Just Listed my apartment....bombarded with calls and emails!

85 Replies

For tenant screening, check out the BP post: https://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/2013/01/2...

For applications, you may want to consider using cozy.co - the last time I had a vacancy I had flyers with the unit information and the URL for cozy- they go on the site and apply and pay for the background check through the site. They even have standard application information you can use.

Originally posted by @Steve Vaughan :

My market's the same way.  I don't post my phone number in my CL ads.  I ask 5 distinct questions that must be answered in their response e-mail.  If they don't answer, I honestly don't have time to go through them all trying to extract this important information. My days of answering the same questions over and over on the phone and providing my number to random strangers are long over.    

Open houses in a tight market are a stressful mess I have found.  I ask questions via anonymous CL e-mail (then to phone after, maybe) and pre-screen down to a few applicants.  Schedule showings close together and see who shows up. Most will if they have been pre-screened a bit beforehand.  Good luck @Robert P. !

 Can I ask what your 5 distinct questions are? 

@Robert P.   Here's a nice short post for your perusal  - ha ha, as if I could do short... :-)

if you don't even have an application yet, I think you should stop everything and regroup.

Since you haven't dealt with anyone in person yet, it would be easy to just say, we received such an enormous response, we are reevaluating the rent and will repost a new ad when we have made our decision.  This can't be considered discrimination, if you just shut it down across the board.

If you decide your'e going to go forward with the open house, this is what I suggest, and knew someone else who did it.  Get a clipboard with lined paper, and ask everyone who shows up to the open house to sign in with their name printed legibly and the date and time.  Tell everyone you will process applications in the order of the names on the list.  

This way, there's no discrimination.  And anyone who doesn't show up or shows up late, or wants to see it another time, well, you snooze, you probably lose.  When you get calls about showing another time, or "What!  You said you could show it to us another day!"  You just say, "Well, I'm happy to put you on the list, but just to let you know, there are about 50 people ahead of you on the list.  But, if you spell your name for me, I'll be glad to write your name as the 51st person on the list.

I tried to only advertise to specific tenants, to avoid the Craigslist madness.  I rented apts in Silicon Valley, and it was madness.  I eventually targeted law students and would start by only advertising to them, and if no luck there, then Craigslist.

Here's the deal with Zillow and Craigslist:  You will  get 10 people call you to every 1 who would actually qualify, and they usually know it.  They're hoping to get lucky, and that you won't realize they aren't qualified.  They're playing a numbers game.

But, this is what I found worked the best:

Put your rental criteria in your ad.  This will self-eliminate a decent number.  Be sure and include credit score required, 2 previous landlords who are not relatives, that you will run credit/background/eviction/credit checks, steady verifiable income.  That you will be thoroughly screening all references and employment.  No pets.  No section 8, etc.  Service and companion dogs allowed with letters from verified medical professionals where you have been personally treated, which we will check.   A service dog vest, certification and letter purchased on Ebay does not meet these requirements.  

I've heard landlords say they don't want tenants to know the right answers, so they don't put their criteria in their ads.  But, they can't fake their criminal records or their credit score or their employment, etc., as long as you thoroughly vet them.

And I did put my number in the Craigslist ads, and only showed by appointment, but this is how I screened them:

They call, I let it go to voicemail. When I'm ready to deal with a bunch of voicemails, I start a list in order of calls received. I listen to how they sound. Is someone in the background telling them what to say? I don't call that one back. I make a note on my list that they can't even make their own phone calls, or find someone to just make the call for them in a professional, grown-up at least, manner. People who can't make their own phone calls, or at least get the person in the background telling them what to say - to just make the call - are not a protected class and i don't want to deal with them as a renter.

If they are screaming at someone while leaving a message or someone in the background is screaming at them, I don't call them back and make a note as to why they are disqualified.  But, people from households who scream at each other,  or throwing around the F-bomb while on a voicemail to me, regardless of their race, are not a protected class.

Being distracted by your child while on the phone, is fine.  Screaming "Shut up you little f-er, I'm on the phone!"  is not.

And so on.  Just make sure you have a list of these criteria, and keep notes.  Make sure your reason is not because of their accent or anything that might be a protected class.  

So, when you have some left on your list of voicemails who sound grown-up enough to deserve to be your tenant, you call them back and arrange for an appointment.  

If someone is 15 minutes late, and didn't call me to tell me why they were running late - disqualified.

If they don't show, disqualified.

