First impressions mean everything.
When you first meet your prospective tenant, you should ask a few key questions. The tenant’s answers will shed a good amount of light on what type of experience you can expect from this candidate.
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1. Why are you moving out of your current home?
This is probably the single most important question. Their stated reason for moving out of their current home can shed a lot of light on the experience that you’ll have if you accept this person as your tenant.
If the person has just moved to the area, changed jobs, or wants to up-size or down-size their space, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
If the person immediately launches into a long-winded complaint about how much they despise their next-door neighbor, watch out! Be particularly cautious if they complain about their current landlord. Yes, there are bad landlords out there, but a tenant who launches into tirades about their landlord (to you, a complete stranger) is brandishing a giant red flag.
2. How many people will be living here?
I imagine that a few of you must have laughed when you read that question.
There are a lot of tenants who claim that only one or two people are going to be living in a space, yet every time you go to the unit, there seem to be a dozen people hanging around. (Has anyone had that experience? Show of hands?)
Nail down the precise number of people who will officially be living in the space and write in your lease that those specific people — and only those specific people — are allowed to live there.
Also include a section within your lease that says that no guest is allowed to stay for more than seven consecutive days without your written permission.
3. Do you have any pets?
Just as people don’t often admit to the number of family members that they’ll be packing into their space, they also may or may not admit to the pets that they shelter.
Still, this question is worth asking. Particularly take note of whether or not they hesitate before they answer. If they do have pets, discuss your pet policy with the tenant.
4. Have you ever been evicted?
Again, note whether or not the tenant hesitates before they give the answer. Note whether they look you in the eye or use a lot of “ums” when answering.
If their stated answer is yes, take note of whether they accept responsibility and indicate that they have since turned their life around, or whether they continue to blame the eviction on some external force that was outside of their control.
5. How long have you been with your current employer?
The longer they’ve been in their job, the better.
(That said, you’ll find fantastic tenants with short employment histories, such as recent college graduates or people who are making strategic career moves, so take their answer with a grain of salt.)
You should, of course, contact their employer to verify their income and job history.
Doesn’t that make asking the tenant this question redundant?
It’s worth asking how long they’ve been with their current employer, because sometimes this will prompt them to launch into a story about their previous employers. The stories that they share can give you some deeper insight into the type of tenant that you are dealing with.
The stories, in other words, are more meaningful than the numbers.
6. Will you be able to provide all of the required money at move-in?
For some landlords, “required money” comprises of the security deposit plus the first month’s rent. For other landlords, this also includes a move-in fee or perhaps two months’ rent.
Regardless of the amount that you require, ask the applicant if they will be able to have that money on the day that it’s due. If they indicate right off of the bat that the sticker price is too high, you’re looking at a red flag.
7. Do you have any questions?
Find out whether or not they have any questions about your unit. Not only will your answers help sell the unit to the right tenant, it will also continue to give you insight into your tenant’s concerns and priorities.
Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide
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