By Craig G. Stone
Tenant screening can make or break a landlord. Don’t take this very important step lightly. You can avoid many pitfalls by selecting the right tenant, the first time. Although you might be tempted to rush through this process to fill your vacancy, don’t. You will be addressing your short-term problem (your vacancy) and potentially creating a longer term problem. Once you’ve selected a tenant, you are somewhat stuck with them and any issues they bring with them. If you can avoid late payments, neighbor complaints, code compliance issues or the eviction process, isn’t it worth the bit of extra time you invest on the front end?
1. Telephone calls are your number one screening tool. Screening begins the minute you answer that first call from a prospective tenant. You want to pay very close attention to how and what is said by the prospect. You can gain a lot of insight by what they believe is an informal conversation. Your goal here is to weed through all the “tire kickers” and unqualified prospects. Ultimately setting up appointments only with those that meet your criteria in number two below.
2. Be prepared with a list of questions. Your time is valuable, so being prepared for that first call is a must. Some basic questions would include: name, current address, phone numbers (mobile, work, home), number and ages of individuals that would be living in the property, pets (type and size), previous landlords, monthly income and sources.
3. Face to face meetings. Review the list of questions and answers provided during the phone call when you meet them face to face and gain agreement. Look for body language that may indicate something other than what was originally shared with you. Also pay special attention to their appearance. Are they well groom, appropriately and neatly dressed? What’s their vehicle’s condition? While these may seem a bit petty, they will give you tremendous insight into an individual’s overall ability to properly take care of your property.
4. No time you say? If time is tight and you don’t have the ability to take all the extra steps to pre-screen potential tenants, you might consider using a professional screener to launch you straight to step 3. There are plenty of organizations that will screen tenants for you. They’ll offer different levels of screening for different costs. Services will include background checks, employee verification, credit checks, previous landlord verification, etc.
5. Bonus tip. If you’ll be doing all the screening yourself. A little trick I learned is to contact not only their current landlord, but also the one previous to that one (assuming you collected that information). In some cases I’ve seen a current landlord be less than truthful about their tenant’s payment history or if there have been any challenges with them. After all, if they’re a problem, they want them out don’t they? This can be avoided if you go back 2 landlords, that landlord doesn’t have anything to lose and is more likely to be truthful.