I don't reschedule.

If they give you an application that is not completely filled out, disqualified.  If they aren't trying to pull a fast one, they will at least be a tenant who required hand-holding and pulling teeth to get what you want out of them.  Next.

If they say they will come by with their pay stubs or whatever, at a certain time and they don't call if they're running late, or they don't show when they say they will - disqualified.

You don't call the supervisor's name on your application that they gave you.  You Google the company, make sure they're real, then look up the number for the HR Dept, and call it directly to verify employment.  Don't just believe the copies of pay stubs they give you.

Also, ask for most recent pay stub, which should show year-to-date earnings.  If there's only a couple month's worth of income, and they said they've been there a year - eject button.

Anyway, they will pretty quickly self destruct, in my experience.

But, this is also why I preferred appointments to open houses.  I want to know if they can keep an appointment.  Also, I tried open houses at first, and they're mahem.  You will have people asking you questions at the same time, it will be really difficult to get each one to sign the sign-in sheet.

Plus, you'll miss really important clues.  You want to hear a couple's arguments.  You don't want them to be able to go off in a corner in the crowd and whisper about this and that.  You want to hear those whispers.

I loved asking them, "So, why are you moving right now?" They never expect that and you'd be surprised what you can learn. You can't do that in a crowd. They'll also often slip up and one of them might mention that they're planning to move shortly, which could mean a broken lease.

Or you'll find out the person you've been talking to, is not who the actual tenant would be.  It's her brother and she's currently in some other country, but he's the type who would be wanting to be her spokesperson.  I wanted tenants who are capable of dealing with me on their own.  A translator is one thing, a bossy brother or mother (lord help you) is another.

And when an applicant doesn't even ask about parking or wants to see the bedroom or how big the closet is - something's really wrong.  They are desperate for some reason and you need to find out why.  They'll take anything.

So, yes, this takes longer than an open house, where you just collect applications and then go run credit checks.  But, you'll get much better tenants doing it my way.  I learned the hard way, but ended up with a great track record for great tenants and great profits with nearly zero problems for the owner I worked for.

And go learn all the landlord-tenant laws for your city/state and the fair housing laws, too.

If they have your state, these books are great and they include all the forms you could ever need, and they're also downloadable.

http://www.nolo.com/products/landlord-tenant/landl...

Best of luck to you!

wow, @Sue K. this is amazing! I honestly don't think I am underpriced. It's got my head going crazy, but I guess it's not a bad situation to be in. 

My thoughts are that I will proceed with the open house and go from there. I love all of the examples and have already printed this out to keep as a reference. 

One question: I've seen people talk about it. Do I really need to process applications in a specific order? Are there laws around that?

I put down basic qualifications, but I don't have anything like a certain credit score they need, etc. I think that's because I don't know myself what I want. I'm thinking I will show the place, take in all of the applications from that day and review. From there I will pick out the top 5 screen then some more (in person I am thinking), then have them pay for the credit check. After I get results I will decide. Does that make sense?

@Robert P. Its great your getting such a good response! First prescreening should be done by listing your rental criteria in your ad. This will help screen out those with too low credit score, insufficient income etc. Second, for those who email you send out the same info with further screening questions. Questions might be 1) have you ever been evicted? 2) Do you have any pets and what type and weight? 3) How many will be occupying the property? 4) What is your scheduled move in date? 

At this point, if they answer the questions to your satisfaction, they're worth emailing  an application to. With the application, instruct them to fill it out completely and return it to you. I use a third party service that gets applicants consent by email to run their report which is sent to me.

Open houses can be a mess because if you have 30 people show up, it is difficult to monitor everyone and what they're doing while you're showing the property. That's why you start the filtering process early.

If you continue to get deluged with calls, you might recheck your rent to ensure it's not below more than 8 percent market rate.

 It's a lot to absorb but sounds like you're off to a great start! PM me if you have any more questions.

Good luck!

@Robert P. - wow! You are having quite the experience for your first deal. Enjoy every overwhelming, exhilarating minute of it. The only thing I would add is a little clarification on the topic of discrimination that was first raised by @Timothy Daniels and was somewhat glazed over throughout this thread. I want to make sure you thoroughly understand this piece since you are going it alone.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against prospective tenants and current tenants on the basis of the following characteristics or "protected classes": race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status. All but one of these is usually visible and apparent on your first meeting, i.e. a landlord could assume an applicant wearing a hijab is of the Muslim faith, or someone of darker skin tone is of ethnic descent, or a person who walks with a cane or is wheelchair-bound has a disability, or a person who speaks Spanish fluently (or conversely doesn't speak English well) is of Hispanic or Latin or non-American descent, or a woman is, well, a woman. These are very superficial but common assumptions and many a landlord has found herself in hot water for disqualifying renters based on impermissible reasons.

