How Much Does a Tenant Screening Cost?

If you are new to the landlord game, you may not be aware of certain services that can make your life as a property manager or landlord much easier and more efficient. Finding a suitable tenant for your property is a huge responsibility, so make sure you have all the tools available at your disposal. Products such as robust accounting programs, online application services, and maintenance request databases should be used to streamline your tasks, but the most important product of all is going to be a tenant screening service.

Aside from the cost of marketing your available properties, the cost of performing tenant screenings for each potential renter will be money well spent. Of course, you can do it yourself by using search engines and pulling simple credit reports, but how much is your time really worth if you are managing a property (or properties) full-time? A better strategy would be to hire a professional company to perform the tenant screenings, especially since the cost of performing multiple ones is minimal. Services such as Landlord Station are a one-stop shop when it comes to screening services so you can pay as much or as little as you are comfortable with depending on what information you are seeking about your potential tenants. The cost can range from $15 to $75, although a $15 background check will be very thin and most likely not FCRA (Fair Credit Report Act) compliant. You want a screening that is robust enough to check credit, criminal/eviction report, and income verification at the very least.

If you are just beginning your journey as a landlord, be aware that part of your job will be prescreening the applicants before you get to the official screening process. Your prescreening should be a combination of sharing the rent rates, asking for certain credit score requirements, telling potential renters of any income requirements, making known your building’s pet policies and deposits, and detailing your smoking policies. You can also let the applicants know that you will be charging an application fee to cover the tenant screening…this will weed out anyone who may be “just looking” and isn’t really serious about renting from you. Just remember that all of your policies need to be in writing and apply to all applicants across the board so that there is no discrimination in your decision making or application process.

On the lower end of pricing for tenant screening ($15-30), you will get a basic credit report. If you want a more robust tenant screening that includes a credit report and everything else you are legally entitled to (ranging from $30-75), you will pay a higher price but will receive all of the following information:

  1. Criminal record check
  2. Bankruptcy report
  3. Foreclosures check
  4. Medical collections
  5. Employment record
  6. Aliases report
  7. Past address history
  8. Eviction records

Companies such as LandlordStation make it fast, easy, and affordable to perform proper tenant screenings on every viable applicant you have. Knowing as much as you can about a potential tenant will help you make the best decision possible, so ultimately the cost of a tenant screening service will be minimal because it lends you peace of mind in your final decision.

How to Give The Best Possible Tour of a Property

You can put great pictures and floorplans on your website all you’d like — nothing matters quite as much as that initial impression that a prospective tenant gets when they take a tour.

That’s what helps them stop thinking of a place as a nice-looking property and more as a potential home.

 

It’s always a good idea to perform repairs on a property to get it up to snuff for prospective tenants.

But by the time that you’re booking tours for a property, you’re no longer thinking about painting walls or oiling door hinges — it’s time to present the existing property in the best possible light.

How can you pull that off successfully?

 

Ask Your Current Tenants to Help

In a perfect world, every property you show would be vacant.

You would have plenty of time to spruce up the place, and when prospective tenants walk in, they would see the residential equivalent of a blank slate, ready for them to daydream about where their furniture goes.

But most of your properties are probably already occupied.

This is a good thing — it means you’re making money — but it makes tours harder.

It’s difficult to do important work, like extensive repainting or cleaning, when a property is occupied, so it might not be in its best condition.

If your current tenants are messy, have unfriendly pets, or if there’s a notable odor, the prospective tenant may walk away with a bad first impression.

Unfortunately, you can’t force a tenant to sequester any pets or straighten up the place.

In many jurisdictions, landlords are expected to give tenants notice (typically 24 hours) before they or their agents head into the property for any reason.

Take advantage of this, and be sure to give your tenants enough notice of a showing.

Most tenants don’t want their landlords to think they’re slobs, so they’ll usually clean up in advance, corral pets, or vacate the premises long enough for you to conduct your showing in peace.

 

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Be sure that the person conducting the tour is friendly and prepared.

They should be on time for the showing and dress nicely (business casual is usually wise, but it can depend on the price point of the property), and be ready with accurate information about the property and its neighborhood.

Don’t be afraid to give them notes for reference, and be sure they have rental applications with them when they’re conducting the tour.

The person conducting the tour shouldn’t be afraid to make the property look its best.

This may mean turning on lights, opening windows or showing off features such as garbage disposals, ceiling fans, or dishwashers.

