What a Landlord Forgot to Ask

by Chris on August 6, 2010

A landlord related her frustration after showing her vacant condo to a prospect.  The rental property is a twenty minute drive, and she had four showings in a week.  But the prospect was adamant that she had to see the property right away.  After arriving thirty minutes early to set the stage, this part-time landlord toured the property with the prospect, who wanted to hang out on the balcony.  “I’m so excited that there are so many great places to rent here,” the applicant mused.  Turns out, this was the 7th or 8th property this prospect had toured in as many days.  Fortunately for her, she wasn’t in any hurry to choose.  She didn’t have to move for a couple more months.  

That probably would have been a good question to ask her before making the drive for a private showing. 

The Landlord’s Real Mistake

This landlord did not understand that the tenancy was already doomed, and not just because the applicant wasn’t ready to move, but because the applicant was indecisive and demanding.  In addition, the landlord set the stage that she was a pushover willing to jump at the tenant’s whim. 

Not prescreening an applicant is a rookie mistake, but it raises an important question.  How can a landlord maintain control while filling a vacancy? 

Don’t Lure Bad Tenants

Landlords generally choose between two options when showing rental properties, the open house scenario where all appointments are scheduled at one convenient time, or the private showing, which is the more traditional approach.

Each has its benefits.  A well-attended open house sparks a sense of competition amongst applicants, who are then less likely to try to negotiate for lower rent or higher concessions. On the other hand, the private showing works best when tenants are scarce or when the landlord is nearby.  No doubt the open house is a time-saver for the landlord or manager, and perhaps the most critical point, a one-time- fits-all approach is easier for an existing tenant to accommodate.  

In choosing the appropriate option for showing rentals, a landlord needs to keep focus on what’s really at stake.  The goal is not to rent the property out quickly – it’s to rent the property quickly to the best available tenant. An eviction or attempting to collect tenant debt could easily cost more than a vacancy. 

Conducting an open house is not for the novice landlord. It can be difficult to keep track of what an applicant said on the phone, to ask tenant screening questions during the tour, or to remember the applicant’s answers. Until a rental owner has enough experience to comfortably juggle multiple applicants at once, screening them one at a time may be the best option.

One of the biggest advantages private showings offer is the ability to undergo a more detailed tenant background check.  By focusing on one individual tenant, the landlord remains vigilant, in prescreening, by watching the applicant arrive, checking ID, and asking questions to determine if this applicant is both interested and qualified, and later when reviewing the paperwork.  For instance, gaining some information about a person before you see their answers on the rental application is a great way to discover if the applicant is being honest.  

Keep in mind, though, that private showings are a risk to your security.  Take steps to avoid being alone in the rental property with a complete stranger. 

Regardless of the method of showing,  get a jump on tenant screening when the applicant first calls.  You need to accomplish two things before you meet the applicant:  Establish whether this person is a good fit, and make sure you lay down the law that you are going to conduct a thorough tenant background check.  That discourages applicants with something to hide.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Services, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only). 


Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ginny Reames August 10, 2010 at 6:10 am

Since I am only 10 minutes away from my units I always have the viewers come to my office for our first meeting. I have found that this keeps me at my office until they show up and stops the waiting at the unit when they are late or don’t show up at all! This gives me time to talk and view them before I show the unit so I know how much time to spend with them.
Thank you!

Rich August 10, 2010 at 6:15 am

In showing an occupied property, keep an eye on prospects at all times to protect the property of current residents.

Pavan August 10, 2010 at 8:19 am

It is a good idea to keep track of who is looking at the property. Below is a simple online template (need to be customized) that keeps tracks of who is interetsed, and when they are wiling to move and all that is needed to pre-screen the applicant before showing the property. A great tool to track the pre-screen applicants. This simple form is free as long as you have account with google.



Property Manager August 12, 2010 at 8:47 am

I show properties often. I always ask key questions before I go out. I prefer the openhouse option mostly; however, there are times when a prospective will ask if they can see it sooner or at a different time. Then I go into application questionnaire mode– asking key questions to ensure they are serious prospectives and have the general qualificiations (employment, number of family moving and how soon they are looking to move). I explain all of the fees and costs to make sure they understand the move-in qualifications. I also make sure I don’t have a family of 5 trying to view a two-bed-room duplex. Thanks for your tips, they are greatly appreciated.

Jay Popwell September 5, 2010 at 5:26 am

Never park in the driveway. That way you will never be blocked in for any reason.
allways check your doors and windows after the tenant leaves
charger $10.00 for each pet pre month this will cut down if not out any they were going to bring. To cut down on staying longer than they pay start the evection on the 5th day if they pay then charge them a fee for to stop that way it showes them that you mean bussinesand are not messing a round they will move on there on if they do not intend to pay in the first plase.

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