Lessons Our (Successful!) Applicants Taught Us
Honestly, most people live up to whatever bar you set for them.
Last week, we shared a few stories of lessons we learned from some of our more devious applicants. This week, we’d like to make up for that a little bit by sharing some of the flipside of the same coin — applicants that looked, on paper, like they would be horrible tenants…and turned out to be pretty awesome in the end.
A lady came to us with decent credit, a solid job, and zero history of where she had lived since she graduated from high school. She was in her mid-twenties, so it had been several years she had been seemingly homeless. We naturally inquired, and received a story of how she had lived with a long series of boyfriends, without ever putting her name on a lease agreement — or, seemingly, paying any rent! We asked her for a list of her boyfriend’s phone numbers, and amazingly, more than half of them answered and confirmed her story! (Including, importantly, the most recent one and the first one.)
We were extremely leery, but she was very frank in telling us that she had been turned down by several landlords due to her strange housing history, and her boss was equally frank in saying that she was a great receptionist and her job was “as secure at it can be.” She also put up with all our questions and sent in all the letters of explanation we asked for. So, we took a chance, offered her a house, and she stuck around for four years straight, paying every month on time like clockwork. We loved it!
There’s nothing quite like realizing that the guy who is applying for your home has been in jail for a violent felony for the past decade. But he was very peaceful, with about the calmest demeanor we’d seen in a long time. He explained patiently that he had in fact been a gangbanger, had shot and killed two people, but that was well and truly over. He had a legitimate job now, as a doorman at a decent pub, and he wanted nothing more than to get his life started over properly.
He had essentially no credit to speak of, but all his references and his boss confirmed he had disclosed his criminal history, and all vouched for him. He also had enough money to put three months’ rent in escrow, which was the final approval point for us. He rented a home in a poor-but-not-bad neighborhood, and a year later, he took all three months of his money out of his escrow account (we had never touched it), and he moved in with his new girlfriend, thanking us for giving him a chance. He referred another ex-con our way a few months later, and that guy worked out quite well, too!
The Emancipated Minor
According to the State of Michigan, if a minor is emancipated, they are legally allowed to sign contracts as if they were an adult — including leases. So when we were approached by a 16-year-old who had recently been legally emancipated and left his deadbeat parents behind, we called our lawyer and asked him if age discrimination laws applied. We were assured they did. If he was emancipated, we had to consider him on his merits as we would any other adult.
Of course, his credit history was…let’s say limited…but we deal with folks in situations like that fairly regularly. We couldn’t use it as an excuse to immediately disqualify the kid. So we probed, and we poked. It was a little weird to call a high school to ask about the applicant’s character, but he turned out to be a solid student. He also worked a decent job at a call center, and had gotten a large cash gift from a grandmother when he filed for emancipation — so of course we asked him about the escrow. He countered and asked if he could put only two months in, because he had designs on a moped.
We debated about that that kid back and forth for a few days — compared to the few minutes we generally spend — but in the end, we said yes. He’s now 18, a manager at the same call center, and still has two months’ rent in that escrow account. Big win!
What can you take from these stories? That applicants are more than just numbers because nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. It’s easy to have very strict policies requiring minimum credit scores and no evictions or convictions, and maybe that works for you. We find that we can’t use those guides for blue-collar or low-income areas because we’d almost never find applicants that could meet them. By digging deeper, really understanding situations and being creative on what to ask we’ve been able to find some very good tenants.