Tenant Screening 201: Beyond Finances
Did you know there is more to the average tenant than just their financial status?
We love screening tenants. We have to; we have hundreds of properties in our portfolio and there’s rarely less than 25 on the market at once. We get hundreds of applications, and we screen them all. Of course we use a service to weed out the obvious — if your application comes back with no discernable way that you can pay rent, or with a history of arson offenses, you get a polite rejection. But that’s not even half of our applicants, so how do we filter out the others? By looking beyond just the finances.
What Makes a Great Tenant?
In general, there’s a short list of non-financial, non-job-related attributes that make a tenant great.
• They’re communicative when it comes to relevant matters.
• They keep their space clean.
• They have a healthy respect for the law.
Of course, it’s not always easy to identify people with these qualities. We’d all like to think that we can have a casual conversation with our applicants, ask them a few subtle questions, and have them expose their biases. But people are smarter than that; you have to pay close attention to more than their words.
Start by having someone go out and take a look at their car while you’re interviewing them. If someone’s car looks like bomb went off in it, your rental will look like that, too.
Second, establish that you’re vulnerable. Do something simple but obviously accidental, like fumble your pen or spill a few drops of coffee. Sociologists have proven that this is a fast short-cut to creating trust with someone, and it will put you in a ‘human’ role rather than a ‘person deciding your fate’ role. Then, in conversation, say something that implies you don’t necessarily have a lot of respect for the police, and keep a bland expression on your face no matter how they react.
Finally, ask them if they or someone they know had any run-ins with the law. The chances are ridiculously low that no one they know has had any issues, so if they have nothing to say, they most certainly aren’t the communicative type…and now you’ve established all three points.
But of course that’s not everything.
Determining Their ‘Stress-Inducement’ Level
The single most important attribute any tenant can have (beyond finance) is their stress-inducement level: the degree to which they will annoy you over the coming months-to-years. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to make hard-and-fast rules regarding something so subjective, but there are some ways to make the call.
Actually, making calls is probably the best way to make this determination. Talking to the applicant’s prior landlords, former and current bosses, and other references can get you a wealth of information, but few people think to ask the simple question, “How often did this person ask you for something?” It’s simple, though: people generally don’t suddenly become the pestering type if they’re generally independent. Anyone who is already in the habit of asking for help on every tiny detail isn’t going to change, either.
And that’s that! Screening tenants beyond their finance situations — finding out what personal traits are going to drive your interactions with them — is a huge step toward avoiding the ones you don’t want to have living in your homes. Enjoy!