I screen hundreds of renters every year for an apartment complex.
I see lots of background checks. I am going to show you how to approve tenants without ever meeting them. I have approved hundreds of renters without ever seeing them. Are you still stuck on seeing and meeting renters? Give it up, it is not necessary. I cleaned up a 120 unit apartment complex by creating criteria that keeps most bad tenants out, without ever even seeing a tenant.
If you are self-managing a rental, it’s almost a given you will have to meet the renter at some point. I do the management myself, and meet most of my renters in person. But I have also rented to several that I have never met, that saw my property on-line. In 2014 alone, I have rented to three renters that the first time I met them was when I gave them the keys. I typically have one or two that move in from out of state every year. All have been stellar.
If you are using a property manager, and you have any say over any tenant, you need tenant screening criteria. If the PM is making all the decisions, they should have a basis for how they select tenants. If not, they do not know how to screen tenants and you should run away from them.
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Hey there! Screening tenants can be a tricky business, and this critical step can be the difference between profits and disaster. To help you with your real estate investing journey, feel free to download BiggerPockets’ complimentary Tenant Screening Guide and get the information you need to find great tenants.
The Risk is on the Tenant
It is a huge risk for a tenant to rent a place sight unseen, it is not a risk for the landlord.
The tenant sends money to some unknown landlord (or scammer) for an application, and/or a large holding fee. I charge $40 per adult for the application, and I require $1,000 to hold the unit. I use a holding fee agreement so I obligate the renter to lease, but I am not obligated to sign the lease with them.
Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide
Smart landlords never obligate themselves until the latest possible moment. Signing a lease too far out front means you have to evict if they never show up. After all, you have a live lease in effect and the tenant can come back month’s later and move in. So, I sign lease when they arrive and I give up the keys.
Give Up the False Excuses
Some landlords are hung up on always meeting a tenant before they agree to give up their ‘baby’ to an unknown stranger.
If for some reason they do not like the person, they will decline them. And they use the excuse of “they felt uneasy”, or it was too awkward, or some other lame reason they have because they do not know what to look for in a great tenant. Great tenants have certain attributes that non-great tenants do not. And you cannot tell by looking at them or meeting them.
Have a Plan, and Work the Plan
Before you even start to show a place, you should be ready for someone to ask you “What are your rental criteria to move in?” Figure it out.
If you do not have criteria, and you are showing a place, you are in danger of violating Fair Housing laws and excluding great tenants. There is no 100% sure way of getting a great tenant, or preventing a great tenant from going bad due to outside influences such as a lost job, but there are ways to put the odds in your favor. Much the way you split a pair of aces in a Blackjack game.
Have a set credit score criteria that you are looking for. With the average renter having a 650 FICO score, you should have an idea what you want.
Knowing the average household income in your area, you should know if you want above or below average income. A criminal record will impact tenant behavior, but not necessarily tenant rent collections. But you should know the type of person you want to associate with. The same is true with past landlord references. No matter what good things the previous landlord says, if it is not reflected in the credit score and income, you are taking a large gamble.
Match Your Plan with Your Property
The condition of your property will also play into the mix, but it affects the price of your rental, not tenant quality.
Having a low quality apartment and attempting to get great tenants is tough, but not impossible. You have to focus on price. The other option is a low quality tenant in a low quality apartment. If you are doing that, tenant criteria are less relevant and you need to focus on your eviction speed and fast rental turns.
Once you have set criteria, a tenant either passes, or they do not. There may be some things that make you uneasy about the tenant, as in they pass the criteria but just barely on multiple items. It’s OK, you can decline the tenant.
If you get a tenant that passes the criteria with flying colors, you do not need to meet the tenant. They pass, plain and simple. When you start to understand the characteristics of what a great tenant looks like on paper, it will put you on the road to your success.
What is your approach to tenant screening, do you have preset criteria? If you have a PM, who selects your tenants and what criteria do they use?
Be sure to leave your comments below!