How do you find tenants? I’ve been asked this question so many times. But mostly from the angle of people being afraid to get into land-lording because of fear of finding a good tenant. I never thought this was a challenge. My perspective was different. There is this misconception that renters are a lessor class than landlords. I never felt that way. I have always seen it as a partnership.
The tenant is looking for a place to live. They are looking to pay a premium to have freedom to move if they wanted. They wanted to pay a premium to have someone else fix things that break. What does this have to do with finding a tenant? Simple. These people are people. Start there.
Very early on I caught on something very important. Landlords waste time. They waste their time. They waste their tenants time. I didn’t want to do that.
Signs. When I first started I would put signs in the yard. I would get so many calls and would answer so many questions just to end up at a dead lead. So I started putting the most common answers on the signs. The amount of rent, how many bedrooms and baths, and whether or not there was a basement. Same thing happened! I would get calls asking me what rent was. So I started doing flyers on the signs. I felt like I was still wasting my time. So I stopped doing signs.
Ads in newspaper. OK, commenting on this is pointless because many people don’t know what a newspaper was. But I used to put ads in the paper only to get dumb questions.
So for my second rental house I used a real estate agent. (my first rental house was renting back to the seller temporarily) He was my brother. It was more trouble than it was worth.
By now the internet was gaining relevance. Craigslist was getting huge, and was trusted. This was pre-Facebook taking over the world. We’re talking early 2000s here. I learned from my mistakes and decided to do things differently than other landlords. I didnt want to waste time telling people what the house was all about, I also didn’t want to waste time screening someone who was not qualified. Tenants also have their own deal breakers. I didn’t want to wait to find them. I did it smartly.
My Craigslist postings were basically an informal screen. Here’s an example of an ad to find tenants:
Everything on that posting is very intentional. I am setting a tone, establishing expectations, laying out deal breakers, and mentioning what may be deal breakers for the prospect.
I’m also having the tenant screen themselves. This is very powerful. Most landlords do things out of order. They see if there is basic mutual interest, do an application, meet the person at the house, and then screen. I do it in a different order and it saves so much time. I pre-screen the tenant with questions before agreeing to walk them through the house. This idea came to me after having so many no shows. This is common for landlords. The prospect agrees to walk through, and then never shows up. With a little back and forth before walking through the prospect through you are able to see if they are a fit. But more importantly they are seeing if the house is a fit.
For more information on how to screen a tenant check out this post.
Back to how to find tenants to rent your house. In the last few years Facebook has crushed Craigslist. So I’ve just followed the same model on Facebook instead of on Craigslist. I’ve tried Zillow some, but seem to get less interested leads on Zillow.
What about friends and family? I gladly accept referrals from friends and family. They tend to not work out though for me. I also wouldn’t rent to a friend or family member, except maybe my aging in-laws.
But, over the last 10 years, most of my tenants have come from referrals from prior tenants. It turns out if you try to be a good landlord prior tenants tell their friends. I only had 7 houses, yet around once a month I get a referral asking if I have an upcoming vacancy. The network and loyalty builds, and that’s where you find your best tenants.