A DIY Landlord’s Guide to Screening Tenants with Social Media
Any prospective tenant can act like the best tenant in the world during the initial walk-through.
Part of being a good landlord is being able to discern the truth in a situation where everyone you talk to has powerful motivations to hide the truth and/or openly lie. And while you can get by on the strength of your intuition for a while, eventually you need to get down to brass tacks and research someone. Whether it’s a questionable applicant, a questionable contractor, or if you’re a property manager, a questionable owner, being able to validate your suspicions is a big step toward being able to make the right decision. So here’s RRP’s guide on how to research people on social media.
The Odds Aren’t In Your Favor…But They’re Still Worth It
Only something like 1/5th of Americas have a meaningful social media footprint, despite what the media might want you to think. But nevertheless, social media is your best starting point when it’s time to look someone up. That’s because while you’re not statistically likely to succeed (the first time; see below), if you DO succeed, you can often stop there because you’ll find everything you want to know.
Facebook: the Best Resource
The first step is always Facebook. Just click over, and type their name and vague location into the search bar. Filter your way through the profiles and look for anyone that might make sense as your person. If you don’t find anyone that might make sense, try variations on the name:
• First initial, last name (with or without middle initial),
• First name, last initial (ditto),
• Nickname, last name or initial,
• Culturally-relevant spin on the first- or nickname, last name or initial (for example, we had an African-American lady whose proper name was Kimberly, and whose Facebook profile was “Lil Kim” with the same last name).
If you still don’t find anyone that makes sense, try searching for the person’s references (if they’ve given you any), and look through their Friends lists to see if there’ someone whose name and picture indicate they might be the person you want. If that fails you, move on, because further effort isn’t worth it.
If and when you find someone you’re searching for, depending on how they’ve used their Facebook profile, you can work your way through the details to learn an incredible amount of useful details like:
• What their former residences looked like (in any pictures they took at home and posted),
• What kinds of people they hang out with (by checking out their Friends’ profiles),
• If they have any pets and what type.
• What kinds of jobs they’ve had (though don’t rely on social media for any details about current employment as it’s too easy to fake),
• Generally what they prefer to spend their money on (look for ‘bragging’ posts), which can in turn give you a hint about how much they are accustomed to making — not many minimum-wage workers post about how their new au pair or their season tickets to the local ballet.
Finding Job Information: LinkedIn
If Facebook doesn’t have the person you want — or doesn’t have the specific information you want — your next best bet is LinkedIn. Especially if you have employment information alongside a name, finding profiles on LinkedIn is basically as easy as searching name+job. Granted, even fewer people have a LinkedIn account (by a couple of orders of magnitude), but if you’re looking for:
• Current or former employment information,
• Someone you can definitely ask for a reference or at least their thoughts on the person, or
• Links to other social media accounts that you can use for further research,
…LinkedIn is an extraordinary resource.
Personal Insights: Instagram and Twitter
It can be harder to find someone on Instagram or Twitter than it is on Facebook, because a lot of people have usernames that have nothing to do with their real names, and there’s not necessarily any connection between someone’s identity and their account information. In fact, in many cases the easiest way to find someone’s Instagram account is to find their LinkedIn or Facebook accounts and then looking up their Instagram information from there. But if you can find them, you can look carefully at the pictures that people post on their Twitter feeds and Instagram accounts and find more detail even than their Facebook profile provides. People are a lot less censored on Instagram and Twitter!
So if you’re a DIY landlord doing ad hoc tenant screening, or even a legitimate property manager looking to validate someone’s supposed former landlord, do your research — check them out on social media. Averting even one problem tenant is worth the five or ten minutes it will take.