help You. Visit our Services and FAQ pages. Learn more About Us too!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Children can Teach Us about Life and Business!

We can Learn about Life & Business from Our Children
Due to the current situation both here and around the world, many of us find ourselves spending more time than ever with our children. While this is certainly a good thing, it can also be daunting.
 We are now responsible for everything from their daily schoolwork, their physical and emotional needs, and even finding ways to release their pent up energy! And we are often doing all this while trying to do our own work! It can definitely feel like an overwhelming job!

But if we step back for a minute, 
we will soon realize that this is a rare opportunity. We now don't have to rush out in the morning. We are not as scheduled as we used to be ~ no practices, no play dates, and no appointments. And, if you take the time, you will soon find that spending this rare time with our children can teach us so much.....

You really can learn all you ever need to Know about Life and Business from children!

My very first job was as a Camp Counselor.
I was in 9th grade and the camp was run by my Honors English teacher.  

I knew very little about what being a counselor entailed. But when he asked me if I was interested, I jumped at the chance.

Several of my friends were also asked. We envisioned a summer spent swimming in the camp pool, meeting other counselors (we meant boys), and having fun.  

While we certainly had the chance to do all of that, what we didn’t, and couldn’t, know beforehand, was that being a Camp Counselor was also a lot of work!

Going in, we were all woefully unaware of what it really meant to be responsible for an entire group of children. But we would soon learn!

Each counselor was assigned to a group of campers. Mine were the Fireflies, Kindergarten aged boys and girls. And I loved them! I can still remember two of my special favorites, Ben and Lauren.  

I thought this group would be perfect for me. I had a younger sister and brother, had already done some babysitting, and 5 year olds seemed like they would be so easy! I felt more than qualified.
Little did I know how wrong I was!

Every day was filled with arts and crafts, nature hikes, swim lessons, and even music and drama activities. We were on the go from the start of camp at 9:30 a.m. until the close at 3:30 p.m.

I quickly realized that following this schedule made for one long day ~ and my initial illusions of a carefree summer soon evaporated.

Despite this, I gradually discovered that I got so much more out of the experience than I ever thought possible! And, surprisingly, the lessons I learned there have stayed with me to this day. 
5 Year Olds can Teach Us about Life & Business!  “Tweet This”

Important Lessons You can learn fromWorking with 5 Year Olds:
Never Show Fear
Children are excellent at sniffing out fear. They can sense when you are unsure or incapable. I learned that if I showed the least amount of doubt in what I was doing, they knew. I would then find myself losing them.

The same can be said of your clients. If you don’t have a firm belief in the importance of what you do and what you offer, how can you expect it from your clients?

Be Confident
Instead, or being uncertain with these campers, I needed to project confidence, even if I was feeling anything but! I had to dig in and quickly find the best way to lead. No matter what the activity, I had to be ready to show, by example, what to do and how to do it.

This skill will work to your advantage in your business today. Displaying confidence and belief in your services helps reach clients…and it certainly won't hurt when dealing with your own children.

How To Hold an Audience
5 year olds have short attention spans. I found I had to capture their focus immediately, or risk kid chaos. I had to know what interested them and, if trying something new, how to “sell” it.  

Dealing with clients is the same. Learning what "speaks" to them is always your best start. Finding out their interests, their problems, and their goals is key. In this way you can hold their attention and speak directly to their needs. Then you have to be clear on how your services meet those needs. Placing emphasis on them instead of on your needs and wants is simply good business.  

Embrace Change
You know what they say about the best laid plans…..
When working with 5 year olds, anything can happen. One minute you are on a wonderful hike through the woods, then the next you find that someone has fallen in the creek, or skinned a knee, or any of the other things that can befall a group of 5 year olds. Instead of letting that completely derail our plans, I learned to roll with it.

This lesson is invaluable in running your own business. No matter how well thought out your plans may be, life and circumstances often get in the way. Learning to embrace and adapt to these changes, instead of fearing or being defeated by them, certainly helps.

