Landlording & Rental Properties

The Rookie Landlording Mistake Most New Investors Make

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Development, Real Estate News & Commentary, Business Management, Flipping Houses, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Wholesaling, Personal Finance, Real Estate Marketing, AskBP, Real Estate Investing Basics
563 Articles Written
light turquoise canvas shoe about to step on banana peel on sidewalk

So, you just bought a rental house or small multifamily property. Congratulations!

Now what?

Well, you need to probably fill that vacant unit with a nice family who is going to pay top dollar on time each month, never complain unnecessarily, and treat your property with respect.

You place an ad on Craigslist, Zillow, or in the newspaper, or maybe you put up a sign in the yard. Quickly you begin receiving phone calls, and they typically look like this:

Landlord: Hello? 

Prospect: Hi, I’m calling about your property at 123 Main Street.

Landlord: Yes, it’s still available. 

Prospect: Great! Can I schedule a time to see it? 

Landlord: Sure thing. How does tomorrow at 6 p.m. work for you?

Prospect: That would be great. I’ll see you then! 

Landlord: Sounds good. Bye. 

Did you notice the rookie mistake in the conversation above? Here’s what it is:

They scheduled a time to show the property!

Wait, huh? I thought the goal was to rent the property out quickly.

It is, but here’s the problem: You’ll waste SO much time when you don’t prequalify the tenant.

rent-unit

Each showing takes, let’s say, one hour of your day, including travel and prep time. And most of them will never rent your property!

And don't think I'm just picking on everyone else. I made this same rookie mistake for several years when I first got started. Maybe it's because I don't like sitting on the phone, or maybe it's because I trust people too much. But the fact is, I wasted a lot of time that should have been spent finding more real estate deals or enjoying time with my family.

You see, for every 10 appointments we made:

  • Four would be “no-shows.” They wouldn’t call to cancel; they wouldn’t reschedule. They just would not show up. I would be sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, looking like an idiot for 20 minutes, hoping they were just late.
  • Three would show up and clearly could never qualify. No job, terrible credit, 17 people in the family for a 2-bedroom apartment, etc. I would have to explain to these people our requirements and try to make it clear that it wouldn’t work out.
  • Two will take an application and never return it, probably because they read all the information required and realize they will never qualify. Or perhaps they hated the neighborhood and just wanted to be polite.
  • One will show up, take an application, and return it with the appropriate application fee.

In other words, for every 10 appointments I was setting, only 10 percent ever gave me a decent applicant. And even of those who applied, half the time they wouldn’t work out either. My funnel was broken.

Of course, your percentages might be slightly different, but the fact remains: Many, if not most, of the people whose calls you receive will never rent your property. So, why waste all your time showing units to prospects who won’t work out?

Related: 10 Not-So-Obvious Ways to Thoroughly Screen Potential Tenants

The Solution: Prescreening

Rather than setting up an appointment with each tenant, I would suggest asking a series of questions of the caller to get a better idea for whether or not they’ll qualify. These questions don’t need to be asked in a formal, serious manner but rather as part of the casual conversation.

When prescreening, I like to make sure I let the prospect know of my minimum qualifying standards. These standards include:

  • Income must be three times the monthly rent or greater
  • No prior evictions or felonies
  • Good references from previous landlords
  • 600+ credit score

I try to let the tenant know of these standards early in the conversation, as many tenants will simply hang up the phone (often mid-sentence) when the words “no prior evictions” or “good references” are spoken.

Good! I just saved myself the trouble of showing a unit to someone who would never qualify!

leads_for_free

Rather than the conversation that you just read between the landlord and the prospect, here's how our typical conversations go:

Landlord: Hello, thank you for calling Open Door Properties! How can I help you? 

Want more articles like this?

Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up for free

Prospect: Yes, I’m calling about your property at 123 Main Street.

Landlord: Yes, it is still available. What can I tell you about the property? 

Prospect: Uh… I guess, how much is it? 

Landlord: The rent is normally $800 a month for that unit, but right now we’re having a move-in special, and it’s only $745 for those who sign a 12-month lease and meet our minimum qualifying standards. Do you have a moment so I can explain what those are? 