I suspect the reason Timothy Daniels told you you would have more exposure AFTER meeting someone face to face is because once you have met them, you can no longer deny knowledge of some of those more obvious physical traits that you would never learn about if you did a thorough pre-screen and weeded them out early without meeting. If ever charged with a claim of discrimination, which is bound to happen if you are in the landlord business long enough (cynical, I know) you lose that critical defense of lack of knowledge once you have met face to face. Obviously, you'll likely meet at least one to two applicants that you won't end up renting to with each new lease, but the better you get at the pre-screen, the more you can protect yourself. Just beware of the interplay of FHA going forward. Good luck and have fun!!!!

@Robert P. @Shalanna L. Pirtle touched on the reason to process applications in order.  This is the easiest way to defend yourself against a complaint of discrimination.

And, then having written criteria.  And when you write up your criteria, you can email it to yourself, so it's basically date-stamped.

Don't let applicants bully you, though, by screaming discrimination.  There are very few "protected classes," and those are the only ones you need to worry about.

And if you deny someone based on their bad credit, and your criteria is clear on your requirements, then there is no claim that you are discriminating based on their source of income, race, family status, etc.

So, if you have very clear criteria that's not discriminatory to the protected classes, and then you process applicants in a first-come, first-serve basis, then nobody will have a valid claim for discrimination.  This is the reason for doing these things.

And someone will definitely eventually get in your face and claim discrimination.  You will not be phased or bullied, if you know the law and that your processes are within the law.  You then can look them in the eye and say, nope, it's not discrimination to deny someone based on bad credit, etc.

I can't tell you how many times an applicant tried this on me who didn't show up for an appointment and then expected me to reschedule.  "No, it's not discrimination to deny someone based on their inability to show up when they say they will.  This shows that they are irresponsible.  If you want to file a claim, go right ahead.  But, irresponsible people are not a protected class, and the fair housing people also know that."

I could tell you stories.  Learn the laws, so they can't bully you.  But, do things rght, too, and you will never be liable.  You can welcome the fair housing testers with open arms.

And you will have fair housing testers show up in a desirable/populated market.  They will often be the ones who don't ask about parking or look to see how much closet space there is, etc.  They're pretty easy to spot.  The most irritating thing about them is that they waste your time with an unnecessary appointment, but I was never notified of a complaint.

Also, at least in CA, the fair housing dept will first vet the complaint before they will go forward. I think HUD does this, too. So, if the complainant can't show that you discriminated against them based on a protected class, the complaint won't go forward. In other words, if they tell HUD that you turned them down because their credit was bad, and HUD verifies this, they probably will tell the applicant their complaint is not valid, and they won't bother you.

Anyway, learn the laws.  They aren't that complicated, and then work within them and don't let anyone bully you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, all!

So after reading the last few posts, I think I've made a few mistakes (not surprised!)

1. Did not lay out requirements in my ads as clear as they should be. This is probably because I don't know what I want. I don't know what's reasonable. Bad move on my part because as mentioned, it's easy to defend myself on why I rejected someone when I have clear standards. Should I edit my ads?

2. I simply told everyone that responded to me to come to one of my two open houses later this week. No initial questions asked. Another bad move on my part so it seems.

3. Did not plan for such a big response pool. (I guess that's not a bad thing, though!)

Any tips on how I can get through this week without missing anything?

@Robert P.  One quick tip - be sure to keep clear records on why you disqualified a particular applicant. Also pretty sure there is a period of time for which you need to retain applications and properly/securely maintain background/credit checks as they contain sensitive and personal identifying information. Be sure you comply with all record retention requirements, whatever they are. You'll want to do some quick studying up on this area of tenant screening/placement so you have personal knowledge of your obligations rather than relying on others' advice. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. 

@Shalanna L. Pirtle My idea is that I will take all applications at the open houses and then select maybe 5 or so that I like. From there, I would contact them to pay for the credit check. (I feel bad making everyone pay for it) 

Or should I just make sure everyone pays for the application fee up front when they submit the application?

