The Rookie Landlording Mistake Most New Investors Make


So, you just bought a rental house or small multifamily property. Congratulations!

Now what?

Well, you need to probably fill that vacant unit with a nice family who is going to pay top dollar on time each month, never complain unnecessarily, and treat your property with respect.

So you place an ad on Craigslist, Zillow, or in the newspaper, or maybe you put up a sign in the yard. Quickly you begin receiving phone calls, and they typically look like this:

Landlord: Hello? 

Prospect: Hi, I’m calling about your property at 123 Main Street.

Landlord: Yes, it’s still available. 

Prospect: Great! Can I schedule a time to see it? 

Landlord: Sure thing. How does tomorrow at 6 p.m. work for you?

Prospect: That would be great. I’ll see you then! 

Landlord: Sounds good. Bye. 

Did you notice the rookie mistake in the conversation above? Here’s what it is:

They scheduled a time to show the property!

Wait, huh? I thought the goal was to rent the property out quickly.

It is, but here’s the problem: You’ll waste SO much time when you don’t prequalify the tenant.


Each showing takes, let’s say, one hour of your day, including travel and prep time. And most of them will never rent your property!

And don’t think I’m just picking on everyone else. I made this same rookie mistake for several years when I first got started. Maybe it’s because I don’t like sitting on the phone, or maybe it’s because I trust people too much. But the fact is, I wasted a lot of time that should have been spent finding more real estate deals or enjoying time with my family.

You see, for every ten appointments we made:

  • GraphFour would be “no-shows.” They wouldn’t call to cancel, they wouldn’t reschedule. They just would not show up. I would be sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, looking like an idiot for twenty minutes hoping they were just late.
  • Three would show up and clearly could never qualify. No job, terrible credit, seventeen people in the family for a 2-bedroom apartment, etc. I would have to explain to these people our requirements and try to make it clear that it wouldn’t work out.
  • Two will take an application and never return it, probably because they read all the information required and realize they will never qualify. Or perhaps they hated the neighborhood and just wanted to be polite.
  • One will show up, take an application, and return it with the appropriate application fee.

In other words, for every ten appointments I was setting, only 10% ever gave me a decent applicant. And even of those who applied, half the time they wouldn’t work out either. My funnel was broken.

Related: 10 Not-So-Obvious Ways to Thoroughly Screen Potential Tenants

Of course, your percentages might be slightly different, but the fact remains: Many, if not most, of the people whose calls you receive will never rent your property. So why waste all your time showing units to prospects who won’t work out?

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The Solution: Prescreening

Rather than setting up an appointment with each tenant, I would suggest asking a series of questions of the caller to get a better idea for whether or not they’ll qualify. These questions don’t need to be asked in a formal, serious manner but rather as part of the casual conversation.

When prescreening, I like to make sure I let the prospect know of my minimum qualifying standards. These standards include:

  • Income must be three times the monthly rent or greater
  • No prior evictions or felonies
  • Good references from previous landlords
  • 600+ credit score

I try to let the tenant know of these standards early in the conversation, as many tenants will simply hang up the phone (often mid-sentence) when the words “no prior evictions” or “good references” are spoken. Good! I just saved myself the trouble of showing a unit to someone who would never qualify!


So rather than the conversation that you just read between the landlord and the prospect, here’s how our typical conversations go:

Landlord: Hello, thank you for calling Open Door Properties! How can I help you? 

Prospect: Yes, I’m calling about your property at 123 Main Street.

Landlord: Yes, it is still available. What can I tell you about the property? 

Prospect: Uh… I guess, how much is it? 

Landlord: The rent is normally $800 a month for that unit, but right now we’re having a move-in special, and it’s only $745 for those who sign a 12-month lease and meet our minimum qualifying standards. Do you have a moment so I can explain what those are? 

Prospect: Um… sure. 