Prospect: Um… sure. 

Landlord: Well, we require that the tenant’s income be three times the monthly rent. We also do a background check to make sure there are no evictions or felonies on the tenant’s background and require that the tenant has a credit score of at least 600. Finally, we will call all previous landlords to make sure you have a great rental history. Does all that sound good to you?

CLICK. 

Dun… dun… dun… another one bites the dust! (And an hour of my time is now saved!)

Ninety percent of those who would just waste my time will take no more than a three-minute phone call. That’s what I call efficiency!

More Things to Discuss on the Phone

Of course, not all applicants hang up at this point.

For those who understand and agree that those qualifying standards will work, I will then go into more detail about the property itself. Of course, all the information is in the advertisement, but I will still explain the following points in detail:

  • The location, in detail
  • The total move-in amount needed
  • The number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • The location of the property
  • The timeframe we are looking at to get it rented
  • Any quirky aspects about the property (no garage, very small rooms, etc.)

It’s important to cover these issues, as many tenants will decide that the property is not right based on this information, saving you both a lot of time.

For example, a few weeks ago we rented out a unit to some college-aged guys. Although we explained everything in detail to them about the property, when it came time to move in, the gentlemen showed up to the lease signing with no money.

“We have to pay the rent AND the deposit? We thought that the deposit was optional?!”

They left angry and never did move into the unit, and we lost hours of time with these jokers. Maybe we were not clear enough on this, or maybe they were just idiots. I don’t know.

But this kind of thing happens a lot, and wasted time for my team is lost dollars from my bank account. 

keep-primary-residence

If They Still Want to See the Property

After all this is said and done and the tenant still wants to see the property, we are happy to show it to them! BUT… not yet.

Related: Landlords: Use These Tenant Deposit Policies & Reduce Lost Profit!

Typically, we ask the tenant to drive by the property first and check it out if they have not yet, knowing that people are particular about neighborhoods. If they want to get a personal tour, they can call back and set up an appointment.

After the tenant has driven by and STILL wants to see inside the house, then and only then will we schedule a showing. But after all this, we still encounter no-shows fairly often, so we have begun doing group showings.

Yes, that means we schedule multiple appointments at the same time (or within 10 minutes of each other) to save time and increase both efficiency and competition among the applicants.

When my wife and I first became landlords, we spent hours and hours filling a vacant unit. Today, it can usually be done with just one single appointment and less than an hour of work.

Of course, at the end of the day, you’ll still encounter tenants who will waste your time. However, by following the tips in this post, you’ll save yourself hours of work with every vacancy you encounter, which means more money in your pocket and less stress in your life.

Do you have a tip on saving time with vacant units? Or any questions on the above suggestion?

Please leave me a comment below and let’s talk!

