How To Get The Best Tenants
Part Two: How To Handle New Tenant Enquiries
The process of handling initial enquiries from prospective new tenants is sometimes overlooked, but it is an essential part of finding the best tenant. How you handle things now can determine how easy (or difficult) and how profitable (or not) a letting will be over the coming year or more.
You can aim to find the best tenant by screening their initial enquiry in a methodical way. Here we’ll look at some ideas for doing this.
Conducting an initial telephone interview
An initial phone conversation can help you to make an initial assessment as to whether an application is worth taking further or not. This might be a conventional phone call or, increasingly today, a video call.
Importantly, an initial phone call will also save both you and your prospective tenant’s time. It will avoid time spent on writing/reading applications and conducting viewings where you later find that a tenant is not suitable for a property, or they find it is not suitable for them.
Tip. Aim to make the initial telephone screening as friendly and informal as possible. The more relaxed an applicant is the easier it will be for everyone – and the more likely they are to volunteer information that will help you make a decision.
Key questions to ask prospective tenants
While there are lots of questions you could ask these key questions will help you find out most of what you need to know at this stage:
Who will be renting .... and who will be living here?
Find out who will be the tenant (ie. the person named in the tenancy and the rent payer) and who else might be living there.
The answers will enable you to assess if the applicant is a good ‘fit’ for your property.
For example will the tenant(s) be a single person, related people eg. a couple, or unrelated people, eg. sharers? Will there be people living there who aren’t paying the rent, eg. dependant children or perhaps even friends or lodgers?
Are there any smokers? Do you have any pets?
This will help you screen out unsuitable applicants at any early stage. Even if you are a pet friendly landlord it will help to know what sort of pets and how many pets the tenant might want to bring.
What is your weekly/monthly income?
Knowing the applicant’s wage or salary, and/or benefits if relevant, will enable you to carry out a quick affordability check.
As a very general guide an affordable rent is no more than 33% of a tenant’s income – and should not exceed 40% – whether monthly or annual.
What’s your current situation?
Where are you moving from and how long have you been there? Why do you want to move?
The answers here will help you to identify the type of tenant you’d prefer to have. For example, you might see tenants who are moving to a better job/nearer work, or moving for more space for a family as a positive. You might see tenants who already live locally as a positive. They will most likely have local ties and may wish to stay long term too.
Tenants who have not rented before may be more of an unknown quantity. You might regard tenants who want to move because of problems with their current property or landlord, or who have moved very frequently, as problematic.
These questions will also enable you to identify tenant types who involve specific issues when it comes to letting a property, such as students or those moving from abroad.
How much rent are you currently paying?
This is an extra question which will allow you to assess affordability. It will also help you to assess if the applicant might be overstretched in their current home and could potentially have arrears or other debts.
In addition, answers to this question may also allow you to get a handle on local market rents, and whether you are asking too little (or too much) for your property!
Making a provisional decision – should you offer a viewing?
Use an initial assessment of the answers to these key questions to decide whether to offer the applicant a viewing of the property, dismiss them as unsuitable, or defer your decision.
Don’t be hasty. If you are undecided about whether an applicant is suitable, or whether they are the best possible tenant, don’t feel you have to make an instant decision. Field the enquiry: Tell the applicant that you have other applicants to speak to and will get back to them later.
Use a methodical approach. If you receive a large number of initial enquiries adopt an informal scoring system. Rate applications between 1-10 based on the applicant’s answers. This can help you decide who to offer a viewing to, and also provide you with a reserve list if the initial applicants turn out not to be suitable.
Avoid stereotyping. While first impressions count to some extent avoid stereotyping applicants based on a short telephone interview. The applicant who is well spoken and well prepared, and who appears to be affluent, might not be .... and in a worst case scenario could even be a fraudster. Applicants for whom the property is only just within their means and are nervous yet are open and honest could be the ideal applicants.
Tips for arranging viewings
Always establish when your property will be available for viewing before you start the letting process rather than afterwards. Check with your existing tenant, if you have one, how amenable they are to having viewings and try to find what days and times would be convenient for them. In most cases a 30 minute viewing slot should be adequate.
Decide whether you should offer viewings before an existing tenant leaves, or whether to wait until they have vacated. Offering viewings with a tenant still in residence may allow you to minimise void periods. However, an empty property may be more attractive to a new tenant. It may also afford you time to do maintenance or refurbishment work which will make your property more lettable or allow you to ask a higher rent.
We look at the next step towards finding the best tenant – actually conducting viewings – in Part 3 of this series Conducting Viewings And Handling Offers
And if you missed Part 1 of this series How To Get The Best Tenants, check out How To Do Better Advertising