How to Juggle the Needs of Many
There is rarely a “one size fits all” approach when dealing with 5 year olds. Keeping them all happy and safely occupied is no small task. Of course having more than one counselor helped. We were usually able to break off and each supervise a different group. But when that wasn’t possible, we had to get creative. I found that with a little ingenuity and a lot of stamina, I was capable of getting the job done. At any given time I may be reading a story, encouraging some to draw a character from the book, and leading still others in a crazy, zigzagging line around the room. Exhausting yes. But it was also successful in meeting the needs of as many as possible.

I have used this skill often both in parenting and in my business. Like the campers and my own children, my clients are not all alike. Each has different needs and goals. You can use the same lessons in how you think about your own clients. Striving to treat them all as individuals, and develop your products and services with those specific needs in mind, will help you create a niche for your own business. And it will be certainly invaluable in building your brand. 

Fair Play   
Kids know what is fair and what isn't. Whether it's a game of kick ball, release the prisoner, or even taking turns, there is a code. And, most times, if left to their own devices, they will get to what is fair ~ all without adult intervention. As a counselor I witnessed this many times. Games get heated, kids are anxious to get their "at bat" or time on the "best" swing. As counselors our first instinct was to rush in and solve the problem our way. But as time went on, we began to see that if we simply stepped back and kept a watchful eye, it would all be figured out and peace restored.

Sometimes the importance of Fair Play gets lost when we become adults. There are people who are more focused on what is good for them, their family, or their company, even if it is at the expense of others. Instead, remember what you learned as a child, or have seen in the children in your lives, and focus on what is fair! Businesses that take the time to think about the needs of their clients and customers, sometimes over their own, are the ones who are truly successful.

The Enjoyment of Being Active and Appreciating Down Time
Kids, especially 5 year olds, rarely sit still. They love being on the move. You can see it it their faces ~ they are happy just to get up and run, skip, and jump. But I could also see their appreciation and need for quiet time ~ the chance to hear a story or just to snuggle.

While I have sometimes lost my drive along the way, I am once again embracing any chance I get to be active. This can mean taking a walk, sightseeing (even in my own neighborhood), and, if the weather isn’t cooperating, finding a way to stay active indoors. Not only do I feel better, I find myself looking forward to the activity. But just as important is my downtime. I look forward to reading, listening to music, and watching my favorite shows. I appreciate these opportunities to recharge and find I need them to keep my sanity. Both have given me the stamina and focus to keep running my business, and they can do the same for you.

You can find out more about the benefits of taking “active” breaks in "Tips to Help You Gain Focus and Get Active"!

Photo by Kim Kline
To Find Joy in the Little Things
This was perhaps the greatest lesson of all. My 5 year old campers found just as much joy and excitement in holding a bug as they did at receiving their favorite snack or winning a race. They came to camp each day truly looking forward to the day ahead. 

This ability has served me well, especially when I had my own children. It is not the huge, grandiose, things that mean the most, but the day to day wonders we all experience. The way a child’s eyes light up when they see someone they love, the quiet times you spend together, and even the joy felt at the first snowfall or first daffodils. And you can never underestimate the sheer joy you get from a good laugh. I hope to never let this go.  

I continued to work as a counselor at that camp for another 2 years. And while I certainly had fun, my greatest rewards were the lessons I learned about myself and about what it truly takes to succeed in life, and in business!

These lessons can do the same for you!

(The original article was published on LinkedIn as part of their #careerlaunch suggestion!)

Authored by   

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Are Background Checks an Invasion of Privacy?

Are Background Checks really just an Invasion of Privacy?
Any time you do a background check, you are delving into a person’s past and present. This can mean looking into things that many may consider private.

Past brushes with the law, lawsuits where your subject is listed as plaintiff or defendant, their driving record, or even what employers have to say about your applicant are all are potentially found during an employment background check.

The mere fact that as an employer you are looking this closely into someone's personal past may give you pause. You may even think that certain things are just “too personal” and should be off limits.
But, when it comes to hiring, that way of thinking is not good business. And it certainly doesn’t mean that skipping the background check is the answer.

As an employer, you have the right and obligation to know about the person you are considering hiring.  

You deserve to know the answers to questions about your applicant such as: Do they have a criminal record? Do they have the skills needed to safely do the job? Have they held jobs successfully in the past?

There is also your legal obligation to keep the public, your customers, and your other employees safe.

Striking a balance between the need to do a background check and a person’s privacy is a struggle.
But finding that balance it is both possible and desirable. 

