Trying to find my first tenant... need help

11 Replies

Hi there,

I'm a California (newbie) landlord, and I've been fortunate enough that both of the places I bought a while ago already had good tenants living in them. However, last week my tenant in Placentia, CA (SoCal) put in her 30-day notice, so now for the first time ever, I need to find a new tenant.

I'd prefer not to hire a property management firm to find my next tenant, as 1) I want to learn how to find a good tenant, 2) this is a nice town-home in a good community, and 3) I don't have a ton of properties, and this would be a fairly small project.

But there are still a few questions I don't know the answer to:

a) The only way I can think of to find tenants is to post on Craigslist. Where else can I post/search to find new tenants? Basically is there anything else I can do in just a few weeks notice to increase # of applicants?

b) My tenant works pretty hard and is not home that often, but I will need to take photos of the insides and show people the place. How does that process work? Do I inform her when I'll be coming to take photos, or do I have to cooperate with her schedule? I want to be a good landlord and not make her feel like we're invading her privacy, but at the same time, I don't want to wait forever every time just to show an applicant the apartment.

As you all know, California is very pro-tenant ... and as a newbie landlord, I'm just trying to figure out the best way to take pictures/show the apartment while she's living there. Any advice on things I should be thinking of would be greatly appreciated :)

My husband and I are very new to this too. We have 3 properties. Never have we used Craigslist. That thing scares me. But we listed ours on Zillow and Facebook has many local forums. We have joined several of the yard sale ones in our area as well as, in search of, in our area on Fb  it's worked for us and it's free. Then we talk with them. I set a day up with all the appt and we have them fill out app and take it to real chek in our area to do the background checks we want. Both my husband and I meet with them and we insist that all adults who will be living in our homes have to be present. While we are with them we ask about their employment and if they receive any other funds and explain in detail our expectations. We also have a Dec rent discount for qualified renters. We explain to qualify tenant must have rent to us on or before due date every month. It is a little incentive. We start out at 10% for first year then 15% for second and go up to 50% as yrs go by. Hoping this keeps good renters. Good luck.

Craigslist is excellent.

Make sure you pre-screen anyone who responds to your ad (you can pre-screen in the ad).

Screen, screen, screen before signing a lease with anyone. Current landlord, previous landlord, employer, credit check, background check. It is worth the hassle. If you do it right you should never have a bad tenant. (never say never)

Originally posted by @Rohan J. :

Hi there,

I'm a California (newbie) landlord, and I've been fortunate enough that both of the places I bought a while ago already had good tenants living in them. However, last week my tenant in Placentia, CA (SoCal) put in her 30-day notice, so now for the first time ever, I need to find a new tenant.

I'd prefer not to hire a property management firm to find my next tenant, as 1) I want to learn how to find a good tenant, 2) this is a nice town-home in a good community, and 3) I don't have a ton of properties, and this would be a fairly small project.

But there are still a few questions I don't know the answer to:

a) The only way I can think of to find tenants is to post on Craigslist. Where else can I post/search to find new tenants? Basically is there anything else I can do in just a few weeks notice to increase # of applicants?

b) My tenant works pretty hard and is not home that often, but I will need to take photos of the insides and show people the place. How does that process work? Do I inform her when I'll be coming to take photos, or do I have to cooperate with her schedule? I want to be a good landlord and not make her feel like we're invading her privacy, but at the same time, I don't want to wait forever every time just to show an applicant the apartment.

A. Postlets.com is a good place to start for advertising the property.

B. By law, at least in LA, you are required to provide a 24 hour notice prior to entering the unit. Check with your city. 

Given she's been a good tenant, I would try to cooperate with her.  

Since this is your first time renting and you want to learn the process, I wouldn't recommend you rush into anything.  

 Good luck!

I've heard that contacting PREVIOUS landlord is one of the best things you can do (but not only thing you should do).  Current landlord may have some reason to hold something back for whatever reason, but previous has no attachments.

I use a sign in front, it's all I've ever needed.

I know others who have best luck with just a sign in front.

Welcome @Rohan J. !

First you want to ask why is your tenant leaving?  If the place is getting too expensive for her, have you asked her if lowering the rent $25 or $50 a month would make her stay?  If you let them know that they've been a great tenant and took good care of your property, that you don't want to lose them as tenant.  Obviously you don't want to push or put your rents way below market rents, but this shows her that if she can stay you're willing to work with her.  Most times I've had tenants that want to leave after a year end up sticking around because they really enjoyed their home (they took really good care of my property).

Second, you can ask her for referrals, I've had tenants who lined up other tenants for me before they moved out.  Of course I still screened them, but it was easier than posting an ad.

if she is still moving, you need to give her a written notice of 24 hours prior to entering her house.  Its best to ask her when is the best day/time, and then mail her a notice or post it on her door that you will be entering and taking pictures for prospective tenants.

Like @Max Tanenbaum said screen screen screen.  If you don't want to use a property management company (although there are some property management companies that will help you find a tenant for a fee but not manage them, something to look at if you struggle to find a tenant, they will do all their screening and showing of the property, have the tenant sign the lease and collect the first rent and security deposit, then transfer the tenant to you), then find an application online for prospective people to fill out, make sure they have verifiable income, there are companies online that you can do background checks and credit checks.  Don't be in a rush to put a tenant in, so if you're uncomfortable with someone just showing them the property, imagine how you would feel if you have to knock on their door to collect past due rent and fees.  It costs a lot to evict and can the process can take months, so do your due diligence.  Search the forums here for tenant screening services and best of luck to you!

Originally posted by @Rohan J. :

Hi there,

I'm a California (newbie) landlord, and I've been fortunate enough that both of the places I bought a while ago already had good tenants living in them. However, last week my tenant in Placentia, CA (SoCal) put in her 30-day notice, so now for the first time ever, I need to find a new tenant.