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He is a nationally recognized leader in the real estate education space and has tau...
Read more
    Jack B. Rental Property Investor from Seattle, WA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hahaha, I learned this the hard way and started just avoiding phone calls and sending out copy paste emails to tenants with the requirements when they email me, despite them being listed at the very beginning AND end of the listing. I noticed many people were too dumb to read to the bottom so I put it at the top as well. While it has drastically cut down on the waste of time showings, and I almost always try to do a group showing, I still get a lot of people who email me that they make good money ($1,200 a month) when the rent is $2,500, or with evictions, credit issues galore or ask what the deposit and move in requirements are. While it has cut down on the morons, I still have one special kind of tenant who shows up and has a civil judgement from a landlord from just the last week, several unpaid utility bills in the last year, and the credit score of a homeless ghost. I even had one short little guy show up with his mistress and his one year old complaining about how his wife kicked him out and his house is being foreclosed, etc. Then he balks at me when I tell him he doesn’t qualify. Ummm…I said this clearly in the advertisement AND the email I sent you. Not my fault you have the IQ of a chimp.
    Kevin Conroy from Milford, Ohio
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I did flip one house but would like to buy some rentals. I was going to fix the last one and rent it but the bad eggs out there and the scary nightmare stories made me decide to sell! These tips have been very helpful and informative! There is no substitute for experience. Thanks guys! Does anyone know the best area in Cincinnati for both single home rentals and multifamily? Thanks again!
    Tyler Watts Buy & Hold Investor from Shelby, North Carolina
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I remember my first rental. Spent 8 hrs there and had all these appointments lined up. Had 15 appointments and 3 showed up. I remember sitting on the floor just waiting. lol But it’s part of the process to learn. Lessons cost money, good ones cost more. At the end of the day I did find my tenant and he’s been there 4 years so it wasn’t a total bust. Good read!
    Kathryn Gingras Real Estate Investor from Martintown, Ontario
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I feel your pain…. my first venture I planned for an open house, ON A THURSDAY AFTERNOON, 4 hours of me sitting (I brought a lawn chair) in the empty house, waiting, and waiting, and…… NO ONE showed up, how could they? They were HOPEFULLY all at work!! Haha After that I set up appointments, and “Call me an hour before the appointment to confirm that I will be there” (posture). Rented the house out in a week to a lovely couple who might never leave! (One can only hope). Thanks for posting, makes me feel less silly.
    Account Closed Rental Property Investor from Johnstown, PA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Ouch! We tell prospective tenants to call-to confirm they’re coming-thirty minutes to the appointment. No Exceptions. I tell them if they don’t call me with the confirmation, don’t expect to see me there. Some folks are lazy, and others are forgetful, busy, or just plain stupid. Whatever the case may be, I believe it is imperative to find responsible tenants: if they can’t REMEMBER to call and confirm an appointment, more than likely they won’t be responsible enough to call when the rent is going to be late, or for any other matter where a responsible person would call. To me, this is just one of a series of tests-character tests-you use to test prospective tenants during the process. While everyone can goof up, too many failures of these little tests is probably indicative of future behavior.
    Serah E. from Portage, Indiana
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I’m a newbie,. Thanks alot for the information,,,,,,,,.
    Matt Haman from Red Bluff, California
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I have one rental property and I too did this mistake. But the good thing is I know what to do next time!
    Justin Lester
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thank you!
    Anwer Ali from Raleigh , NC
    Replied 6 months ago
    Hi Brandon. I have actually created a prescreen form that I have all prospect tenant fill out. Here’s the form: https://form.jotform.com/93298562416163 Also when I reach out to a tenant I put this link at the bottom of my email while I explain again the requirements, property address and rent info. So once they do fill out the prescreen form I feel like they have reviewed the information. I have also hired a showing agent. I pay her $15 per showing and $10 for each consecutive showing. Once I have preapproved the tenant and forward her the phone number, she takes care of the rest. She schedules and follows up. She knows if it’s no show she won’t get paid so she calls/text 30 mins prior the appointment and if there’s no response, cancels the showing automatically.
    Ymarii Gatson
    Replied 6 months ago
    This is awesome advice for someone new to the business. Thanks for the insight!
    Grant R. from Warsaw, IN
    Replied 6 months ago
    I'd like to encourage everyone to keep your pre-screening as simple and as fast as possible. Some of the best tenants in the world are looking for good customer service, so remember that it's just as important that you don't waste their time either; it's not all about you ... just partially :) Keep that balance. When you make it about them, you win. One practical tip would be to make sure that the average applicant can complete the submission process in 15 minutes or less, whether it be paper or online. I've seen some positively awful pre-screening processes and policies. I can still remember one pre-screening process I was presented with as a prospective tenant while I visited a property manager's office in person - it was 45 minutes long. I walked out of their office, because I had 2 property showings lined up; each took me 10 minutes to set up, and no in-person visit. That property management is no longer in business. It's not hard to guess that they treated their partners as poorly and as selfishly as they did the prospective tenants. Brandon's seems short and sweet, probably in the range a few minutes. Perfect!
    Ymarii Gatson
    Replied 6 months ago
    I’m a newbie! This was very helpful thanks so much!
    Mikey Raymond
    Replied 6 months ago
    Great additional questions to add to my screening process!
    Kristen Robinson
    Replied 6 months ago
    This all sounds like solid advice. Thanks for laying out a step-by-step process to avoid many of the pitfalls that can be found in filling vacancies!