Balancing Personal Privacy and Background Checks is Possible!  “Tweet This”

The key is understanding Why Background Checks are necessary, understanding How to protect your candidate’s privacy, and the Right Way to Use the information you find!

Why Using a Background Check is a Valid Part of Your Hiring Process

Screening employees provides you with a powerful hiring tool.  
A good background check report will give you the information you need to determine whether your candidate will fit the job. It will also verify whether they have the skills and training necessary to succeed.  

And, the reality is, when considering someone for a job, a person’s background does matter. An applicant's past, both good and bad, shapes the kind of person they are today.

You, as an employer, have the right to know as much as possible about anyone you are considering hiring. Having that knowledge can make you more aware of any potential problems concerning your new hire. It can also help you craft policies to keep your workplace safe and avoid any legal ramifications from making an unsafe hire.  

Find out more about Why Background Checks are Important to Your Small Business Here!

There are also jobs where a person with a criminal past poses a specific threat. Someone with a history of embezzlement, for example, would be unsuitable for a position where they have access to company funds. The same would go for someone with a past drug problem having access to medications. In cases like these, knowing your applicants’ past is crucial.

A Background Check is also a great first step in determining an applicant’s honesty. 

Many employers request one to verify the education and past employment history of their applicants and to know whether the skills listed in their resume are valid. Hiring someone with a fabricated or exaggerated skill set is unfair and possibly dangerous for any company.

The bottom line is that discovering your applicant lied on their resume or during their interview is an invaluable insight into their character. Check out “The High Cost of Resume Lies” to find out more.

However, despite the need and obligation for employers to vet their potential employees, it is also possible to respect and protect their privacy.

Discover How You can Protect Your Candidate’s Privacy

By its very definition, a Background Check concerns a person’s privacy. Any research into someone’s history delves into “private” matters.

What is also true is that a Background Check is not a violation of that privacy. 

When a Background Check is conducted legally, an employer fully discloses that an investigation into an applicant’s past will be done and a release form permitting the investigation is signed.

The release and the disclosure statement, by law, must be completely separate from your application. This ensures that the applicant fully understands that they are waiving their right to privacy in regard to the Background Check. 

However, you also need to take into consideration that the information found during that background check is personal and sometimes sensitive. That is why it is important to put procedures in place to protect that information.

Creating and following sound record protection policies is the answer.  

Limiting the number of people with access to these records is the best start. Outsourcing your background checks is a good way to achieve this goal. It simply helps keep candidate and employee records more private.  

Discover more in, “5 Smart Reasons to Outsource Your Background Checks”!
The Right Way to Use an Employment Background Check
It is also good business for every company to review their policy on background checks and make sure it is sound and takes the issue of privacy into account.

Then, once you complete the Background Check, it is also important that you know how to use it correctly.  

The key to balancing an employer’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy is consistency and restraint.  
You need to be consistent in how you conduct your background checks and practice restraint as to what information you really require.

You should draft policy that indicates how much information you actually need to ensure a qualified and safe hire for every position within your company. Then you need to stick to those parameters for every candidate.  

This means both fitting the background check to the job and developing a sound Personal Identity Information policy! 

When you fit the background check to the job, you will only check the information necessary to ensure you make a safe and skilled hire for that position. That often means a basic check for entry level positions and a more comprehensive one for a job that has more responsibility. 

Discover more about how to fit the background check to the job here. 

Safeguarding your applicant's and employee's personal information is important for any company. That is why it is essential that you create and implement a Personal Identity Policy that helps you protect that information and make access to it "need to know" only. This will help give your applicants and employees more peace of mind and protect your company, as much as possible, from potential breaches. 
Learn how to create the PII Policy you need here!

When done right, you will be able to find a good balance between knowing what you need to know about your candidate’s past and protecting their privacy.

What is important is that both your company’s rights and your applicant’s rights are taken into account.  

Practicing true balance between the two goes a long way towards making the entire process as fair as possible ~ and that will give you and your applicants peace of mind.

Authored by   

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hiring? Why You Need to Verify their Degree First!

Imagine this….
A dean of a highly respected university for 28 years, who claimed to have both a bachelor’s and master’s, is suddenly found to have no degree at all.