Landlord: Well, we require that the tenant’s income be three times the monthly rent. We also do a background check to make sure there are no evictions or felonies on the tenant’s background and require that the tenant has a credit score of at least 600. Finally, we will call all previous landlords to make sure you have a great rental history. Does all that sound good to you?


Dun… dun… dun… another one bites the dust! (And an hour of my time is now saved!)

Ninety percent of those who would just waste my time will take no more than a three-minute phone call. That’s what I call efficiency!

More Things to Discuss on the Phone

Of course, not all applicants hang up at this point.

For those who understand and agree that those qualifying standards will work, I will then go into more detail about the property itself. Of course, all the information is in the advertisement, but I will still explain the following points in detail:

  • The location, in detail
  • The total move-in amount needed
  • The number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • The location of the property
  • The timeframe we are looking at to get it rented
  • Any quirky aspects about the property (no garage, very small rooms, etc.)

It’s important to cover these issues, as many tenants will decide that the property is not right based on this information, saving you both a lot of time.

For example, a few weeks ago we rented out a unit to some college-aged guys. Although we explained everything in detail to them about the property, when it came time to move in, the gentlemen showed up to the lease signing with no money. “We have to pay the rent AND the deposit? We thought that the deposit was optional?!” They left angry and never did move into the unit, and we lost hours of time with these jokers. Maybe we were not clear enough on this, or maybe they were just idiots. I don’t know. But this kind of thing happens a lot, and wasted time for my team is lost dollars from my bank account. 


If They Still Want to See the Property

After all this is said and done and the tenant still wants to see the property, we are happy to show it to them! BUT… not yet.

Related: Landlords: Use These Tenant Deposit Policies & Reduce Lost Profit!

Typically, we ask the tenant to drive by the property first and check it out if they have not yet, knowing that people are particular about neighborhoods. If they want to get a personal tour, they can call back and set up an appointment.

After the tenant has driven by and STILL wants to see inside the house, then and only then will we schedule a showing. But after all this, we still encounter no-shows fairly often so we have begun doing group showings. Yes, that means we schedule multiple appointments at the same time (or within ten minutes of each other) to save time and increase both efficiency and competition among the applicants.

When my wife and I first became landlords, we spent hours and hours filling a vacant unit. Today, it can usually be done with just one single appointment and less than an hour of work.

Of course, at the end of the day, you’ll still encounter tenants who will waste your time. However, by following the tips in this post, you’ll save yourself hours of work with every vacancy you encounter, which means more money in your pocket and less stress in your life.

Do you have a tip on saving time with vacant units? Or any questions on the above suggestion?

Please leave me a comment below and let’s talk!

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.


  1. Hi Brandon, Good points. I actually put all the qualifications in my advertisement (Craigslist or MLS), and say: “Please do not waste my time or yours by calling if you do not meet the minimum requirements.” It may sound harsh, but it cut the number of phone calls I receive by about 75%. I also (now) never put a “For Rent” sign in the yard… that is an invitation for numerous time wasting phone calls. I want calls from qualified applicants, and I never found one based on a yard sign (although I only tried that experiment once).

  2. James Slaughter

    Great post Brandon. Being a new landlord I think I “knew” or would have guessed most of what you covered in your blog, but really enjoyed your breaking it down. My wife and I will defiantly be using this approach in the future Thanks!

  3. Curt Smith

    We LOVE LOVE LOVE applicant self elimination when I repeat the qualifications that I put in the ad. I get 80% of my responses over email or txt these days via craigslist and

    I only do rent to own, so I have to put alot of effort into pre-screening. I ask about their income, job (looking for job quality), savings, do they have a bank account (yes alot of my prospects don;t have a bank account which is a negative).

    Always a group showing 1pm Sunday. I love no shows too. I always have some fix up task to keep me busy at the house being shown so I’m ok with no shows. Yes I bite my nails as the end of the month nears. I do excellent marketing, if the renter isn’t out there, I force myself to be calm. All the better to have fix-it tasks to do if no one shows.

