The Rookie Landlording Mistake Most New Investors Make
So, you just bought a rental house or small multifamily property. Congratulations!
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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.
So 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:
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.
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 ten 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 twenty minutes hoping they were just late.
- Three would show up and clearly could never qualify. No job, terrible credit, seventeen 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 ten appointments I was setting, only 10% 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?
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!
So 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?
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?
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.
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.
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 ten 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.
[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article so those newer to BiggerPockets can benefit from it.]
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!