Prescreening prospective tenants is a critical task of property managers and landlords. Done correctly, it’ll help you weed out individuals who are not good candidates and improve your odds of signing someone who is reliable and long-term. One mistake many property owners make, however, is not starting the screening process early enough. By screening over the phone, before showing your vacancies, you can save yourself a ton of time. That said, here’s what we recommend.
The longer your units sit empty, the bigger an impact it will have on your bottom line. All things considered, however, rushing to fill vacancies without doing adequate screening could end up costing you far more in the long run. Resist the urge to rent to the first applicant that comes along. Instead, be patient. A small investment of time upfront can prevent you from renting to a problem tenant that could prove to be a nightmare down the road.
Set and discuss minimum standards.
Before you begin, put together a list of must-haves that will help you determine whether an interested caller is worth scheduling an appointment with. These minimum qualifying standards should include things like income-to-rent ratio (we recommend 30%), ability to provide viable references, agreement to a criminal background check and minimum credit score. Often times just bringing these qualifiers up during an initial call will prompt an applicant to back out before you invest more time.
Talk about the property.
Once a caller has made it past the minimum qualifiers, you can then begin to discuss details about the property. While you may have already included much of this information in your listing, it’s still a good idea to highlight key features, such as where the property is located, how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are, rent and security deposit requirements and move-in timeframe. You may find that a caller missed one or more of these details and the property is no longer a good fit for their needs.
Schedule a showing.
If, after you’ve gone through your qualifiers and discussed the details of the property, the prospect is still interested and seems to be a good fit, the next step is scheduling a time to tour the property. Some property managers will schedule open-house style showings for multiple candidates at the same time, or stagger appointments 10-15 minutes apart. You should do whatever makes the best use of your time.
Bonus: know what not to ask.
One thing you should be extra careful about when screening potential tenants, either over the phone or in person, is which types of questions are legally off-limits. For instance, you are not allowed to inquire about certain personal details, like age, gender, race, religion or family status. If you do ask about any of these things and then decide not to rent to a particular candidate – even for unrelated reasons, they could come after you for discrimination.
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