    Be sure to walk them out to their car and look in side. It HAS to be neat. Old, dented ok, but neat. Beer cans in the back seat,,, I hope you can imagine that will be your apartment in no time.

    A deceptively telling question is: “so tell me, why do you want to live here, in this place?” You want to hear: My dad lives 3 miles away, My kids middle school is a mile away, My job is a mile away. If your goal is long term renters, you need to be patient, say no a lot and wait for the “sticky” reasons why they want your place. Soft answers like: I like your place the best, your’s is cheapest, will change, probably before 12 months.

    I use a screening service that gives me their list of past rental addresses, a full credit report with on time 30-60-90 for each credit line, eviction notices. and both give great reports for $25 after the al-a-cart choices and I charge $30 to the winning family. And typically do only one credit check of the folks that usually get the place.

  4. Amy A.

    Best Post Ever! I thought we only had this problem in Maine, it’s good to know it’s not just my market. The worst is when they know they don’t qualify but proceed to tell you their life story and think you’ll make an exception for them.
    One thing I often do is tell them I’m going to call before going to the property to confirm, and if they don’t answer that I won’t go. I should have made that arrangement today, but I thought she sounded great (works in health care) so simply agreed to meet her at the property. Sure enough, I was stood up again!

  5. Dawn Anastasi

    I routinely get no shows even though I go through the requirements. I also do open houses. The last time I had one scheduled, I had 8 people who said they were going to come. Not a single person showed up. So that was 100% of people who lied to me on the phone and I sat there for 45 minutes before heading home. This was an extreme case, usually only 50-75% of the people who say they will come do a no-show.

    Also one tip is to also mention any large negative about the property on the phone so you don’t get people to show up who really want a particular feature. For example, if the house doesn’t have a garage, state up front in the call that the house doesn’t have a garage. This way, if the person wants a garage, they know not to come out and look at a house they’ll never rent.

  6. Maggie Tasseron

    Good list, Brandon! Just wanted to add a little tip: Google Street View can be a big help if people want to get a feel for the area your property is in. I use it all the time when I’m checking out listings for possible purchase and it’s saved me a ton of time, especially when those listings are in a different town. Cheers!

  7. Jordan B.

    This stuff is golden to us new guys! How do you feel about “ghost credit”. Someone who has a good paying job, but has never taken a loan on anything or has had no credit cards. Not bad credit just no credit. They will not meet the requirement but probably would be able to pay easier than someone with other debts? Judgement call I suppose….

  8. Owen D.

    I also always ask what move-in date they are looking for and whether or not they have pets. The move date can save wasted time too, since you don’t want to waste time showing a vacant unit to someone who wants to move in 3 months.

  9. Mark Mahaffey

    Wow! I had to do a double take. I thought I was reading my own operating manual. I mean almost verbatim. I guess if you’ve been in the business long enough, you have a tendency to eventually stumble onto the best practices. Great post for newbies as well as a good affirmation for those of us who wonder how “everyone else” does it. Apparently, great minds do think alike. 🙂

  10. Chris T.

    Excellent Tips, thank you Brandon. My wife and I used to take it a step further and insist on visiting potential tenant’s current home to collect the deposit / sign the lease. So that we know how they take care of their home.

    But now we’re trying to get more rentals, we do not have the time to do that any more.

  11. John Lindemann

    Great tips from your article and comments above. Thanks to you and everyone else for commenting.

    One suggestion…I require the deposit to be paid at the time of signing the contract. At that point it is a “holding fee” that is converted to the deposit when the pay their 1st month’s rent. You might consider doing that to avoid scenarios as noted above! That would really infuriate me.

    I’m all about getting the right renter and I’ve given up over a month in rent because I had a very qualified person want to rent from me but their lease wasn’t up yet. I was willing to give up the lost rent to get a good renter…but they paid me the deposit at contract signing!!

