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Finding Good Tenants

Is finding good tenants an art or a science? Well I think as is the case of most things in a landlords life it’s a mix of both. You do need a loosely scientific approach to attracting and finding good tenants but having put the checklist in place there is an element of using your landlord instinct to getting great tenants.

I have often mentioned, including in the 3 pillars of btl, that by far the most important thing to be a successful landlord is finding good tenants at the start of the tenancy.

My strategy to finding good tenants

My strategy has evolved in recent years with the advent of new online letting agents that allow landlords to advertise their property on the major web portals like Rightmove.  I prefer to side-step traditional letting agents and manage the letting of my property myself.  This way I have control over the whole letting and selection process.  In 25 years of letting property, the only times I’ve ended up with a  ‘nightmare tenant’ was when I was pressurised into letting to tenants by letting agents.  Both tenants were rubbish and both I’m sure I would have not let to if I had conducted viewings or met the tenants first.

Good tenants select themselves

Good tenants select themselves, which strangely enough means that finding good tenants is possibly easier than you might suspect.  What is the old fool going on about?!

Well in my experience the selection process of a good tenant is all a bit like choosing a life partner.  You might like their initial look but you only find out about their real qualities when you and they are tested by some of life’s little hurdles.  This is a good analogy to my technique which does involves some small tests  as part of the selection process.

One thing to remember, just as you should never choose a life partner from a position of desperation ( you’ll end up with a psycho!)  It is the same being a landlord.  If you just grab the first tenant that walks through the door because you ‘need’ your property let, unless you’re lucky, you are likely to end up with a problem.  Stay single or tenantless until you can find a decent one.  Trust me, it will be worth waiting for. More to the point, rushing in could see you getting hitched to the wrong one!

How does this translate into a practical letting strategy?

By organising the letting process, you will gain plenty of opportunities to correspond with prospective tenants, giving you greater opportunity to get a feel for who they are and what they like.

I start the process by marketing my rental property on the likes of Rightmove through an online letting agent.  I use Letting A Property because I have found they work and the software is pretty easy to use.

Their platform allows tenants to send an instant enquiry that they wish to view the property.  I then get alerted by text. Typically I may have 10 or so responses to a rental advert.

The next step is to introduce one of those little hurdles I’ve mentioned.

First hurdle – I send them a standard reply to their rental enquiry that goes a little bit like this:

Hi Tenant x

Thanks for your enquiry about …property address… and I just wondered if you provide just a couple of bits of additional information prior to me calling you to arrange a viewing which I will be arranging for Mon / Tuesday next week:

1. Can you let me know what your job is and how long you have been employed there
2. Are you looking to let the property on your own or with somebody else if so who?
3. How long are you looking at renting this property for?
I will contact you later this week about the viewing times.
Can you just drop me a reply email to: example@gmail.com

If you do have any specific questions I am contactable on: 0790 000000

Kind regards
Chris Horne

Then I sit back and wait.  So you can see that I’m not asking for ‘War and Peace’ about their lives. Just a few basic facts and I give them the option of contacting me by email or phone.

As a rough guide, this initial email will probably get a 40-50% response.  This immediately filters out about half of the respondents.  This is good. What it says to me is the non-respondents are:  either not that interested,  have found alternative property, are poor communicators, or are just plain lazy. Whichever way – I don’t want them.

Those prospective tenants that can be bothered to reply are clearly serious about taking on my tenancy and from these I can quite easily select a short list of prospective tenants to carry out the viewings.  By their responses, already, you have a picture of what the tenants are about, how long they may want to stay, and by the way they conduct themselves by phone and email, what they might be like to deal with as a tenant.

The viewings – finding good tenants

Having got your shortlist of prospective tenants.  On my recent set of viewings all conducted over a Monday evening from 4.30 to 6.30 I managed to see 5 prospective tenants.  I always find it interesting.  So many stories and trying to pick out the wood from the chaff and disentangle the genuine from the potential nightmare tenants or tenants from hell.

Interesting my parade of tenants were far from the crowd of 20 somethings that I used to attract 10-20 years.  Instead it was a procession of relocators and broken relationships and 50-60 year old that were in between property or partners.

I did my usual viewing technique whisking them around the apartment which takes no longer than 20 minutes but I allow 30 minutes to give myself a 10 minutes in between viewings.

I had just had it redecorated so it was looking fresh and clean.  Interesting I was toying with getting the apartment professionally cleaned but when I arrived apart from a little bit of sweep up using a brush and dustpan hastily purchased from the Chesterfield Tesco on the way down from Sheffield the place looked pretty presentable.

Finding good tenants through ‘chatting’

It all seems like common sense but to get good tenants it is all about interviewing a tenant but in a way that they and you feel it’s just an informal chat.  Try and keep it relaxed and you will get a lot more out of your tenants and find out more about whether you are likely to be able to work with them in the future.  As I have said previously finding a tenant is like looking for a life partner.  Things I was looking for were they fairly easy going (could you get on with them), did they like the place If they genuinely like your property then they are likely to stay for longer and give you less hassle.  There were a number of prospective tenants who seemed fixated by certain aspects of the garden that weren’t quite right.  Alarm bells start ringing.

One lady seemed totally disinterested and more interested in her niece than my property – not a good sign.  One lady was honest enough to admit that she only wanted the property as a stop gap for no more than 3 months in between finding a property to buy….no good to me.

In the end I was left with 3 prospective tenants and a bit of a conundrum.  All three were potentially acceptable tenants.  A company director, a journalist or a police officer.  So how did I decide which tenant to choose?  You know what it was the tenant that I most understood and was enthusiastic about the property which won me over.  Having decided the next step was vetting the prospective tenants

Referencing my tenants

Referencing the tenants is the final stage to finding good tenants.  Having identified a tenant that you feel comfortable don’t let your guard down completely and just go with a tenant that looks good on the face of things.  You still need to apply a little bit of artistry as well as science.  This means that you need to do at the very least some basic tenant referencing and vetting.  The steps involved are:

Credit Reference Your Tenant

This involves:

  •  Electoral roll to verify the tenants current and previous address
  • County Court Judgements (CCJ), bankruptcy and any court based voluntary financial arrangements to ascertain whether the tenant has any poor credit history
  • An affordability check to ensure that the tenant can afford the rent on their stated earnings
  • Validate the bank address and sort code given by status to ensure it is legitimate
  • Check the submitted details against any relevant stored data
  • Get A Employers Reference
  • Obtain A Tenants Bank References
  • Landlords Reference
If your tenant passes these checks then happy days and you are on to the next stage the tenant check in and property handover.

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