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Article | Are Applicant and Resident Interviews a Thing of the Past?

application process article Nov 20, 2023

by Julie Westhoff | Training Coordinator & Compliance Officer | Costello Companies

With the virtual world we have all come to know and live in over the past 3 years, a few valid questions could be asked regarding resident and applicant interviews.

Have our interviews suffered? Are they a thing of the past? 

So much has changed. For example, do all your units have a video tour online? Is all rental information available on your website? Could your application be completed online with all applicable fees also paid online? Can your applicants or residents upload paystubs and bank statements to the online portal for applications or recertifications? These are increasingly common in affordable housing. 

Twenty years ago, an online video tour or online application would have been unthinkable! And some of us have been around that long! 😊 But while the industry has been changing for several years, the virtual world we now know all too well has brought some very quick changes. Someone can view your available unit and apply without having met or talked to you. While online video tours and online applications can make our job easy, it is important to not forget the resident interview.

Making sure you have completed a thorough and effective interview is still vital to the application process, especially in affordable housing. There are several reasons to have a thorough and effective interview, but today we are going to cover my top 3! 

First, how many of us have heard, “Why is my application taking so long?” “Why do you need that very private information?” “What else could you possibly need?” These questions, and possible frustrations, could be avoided, by making sure that you discuss the basics of the tax credit program during your interview. It can be hard for someone to understand that our application could take 10 business days to process, while at the conventional property across the street, they could apply and move in today. During the interview, you could also make sure to explain your policies and screening criteria. Do you run a credit, criminal, and previous landlord history? If yes, how long do just those items take? Do you wait until those are all back and cleared before starting any income and asset verifications? These things and timelines should all be discussed to help manage expectations during the application process.

The second reason to have a thorough interview is to make sure the paperwork is all completed correctly. Did you know that 30% of all files that are reviewed by many compliance departments are returned to the site due to unanswered questions? Yep, 30%. This is completely preventable. By having a thorough interview, you can go through the paperwork and address any unanswered questions. Remember that just because it is unanswered doesn't mean that the answer is no. If it is unanswered, they were likely confused by the question and the interview is a great opportunity to talk with them and help clarify any confusion.

The third, and final point for today, is interpersonal rapport and listening skills. While talking to them, you are building a relationship. While we should always be friendly with our applicants and residents, but not friends, having a conversation builds an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and will disclose things. If they say to you that they have to get going because they are late for school, but all student questions say no, that is something we would want to ask them about. Or did they just hand you a check for their deposit or say they needed to stop at the bank to pull cash, but the asset page shows no assets? These are things we will want to follow up and without an interview, you might not have had the opportunity to talk with them or clarify any further information.

When I first started in the industry, I was onsite and managed 180 LIHTC/HOME units at 3 different properties in 3 different towns, so I understand how busy you are in the property office. However, completing an effective interview will save you time and ensure you get your property rented up in a timely manner without upset applicants and correct paperwork.

Bonus! HUD has provided us with A Guide to Interviewing. Click HERE to view the document. This is good information to review and keep handy if you ever feel like your interviewing skills could use a refresh. Make it a goal in 2024 to improve your resident/applicant interview skills! 

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