    • Katie Rogers

      My problem with the holding fee is some landlords do not actually hold the apartment. This happened to me once. I had already given notice, packed and hired movers when I learned the landlord had rented to someone else. Sure they returned my money, but now my family was homeless.

  12. JT Spangler

    It sucks when it’s time to buy, but one amazing benefit of owning in high demand areas is I can basically name my price for rents, and pre-screen via the neighborhood facebook page. So before I even have to share any property details, I know a good deal about who wants to know.

  13. sol bergren

    Loved this article Brandon, I feel like I was doing this to a certain degree but I really love the idea of clearly spelling it out, this will save me so much time, thx!

    p.s. I am not usually able to find tenants who make 3X rent or greater(I’ve reduced my requirements on that alot), I think I’ve maybe gotten a handful of applications that would meet that requirement. Maybe it’s a location specific U.S.A – Canada difference, or maybe I’m missing something, dunno!

  14. Boyd Haugrose

    I have to say that over the years that I rented out 1 house in a small town in MT, I probably would have eliminated a couple of bad tenants had I used these methods. However I was very fortunate having a prospective tenant contact me asking if I would consider a 5 year lease. I asked why they wanted that length of lease. The answer convinced me to allow them such & they became vey good tenants. At the end of the lease, they requested another 5 year lease, but due to circumstances at the time, I could not grant it. So in a couple of months they moved out & I sold the house.
    I will be using these ideas in the future. Thank you so much!

    • Christopher Moran

      Roberto, I love your video idea! Then I will embed the link to the video of the unit into my Craigslist ads. Thanks a lot for sharing this idea!

      And Brandon, I loved your ideas, too, but already use them.

      My favorite idea lately, is putting a link right in my Craigslist ads. If they drive by and are still interested, I have them fill out the application on Cozy first, to see if they are qualified, before ever having someone meet with them in person.

  15. Jiri Vetyska

    I also uses to deal with no-shows, but since the rental market has turned hot, I only do one or two hour open house. Very few phone calls or emails, and the best thing, people feel the competition and I get several serious applications resulting in a great tenant.

  16. Ellease mayo

    I screen tenants for my daughters. The first time I made individual appoints. That was crazy with the no shows. Being a real estate agent I decided to do open houses. Many potential tenant had not heard of that for renting. But Open house worked wonderfully. Now I have to get the pre screening down packed. Thanks I have the suggestions in my notebook.

  17. Lee Carrell

    I used to run hither-and-yon for tenant scheduling too! Now, I schedule showings on the days and time that I will already be at the property. That way it is never a wasted trip or gas, because I was going to be there anyway!

    I have a written checklist that I keep by the phone for pre-screening each caller. I always direct them to look at the pictures online and specifically identify the location, so if they have reservations about the location, it will come out then.

    I listen to sob stories too, sometimes people want to just get it off their chest, but I always go right back to the stated requirements for renting!

  18. Dan Mouton

    Most of my screening is done through email. Only my email address is published for the online ads, and from the inquiries I have time to get a look at their facebook, twitter, etc. Then I reply with the following questions:

    In the interest of saving time, please respond to the following questions in order to schedule a showing.
    Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
    Where do you live now?
    Are you currently renting?
    Why are you moving?
    How many people will be living with you?
    What kind of reference will your current landlord give you?
    What kind of reference will your previous landlords give you?
    What kind of work do you do?
    What types of pets do you have?*
    How many people who will be living in this unit are smokers?*
    We run credit and criminal background checks on every lease applicant over the age of 18. Will there be any issues there?
    We require a lease application and a fee to cover the background and credit check for each tenant over 18. Is there any problem with that?
    When do you want to move in?
    Will you have the first month’s rent and security deposit ready if we sign a lease?
    Do you have any questions about the process or the rental unit?
    Do you have a problem with any of these requirements?

    The serious one will reply with the answers.

