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Good screening process identifies good tenants -- Page 2

Make a Clean Screen

  • Devise a checklist and ask qualifying questions, such as whether there are smokers or pets, upfront -- before taking the time to advise them about the security deposit and other policies. "Serious customers want to make a good first impression on you and should be happy to answer your questions," says Nuzzolese.

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  • Look for telltale signs of good and bad tenants. These can include: personal appearance (an unkempt person keeps an unkempt lifestyle and home); transportation (a well-kept vehicle with a clean, uncluttered interior tells you as much as a dirty and neglected one strewn with fast-food bags); and attitude (people who don't wipe their feet or put out a cigarette when stepping into the house are tipping you off to the level of respect they have for your property).
  • Keep in mind that eligibility, income and other requirements must be applied to everyone. Screening someone out on the basis of belonging to a specific group is discrimination. The penalties are severe, Nuzzolese reminds.
  • Narrow the Playing Field

    • To keep all prospects straight and get the ball rolling on selection, have prospects fill out an application. If a credit report, background check and other recommended actions will be taken, charge an application fee to cover the process and make it non-refundable and cash only.
    • Don't skip or underestimate the credit check. Neglecting it is the most common mistake landlords make, says Spangler. Not paying their current bills? It's likely they won't pay the rent.
    • Examine the rental application carefully. "If they have a hard time following instructions on the rental application, they may have a difficult time adhering to the lease," says Spangler.
    • Once an applicant looks good on paper, an in-person interview generally follows. Here's where gut instinct can help or hurt the process. "Dishonest people are very good at putting on a good first impression to get what they want," says Spangler. But the face-to-face time can help in nixing a candidate. "You'd be surprised at how often a prospective tenant will brag about what they did to their last landlord -- how they sued the past landlord, or how they threatened the last landlord," Nuzzolese says. Don't just brush off an uneasy feeling as a crazy thought, adds Dan Auito, author of "Magic Bullets in Real Estate: Your Complete Guide to Understanding and Using Real Estate to Your Best Advantage." Auito's evaluations are based on intuition, gut feelings and physical evidence. After all, he says, "People will generally treat your property the way they treat their own -- if you're lucky!"

    Picking a winner

    • Ranking the applicants comes next. Nuzzolese seeks a neat, truthful rental application and prospects with solid employment history and good income, references and credit. Previous homeowners might get bonus points because they've demonstrated that sign of responsibility. Auito sees credit history as the top consideration, followed by length of expected stay, honesty and the reason for wanting that particular rental.
    • Congratulations are in order for the top applicant, so let that person know that he or she stood out. That's not just a feel-good measure, Nuzzolese says. "If the tenant feels lucky to be chosen above other applicants, he is less likely to be aggressive in negotiating for concessions, such as price reduction [or] new carpeting."
      Finishing touches
    • You're close, but the screening isn't over yet. Can and will the applicant deliver? Showing up on time and with required paperwork and identification is a start.

    Before you both sign the final documents and turn over the premises, watch for these red flags:

    • Dispute over the late fee clause. Take it as a sign the prospect plans to pay the rent late.
    • Disagreement over cleaning fees when professional help is needed. Most people will assure the landlord that they will leave the rental as clean or cleaner than they found it. Why, then, would they argue over this clause?
    • Argument over attorney's fees in the case of eviction. Eviction must be a real possibility to your prospective tenant.
      If any of these disputes occur, tear up the agreement and move on to the next prospect, says Nuzzolese. "Say goodbye to that nightmare waiting to happen."
    • Once the lease is signed, of course, the landlord's job is really just beginning. The job comes with rewards beyond the income, though. "I love being able to make a positive difference in someone's life," Nuzzolese says. "Where they live -- their home -- is one of the most important things to people and their families. So it gives me great pleasure to make someone's life better and see their happiness."

    Melissa Ezarik is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

     
     
    -- Posted: May 16, 2005
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