The first point of contact with a potential tenant is often very routine, but it is also very important. It often goes something like this:
- The phone rings,
- You answer with your name or company greeting,
- The caller inquires about a rental property she saw advertised,
- You reply, “Great! Thanks for calling. That property is a 2-bedroom/1-bath renting for $750 per month. Can I ask you a few questions?”
- “Sure,” she says.
Now, what do you ask her?
Before I answer that question, let me make a couple of important points:
First, as a landlord, your screening process begins with the very first point of contact. Remember that you are trying to attract and qualify good quality tenants and the questions you ask should attract the good while weeding out the not so good.
Second, be polite and articulate. Treat everyone who calls in the same manner and ask the same questions. Being polite goes a long way towards attracting good tenants, and a Fair Housing complaint is the last thing any of us need.
Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide
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The 5 Questions to Ask Every Tenant
So here are the questions I ask every tenant on the phone:
1. Can I get your name and phone number, please?
This is key. After all, you may need to contact them again later to set up a showing or just follow up. If you do not ask for this information on the front end, you may forget to ask later on as the conversation progresses.
2. When do you need to move?
You might be surprised at this question, but we get numerous calls from people who are looking to move three or more months down the road. While I applaud them for being proactive, we tell them that while we will be happy to show and discuss any property, we really cannot help them at the current time, as any rental they are interested in will likely be rented and off the market by the time they are ready to move.
We ask that they check back with us as they get closer to their moving date. (If I had a better tracking system, I might call them back.) Most are very understanding and do call back at a later date. This question saves both you and the caller time and effort. There’s no sense going through the motions at such an early stage.
3. Why are you moving?
This question is designed to find some tenant stability. Tenant turnover can be a real killer in this business, and the last thing many of us want is someone who will up and move after a year. So if the answer is something like “it’s just time to move” as opposed to “I have a job transfer,” it should be followed up with questions about the length of time they have lived in their current home.
4. Do you work or go to school?
This question is obviously designed to determine if someone has the income needed to afford the property and also, at least for us, to do a little weeding out.
First, find out if they caller has a job. Then help them determine if they can afford your property. For example, one of our criteria is that an applicant must have a monthly income of at least three times the amount of rent. Upon explaining this criteria and stating the monthly rent, many callers will withdraw themselves.
We also use this question to find out if the callers are students. We simply do not rent to undergrad college students (I only have to reflect on my own college career to understand why). We will rent to graduate students however if they have the income. So this question again saves us the time and energy of going through the motions with someone who cannot meet our rental criteria.
5. Will anyone else be living with you?
You must find out about all of the adults that will be living in the property. You simply must insist that all adults go through your screening process. Believe it or not, people will lie and try to slip someone in. It is a huge red flag to hear an answer such as “my boyfriend may be here some of the time.”
Be very careful and thorough here, as the last thing you need is a deadbeat, criminal, or worse in one of your properties.
Other Questions for Tenants
So there you have the top 5 questions you should ask every caller. Hopefully you can see how these questions are designed to help both you and the caller save time and effort.
As a bonus, you should add other questions to your list depending on what your rental criteria are. For example, you may want to ask about pets or smoking depending on if you allow pets or smoking in your properties. There’s no sense in setting up a showing appointment, meeting the applicant, and then finding out she has a dog when you do not allow them.
[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out landlords who have found BiggerPockets more recently.]
What sorts of questions do you ask?
Let me know with your comments.