Actually now that I am thinking about it, maybe making people pay up front will again weed out people from simply submitting an application with no money lost, etc. That may be the smarter idea, right?

just read this.... does this mean I cannot charge an application fee? Seems like it. 

http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/consumer-information/home-and-housing/landlord-and-tenant-law/

@Robert P. You're right.  You can't charge an application fee.

http://doubledaylaw.com/can-massachusetts-landlord...

Good catch.

As to your other questions, what you could do at this point, is hand everyone a printout of your qualifications when they come to the open house.

I still don't like your idea of choosing 5 applicants you like best.  Picture explaining to Fair Housing how you made that decision?

This is the reason for criteria and a system that is bomb proof regarding discrimination.  

Now, also remember, though, that if you've gone down your list, and you've got the first 5 that met your qualifications from the list, but 2 of them were rude or loudly argued with each other in front of you - you can deny them based on that.

So, you can end up with your 5 favorites, as long as you deny the others based on something legal.  Yes, they had all of the qualifications, but they were very loud talkers and I was worried they would disturb the other tenants.  Or they were rude or argumentative, or kept asking about upgrades and you were afraid they'd be difficult to deal with.  Or their kids were completely out of control running through the building and up and down the stairs without the parents controlling them, and I was sure they would be too disruptive to the other tenants.  Those are valid reasons to keep going down your list.

So, it's not hard, but you need a system and a rock solid reason for each denial noted down.  Just in case.

Now, if it just so happened that the five you liked best were of 5 different races, different sexual orientations, some had kids, LOL, you'd probably be fine.  But, what if they all just happened to be white?  You better be able to explain why you chose them.

@Sue K. okay, you seem to be quite the expert in this! So here is my situation. Can you tell me what you would do?

I have about 50+ people I have either emailed or called back and spoke to them (also inviting them to one of the open houses) I have since changed my ads to include: Must have credit score of 550+ and make 3x rent monthly.

When people email or call me, I now ask three questions. 

1. How many people will be living with you?

2. Do you have any pets?

3. Have you ever been evicted?

I am trying to weed out people that way. 

So now if lets say just half of the people I spoke with show up (25). What approach would you take? I am definitely going to have every single person sign in. I want to have a handout of the requirements, but some people I spoke to and invited there were before I put these in my ads, so I don't want them flipping out saying I should have told them before. I will have a bunch of applications available for people to fill out. Should I make them fill it out that same day and give it to me? Whoever doesn't fill it out...disqualified. Then review the sign in sheet and process applications in that order, keeping those I want to consider. Now I am stuck....a little help?

The timing of your rental is creating the interest in the property.Colleges are graduating soon and tons of students will need new apartments for their first job.I also suspect you priced it too low and need to hike it another 100 bucks or more a month to weed out the losers and narrow down the contenders.

Originally posted by @Robert P. :

@Sue Kelly okay, you seem to be quite the expert in this! So here is my situation. Can you tell me what you would do?

I have about 50+ people I have either emailed or called back and spoke to them (also inviting them to one of the open houses) I have since changed my ads to include: Must have credit score of 550+ and make 3x rent monthly.

When people email or call me, I now ask three questions. 

1. How many people will be living with you?

2. Do you have any pets?

3. Have you ever been evicted?

I am trying to weed out people that way. 

So now if lets say just half of the people I spoke with show up (25). What approach would you take? I am definitely going to have every single person sign in. I want to have a handout of the requirements, but some people I spoke to and invited there were before I put these in my ads, so I don't want them flipping out saying I should have told them before. I will have a bunch of applications available for people to fill out. Should I make them fill it out that same day and give it to me? Whoever doesn't fill it out...disqualified. Then review the sign in sheet and process applications in that order, keeping those I want to consider. Now I am stuck....a little help?

 Well, Robert, as I said, I didn't like open houses.  But, let's say I had to do yours against my will...

I would not ask them how many people will be living with you - could come across as anti-family.  You can deal with that on the application.

When, they call, say, "Hi, let me just make sure you understood the requirements.  Does your household make (whatever 3 times your monthly rent is)?  Is the credit score of all adults in the household at least 550?  Did you notice that I don't accept pets?  Sorry, no exceptions. Oh, it's a service dog?  Great.  Can you provide me with a letter from your medical professional from a real medical office I can verify, and who will state that you are disabled and require the animal because of your disability?  Yes, that's what I require.  But, I can give you a form to have your medical provider fax to me from their office.  No, sorry, I need a new form faxed to me.   I also don't allow smokers, do you smoke?