Most importantly, if they find anything amiss during the tour, don’t apologize for it or draw too much attention to it. Instead, say, “We’ll fix that before move-in.”

Make a note of it during the tour and follow through. Prospective tenants will be able to tell if you’re lying about something like that.

 

Finally

Make sure you follow up with your prospective tenants a few days after a tour.

Remember that following-up is a balancing act: you don’t want to seem too needy or like you’re hounding them, but you do want to be friendly, and make it clear that you’re available to answer any questions or concerns about the property.

Giving a tour of a property, especially one that’s already occupied, can be difficult, but with these tips, it should be a breeze.?

Pros and Cons of Month to Month Lease

Although the security of a 12 month or longer lease can be a good thing when you’ve got a quality renter occupying a property, it can be a nightmare when you’ve got a problem tenant. Having a problem tenant on a month-to-month rental plan makes like a lot easier because it means less legal maneuvering to get them out of your property. There are some other benefits to this type of lease, but there are some disadvantages as well. Let’s take a look.

The Pros of Having a Month to Month Rental

You can make changes to a lease easily with this type of rental agreement. Many communities require just 30 days notice to a tenant for you to change the rules on your property. That means you can revoke a rule about pets if you wish, implement a non-smoking policy, or create other reasonable stipulations that work with local laws to better protect your property.

This also includes being able to change the amount you charge for rent with proper notice as well. As long as there are no restrictions in your community regarding rental amounts, you can set a new rent when you need to do so instead of having to wait for the end of a guaranteed lease. Just don’t price yourself out of the market.

The final benefit of this type of rental situation is that it gives you flexibility to reclaim the property if you wish. If you decide to transition from a rental to making that property a permanent address, then you won’t have to wait long to do so. For renters who are transitory as well because of work, these agreements will help them secure a good place to live as well, giving you extra income opportunities.

The Cons of Having a Month to Month Rental

The benefits that you receive are similar to the benefits your tenants receive. Just as you can change the rules of the lease with proper notice, they can vacate your property with a proper notice of the same amount of time. If you don’t work on building a relationship with your tenants, then you’ll likely find a vacant property in your portfolio.

There is no termination charge for breaking the lease either. If your tenants decide to just move out, then they won’t owe you for any additional months of rent and may not even owe you anything for the cost of finding new tenants.

The return on your investment may also be lower with these short-term leases. If you’re having to pull multiple credit reports, background checks, and other pre-screening tasks, you’re losing money. Even if you have tenants pay for the application, it still takes time to run these reports and as a landlord, your time is definitely worth money.

A month-to-month lease may work well in certain situations, especially when rental pricing is rising in a local market. When demand is high and options are short is the best time to utilize this option. You can then transition to a 12 month or longer lease if occupation rates begin to decline.

How to Protect Your Property in an Eviction

Eviction is never a prospect you want to face, but it’s sometimes a necessary evil.

One of the scariest parts of removing tenants from the property, especially if you think they’re going to fight it, is the fact that they are living in your property.

There’s no telling what kind of damage they can do from the time you tell them they need to be out to the time the sheriff comes to actually remove them from the property.

There are a few steps you can take to protect your property in the event of an eviction.

 

Insurance

You should already have landlord insurance on the property, but if you don’t, get it in place before you send notice to the tenants about an impending eviction.

This insurance is different from landlord liability insurance as it protects the property against damage.

Some policies also provide a loss-of-use payout for the time period the unit is unusable if the tenants damage it.

This helps to protect you against cash-flow issues that occur when malicious tenants decide they aren’t going to take an eviction quietly.

Bankrate.com recommends you don’t rely on your homeowners insurance for this situation, as the insurance company may choose not to cover commercial use of the property, and they won’t provide loss-of-use coverage.

 

Work Out Arrangements With the Tenants

Eviction proceedings aren’t particularly expensive in the grand scheme of legal processes, but it is money that you might not want to spend, especially if you’re dealing with tenants refusing to pay rent.

Talk to the tenants to see if this is a temporary setback that’s stopping them from paying rent, or if it’s a bigger problem.

If they are unable to meet their financial obligations, consider working out a deal where you pay them some of the money you would use on the eviction filing and the applicable amount of their security deposit to facilitate their leaving the premises without a fuss.

