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Vital Questions to Ask Renter Prospects

February 15, 2021

The Very Best Questions to Ask Renter Prospects

Renters of all types are available online, some good and some not so good.  Which ones are keepers and which will ruin your business?

The purpose of the tenant screening process is to find the very best tenants. Your selection results are the fruit of your rental vacancy advertising, application and tenant screening process.  Let’s make it better!

Good questions bring out the truth. The smartest people ask the best questions which lead to better decisions.

But what questions should you ask rental applicants in a personal interview? If you follow popular, traditional best practices guidelines, you might not get best results. You need a new, more effective set of questions that hit on the key business issues, and which systematically and clearly reveal the best tenants.

Finding the Best Match

As we mentioned in our post on acquiring the best tenants, it starts with knowing your tenant market and matching the right tenant to your unit.

The best tenants are those who will feel comfortable in your rental environment, can pay the rent, and will tend to stay put, so you don’t have to find another next year. So if your “picking instincts” haven’t worked real well, we hope this process helps you achieve excellence in renter interviews.

If the applicants don’t feel comfortable, are unstable, have income and employment issues, don’t like the neighborhood, and have no real reason to live in your unit, they may not be a good prospect.


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Bad Fit, Good Fit

A bad fit for your rental means money-losing vacancies. Rental vacancies have proven to be the biggest source of losses for some landlords, especially apartment landlords. Even nice well adjusted, wealthy, and responsible tenants will move on to buy a home or find a nicer rental.

A good fit, or at least a good quality renter, means having a loyal renter for an apartment that might not be all that great. A good match creates consistent ROI, cash flow, and keeps your business alive. A good screening process is money in the bank.

A proactive approach to finding renters is much better than bringing hundreds of applications from those are ill-suited to rent your unit. And we don’t have to mention the cost of really bad tenants who damage the unit, get evicted and cause grief for everyone around them.

Evolve to a More Professional Process

Traditionally, landlords do a cursory view of renters and then interview each one at a time, often renting to the first one they like or the first who responded (to get it out of the way and save time).

Unfortunately, the best renter may not be like you and they may not present themselves well either. And you may have a personal bias toward people you understand, but who really aren’t good renters. For instance, introverts may not come across well in interviews, while extroverts present better than they really are.  Unattractive people similarly may be better rental candidates. Your own biases may be an issue.

The renter screening process you use should eliminate as much bias as possible — for the sake of your investment.
Tenant/landlord regulations are different in Germany, UK, France, Spain, US, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, Mexico and other countries.

You want to ask questions that are legal of course (review your country, state and city regulations), and your software if you use it well, might tell you a lot about your tenants overall as a group, providing insight into who likes to live in your building/development/house. This info is helpful so you don’t keep making business killing decisions.

On the Phone or in the Office

Over the phone, or a video interview, or even via email, you can ask a variety of really good questions to ask them. These questions help you to figure out whether they’re really interested in your unit or are faking it, or about their employment history, about their credit situation, and how they’ve handled themselves in previous apartment or house rental leases.

There are questions that are illegal and your questions shouldn’t point to things such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, national origin, marital status, or age but all too often, landlords do ask those questions.

You could say the government has its own opinions on a profile of good tenants and you’ll likely have to bend to those requirements or face legal action.

It’s best to focus your tenant screening questions related to their ability to pay rent consistently, be a good, reliable and conscientious tenant, and somone who listens and communicates well. Good communication habits mean they will agree to meet requirements, keep you informed, and be a reliable, paying tenant over time.

The end purpose of a rental property is to make money so your tenant screening questions have to get to the heart of these most relevant issues for you as a business person. Ask questions different ways to see if they are hiding or lying, and ask questions that reveal how much they truly want the rental unit.

Ask open-ended questions such as “do you have any questions about the rental?” This puts the onus on them to present their genuine interest. Applicants who are eager will ask questions to reassure that it has all the great amenities etc that they want. Ask unique multiple questions in one sentence to make it more difficult for them to give clever, pre-planned answers.

Are questions annoying? Yes, but renters who want your rental unit won’t mind. The fact that they answer the questions in a normal manner shows they’re respectful of you, and your business need to find a good tenant.

Ask questions regarding: rental history, financial capability, intended use of the unit, and renter character and discover:

  • attitude toward the rent price and willingness to pay it
  • deceit/lying or consistency comparing to what they stated in their application
  • reliability, and consistent ability to meet agreements on time
  • financial resiliency and ability to pay if they lose their job
  • conscientiousness and willingness to get along with other tenants
  • strong emotional flare ups when others don’t meet their expectations, and how they deal with that
  • drug and alcohol abuse (are they in a substance program?)

Here are some good questions to ask to get to know the renter prospect and their history:

  1. do you currently rent?
  2. why are looking to move and when will you be vacating your current rental and what did you like about where you are now?
  3. how many times have you moved in the last 10 years?
  4. what length of lease would you ideally prefer?
  5. will your landlord give you a favorable reference?
  6. have you had issues with other tenants?
  7. what is the percentage of your rent paid vs your net income?
  8. do you have your tenant screening report? (they should pay for that)
  9. how do you like this neighborhood?
  10. where do you work and how long is your commute?
  11. what’s your yearly income on average?
  12. what type of work do you do and how long have you been working at your current employer?
  13. did you pay your rent consistently and have any issues with lateness or lease infractions?
  14. where you ever evicted or convicted of a crime (just to validate for certainty because these are serious issues)
  15. will anyone living with you be able to pass a criminal background check? Are you considering having anyone live with you?
  16. do you smoke and do you have pets?
  17. do you have your security deposit ready to send? When will have that deposit to us?
  18. are you okay with the HOA rules for this neighborhood?

Record Your Renter Interview Info

Ensure you use a questionaire in a word doc or spreadsheet, so you can tabulate and rank renter prospects. This is good info to look back on, as your tenants history with you unfolds. It’s easier to do with digital solutions.

And build a spreadsheet with all your top selection criteria, with the top 5 rated highest (3 points for each), second 5 (2 points each) and the rest (1 point each).  Why not just stick with the top 5 points?  You could test that out actually on your own and find that the top 5 criteria do indicate the best renters.

Or you may find that the more points of validation you have, the more confidence you can have in your choice.

Improving your business means improving your screening and interview questions. After you’ve successfully signed them under lease, you can move onto the important onboarding process.

If you haven’t yet adopted software for landlords and property managers, take the time to get to know ManageCasa. It’s ease and simplicity are a pleasant departure from other solutions and the cost vs business value is excellent.

Treat your business and staff with respect, by using a friendly but powerful property management software.


More insight: Software for Landlords and Property Managers |  Property Management Apps | Rental Vacancy Advertising | Tenant OnboardingCost of Tenant Turnover |  Housing Market Forecast |   Lease Management |  Buy HomeHouses for Rent | Property ManagementRental Advertising |  Lease Agreements | Evictions | Property Maintenance Companies | Property MaintenanceProperty Management Solutions |  Tenant Screening |  Property Management Company | Property Management Apps |  NAA Resources |  Cloud Property Management Solution

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