Landlording & Rental Properties

The Top 5 Questions to Ask Every Potential Tenant on the Phone

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Flipping Houses, Business Management, Personal Development, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Real Estate News & Commentary
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tenant-calls

The first point of contact with a potential tenant is often very routine, but it is also very important. It often goes something like this:

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  • The phone rings,
  • You answer with your name or company greeting,
  • The caller inquires about a rental property she saw advertised,
  • You reply, “Great! Thanks for calling. That property is a 2-bedroom/1-bath renting for $750 per month. Can I ask you a few questions?”
  • “Sure,” she says.

Now, what do you ask her?

Before I answer that question, let me make a couple of important points:

First, as a landlord, your screening process begins with the very first point of contact. Remember that you are trying to attract and qualify good quality tenants and the questions you ask should attract the good while weeding out the not so good.

Second, be polite and articulate. Treat everyone who calls in the same manner and ask the same questions. Being polite goes a long way towards attracting good tenants, and a Fair Housing complaint is the last thing any of us need.

Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide

The 5 Questions to Ask Every Tenant

So here are the questions I ask every tenant on the phone:

1. Can I get your name and phone number, please?

This is key. After all, you may need to contact them again later to set up a showing or just follow up. If you do not ask for this information on the front end, you may forget to ask later on as the conversation progresses.

2. When do you need to move?

You might be surprised at this question, but we get numerous calls from people who are looking to move three or more months down the road. While I applaud them for being proactive, we tell them that while we will be happy to show and discuss any property, we really cannot help them at the current time, as any rental they are interested in will likely be rented and off the market by the time they are ready to move.

We ask that they check back with us as they get closer to their moving date. (If I had a better tracking system, I might call them back.) Most are very understanding and do call back at a later date. This question saves both you and the caller time and effort. There’s no sense going through the motions at such an early stage.

tenant-funnel

3. Why are you moving?

This question is designed to find some tenant stability. Tenant turnover can be a real killer in this business, and the last thing many of us want is someone who will up and move after a year. So if the answer is something like “it’s just time to move” as opposed to “I have a job transfer,” it should be followed up with questions about the length of time they have lived in their current home.

4. Do you work or go to school?

This question is obviously designed to determine if someone has the income needed to afford the property and also, at least for us, to do a little weeding out.

First, find out if they caller has a job. Then help them determine if they can afford your property. For example, one of our criteria is that an applicant must have a monthly income of at least three times the amount of rent. Upon explaining this criteria and stating the monthly rent, many callers will withdraw themselves.

We also use this question to find out if the callers are students. We simply do not rent to undergrad college students (I only have to reflect on my own college career to understand why). We will rent to graduate students however if they have the income. So this question again saves us the time and energy of going through the motions with someone who cannot meet our rental criteria.

5. Will anyone else be living with you?

You must find out about all of the adults that will be living in the property. You simply must insist that all adults go through your screening process. Believe it or not, people will lie and try to slip someone in. It is a huge red flag to hear an answer such as “my boyfriend may be here some of the time.”

Be very careful and thorough here, as the last thing you need is a deadbeat, criminal, or worse in one of your properties.

tenant-screening

RelatedOne Question You Should NEVER Ask Your Tenants or Buyers

Other Questions for Tenants

So there you have the top 5 questions you should ask every caller. Hopefully you can see how these questions are designed to help both you and the caller save time and effort.

As a bonus, you should add other questions to your list depending on what your rental criteria are. For example, you may want to ask about pets or smoking depending on if you allow pets or smoking in your properties. There’s no sense in setting up a showing appointment, meeting the applicant, and then finding out she has a dog when you do not allow them.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out landlords who have found BiggerPockets more recently.]

What sorts of questions do you ask?

Let me know with your comments.

