Choosing a screening provider: SmartMove vs. Cozy vs. ?

33 Replies

I want to run background & credit checks on potential tenants, and I'm trying to choose between Transunion's SmartMove vs. Cozy's Tenant Screening.

I expect many here are partial to SM as they appear to have been a BP sponsor in the past, but does anyone have experience of both? I'm leaning toward Cozy so far simply because I feel they have a more professional-looking interface.

Also, how do you typically initiate the process with people who want to apply? Give them the web address of your application page (as in Cozy) or collect their email address and send them a link (as in SmartMove)?

Originally posted by @Andy W. :

I want to run background & credit checks on potential tenants, and I'm trying to choose between Transunion's SmartMove vs. Cozy's Tenant Screening.

I expect many here are partial to SM as they appear to have been a BP sponsor in the past, but does anyone have experience of both? I'm leaning toward Cozy so far simply because I feel they have a more professional-looking interface.

Also, how do you typically initiate the process with people who want to apply? Give them the web address of your application page (as in Cozy) or collect their email address and send them a link (as in SmartMove)?

 Hello Andy,

Great question! With so many options out there it seems many people are unsure what system to go with to screen tenants. I've heard all good things from these programs.

You want to make sure you find a program that does both a credit report, and a background check. Some programs will give you credit history and criminal history in the same report. I must say that is always very helpful.

Things I like to keep in mind when screening tenants are:

Have them sign an authorization form, which allows you to look up their credit report and do a background check. Never simply look at a credit SCORE, but make sure you look at the whole REPORT. Someone could have a good score, but owe a lot of money on collections. (I know, but it happens)

Analyze their credit report and if you feel comfortable, do a background check and make sure their criminal history checks out.

Another key factor is employment history. Make sure they have a job of course! You also want to make sure they have had the job for more than a few days. Remember their ability to keep their job (or have a steady income) will directly effect their ability to pay the rent.

We always have them submit pay-stubs. 2 - 3 most recently ones give us the information we need. You want to use that information to check to make sure they have enough money to pay their bills, including the rent. We don't normally ask for a license until they are signing documents, but that might be different depending on your state.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

@Andy W. Take a look at this forum https://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/265191-screaning-tenants as there is some good feedback on both here, seems SmartMove returns more information.

Thanks, @Tom Ott . Great advice.

You said:

Analyze their credit report and if you feel comfortable, do a background check and make sure their criminal history checks out.

Are you saying you take a two-step approach: get their credit report, then run a screening report only on those that make the cut?

If so, I like the sound of that approach, but I wonder what the best way is to clearly articulate the process up front.

Originally posted by @Andy W. :

Thanks, @Tom Ott. Great advice.

You said:

Analyze their credit report and if you feel comfortable, do a background check and make sure their criminal history checks out.

Are you saying you take a two-step approach: get their credit report, then run a screening report only on those that make the cut?

If so, I like the sound of that approach, but I wonder what the best way is to clearly articulate the process up front.

Well that is just some advice in general. But I'd say best practice is to find a program that does both at the same time. Many of them out there will give you a credit report and a criminal history in the same search.

This way when you get the results, you can look over everything. Having both reports at the same time always works out best for me.

Snartmove is good and easy. Set up the account and get their email and Smartmove takes it from there and you get the results in a very short time directly from smart move.

We prefer TransUnion / SmartMove over the other credit bureaus.

They have both the background check and the credit report (plus more) included in the screening report.

I've used Cozy a few times. Not impressed. Three of the four applicants told me either the information wouldn't save as they were filling out the application, or they got kicked out of the application completely. One background check took 4 days to get results, and both me and the applicant tried numerous times to get help on we both only got the same automated email.

I haven't tried smart move, but I will next vacancy 

Originally posted by @Dan Hatch :

I've used Cozy a few times. Not impressed....both me and the applicant tried numerous times to get help on we both only got the same automated email.

Good to know. It's important to have a good response time.

That said, I tried to speak to someone at SmartMove and got the impression their support is outsourced and script-driven. My question was very generic, but nobody would help me unless I was prepared to give them all my information.

My gut now says go with SmartMove, and maybe try something else next time if it doesn't pan out.

I'm curious though: most print applications I've seen have a section where the applicant authorizes me to contact employer and/or previous landlords to verify information, for example:

SmartMove's FAQ specifically states they don't verify employment/rental history. Do they collect it, and does the form give me authorization to verify it?

Originally posted by @Andy W. :
Originally posted by @Dan Hatch:

I've used Cozy a few times. Not impressed....both me and the applicant tried numerous times to get help on we both only got the same automated email.

Good to know. It's important to have a good response time.

That said, I tried to speak to someone at SmartMove and got the impression their support is outsourced and script-driven. My question was very generic, but nobody would help me unless I was prepared to give them all my information.

My gut now says go with SmartMove, and maybe try something else next time if it doesn't pan out.