This is a tactic often used by banks that are trying to get families to leave homes that are in foreclosure, and it provides an incentive for the tenants to leave the property intact and undamaged.

 

Get All Your Ducks in a Row Before Filing

Retain a lawyer or understand your local eviction laws inside and out before you start the process.

You don’t want to have a misstep at any point in the process because the eviction process is fast and streamlined unless you don’t follow procedure.

If the tenants know this, it’s easy enough to get the case dismissed, and you have to spend the time refiling.

You don’t want to give them a significant amount of time to retaliate against the property, so doing it right the first time is essential.

 

If you have documented proof that the tenants are planning on damaging the property due to the eviction, or they are a danger to the property or others, explain your concerns to the court.

You may be able to accelerate the eviction process in order to minimize potential damage to your home.

5 Hidden Costs To High Rental Turnover Rates

Every landlord wants to avoid high rental turnover rates, and it’s easy to understand why.

After all, there’s quite often a period of time when a unit remains unoccupied.

When this is happening frequently, a landlord can lose out on substantial amounts of rent money.

Unfortunately, lost rent payments aren’t the only costs related to having high turnover in rental properties.

1. Marketing the Property
Some people live in markets where advertising a rental property is as simple as posting an ad on Craigslist.

For most, though, this simply isn’t the case. In order to get a home rented out quickly, it’s often necessary to place classified ads, hold an open house, and post vacancy signs.

These costs are all the more substantive because there is no rental income to offset the cost during this period.

2. Rental Application Costs
It’d be amazing if all potential tenants were stellar candidates and could be fully trusted to divulge all requested information.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works.

There are costs related to every potential renter, such as doing criminal and credit background checks and verifying income and employment information.

3. Repair and Cleanup
Regardless of how great a tenant has been, it’s still very likely that there’s going to be some costs shouldered by a landlord to prepare a property for its next inhabitant.

Sometimes costs can be as basic as the charges for getting the carpet cleaned.

Other times, hundreds or even thousands of dollars in repair work might be necessary.

Even the smallest repair costs can start to build up if the repairs are keeping the property from being rented.

4. Processing Tenants
Many landlords neglect to account for the attention and energy that goes into taking care of a rental turnover.

It detracts from your bottom line when you have to take the time to do things such as paperwork to process departing tenants and to bring on new ones.

Using property management software can help reduce the hassle involved in this process, but it’s important to still seek out the underlying issue leading to high turnover rates.

5. Showing the Property
There are few potential tenants out there desperate enough to rent a property sight-unseen.

This means that extra hours will need to be spent by the landlord to show their property, and if they don’t have time to do this on their own, they’ll actually have to pay someone to do so.

Add this to the necessary time spent setting up appointments and dealing with emails and phone calls, and this can turn into a huge hidden cost.

Reducing Tenant Turnover Rates
Fortunately, there are things that can greatly reduce the likelihood of high turnover rates.

Pay Attention to Previous Rental History
Some people simply can’t stay in one place.

If a person’s rental history shows them moving once a year, even if they fully abide by their lease agreements, it may be smart to move on to the next candidate.

Make Life Easy For Tenants
The best way to keep good renters around for the long haul is to ensure that they’re happy, because an unhappy tenant is far more likely to leave at the first opportunity.

Make sure to respond to tenants’ requests in a timely manner.

Offer conveniences like the ability for tenants to pay their rent online.

Reconsider Rent Increases
Pay attention to the market in an area. It’s not necessary to always raise rents, and if rent increases are causing the loss of tenants, they are hardly an economical decision.

By engaging in these tasks to reduce turnover rates, a landlord can keep good tenants in their properties.

After Eviction: What to do with Tenants Possessions

No one wants to evict their tenants but if it comes down to no other option it may be something you have to consider. Sometimes when tenants are evicted what’s left behind is a huge mess that you will have to have cleaned out. In many states there is a legally specified time period that you have to keep the tenants goods. The tenant will have a right to return and reclaim their goods. A lot of landlords opt for a storage facility to keep the tenants goods so that they can get the space cleaned out and back on the market.

Check the Laws

Check the laws in your state to see how long the tenant has the right to the items that were left behind during the eviction you do not want to make the mistake of not giving the tenant access to their items. Once you know how long you have to hold on to the stuff than you can make decisions about where you want to keep the stuff. If keeping the goods in the space that was rented is too much of a burden than renting a storage space locally is a good option. You do have rights as a landlord be sure to understand them before you make a judgment call about tenant’s property.