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in ...
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    Amy A. from Portland, Maine
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I hate talking on the phone! Most of the people who call are not qualified and waste my time and get angry at me. Therefore, I ask all these questions via email. Because people like to know there’s a number to call, so I’m not a scammer, I have a google voice number. In my message I tell them that in order to stay organized we are not taking phone calls but to please email me. Everybody who emails me gets the same email: (this info is in the advertisement too, but for some reason people don’t read the whole thing!) “Hello, Thank you for your interest in this property. We pride ourselves on renting clean, good quality homes. If after touring the home you decide to apply, we will require a credit score of over 600 for each adult, income equal to three times the rent, no evictions or criminal record, and good past landlord references. If you meet these minimum requirements, please drive by the property (or at least check it out on google maps) before we schedule a showing. Also, in order to schedule a showing we require the full names of all who would live there. Take care, Amy” Do you think that because I do it this way, that I am losing good potential tenants? I’m not having much success right now, but it may be the time of year.
    Tina Peters from Chico, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    @amyarata. I think you are losing out on the most crucial time to “hear their story”. Prospective tenants will provide you with valuable information if you just open the dialogue. My mandatory question asked is ” what leads you to look for a place to move?”
    kg
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    It really depends on your area and potential tenants. Fall and winter can be difficult times to find renters with the holidays, lousy moving weather, sports activities, etc. Talking on the phone is not my favorite thing either. We generally answer the phone from 8am – 8pm every single day. Our area is kind of small townish where you need to build a relationship with the prospective tenant. I always ask, Is it OK if I ask you some questions that I ask everyone so you can get to know me and I can get to know you? I really listen to them. I probably spend more time on the calls then I should. Most people are pretty proud of their jobs and how well they take care of their homes. Sometimes I find it hard to ask the next question because some people can talk quite a bit. Our insurance company doesn’t let us have certain dog breeds or any other vicious animals on premise which we had to include in our pet policy. Sometimes people try to talk their way around it, but I am really apologetic and explain to them we do not want lose our insurance. Some tenants that are used to social media may be amenable to email and texting. Perhaps you can build a relationship if you respond quickly and in a friendly voice. I consider the phone call part of the winnowing process where we make the appointment. I don’t like to send people to the house without a shower because I do not want them disturbing the current tenants. Tenants have a right to their privacy and sometimes people are really forward where they talk their way in. I generally schedule one week night and late Sunday afternoon with the current tenants for showings. Most tenants do their best to make the house show well. I schedule the showings 15 minutes apart and send reminder text messages. It averages 10 minutes to show a unit and 5 minutes to ask questions. I also ask potential tenants to let me know if they can’t make their appointment. After the showing we ask them if they have any questions, how they like the house, have they looked at any others and how do we compare, will it work for them? If they decide they would like the place we give them the application packet, showing them the screening criteria, the application, questions we ask previous landlords page, and tenant screening page of company that we use. We tell them to call us if they have any questions or need help filling out application. We figure if they don’t call us back to pick up the application that they really weren’t interested, found a place they liked better, or didn’t meet the screening criteria. Paper is cheaper than paying the screening company. We don’t charge an application or screening fee because usually when someone fills out the paperwork they pass the screening criteria. We just consider the screening fee as part of the re-rental cost. Also check out your ad. Make sure you have good pictures, area advantages, list room sizes, tenant requirements, etc. Leave white space/breaks in between topics so it’s easier for people to scan and read the info. You’ll still get calls where people didn’t read the ad and a friend just told them about it. Those can be interesting. I always back down if someone starts sounding frustrated or upset. I always try to be professional and calm. I blame anything they don’t like on my partner/boss’s requirements. Apologize. Sometime I read the ad over the phone. If it’s too frustrating on both parts, I will schedule those people for an appointment if they just want to see the house. (Note: For safety always make sure someone knows who you’re meeting and when you are meeting people. Also arrive early so you can say hi to the neighbors who will also keep an eye out for you.) I’ve found it takes a lot of phone calls, then showings about 1-4 weeks worth, to end up with a handful that follow through. We take the first one that meets the screening criteria. We try to move fast to get a signed lease and security deposit. Hope this helps.
    kg
