4 Steps to Pre-Screen Prospective Tenants Over the Phone

by | BiggerPockets.com

Most people value their time—I’m sure you do, and I’m sure your prospective tenant does as well. Because of this, it’s in your best interest to do a little investigative work to determine whether the home is a good fit for both parties before taking the time and effort to show the property. You can accomplish this with a short conversation.

During your first contacts with the prospective tenant, make sure you have a list of standard information you go over and ask of them, like the following four tips. Never show a property blindly not knowing that the person you’re showing it to is a legitimate option—unless of course you’ve got a lot of time on your hands.

Before scheduling a showing, do the following.

BRRRR-strategy-deal

4 Steps to Pre-Screen Prospective Tenants Over the Phone

1. Ask them what they would like to know about the property.

This is always the first question we ask a tenant when they call.

Usually the answer is met with a few seconds of silence or stuttering, as the tenant is not used to being asked questions. However, we think this is a valuable question, as it will help you gauge what’s important to them and give you the first glimpse into the kind of tenant they’ll become.

2. Make sure they are aware of all the terms for the rental.

This includes items such as rent, deposit, lease terms, pet policy, and what utilities are and are not included, as well as the general description of the home, including amenities. During this part of the conversation, you might find out they are looking for a short lease term that you can’t accommodate, or they are looking for a home with a dishwasher, which yours doesn’t have.

Related: 12 Tips I’ve Learned From Screening Close to 500 Prospective Tenants

Both examples result in the same outcome—they aren’t going to work out. By getting that out of the way early on, you’ve saved yourself a trip to the property.

3. Make sure they are fully aware of the qualification standards for the home.

Usually prospective tenants are fairly open during this part of the conversation, which gives the landlord a heads up of whether or not they are worth pursuing further. If they don’t meet any one of your standards, they will usually (though, not always) tell you. For example, if you tell them you have an income requirement of $2,500 per month for a particular rental and they tell you they only make $1,500, you can easily let them know that in order to qualify for the home, they must meet the income requirement. Once again, you’ve saved yourself a trip.

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Related: 7 Advanced Tenant Screening Tips (So You’re Not Fooled by Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing)

4. Finally, let them talk.

People don’t like pauses or “awkward” breaks in conversation, so feel free to simply be silent and let them tell you a little bit about themselves. When prospective tenants are the ones having to fill in the conversation, you’d be surprised at what you might learn.

[This article is an excerpt from Brandon Turner’s The Book on Managing Rental Properties.]

Any other questions you ask during phone screening?

Be sure to let me know with a comment!

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on BiggerPockets.com. 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.

17 Comments

  1. Ann Bellamy

    Love this, great post, Brandon.

    I always pre-screen on the phone, and if they won’t talk to me on the phone (they have emailed me to start with and want to set an appointment by email) then they have pre-screened themselves out. I don’t want tenants who dodge me.

    I also ask the following:

    How many pets will be in the unit ? (I don’t ask WHETHER they have pets, so they answer the number, or they say they don’t have any

    Do you smoke indoors or outdoors? – I don’t allow smoking indoors or outdoors anywhere on the premises, so if they smoke, they immediately answer “outdoors” thinking that this is the acceptable answer

    • I’m with you Ann….if they don’t talk over the phone….they aren’t the right tenant for me. The best ones have always called the number on the listing and passed on using email…..they always move to the top of my list.

  2. Tim Sabo

    In sales, you must pre-qualify your leads, and that is what you do when you first talk to the prospective tenant. We have 12 questions that we call our Rental Questionniare: the RQ helps us get a better picture of the tenant’s needs versus our needs. Of course, as Brandon suggests, we are listening carefully for the ‘drama’ to unfold if there is any, but it is the questions that give us the data we need to set up a showing or not. Right off the bat I want to know the full names and birth dates of prospective tenants-while they’re on the phone with me, I can enter their names into the PA Magisterial website to see if they have any landlord/tenant judgments or criminal history in PA. Of course we ask about pets-we don’t rent to folks with dogs larger than my 7 year old-and smoking of course, but we also ask if they have their own appliances. Since we have properties in the low-rent district, many folks can’t afford their own fridge, stove, washer and dryer. If they don’t have them, we offer to rent them each month for a fee: it’s a win/win, as the tenant has a need that we fill with an affordable choice, and we make additional profit. In many instances, the profit from the appliances matches our monthly cash flow from the unit!
    I have created a Google Form with the these questions and can send it to those prospects who prefer to do it themselves other than over the phone. Often, we’re working somewhere when they call and can’t interrupt our work to do the questions, so all I need is their email address and I can zip them off the questions in a second. Having it in Google Forms also allows me to access the data again later without going through pages of notes about 50 different callers.
    Pre-qualifying is crucial to saving you time and money; we never show a property to a tenant until they complete our Rental Questionnaire: it usually eliminates 80-90% of folks right off the bat.

