Ready, Aim, Ask
June 1, 2003
What do you want to learn from prospective tenants? Obviously you want to determine, somehow or other, if they will be good tenants. You find out by carefully checking all information on their rental applications. Then you ask questions and sift through their answers to find out if they are one, telling the truth, and two, people who will pay the rent on time, take care of your property, and get along with their neighbors.
You ask questions both on the rental application and face to face. It is important that, just as with your rental application, you ask the same questions face-to-face to each applicant or prospective tenant.
You have two reasons vital to your business for asking the same questions to each prospective tenant: one, you are comparing apples to apples, different questions mean a different set of answers and the inability to compare the answers adequately; and two, asking different questions to different applicants risks a Fair Housing complaint.
Always ask questions that require the person you are asking to respond with a complete sentence. “Why are you moving?”, “What did you like most about the last place you lived?”, “What kind of neighbors did you have at your last apartment?” You can think of lots more. None of those questions can be intelligently answered yes or no.
What sort of thing are you looking for in your applicants’ answers? First, you are looking for signs of lying. Those could be a number of things, including, but not limited to, throat clearing, shifting back and forth on their feet, staring at the floor, or getting a glazed look in their eyes. Paul Eckman, professor of psychology at the University of California in San Francisco, says that everyone shows telltale signs when he or she lies. “Liars do not monitor, control, and disguise all their behavior.”
Second, look out for answers that would indicate a propensity for causing trouble. A question about their neighbors at their current residence could go a long way towards indicating how well they get along with other people. Weigh the answer carefully.
Third, be careful when they tell you too much. Over embellishment can be a sign of a carefully-crafted lie they have practiced over and over to pull out for each landlord. Of course, it could also mean they just talk too much, telling you far more than you’d ever want to know.
Put careful questioning together with a thorough verification of all information on the rental application, and you can cut down the incidence of bad tenants by 90 percent. Bad tenants don’t like their past rental history to be scrutinized. They have a lot to hide.
But always come prepared when you interview applicants with a set of questions you want the answers to. Your questions should aim to find out what quality of tenant you are talking to. Then ask, ask, ask, to get good tenants.
Get ready by preparing your questions in advance, taking aim at the information you need to make an informed decision. Then ask them of your applicants.
About the Author: Bob Cain
Some 30 years ago Bob Cain went to a no-money-down seminar and got the notion that owning rental property would be just the best idea there is for making money. He bought some. Trouble was, what he learned at the seminar didn’t tell him how to make money on his rental property. He went looking for help in the form of a magazine or newsletter about the business. He couldn't find any.
Always ready to jump at a great idea, he decided he could put his speaking and writing skills to work and perform a valuable service for other investors who needed more information about property management. So Bob ferreted out the secrets, tricks and techniques of property management wherever he found them; then he passed them along to other landlords.
For over 25 years now, Bob has been publishing information, giving speeches, putting on seminars and workshops, and consulting for landlords on how to buy, rent and manage property more effectively.