  19. Jean G.

    In addition to listing really strict requirements on Craigslist (I will even write exactly how much cash is required to move in, in case a tenant doesn’t know how to add first month of rent, last month of rent, and security deposit – I’ve seen it!), I will also ask each person that I agree to show the property to, for a cellphone number. Then I’ll call them before I head out to the property at the time of the appointment. If I can’t get a hold of them, I don’t go. This has virtually eliminated no shows.

  20. Katie Rogers

    Okay, what if you have an applicant with a great resume who just moved to town with a family. They just spent the last six years in a foreign country, and they need to find a home and look for a job. Maybe they actually came to take a job, but of course, have not yet received their first paycheck. They were aware of their challenges and have several months rent at the ready. Will you automatically dismiss them as unqualified? There are no references, no credit report, and no job. If they have to go to a hotel, they will quickly use up the money they have set aside for rent and deposit, and end up in really dire straits even though there is zero indication they would be anything but a great tenant. Landlords routinely put potentially great tenants into just this conundrum.

    • Jean G.

      I don’t know about people who spent 6 months overseas and are just coming back, but I’ve had great luck with immigrants who are arriving from overseas for the first time, with their family. If they have started a job (but no paycheck) and I can verify this with the employer, they’ll actually get plus points in my book over someone who already lives here, because one, I can help someone who may not otherwise be able to get a decent place, and two, I’ve always had great experiences with these types of tenants.

      • Katie Rogers

        My point is that so many comments on BP characterize the real life situations of good people (and BTW potentially great tenants) as “sob stories” thereby revealing a serious lack of respect and empathy for the people that enrich them. Of course, there are also many comments that come against such attitudes. From the tenant’s point of view, it is just as hard to find a good landlord, as landlords think it is to find a good tenant.

  21. Luka Milicevic

    This sounds all too familiar. I started with the rookie route and I made all of the above mistakes. On my first rental I was extremely excited when I scheduled 10 showings in one day! I thought I was on top of the world, only to be disappointed when 2 people actually showed up to the appointment.

    Now I do exactly like you said; I pre-screen.

    I have a form that I created online where prospective tenants have to answer a few questions before scheduling a showing. It’s not the official application but it helps to weed out the tire kickers.

    I still do the “for rent” sign in front of the property, but I request tenants text me their email addresses and I direct them to my online question form.

    Pre-screening saves so much time and effort. When I look back, I can’t believe I was naive to schedule showings for every phone call I received.

  22. Cameron Berens

    I always require that I send them a copy of our rental criteria along with an application for them to look over when scheduling an appointment. I’d say about 50% of them don’t end up going forward with a showing after that which saves me a lot of time showing to people who wouldn’t qualify anyways.
    Also, always confirm showings an hour or so before hand. After you spend enough evenings standing around waiting for no shows you figure this one out.
    After implementing these two steps as part of my process my vacancy rate stayed about the same (1%) but my man hours spent filing the vacancies dropped a lot.

  23. Troy Zsofka

    Couldn’t agree more with Brandon on this.
    While I space the showings 20 minutes apart so I can get a good read on each applicant, I schedule each showing (after a solid prequal over the phone of course) subject to a confirmation call or text. In other words, I say “okay, Tuesday at 6 sounds good. Let’s tentatively schedule that time, subject to you confirming our appointment on Tuesday afternoon”. I make it clear that I have upwards of an hour commute, so if they don’t call, text or email to confirm, I don’t make the trip.
    Before making this my policy, I had no-shows all the time (even on prequalified applicants). After I started doing this, I’ve only had one actual no-show (she confirmed via text an hour prior to the appointment, which had been scheduled 3 days earlier, and then still failed to show up or answer her phone. Figure that one out… I hope she’s okay)

  24. Katie Rogers

    When I was a tenant, I cannot speak for other tenants, but I was never “just looking.” If I looked at a place and did not fill out an application, it was because I rejected either the place or the landlord (or property manager showing the place).

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