Tenant screening is one of those aspects of landlordship where many DIY landlords fall far short of doing enough heavy lifting. Some outsource the process by using services that return an “approval” or “decline,” but by doing that, they’re missing out on some easy-to-obtain and crucial information that you can only get in person.
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4 Old School Tenant Screening Tips That Still Work
Peep Their Whip
The first easy thing you can do to establish a solid first impression of a given tenant is be at the curb when they pull up for a showing. Take a gander at their ride and consider:
- If the thing purrs like a kitten and it’s obviously washed and waxed, you know that either they can afford it or they’re obsessed with it. Check their other financials to determine which is which.
- If the outside is beat up, that might mean they’re not particularly responsible with their stuff (which is bad, bad!), but it might also mean that they got in a scrape and can’t afford the body work — which is completely understandable. Just casually ask for the story and pay attention to how long ago they got the dents. If it’s been more than a year (i.e. they could have, at the minimum, spent their tax return fixing it up), you might consider worrying.
- On the other hand, if the inside is trashed, you do not want these people in a home you maintain. The inside of a car is the second best thing you can see to the inside of their current home. If they’re comfortable driving around with moldy hamburger wrappers on the floor and it looks like they’re using the back seat as a laundry hamper, don’t even invite them inside for the showing.
Drive By Their Current Residence
As part of the process, bop by their current residence. If you have to make up some information that you need to give them, it’s easy enough to print off some legal text from the internet explaining their rights. Don’t expect to or ask to be invited in; just look around at the doorstep, listen for evidence of pets or anything else that might make you consider their tenancy, and of course, get whatever kind of glance you can inside and pay attention to the smell. You can tell right away if someone is a smoker, has mold inside their space, and a whole host of other potential turn-offs just by smelling their home.
Don’t Answer Their Call
You’re busy! More importantly, if you have an answering machine or you use Google Voice or some such, you can listen to their message over and over again. Do it — and listen for background sounds and word choices that can give you clues. Yowling cats or kids, the babble of several people in the background, or other similar sounds can hint at a tenant that might be destructive to the home.
And of course word choices matter: Someone who tells you they work at XYZCorp is not the same as someone who tells you they work “in sales.” The second person might be a freelancer, self-employed, or unemployed — listen carefully, and ask yourself why they chose the phrases they did. (Just don’t let it get you too paranoid!)
Pay Attention to Their Concerns
A prospective tenant’s concerns can tell you a lot about them.
- If they’re in a huge hurry to move — and it’s not because of a job — it’s probably because of a looming eviction. Get the full story.
- If they’re concerned that the house isn’t worth the rent you’re asking, it’s almost never because of the house — it’s because they’re worried about paying the rent. Look over their financials with a fine-tooth comb. (Keep in mind, there are those people who just like to complain. Also keep in mind: Do you want a tenant who likes to complain?)
- If they had a lot of complaints about their previous landlord, you might want to Google them. It may be that they legitimately had a horrible landlord — or it might be that they’re horrible tenants and don’t realize it.
- If they’re weirdly focused on being able to pay online, or in cash, it might be because they’re getting their money from an awkward source. It might be as innocent as a telecommuting job (medical billing specialists are a common example) that pays via PayPal, or it might be that they sell drugs or worse.
- If they’re concerned about the neighbors’ tolerance for crowds or noise, they might be looking for a party pad. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s something to carefully consider.
- If they’re concerned about the neighbors being snoopy, it’s an almost surefire sign that they intend to do something that they don’t want discovered. That one is a deal-breaker, at least for us.
There’s a lot that a solid tenant screening company can do — but there’s also an awful lot that they can’t. Get personally involved, and pay attention. Your own senses and intuition are your best friends.
Landlords: What would you add to this list?
Leave all your tips in the comments section below!