I'm curious though: most print applications I've seen have a section where the applicant authorizes me to contact employer and/or previous landlords to verify information, for example:

SmartMove's FAQ specifically states they don't verify employment/rental history. Do they collect it, and does the form give me authorization to verify it?

You need them to sign an authorization to check employment, rental history, and credit/criminal report...in most states. I don't know the laws where you, but I would have them sign it regardless. It's always a good bet to play it safe.

Do any of these programs have demos you can give a test? That might help.

Originally posted by @Andy W. :
Originally posted by @Dan Hatch:

I've used Cozy a few times. Not impressed....both me and the applicant tried numerous times to get help on we both only got the same automated email.

Good to know. It's important to have a good response time.

That said, I tried to speak to someone at SmartMove and got the impression their support is outsourced and script-driven. My question was very generic, but nobody would help me unless I was prepared to give them all my information.

My gut now says go with SmartMove, and maybe try something else next time if it doesn't pan out.

I'm curious though: most print applications I've seen have a section where the applicant authorizes me to contact employer and/or previous landlords to verify information, for example:

SmartMove's FAQ specifically states they don't verify employment/rental history. Do they collect it, and does the form give me authorization to verify it?

 Hi Andy,

The SmartMove product is just the background/credit check as you would likely want to have them fill out an application also, where you could include the authorization statement.  Thanks.

Hi @Andy W.

I’m a representative with TransUnion SmartMove. SmartMove currently does not verify an applicant’s previous employment or rental history. I’m happy to help with any other questions you have just send me a note through Bigger Pockets. Thanks!

Hi there @Dan Hatch ,

I'm so sorry for your poor experience. I see that my colleague had responded to you on the same day, but if this was missed, I apologize. I can assure you it's not automated and from real people here in Portland, OR, and we strive for responses within 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Regarding the background check processing, some checks will take several business days to process. While most background checks complete within a few minutes, unfortunately county records are not always available via an instant electronic search, so in those cases as researcher does need to work with the county to find and verify records which can take a few business days.  

We're looking to nature of the issues your applicants experienced while completing their applications, and I'll follow up with you via email shortly.

Taylor Boudreau

Cozy Support

My two cents:  I've used SmartMove and my tenants and I liked it.  I think they appreciated that they never had to divulge their SSN and they paid the company directly, so they know their background check fee isn't getting inflated.  I'm sure that's something Cozy can do too, but when I first researched them in March 2015, they only had credit checks and not background checks available.  I wanted both.  

Maybe if/when Cozy can do both credit and background checks (maybe they can now, I don't know) AND when their payment system is set up to accept partial payments or utility bill payments, I will use them.  I like the idea of a one stop shop, but when I checked in March, their functionality was limited.  Plus the idea of a local company is nice.  If they can provide just as good if not better a product as the national competitor.  

Lastly, there are certain things I want to see on an application, and when I last checked, you could not really customize the application on Cozy.  So I use my own form and do my own reference checks and just send the tenants to SmartMove for the background/credit check.  My tenants mostly use PayPal for rent payments, though there are other sites for rent payments too.  

Andy, I am a representative of Tenant Watch (since smart move was allowed to make mention of their representative) and I would suggest you find a company who will work with you around deciding the types of tools and or services you need, want and desire.  

So many of these reply's have people providing you with their input and or experiences but rarely do I see anything about people's experiences working directly with a company versus just setting up their account online account to pull data etc.  How should you use that data, what are the rules, where do I go to get additional answers....

I would suggest you find a company where they come along side you, the client to ensure the client is getting their needs met. This industry is data driven and there are big and little companies pushing their data turning it into information to help you make decision but so many times on this site it appears people are trying to figure out what it is they need?  

So, I would find a company in the business who is all about "all" of the businesses of real estate.  Find a One Stop Shop because there is so much more to real estate investing than how to get access to a background check.  That's the easy part.

Jeremiah Stephen

I've used https://www.rentapplication.net/ and they seem to do well. They run a credit check, criminal check and what they call an eviction check for $39.95. Applicant pays directly. What I liked the best was I could create my own application, asking them any questions I wanted. So I could include questions like "How long to you plan on staying?", "Have you ever had an eviction filed on you?", and "Who is your emergency contact (including when you're late with a payment)?". 

None of the other services would allow me that kind of flexibility. I've also used ISC (https://isc01.iscscreening.com/iscscreening/). They supposedly have a live investigator actually doing some portions of the background checks for you. Takes a little longer to get some of the screenings back, but they have some great customer service.

Originally posted by @Ronald Perich :

I've used https://www.rentapplication.net/ and they seem to do well. They run a credit check, criminal check and what they call an eviction check for $39.95. Applicant pays directly. What I liked the best was I could create my own application, asking them any questions I wanted. So I could include questions like "How long to you plan on staying?", "Have you ever had an eviction filed on you?", and "Who is your emergency contact (including when you're late with a payment)?".

