5 Questions Landlord Hank Asks Tenants When They Call

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Veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi takes on questions each week from landlords and property managers.

His goal is to help educate fellow landlords and property managers on issues he has seen in his 30 years in the business.

This week the question from a property manager is about what questions you ask when the tenant first calls?

Dear Landlord Hank: What is the first question you ask?

Question: You have received your first inquiry regarding your rental property, via phone or email. What do you ask someone inquiring for information about your property and why, when they first contact you? Hank’s Answer: Even though you may have put an ad on the internet loaded with details and photos, someone may have seen a sign for your property or heard about the unit through a friend or current resident.

No. 1 – So my first question is, "How do you know about our property"?

If the prospective tenant says they saw an ad, then most of their questions will have been answered in the ad.

If they haven't seen an ad I do a brief description of the unit and development.

No. 2 – My second question then is, "When you do need to begin a lease?”

If someone wants to rent a currently available unit NOW, then you may have a candidate. If prospective tenant’s current lease isn't up for six months, then your immediately available unit will be long gone. If you have multiple units, perhaps another down the road could work for this prospect.

No. 3 – My third question is, “Do you have any other questions?

Answer any specific questions related to the property so prospective tenant can determine if they would like to move forward to a tour.

No. 4 – This is really a series of questions

These relate to determining if you as a landlord could want this prospect as a tenant.

  • For instance, if your community doesn't accept pets you could ask, “Do you have pets?” If you do accept pets, you'll need that information as well, as prospective tenant could have a pack of pit bulls.
  • Next I want to know how many individuals will be in the unit. We don't want two families sharing a unit, etc.
  • By now, you will have built up some rapport with prospective tenant and you could ask, "Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
  • Maybe you'll find out that the prospective tenant had an unreasonable landlord. Or maybe they will say, "We just lost our house!" Or, maybe the prospective tenant has a legitimate complaint about their current property. There could be issues around poor maintenance history, poor management, unpleasant living conditions such as noisy neighbors, barking dogs, a messy complex, parking problems, etc.

No. 5 – If consider this prospect a potential tenant then ask, "When would you like to tour the property?"

The sooner the better so you can begin the process of vetting the tenant and renew the income stream from this unit.

A few final thoughts:

You as a landlord spent time and money to develop this lead. So treat this prospective tenant with respect, kindness and honesty just like you'd want someone to treat you. This prospective tenant could spend much of their life in your rental as a great tenant, but you never know.

  • If you have a chance to see tenant’s car, take a look. Often one's car care will reflect the living situation. If they open the car door and trash falls out or the muffler is held up with a coat hanger, you'll have a feeling about this prospective tenant. Hopefully they drive up in a well-kept auto.
  • Also, notice and evaluate the prospects themselves. Do they reek of smoke and are seeking to rent a "no smoking" unit, etc?
  • Lastly, never take a tenant because either you or they are desperate. If a tenant doesn't make the grade and have the required funds your guidelines require, then reject them, properly. Either take a good tenant or no tenant.

About Landlord Hank Rossi:

"I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of the family rental maintenance business, in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad's assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota convinced me to try the Florida life style. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage focusing on property management and leasing and I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta."

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