Landlords, real estate agents, and property managers all know that when it comes to filling vacancies, they must not allow the pressure to find tenants overshadow the importance of choosing wisely. Troublesome tenants represent an unknowable loss of revenue not only in the form of unpaid rent or property damage, but in the time spent putting out those metaphorical fires.
Choosing a tenant comes with an unavoidable degree of risk, but it’s possible to take a risk that’s calculated for success. Keep in mind these two crucial keys to making the most of the moment you’re first introduced to your prospects.
KEY 1: Have a Pre-screening Protocol
No matter the way you advertise your vacancies, whether it’s online or in the newspaper, it is unlikely that your first point of contact with a potential tenant will be in person, so your screening process will begin before you ever meet. To ensure the best use of your time, provide a way for your tenants to answer qualifying questions either upfront (over the phone) or before you ever speak (via an online form).
However you decide to do it, the questions should be basic, but targeted to weed out unqualified individuals. Here are some examples:
- Able to pay upfront rent and security deposit of [amount]
- Reason for moving
- Intended rental term
- Pets Y/N
- Credit: Excellent/Fair/Average/Poor (You will verify this later)
- Number of occupants and relationship to you
- Intended occupancy date
- Smoking Y/N
- Able to provide a landlord reference
If you’re satisfied with the prospect’s responses, move on to the next stage: meeting in person.
KEY 2: Know What You’re Looking for When You Meet in Person
When it’s time to show the property, always remember that it’s not only the property that should be “presentation ready.” The tenant’s appearance and behavior is also being inspected.
In this step, you’re looking for those telltale signs that hint that a tenant may not be an ideal fit, or even a tolerable one. Ask yourself these questions and make mental notes:
- Are they trying to make a good impression? Are they neat and clean?
- Does their car look as well (or as poorly) kept as their appearance?
- Are they respectful? Are they conscious of the cleanliness of their shoes before stepping inside? Did they arrive smoking or walk into the property while smoking?
- When or if they are critical of the property, are their comments or questions legitimate, or do they seem to be nitpicking in the hopes of talking you down in price?
- Are they ready to make a decision in the moment, or do they request some time to think about it?
How the prospect presents themselves upon your first meeting is a valid indicator of how they will care for the property after the signing of the lease. Of course, this is only half of the tenant screening process. Remember what you’ve learned in this stage as you move onto the next: processing the application, running a background check, and then signing the lease.