 That's great functionality, and having just checked out their demo reports I see that I'd also get employment and rental history verification thrown in for that price too. If they actually verified salary that would probably sway me. Definitely going to bookmark them.

Since my earlier posts, Cozy reached out and answered some questions I had. I feel reassured that they're a good option and I'm going to refer my applicants to them initially and see how it goes. I'll report back.

Thanks again to everyone for their responses in this thread, including the reps from Cozy and SmartMove.

I give an application that asks for rental and employment history and some other things. If those check out, I'll go through SmartMove and let them fill out an app there and pay $ 35 for the fee. 

One thing I like is that the emails show 'TransUnion'. There are many landlord scams out there now and tenants are not always comfortable giving out their ss# and application fee to just anyone. This way they can see that they're dealing with one of the credit reporting agencies. 

I have had problems with several applicants not receiving the email, inviting them to fill out the application. I now always also forward the one that I'm copied in on to the applicant. 

Another thing, that seems to be prevalent in my area is that certain tenants know the game. In Atlanta you're forced to go to mediation, before you're given the option to see the judge. Only if you don't come to an arrangement, will you go to the judge. Bad tenants know that if they do mediation and voluntarily agree to move out , they will not have an eviction on their record. 

So, you can have a serial dead-beat tenant apply and you have no idea that they may have gone through 10 evictions, which always ended at mediation and thus don't show on an eviction report.

Originally posted by @Andy W. :
Originally posted by @Ronald Perich:

I've used https://www.rentapplication.net/ and they seem to do well. They run a credit check, criminal check and what they call an eviction check for $39.95. Applicant pays directly. What I liked the best was I could create my own application, asking them any questions I wanted. So I could include questions like "How long to you plan on staying?", "Have you ever had an eviction filed on you?", and "Who is your emergency contact (including when you're late with a payment)?".

 That's great functionality, and having just checked out their demo reports I see that I'd also get employment and rental history verification thrown in for that price too. If they actually verified salary that would probably sway me. Definitely going to bookmark them.

Since my earlier posts, Cozy reached out and answered some questions I had. I feel reassured that they're a good option and I'm going to refer my applicants to them initially and see how it goes. I'll report back.

Thanks again to everyone for their responses in this thread, including the reps from Cozy and SmartMove.

 I really hope it goes well! It sounds like you are on the right track!

IMO: Credit checks can be very fast. A good background should take days, not minutes. If it is fast, it is not complete. A good background check, is done by a combination of database information, but more importantly human interaction with past landlords, and employers.  These human interactions take a few days, if done correct. 

Originally posted by @Michaela G. :

I give an application that asks for rental and employment history and some other things. If those check out, I'll go through SmartMove and let them fill out an app there and pay $ 35 for the fee. 

One thing I like is that the emails show 'TransUnion'. There are many landlord scams out there now and tenants are not always comfortable giving out their ss# and application fee to just anyone. This way they can see that they're dealing with one of the credit reporting agencies. 

I have had problems with several applicants not receiving the email, inviting them to fill out the application. I now always also forward the one that I'm copied in on to the applicant. 

Another thing, that seems to be prevalent in my area is that certain tenants know the game. In Atlanta you're forced to go to mediation, before you're given the option to see the judge. Only if you don't come to an arrangement, will you go to the judge. Bad tenants know that if they do mediation and voluntarily agree to move out , they will not have an eviction on their record. 

So, you can have a serial dead-beat tenant apply and you have no idea that they may have gone through 10 evictions, which always ended at mediation and thus don't show on an eviction report.

 I have also found that tenants appreciate that it does not affect their credit (lower their score).  We have certainly seen that as a plus with our users, and if landlords can get the same data then it is a win-win.

@Andy W. We use a two step process which includes Smartmove as the second step. We use ERentPayment.com for payment and they have a great application form to get all of the information including authorization for credit pull. I like this so we can verify any information that shows up on the credit report. In addition we get employers info and etc. on the first spplication.

ERentPayment.com allows the tenant to report their rent to the credit bureaus to help establish credit, they can set it up automatic payments and you can prevent them from paying partial months rent. They have a credit check but we like SmaerMove

Originally posted by @Taylor Boudreau :

Hi there @Dan Hatch ,

I'm so sorry for your poor experience. I see that my colleague had responded to you on the same day, but if this was missed, I apologize. I can assure you it's not automated and from real people here in Portland, OR, and we strive for responses within 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Regarding the background check processing, some checks will take several business days to process. While most background checks complete within a few minutes, unfortunately county records are not always available via an instant electronic search, so in those cases as researcher does need to work with the county to find and verify records which can take a few business days.  

We're looking to nature of the issues your applicants experienced while completing their applications, and I'll follow up with you via email shortly.

Taylor Boudreau

Cozy Support

 Does cozy service call and talk with the previous landlord, ask them many questions? Does cozy service talk with the employer on the phone and ask them questions?