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    It really depends on your area and potential tenants. Fall and winter can be difficult times to find renters with the holidays, lousy moving weather, sports activities, etc. Talking on the phone is not my favorite thing either. We generally answer the phone from 8am – 8pm every single day. Our area is kind of small townish where you need to build a relationship with the prospective tenant. I always ask, Is it OK if I ask you some questions that I ask everyone so you can get to know me and I can get to know you? I really listen to them. I probably spend more time on the calls then I should. Most people are pretty proud of their jobs and how well they take care of their homes. Sometimes I find it hard to ask the next question because some people can talk quite a bit. Our insurance company doesn’t let us have certain dog breeds or any other vicious animals on premise which we had to include in our pet policy. Sometimes people try to talk their way around it, but I am really apologetic and explain to them we do not want lose our insurance. Some tenants that are used to social media may be amenable to email and texting. Perhaps you can build a relationship if you respond quickly and in a friendly voice. I consider the phone call part of the winnowing process where we make the appointment. I don’t like to send people to the house without a shower because I do not want them disturbing the current tenants. Tenants have a right to their privacy and sometimes people are really forward where they talk their way in. I generally schedule one week night and late Sunday afternoon with the current tenants for showings. Most tenants do their best to make the house show well. I schedule the showings 15 minutes apart and send reminder text messages. It averages 10 minutes to show a unit and 5 minutes to ask questions. I also ask potential tenants to let me know if they can’t make their appointment. After the showing we ask them if they have any questions, how they like the house, have they looked at any others and how do we compare, will it work for them? If they decide they would like the place we give them the application packet, showing them the screening criteria, the application, questions we ask previous landlords page, and tenant screening page of company that we use. We tell them to call us if they have any questions or need help filling out application. We figure if they don’t call us back to pick up the application that they really weren’t interested, found a place they liked better, or didn’t meet the screening criteria. Paper is cheaper than paying the screening company. We don’t charge an application or screening fee because usually when someone fills out the paperwork they pass the screening criteria. We just consider the screening fee as part of the re-rental cost. Also check out your ad. Make sure you have good pictures, area advantages, list room sizes, tenant requirements, etc. Leave white space/breaks in between topics so it’s easier for people to scan and read the info. You’ll still get calls where people didn’t read the ad and a friend just told them about it. Those can be interesting. I always back down if someone starts sounding frustrated or upset. I always try to be professional and calm. I blame anything they don’t like on my partner/boss’s requirements. Apologize. Sometime I read the ad over the phone. If it’s too frustrating on both parts, I will schedule those people for an appointment if they just want to see the house. (Note: For safety always make sure someone knows who you’re meeting and when you are meeting people. Also arrive early so you can say hi to the neighbors who will also keep an eye out for you.) I’ve found it takes a lot of phone calls, then showings about 1-4 weeks worth, to end up with a handful that follow through. We take the first one that meets the screening criteria. We try to move fast to get a signed lease and security deposit. Hope this helps.
    Janne Zaccagnino Investor from Arlington, Tennessee
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Kevin, I always love your articles! One of our mutual friends taught me to ask, “Do you have a 675 or more Credit Score (you pick your number)? It is surprising how many people know this. If they say no, you can thank them for their call, but get off the phone. You haven’t wasted the paper required to write their name and number down. Also, I state, “This unit rents for $1100 per month. Do you make $3300 in VERIFIABLE income?” If that answer is unsatisfactory, you can tell them goodbye and don’t bother to keep their name. The following idea is particularly good if you hate to talk on the phone or if you have a day job and need to call the prospective tenant back after hours. Because you need to ask every caller the same questions I suggest the following: Get yourself a Google Voice number for all incoming calls about your rental units and use this number in all your “for rent” ads. The google number rings through to your other phones (work, cell, spouse, etc.). Record a good outgoing google voice mail recording about your vacancy that states some of the criteria you are looking for (Credit Score of 675 and $3300 verifiable income, no smoking/no pets) as well as the unit’s description (3 br. 2.5 bath, 1 car garage), etc. Let all google voice calls go to voice mail so they can hear your message about the available unit. Never answer your google voice calls if you aren’t able to READ your screening questions (like while driving or if you are away from your script for any reason). This is a sure way for every caller to hear the exact same message! IF the caller is interested, they will leave a message. You can call them back when you are in front of your script so that you can be sure to ask the same questions EVERY TIME. They can never say they didn’t know the income requirements, or that it was a no-smoking unit. Google Voice is Free! It’s a cool tool! Happy Landlording! Janne
    Neil Reimer from Evanston, IL
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Janne, Thanks for the Google Voice number tip. I’m about to try renting my first unit and this will address a problem that I didn’t realize I was about to have. Thanks for covering a major blind spot! Neil
    Carl Mcknight Rental Property Investor from Fresno, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Nice nuggets of info Kevin. With my market I’ll usually start with the following: 1. Any evictions or Unlawful Detainers? If “yes”, no need talk any further. 2. Why are you moving? If it’s cause “landlord harassing me or refuses to fix anything”, that probably a deal killer. That’s just a few warning signs they’ll be problems. To avoid east precious time, I email them the application, have them fill it out and then call to schedule a time to show the place. Prior to leaving I call and text them to confirm the meet, if no answer, then I don’t bother driving over there and move onto the next one. Thank you
    Sai T. Investor from West Chester , PA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks ? for sharing Simple & straight and unbiased Q’s. ?
    Tina Peters from Chico, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I have always been told (in California) it is descriminatory to ask a prospective tenant if “they work” as disibilty/social security income would qualify.
    Jess Sanchez from Easton, Pennsylvania
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Very insightful from you all. Thank you. ?
    Ryan Landis Residential Real Estate Broker from San Mateo, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks for putting this together Kevin!