I'd prefer not to hire a property management firm to find my next tenant, as 1) I want to learn how to find a good tenant, 2) this is a nice town-home in a good community, and 3) I don't have a ton of properties, and this would be a fairly small project.

But there are still a few questions I don't know the answer to:

a) The only way I can think of to find tenants is to post on Craigslist. Where else can I post/search to find new tenants? Basically is there anything else I can do in just a few weeks notice to increase # of applicants?

b) My tenant works pretty hard and is not home that often, but I will need to take photos of the insides and show people the place. How does that process work? Do I inform her when I'll be coming to take photos, or do I have to cooperate with her schedule? I want to be a good landlord and not make her feel like we're invading her privacy, but at the same time, I don't want to wait forever every time just to show an applicant the apartment.

As you all know, California is very pro-tenant ... and as a newbie landlord, I'm just trying to figure out the best way to take pictures/show the apartment while she's living there. Any advice on things I should be thinking of would be greatly appreciated :)

a) As someone above stated, Postlets is another great site to use, and it's free.  It posts your ad to a lot of the popular ad sites (zillow, trulia, etc.).  I wouldn't bother advertising in the newspaper.

b) You have to decide whether you want to advertise/show the unit prior to the current tenant vacating.  Personally, we don't advertise/show a unit until it is vacant, clean, and ready to move into, so that prospective tenants can see what they're getting and know what our cleanliness standards are.  I know this idea is debated among landlords, but that's how we operate.  If you want to advertise/show it while the tenant is still there, you must provide at least 24 hours written notice of intent to enter the unit, and it must be reasonable hours (not 10pm or something ridiculous).  If you're going to show it while the tenant isn't there, you'll have to figure out how to make sure no one touches or steals their stuff (another reason I don't do that).

I highly recommend you read articles and forum posts here on BP regarding tenant screening, discrimination, how to get deposits and sign rental agreements, etc. prior to doing any advertising.  I also highly recommend you read up on landlord tenant law in CA (google 'ca landlord tenant law' and you'll find a pdf on the CA Dept of Consumer Affairs site).  I really can't stress that enough, it has a lot of very important info.

Also, you need to provide your current tenant a form about her right to a pre-move out inspection (did you do that form yet?), and you'll need to do the security deposit accounting for the current tenant after she vacates.

Thanks for all the advice guys!

We got quite a bit of interest for seeing the property,  and now we're going to schedule a viewing for anyone interested to swing by.

Couple questions:

1) I'm not 100% sure what information to gather at the property viewing. I was going to use SmartMove for Background/Credit Checks... so do I only need to gather their email addresses? Or do you guys actually give some form to people who visit and express interest?

2) I feel kind of weird if we charge a bunch of people for the background stuff, but in reality we only accept 1. Do you guys just do a BGC on anyone that sees the property and expresses interest?

@Rohan J.

 1) I am using smart move also for screening. We also have a application form we have the tenant fill out. We use the application from 

http://www.nolo.com/products/the-california-landlo...  

The book comes with various forms and has an application also.

2) We are using smart move and choosing the option for tenant to pay smart move. So I don't charge anything from tenant. We process one application at a time to avoid asking multiple applicants to pay.  

In our area area at least, Postlets, Craigslist, and a sign in the yard cover 75% of where people look for rentals. 25% is Realtors/MLS and Realtor.com.

I agree with what someone else said, I would learn about local laws and what are legal and illegal questions to ask and figure out what your criteria are for showing to anyone.

Regardless of what the ads we write say with regards to income or credit scores, they don't get read by potential tenants. I would suggest you either prescreen people a bit over the phone before scheduling a showing time (asking questions about pets, income, and credit score eliminates 75% of the callers right there) and then confirming with them an hour or so before the showing (tell people if you can't reach them to confirm an hour before the showing time, the showing is cancelled), or, just publish a rental open house times like 7-9pm Wednesday night and 11-1pm Saturdays.

My advertising vehicles are Craigslist, Trulia, Postlets, Zillow, Social Serve, Social media sites, a sign in the yard flyers e-mailed to contacts as wall as businesses and gencies in the area. The vehicle all depends on the type of house and neighborhood.

Before you even begin to talk to prospective tenants 1) understand your state laws as mentioned but 2) develop a selection criteria that you will follow for EACH prospective tenant. You must be consistent to avoid any thoughts of discrimination by applicants.

I have a scoring sheet that I follow and give points to each person based on income, years at job, credit history, years at previous residence, on time for showing, if application is complete filled in etc. You'll have to develop what works for you.

Do a pre-screen over the phone to minimize waisting your time on a showing. Ask questions like:

1. What are they looking for in house to make sure your place is a fit for them. Even if you have everything spelled out in your rental listing people still don't read.

2. Ask whats their income. Make sure at a minimum they qualify based on income.

3. Ask if they have pets b/c if you don't allow pets no point in waisting time. 

4. Make sure they have a landlord reference you can call.

5. Ask if they have ever been evicted before.

6. Ask how many people would be moving in the rental.

7. Ask if they smoke

Next, after you prescreen and determine a person sounds like a good fit based on the above, schedule an appointment to show the rental. Require all potential applicants to call or text you one hour before the appointment.  This will ensure they will show up. In the past I use to make appointments with people and they wouldn't show. Now I require they call me a hour ahead. If they do, I know they are serious. Believe me people will waist your time.

Lastly, always verify income, speak with their previous landlord, run a credit and eviction check, background check and at a minimum drive by their existing house if feasible. I've even done a personal house visit for some. I use a tenant screening from mr.landlord.com. 

There are lots of professional tenants out there looking to get over so have your policies and procedures and stick to them.

Good luck!

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