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Why a Prospective Tenant’s Car Matters — and Other Logical Landlord Tips

There are plenty of helpful tools that allow you to get a sense of how your prospective tenant will perform — from credit histories to tenant screening questionnaires, but what can you do if you have a few great applicants to choose from?  Use the power of observation to select an ideal tenant from a field of applicants — or to weed out prospective renters who make a great first impression, but who won’t make the best tenants. Here’s what to look for — and why it matters.

beat up carCars matter, for a variety of reasons: Take a peek outside the window or walk your applicant to their car. You can learn a lot from a quick peek at the vehicle. Does the car match the application? If the car is the one listed on the rental application, you can get an idea of how your prospective tenant treats his possessions.

The make and model don’t matter much, but the general level of repair and cleanliness can reveal just how important upkeep and tidiness are to this applicant, Dozens of fast food bags, trash and papers spilling out into the parking lot when the door is opened should be a red flag — the tenant may keep his living space the same way. A well cared for, clean car shows the tenant actively works to keep a clean environment and takes care of his living space, a big plus for a renter.

Security deposit woes: If a tenant tries to negotiate the amount of the security deposit (provided you are asking for a typical industry amount) or break it into smaller pieces, choose a different applicant. The security deposit does more than just protect you from damages, the investment required makes sure the tenant is vested in the property to a degree and has a reason to take care of it. Tenants without security deposits have nothing to lose and may treat your property poorly.

Inconsistencies in background: If the story doesn’t match the application, proceed carefully. Listening carefully to prospective tenant’s story can trigger some early red flags, if the details change often. An applicant who originally tells you they have a cat, but mentions four different pets by name may be hiding more than a few extra felines. You don’t need to interrogate a prospective tenant, but too many inconsistencies could be cause for alarm and require a closer look.

 The nose knows: Smokers often don’t realize how strong the scent of cigarette or cigar smoke can be. If you have a non-smoking policy and your prospective tenant reeks of smoke, it may be time to choose someone else. People overestimate their ability to quit smoking — and may go as far as renting your smoke-free unit, but a single lapse could undo your hard work and leave you with a unit that has to undergo a deep cleaning. Take a sniff and make sure the applicant really is a non-smoker.

Be social media savvy: Employers do it, and you should too. Plug the name of your prospective tenant into a search engine and see what appears on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Does the job on LinkedIn match the job on the application? Are there lots of great pet pictures on Facebook — posted by your supposedly pet-free applicant? Have they complained incessantly about their last landlord — or their lack of income — on Twitter? Social media posts are casual and revealing, and can give you a peek at the person you’ll be dealing with each month.

Most applicants work hard to make a great first impression, and most are honest people, but using all of your senses to observe them and their chosen environments can tell you a lot. The applicant you choose will be in charge of one of your biggest assets each month, so the more you can learn about them, the better you’ll feel about your choice.