    • Matthew Pagelsdorf

      @TIM SABO A lot of good information from your comment. Would you be willing to share the 12 questions you ask? I prescreen as well but it appears I may be missing an important question or 2. Also, do you have numbers you can share on rental amounts for appliances? That is a great idea as it eliminates additional costs of purchasing new appliances when ones in rentals need to be replaced.

      • Tim Sabo

        Certainly Matthew, just send me an email. I’m not permitted to post it here, but it is on my profile.

        As for rental appliances, because our properties are in the low-rent district, we offer them for $20 per month/per piece. One of our questions is “Do you have your own appliances (fridge, stove, washer, dryer)?” Followed up with, “Would you like us to provide appliances (for an additional monthly fee)?” So many folks do not have the money to buy them, and they certainly can’t afford to rent them at RAC prices. So we have them set up in the apartment when they come in; they can see the appliances are clean, operational, and ready to use. I remember the lesson from AOL: it’s so easy! We try to make it so easy for the tenant that deciding to rent from us is a no-brainer. Usually, most tenants need all four pieces, which provides an ‘easy’ $80 extra each month in cash flow. We find these appliances at auctions, Craigslist, or when we purchase properties. Matthew, appliance rentals can double our cash flow on a unit each month! We have also started to look at offering other ‘products’ like A/C units, microwaves or other furniture items-like kitchen tables and chairs. We buy them, clean them, set them up and soon are making a nice, honest profit. It’s so easy!

  3. julie oldham

    Great article, Brandon, I learned some of these the hard way, but I’m definitely on the same track as you are screening tenants. I find that doing it this way takes a LONG time, I leave a huge chunk if my time available for phone calls whenever I list a vacancy. But it has definitely saved me a lot of misery in the long term, and the hours I spend listening to applicants really gives me insight into what sort of tenants they’ll be if I rent to them.

    @ ANN BELLAMY I like how you ask questions, the only way I do it differently is that I ask about animals instead of pets. Where I live, so many people now have “service animals”, they are within their legal rights to say they don’t have a pet when all they’ve done is changed what they’re calling their pet. I’ve already screened out way too many pit bulls this way, it really scares me.

    • Nicole Martin

      Julie,

      Wouldn’t refusing to rent to someone with a service animal be considered discrimination? What if they make it passed your screening, then what? I’m curious because the idea of a service animal never crossed my mind.

      • julie oldham

        Yes, refusing to rent to someone with a service animal is discrimination, I would never disqualify someone based on this. I put it in “quotes” because I was also referring to emotional support animals. Service animals are specially and exactly trained to help a handicapped person. Support animals are basically whatever animal someone says helps them or makes them feel better, doesn’t even need to be a dog, doesn’t require a doctor. While I certainly would never discriminate based on this either, I would like to know what sort of animal I will have in a rental and certainly don’t mind screening out for a different reason when possible. Luckily, thus far, nobody with a pit bull has passed my other screening criteria.

    • Tim Sabo

      Whether that is a compliment or sarcasm @JL HUT, I do not know.

      If it is a compliment, thank you; as a landlord and business person, I take great pride in finding new ways to generate income from my properties.

      If it is sarcasm, I would only say that I could not find your contribution to this story, or the other comments, in your comment, Sir.

    • Nicollette Roth

      One very popular option in my area is to have a “pet rent”, so if a renter has an animal, they pay an additional $25 to $50 per month in pet rent. This is in addition to a pet deposit, which usually a portion is non-refundable.

  4. Terrell Garren on

    Good info. I always ask prospective residents to drive by and check out the location before I show a property. It confirms they are serious and saves me a trip if they don’t like the location.

  5. JL Hut

    Tim, Its a compliment, you expanded my thinking on appliances. I don’t like pets in rentals, but I might if they generated enough income, so now with my expanded thinking I shall form a new industry, Rent a pet. You never know what someone might be will to spend money on, right? I could redefine the term furnished rental. Like I said I like your thinking.

  6. Tim Sabo

    I like the idea of renting people anything they think they want/need and where we can make honest money doing it. Rent-A-Pet may be a pretty cool idea, especially around Christmas time, when parents want to give their kids a puppy but soon realize its too much work. Pets could belong to different apartment complexes too, so you slect the animal that you want in those buildings, and the pet goes from tenant to tenant just like a fridge! Awesome money making opp!

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