Entrepreneurs take on tenant-finding task

A trio of part-time landlords has hatched a local startup aimed at property owners looking for new ways to vet potential tenants.

VCU graduates and college friends James Barrett, Chris Stewart and Brandon Anderson about four months ago launched Tenant Turner, an online leasing agent-type service that helps landlords screen tenant applications.

Brandon Anderson, top, James Barrett and Chris Stewart

Tenant Turner co-founders Brandon Anderson, top, James Barrett and Chris Stewart.

“A lot of landlords, they don’t even know what to look for in a good tenant or what to be afraid of in a bad tenant,” Barrett said. “The only thing they have to latch onto is a credit score, and it tells you the least about a person and it’s the most expensive thing to acquire.”

Barrett said the idea came from his own experiences as an “accidental landlord.” He owned and lived in a home in Laurel Lakes until moving out about four years ago. He and his wife bought the property at the top of the housing market, he said, and weren’t able to sell it for what they had in it. So they decided to hold onto the property and rent it out.

The most difficult and time-consuming part of the job, Barrett said, was finding fitting tenants.

Tenant Turner allows landlords to set up a free webpage for their properties and prescreens potential tenants with a questionnaire and a 1- to 10-point scoring system at no charge to the landlord.

The goal, Barrett said, is to push aside applications that don’t suit the property for one reason or another. For example, a landlord could quickly eliminate a dog owner if he or she has a “no pet” policy.

The free prescreening is Tenant Turner’s biggest selling point, but the company makes its money after the initial weeding out process is finished. Once landlords have narrowed the list of potential renters, Tenant Turner initiates a full credit check, at cost of $40.

Although Tenant Turner considers the landlords its customers, the potential tenants pay the bills: The $40 charge is passed on to the potential renter as an application fee.

Tenant Turner, which is not legally authorized to perform credit checks, has an agreement with New York-based RentPrep, a subsidiary of background check company Fidelis Screening Solutions.

The terms of the contract with RentPrep leave a larger margin for Tenant Turner than it could capture by ordering individual checks from separate screening companies.

Barrett would not give a precise figure for the trio’s total investment in Tenant Turner but said the venture has been financed without any debt or outside investment capital. Tenant Turner’s founders built their website in-house, and Barrett listed web hosting, an online certificate to secure the site and some marketing among their major expenses.
Tenant Turner isn’t a full-time gig for any of its three employees. Barrett doesn’t have any immediate plans to leave his day job, but he said his forecasts show Tenant Turner might eventually be able support all three of its founders.

Most of Tenant Turner’s business has been local, but Barrett said that the platform is not limited by geography and that they have done work for a couple of properties in California as well.

Tenant Turner has also reached out to some independent property managers, a group Barrett originally saw as competition, and has provided tenant screening for one property manager in particular that maintains a portfolio of about nine properties.

“What we found with some of these more independent property managers – they have some of the same problems as the independent property owners have,” Barrett said.

For now, however, the company’s main focus remains on the marketing to landlords and expansion of Tenant Turner’s platform could go in one of two directions: The company has looked into offering lease execution services to help landlords from tenant selection to move-in, as well as moving toward a marketing model that strives to put its landlord’s listings in front of more renters.

Right now Barrett said the company is leaning toward the latter route.

“I think there’s some money to be made there, so that’s probably where we’re going,” he said.

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