Or how about a newly hired university head football coach that never received the master’s degree he claimed, and in fact never even earned a bachelor’s. 

Well, you don’t have to imagine this happening. Both are true! (Source1)

The first was a dean at MIT who, in 2007, resigned from the university when her deception was finally uncovered.

The second was hired by Notre Dame to coach their legendary football team. The coach had also claimed to have been a standout player himself before it was discovered that he had never even played in a single game.

Both stories ended up in the news and brought a large amount of unwanted publicity to their employers.

And while someone you hire who lies about their education might not make national news like these examples did, it can still pose numerous problems for your company.

It can lead to you hiring someone unqualified for the job.  Or, when discovered, can tarnish your companies reputation with your clients and peers.

But it didn’t have to be that way for MIT and Notre Dame, and it definitely doesn’t have to be that way for You and Your Small Business.

A simple Education verification check was all it would have taken to uncover the truth.
The Top Resume Lie? Education! 
“Tweet This”
Education is one of the most frequently embellished ~ face it, lied about ~ items on a resume. The lie can range from the type of degree earned to whether a degree was even earned at all.

And if having a degree, especially a specific degree, is necessary to the job you are hiring for, then making sure your applicant indeed fills that requirement is good business.

For some jobs, having a degree may not be necessary. In that case companies are more concerned that their applicants have at least earned their high school diplomas or a GED.

Either way, it is important that you take the time to verify that the education listed by your applicant is true.

It should be the first step in making sure they have the training your position needs

Knowing exactly what your job requires first is key. That is where a good job description comes in.  
Taking the time to really think about the skills, education, and experience it takes to do the job well is important. Once you know this, you can be much more clear about the criteria your applicant must fill.

Once you have determined the education needed, then you have to take the next step and verify that any applicant you take beyond the interview level absolutely has that level of education.

This ensures you are considering only the candidates who fit the bill.

Another benefit to verifying your applicant’s education is that, if true, it can go a long way towards developing a favorable impression of them and determining whether or not they are honest.

It is also important that you understand what doing an education verification entails.
Most often, this check simply involves verifying whether a degree was earned, what type of degree it was, and when it was awardedLess often an employer may request an actual transcript. The transcript would include classes taken and grades earned.

Both types of verifications require that the applicant signs a release, which is recommended per EEOC and FCRA guidelines in any background check. This ensures that your applicant understands a background check is being done and agrees to the release of any information during the scope of the check.

Most times, before any information can be obtained, a copy of this signed release must be provided to the source agency.  This is because graduation and degree information is not public record.

It used to be that degree verifications were done through the institution’s registrar’s or guidance offices. Now most colleges and universities use an outside agency to verify degrees. There are even some high schools who use a verifying warehouse. Doing this saves them from hiring extra personnel to handle these verification requests.  

Some verification results are instantaneous upon receipt of the request, signed release, and payment of an access fee. The amount of this fee varies.

Other requests require additional time. This can be due to incomplete records from the school, making it necessary to contact them directly. It can also be from inaccurate information supplied by your applicant. Other factors can be a glitch in the system, errors in entering the information into the database, or if you are trying to verify older records. 

When ready, results will either show the degree as listed being earned, and will supply date and type of degree, or that the degree could not be verified.

If a degree is not verified, it can be for a few possible reasons ~ 
  • an error (from school or verifying institution), 
  • any unpaid school fees (library fees, unpaid balances, etc.) 
  • or, the worst case scenario, that your applicant lied on their resume.
If the degree is not verified, you need to make no hiring decision until you:
  • Notify your applicant of the negative results
  • Give Your Applicant a chance to explain or dispute the results
If your applicant believes the results are in error, always 
recommend they contact the school directly to get an explanation.

Only after you have completed the above actions, and get any additional information the applicant may have concerning their degree, should you make your employment decision.

Even then, you must notify your applicant in writing of what you decide. Remember, it is in your best interest to document the entire process.

There is no doubt about it, verifying your applicant’s education information makes sense.  It costs you very little time and money, but can save you from the problems and embarrassment of making a bad hire.
It is simply Good Business!

Authored by  

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Do You have Questions about Hiring and Background Checks?  You can find answers on our FAQ PageFind out more About Us  and Our Services too!

Source1:  People Publicly Shamed for Lying on Their Resumes