If they still want to show up at the open house, write down their name and the date and time on your phone call list.

At the open house, have someone (preferably you'll have someone to help you) hand everyone the criteria sheet (by the way, include on your criteria sheet that they must turn in a completed application) and ask them to sign in if they want to apply, because you'll be processing applications in order of the signatures on the list.

Then, answer questions as you are bombarded.  Try to take note of who was who when they signed your list, so you can make notes about rude behavior, etc.

I would not require them to turn in the application right then and there, but tell them that you will need it by (whenever you want to start processing applications).

Then, when you are ready to start processing the applications you received, start crossing out names off the list that didn't return an application or were denied for any other reason, and make notes to that effect.

Then, start doing your credit checks, etc., in order of the ones left on your list you are willing to consider.

Then, when you have your short list, start calling them and asking for copies of pay stubs, etc.

Then, see what you get, and start calling employers and previous landlords, and Googling them, etc.

Then, make your offer to your top choice, on down, if they are no longer interested.

Good luck!

Perfect! I will have someone there helping me with the open house. I appreciate your help on this, it truly means a lot @Sue K. ! I think I should be good from here. I will definitely be sure to let you and everyone else know how this turned out! 

@Robert P. Again, you're saying "I'm getting too many people" but "my rents are at the top of the market"...they're not. You need to get over how well you think you know the market. You don't know the market. The market is telling you your property is too cheap. It's one thing if you're intentionally underpricing it (gets you a warm body quickly), it's quite another to refuse to consider increasing the rent when the market interest is telling you you're under priced...because you "know the market".

Let me ask you this: If you raise the rents and you get, say, 5-10 people calling you in the first day will you be upset or happy? If you get that few, can you do the pre-screen as suggested over the phone? If not, I'll suggest again that you use a PM, you don't stand a chance at having the time to be a landlord (totally fine, not everyone has the time). 

If you *can* properly pre-screen, which approach do you think has the best chance of getting you a good tenant? 

You spend 5-10 minutes on them with the phone going over your requirements, set up an appointment to show the house, spend 10 minutes with them at the showing, and then make a decision

OR 

You take down their info at an open house as one of 50 people through the day and then follow up with them later? 

I know which option I'd think would give me the best chance at getting a quality tenant...and it isn't the mass market approach.

okay @Wes Brand , so what would your approach be given all of these people will potentially be showing up to your open house with a set rent already established. Do I tell everyone there the rent has changed? Do I contact them first and let them know?

I know you keep saying my apartment is under priced, but it's literally one of, if not THE highest priced rental in my city. The only thing I can say is that my property might be in a lot better shape than what others are for the same asking rent, OR my pictures were taken very well and lead people to believe my property is nicer than it is and when they actually see it in person they won't want it? No matter how much you tell me I am overpriced, I can't figure out how that is at all possible. Not looking to argue your opinion, but I just simply don't understand how it's possible. 

It's not my opinion that you're overpriced, the amount of interest is telling you that you are. If you were overpriced you'd get 0 activity, not 50 people in 2 days. I don't care what the rest of the market is doing at this point (it's useful to set an initial price / to see if something makes sense, but not once you get too much interest at a given price).

I'd send the email that was suggested before -- "Due to the overwhelming interest..." and then put the ad back up and email everyone in a day or two saying (effectively) "we've adjusted the rents to XXXX" 

Alternatively, you can ask for offers at the open house saying you expect offers over list. It won't deal with your "way too many people to properly screen" problem, but it will deal with your underpricing issue.

Originally posted by @Zach Quick :
Originally posted by @Steve Vaughan:

My market's the same way.  I don't post my phone number in my CL ads.  I ask 5 distinct questions that must be answered in their response e-mail.  If they don't answer, I honestly don't have time to go through them all trying to extract this important information. My days of answering the same questions over and over on the phone and providing my number to random strangers are long over.    

Open houses in a tight market are a stressful mess I have found.  I ask questions via anonymous CL e-mail (then to phone after, maybe) and pre-screen down to a few applicants.  Schedule showings close together and see who shows up. Most will if they have been pre-screened a bit beforehand.  Good luck @Robert P. !

 Can I ask what your 5 distinct questions are? 

 Maybe distinct was a little strong lol

How many people? How many animals? How soon can you move? Is this far from your work? Does anybody smoke?