Have you ever realized how much interviewing a potential tenant is like a job interview?
After all, the applicant is interviewing, along with countless others, and hoping to be chosen for something that only has a limited amount of availability.
As the landlord, you are like an employer sifting through many résumés — some qualified, many not — looking for those who will best fill the vacancy. In both the hiring and renting process the interviewer asks questions, abides by federal and state laws concerning discrimination, and even runs a credit history. Smart employers and landlords will ask for referrals and contact them, cautious about lapses in employment or rental history. In almost every way, you are interviewing potential tenants like they are applying for a job.
As a landlord though, one thing you may not be prepared for are questions from your potential tenants.
Employers are prepared for questions because the applicant knows smart questions about the job or company are a way to show their enthusiasm, attention to detail, or any other positive trait they’re trying to convey. Tenants, on the other hand, don’t need to do that. Good tenants ask questions because they’re looking for good landlords. Are you prepared to field questions from knowledgeable applicants? What sort of questions will they ask?
The Internet is a double-edged sword
It is amazing how much the Internet has changed the way landlords market their properties. From something as simple as posting on Craigslist to marketing with video (see my previous article for an awesome example of the latter), the way you reach your potential tenants is limited only by your desires and creativity. The other side of the coin is that the good tenants have as many tools at their disposal and they are more fastidious than ever.
Recently I was reading an article on the popular blog Lifehacker giving advice on how to choose the “perfect apartment”. Now, the entire article is a good read (I recommend you do read it, as it’s always a good idea to put yourself in the shoes of your tenants), but the section I’d like to address here is under step 4: “Show Up to Your First Viewing with Questions In-Hand.”
Here’s a list of the questions the article tells the applicant to ask you, and how I think you can address them to better appeal to the desirable and informed tenant.
Questions a tenant may ask
- Do all of the appliances work? Of course they do, you would never consider trying to rent the place with broken appliances, right? But how do you know they work? You basically have two ways to answer this question: “Yes, I know they work because the previous tenant never complained”, or, “Yes, I tested everything when readying the unit for the next tenant.” Which would you rather hear? Now is also a great time to bring up any new appliances or improvements you’ve made. Answering, “Well the stove worked well but was getting old, so I installed a new one”, shows you’re the type of landlord that acts on things before they become a problem. You can also use this as an opportunity to instill a sense of ownership in the appliance by the tenant. Asking them to be mindful of any problems and tell you immediately if they notice anything wrong so you can get it serviced quickly under warranty, will likely having them treating it as their new appliance and helping you head off any problems while it’s still a cheap fix.
- Are there any major repairs coming up in the next year? Much like the appliance question, this gives you a great opportunity to show what you’ve done to ready the unit for its new tenant. If you haven’t done anything, thinking about having to answer this question should encourage you to go ahead and make the necessary repairs. There’s a good chance that it’s time to replace the carpet, and at the very least you should have painted or be planning on doing so. In fact, if you haven’t painted, consider telling the applicant that you like to wait until you get a tenant and then allow them to have input on the colors. It’s a great way too; once again, help the tenant feel a pride of ownership and feel at home. Of course, you need to follow through if you promise this, but it takes something you should be doing anyways and presents it as a gift to the new tenant. If you are due for some truly major repairs (such as a roof replacement), being upfront shows respect for the tenant and will better gain their cooperation when it comes time to complete the repair.
- Who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs? Unless you’re a landlord for the first time, you should already have a procedure in place for repairs, emergency and otherwise. Be prepared to answer this question clearly and refer them to the section in the lease that governs it. You don’t want to be having an argument over the phone at 3AM because of a misunderstanding about “what you said” months earlier during the application process. If for some reason you couldn’t answer this question right now, you need to figure it out fast. Something will eventually happen, and if you’re not prepared then everyone will be very unhappy.
- Who’s responsible for pest control? This was a pretty good question and one you might not expect. The answer may depend on the pest in your situation. For instance, you obviously want to know about termites, but the tenant should deal with ants. Or perhaps you’ll deal with everything, but they eat the cost if they attracted the pest (getting ants because of a dirty kitchen, or a mouse infestation because they were breeding mice which escaped). Whatever your choice, think about it and be prepared with an answer and insert it into your lease. If you do regularly spray for pests (or hire a company to do so), know what chemicals are used and any potential safety concerns for pets or children. If they ask the first question, you’ll probably get that one too.
These were the questions covered in the article, but be prepared for anything. If you get a unique question from one of your applicants, I’d recommend for you to write it down and think about the ways you can improve your answer in the future. You can do other landlords a service by sharing them as well.
I constantly write about the reasons why good tenants are so important and how you can best attract them. The simple answer is that good tenants are searching for good landlords as much as they are good properties. I shared this article not so that you could have some slick answers for common questions, but so you could identify ways you could adapt and truly offer what the informed tenant is looking for. Again, there was a lot more in the article about finding the “perfect apartment” that I didn’t address, so I encourage you to give it a read and think about what people are looking for and how you can provide for that need. As always, happy tenants make for happy landlords.
Lifehacker – Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions
Image courtesy of bpsusf via Flickr