Filling Vacancies: How to Use Basic Sales Principles to Appeal to Tenant Emotions


If you’ve ever been a salesman of any variety, you’ve heard this maxim: “People buy with their emotions, and they back it up with logic.” This is often in close proximity to, “Overcome the buyer’s objections, and you earn the sale.” These principles, along with the basic idea of how to communicate clearly and listen for the truth, are the core of door-to-door sales. Today, we’re going to look at how those principles can inform our efforts at filling vacancies and keeping the rent money flowing in.

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Buying With Emotions

We all love to tell ourselves that we’re rational people who have explainable reasons why we do everything, but science proves us wrong over and over again. From events as simple as deciding to push a button when a light comes on (proven via EEG that your hand starts moving well before the conscious part of your brain even registers that the light is on) to procedures as complex as managing a hedge fund (year-over-year studies prove that there is literally no truth to the idea that it is even possible to have a successful, rational “system” for playing the stock market), our love affair with rationality is one that is intensely irrational.

Instead, the science of decision-making shows us that every choice we come across is influenced by (at least!) three completely irrational factors:

  • Our current state of mind (“priming”),
  • Our interpretations of our own needs (“desire”), and
  • Our interpretations of the opinions of others (“judgment”).

Related: Rental Renovations: Which Maximize Rates & Lower Vacancy – And Which Don’t?

Priming the Pump

“Priming” is the term behavioral scientists use to describe a phenomenon wherein our brains unconsciously react to things in our immediate experience, even when we’re not conscious of them. The classic experiment that proved the existence of priming showed that, when told to do a multiple choice test, people whose answers included words like “Florida,” “forget,” and “wrinkle” walked out of the testing room more slowly than people whose answers included words like “kinetic,” “sneaker,” and “home run.”

If we’re going to get the folks that we’re showing homes ready to sign on and become tenants, we should consider what we’re priming them with as they pull up to the home. This includes curb appeal, but hopefully, we’re all doing that anyway. We should also be considering more fundamental things like:

  • What does the walk from the car to the front door feel like underfoot? Is it rough, rocky, difficult? Or is it smooth, comfortable, and easy?
  • What does the process of getting from outside to inside consist of? Are there several steps to go through–ground to porch to inner door to outer door to mud room to living room? Or is it one-and-done?
  • How do you refer to the parts of the home that are not quite ideal? Are your words priming the prospects to see problems (i.e. “The fridge sticks out a little, but…”) or opportunities (“This allows you to open the door all the way so it’s easy to access everything in the fridge”)?

Desire: Your Command is Their Wish

It might seem offhand like it’s impossible to change someone’s desires–they come prepackaged with a pretty clear idea of what they need, right? Nope! Once again, science shows us that people have a pretty clear idea of what they want, but often have little to no conception of how what they’re looking at matches up with what they want. This is why classic door-to-door sales logic dictates that absolutely everything be presented not in terms of a feature (i.e. “This house has tile floors in the bathroom”), but in terms of a benefit (i.e. “This floor is easy to keep clean”).

This has a nearly magical effect on people’s decision-making processes because instead of seeing things through the lens of what they are experiencing in their daily lives, they’re instantly imagining themselves having a fictional problem and then avoiding it through the use of the benefit. Suddenly, the feature becomes important, and that means emotional impact. This can certainly happen during the showing, but is of primary importance for the person writing the advertisement. Calling a yard “low-maintenance” is solving a problem; calling it “modest” or “cozy” is not. Solve problems with your advertisements, and you’re essentially sculpting their desire, whether they realize it or not.

Related: How to Maximize Revenue While Minimizing Vacancy in Real Estate

Judgment Day

Finally, we have judgment–the subconscious processing of other people’s opinions as we encounter them. This is a serious double-edged sword for someone trying to fill vacancies because people inherently view the seller’s (that’s your) opinion as not only inherently untrustworthy, but as deliberately misleading because you have an agenda (to fill the vacancy). So anything you say about the house in vague, meaningless terms (“This living room is great!”) immediately gets not just discarded, but often results in a negative impact on their opinion. Sticking to specific claims (and attaching them to features!) is the best route to take when presenting a rental property if you want that particular prospect to be your next tenant.

In direct opposition, we have the fact that people–all of us–inherently view the opinions of “neutral” third parties as insanely important. If there are four other people who said this thing was great, it must be great! This point is mostly for the written ads: If you can get a quote from the previous tenant that even passingly mentions that they loved their stay at the house or how the landlord helped them X the YZ this one time, include it. The emotional impact shouldn’t ever go to waste.

Yes, it is absolutely obligatory that we provide our prospects with solid, statistical reasons to sign our lease–but in the end, that’s only because they have to at some point explain that decision to other people. If we acknowledge that signing a tenant is just as emotion-based a process as selling them a vacuum cleaner or a life insurance policy, we’ll go a long way toward filling vacancies across all of the properties we manage.

What are your tricks and tips for painting your rentals in the best light?

Leave a comment below!

About Author

Drew Sygit

Drew is the manager of Royal Rose Property Management, a fairly high-tech solution for Detroit Metro area property owners & investors.


  1. Darren Sager

    A very good read Drew! I would add that reading a book like Tom Hopkins’ How to Master the Art of Selling Anything gives excellent insight on language that should be used when showing the units in an effort to actually close them on signing. By using reenforcement statements, or tie downs, it can help get the deal done. If the potential resident sees the kitchen and says its big and bright, you’d respond with, “isn’t it!” or something of the like. But always stay quiet if they say something not so flattering!

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