by Kathy Fettke | RealWealthNetwork.com
Finding a great tenant begins with having great information — and lots of it. Information is a landlord’s crystal ball. And the best time to get this information is “before” the tenant signs on the dotted line.
One of Real Wealth Network’s preferred property managers calls it the “honeymoon period” because tenants will tell you more about themselves when they want something from you — such as the keys to your property. And it’s not just important for the selection process. This information can be critically important a year or two down the road, if your rental situation suddenly goes south.
This property manager, who prefers to remain anonymous, owns hundreds of properties herself. After years of dealing with both good and terrible tenants, she is a wealth of knowledge about what it takes to select the right tenants. Here is some of her advice:
Tenant Screening Priorities
1. Begin with a criminal background check and a civil background check.
Criminal background checks are good for things like arrests, convictions, and warrants, while civil background checks will let you know if applicants pay their bills on time or have any judgements against them. Civil background checks tell you more about whether they will make “good tenants” and not just “law abiding citizens”. Lexus-Nexus allows you access to a more comprehensive database of information.
2. Credit checks are important for different reasons.
Credit checks are useful, but less important than background checks because they generally won’t tell you much about the tenant’s rental history. It is useful for understanding the applicant’s credit “load” and whether bill collectors are chasing them. Even if you don’t plan to do a credit check, always have prospective tenants sign a release form for obtaining one in case you need it in the future.
Bad credit does not always mean a potential tenant won’t pay their rent. For example, someone who lost their home to foreclosure during the housing crisis may have bad credit today but if the rent is less than their mortgage was, they could become very good tenants.
3. Current landlord information is helpful but you may learn much more from previous landlords.
Current landlords may not tell you if someone has been an excellent tenant because they don’t want to lose them — or they may not tell you if they are horrible tenants because they want to get rid of them. So talking to previous landlords may get you more honest information. Ask for information on two previous landlords.
4. Make sure they are who they say they are.
Request a photo ID and several pay stubs to verify source of income. Ask about next of kin and emergency contacts.
5. Be sure understand Fair Housing rules so you don’t discriminate.
Protected classes include: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, familial status and disability. In Ohio, military personnel are also protected. So know your state rules. Attorneys and paralegals are “not” a protected class. Renting to them could put you at a disadvantage in the event of a future court battle because the landlord would have huge legal fees while the tenants would not need legal advice, or would have access to “free” legal advice. Talk to an attorney on your side to protect yourself in advance with a bullet-proof lease agreement.
The Importance of Good Marketing
It’s also important to be able to attract a large pool of candidates so you can find the right tenant and not feel desperate to just take anyone. To do that, you need quality advertising. Another property management company, Renters Warehouse, offered advice on that:
Place your ad on a website that will display contact information accurately and consistently. Renters Warehouse uses proprietary software to spread the word on hundreds of websites.
Your ad needs to be impressive in order to attract the right tenant. Use high quality or professional photos of both the inside and the outside of the rental property. The photos should be taken with good lighting, and the unit should be spotless. A video walkthrough is also a great idea along with plenty of details.
Renters Warehouse says that most prospective tenants want to know everything about an apartment before they decide to call for a viewing. If you have a pet policy, say so in the ad. If you don’t allow smoking or you need a 2-year lease, spell it out in the ad. You could also include interesting details about the rental or the neighborhood and information about an HOA.
You should also have an eye-catching headline that will showcase a few desirable or unique qualities about your rental. Use well-chosen adjectives that represent your property truthfully. If it’s a recently-renovated older home in a happening neighborhood, the title could read: “Amazing, Upgraded Home Near Shopping & Entertainment.” Or if you expect to attract a younger crowd, cater to them with “happening” words or phrases. Just be sure your description is accurate.
One final point — If you are worried about current tenants making a unit look presentable during the tenant screening process, make sure you require their cooperation with a clause in the lease. For Renters Warehouse, that clause requires cooperation within the final 60 days of the agreement. It also says that most tenants are willing to work with you on those showings, so don’t be afraid to ask. It’s important that prospective tenants get a good impression.
Renting to People Who Plan to Have Roommates
Real Wealth Network has a hot tip for landlords renting to tenants who who plan to have roommates at some point. By requiring the lessee (the person signing the main lease) to inform the landlord of any potential sublessees (people who sublet from the lessee) the landlord can know who’s living in their home at all times.
The landlord then also has a “point person” to talk to about issues.
A clause about rules in regards to renting the property on VRBO or Airbnb would also be useful so you can control if your property might have complete strangers living there for the weekend.
The Real Wealth Network is a real estate investment club that educates members on how to diversify their real estate portfolio nationwide by sharing information on the best US markets for cash flow and future appreciation. The company also offers referrals to experienced and highly-rated brokers, property managers, and real estate professionals in those markets. You can join for free at www.realwealthnetwork.com.