 

After the Point of Redemption

Once the time frame has lapsed where the tenant can reclaim their goods than you can do what you like with them. You can sell them to try to recoup some of the money you lost on the rental or you can trash them it is entirely up to you. A lot of landlords sell what they can because getting at least part of the money that is owed to you is better than nothing at all. You can sell them through a local ad or through an online ad. It is best not to put the items out in front of the rental space because it may insight your former tenant and have issues. If you are to the point where you just want to be rid of the stuff you can also donate it to a local shelter or charity. In many cases the shelter or charity will even come and pick it up. Bag it all up and leave it where it is accessible.

How to Avoid Getting Tenant Phone Calls at Midnight

Investing in real estate is one of the best ways to get ahead financially.

Investing your money in property is not only less risky than playing the stock market, but it also comes with a regular income in the form of rent payments.

The downside to becoming a real estate investor is the fact it also makes you a landlord, which means you have to find and screen tenants, collect rent, maintain the property, and put out fires.

The biggest problem as a landlord is the need to be available 24/7 for your tenants, so how can you avoid getting called at midnight?

Keep Your Property Maintained

Most midnight phone calls are related to maintenance emergencies. It’s not likely that your tenant will call you in the middle of the night in order to discuss his rental contract in detail. If he does, you really need to talk to him about that.

It’s more likely that he will call you because the heater stopped working or the toilet is flooding.

Fortunately, most maintenance emergencies can be prevented by keeping your property maintained.

For example, you should have the heater serviced in the fall before it gets cold, and in the springtime, you need to give the air conditioning the once-over.

In order to prevent clogged toilets, remind your tenants not to let the kids throw toys in the drain.

Empower Tenants to Make Decisions

Some landlords are not particularly handy and some are just not willing to personally do the repairs, probably because it’s hard to find the time for it.

If you call a plumber for your tenant when there’s a maintenance emergency at midnight, you could save yourself the phone call by giving your plumber’s number to the tenant

In order to make this work, you’d have to specify in writing when your tenant is authorized to call the plumber on your behalf.

You can limit it to true emergencies that occur after 9 p.m. (or whatever your bedtime is).

You could also limit the dollar amount of repairs your tenants can authorize.

Don’t make it sound too complicated, or your tenant will just end up calling you anyway just to be safe.

Before you set this up with your tenant, you should discuss rates and pricing with your plumber and make him aware of the arrangement.

Hire a Property Manager

There are many reasons to hire a property manager, but avoiding midnight phone calls is probably the biggest one.

Property managers can help you with a variety of tenant problems, from finding and screening them to collecting rent and evicting them.

The downside to a property manager is the expense.

If your property is not generating enough extra cash to pay for a manager, then you might not be able to afford it.

Fortunately, midnight phone calls don’t happen daily.

Of course, the more tenants you have, the more likely it is that one of them will get in touch with you after you have gone to bed, but as the number of tenants increase, so should your cash-flow.

This can help you reevaluate your ability to hire a property manager.

 

How to Verify Employment History

There are several reasons you may need to check someone’s employment history. As a landlord or property manager, you may wish to check this information to make sure that the person is being honest with you about their income and length of employment.  Sometimes that information can be incredibly difficult to verify. Businesses might go under, contract services can be forgotten about, or the employment history might just be an outright lie. Here is how to verify an employment history quickly and accurately so you can move onto the next candidate.

Verify the Existence of the Business Itself

If there isn’t a contact number for a company on the application or the number listed is no longer in service, you can still verify the existence of that business in a few different ways.

1. Look up the business and phone number combination online.

2. Request a check of issued business licenses with that information combination through your Department of Revenue, Labor and Industries, or similar agency.

3. Search through social media sites for hashtags, pages, or accounts related to the business name. If the business is a sole proprietorship that was run by the applicant, then look for verification of a customer base. Ask to speak with past clients, talk with that person’s agent or representative, or look for a history of services being provided online. A great place to look for a person’s employment history and contacts is LinkedIn.

 

Get Permission to Ask for More

If you have found that the businesses on an employment history do exist, then you’re only going to get employment dates and confirmation of their work when you place a call. The exception to this is if the applicant has signed a waiver to discuss the actual details of their work. If you need this information and the waiver wasn’t signed upon separation, then you’ll need to request that the applicant speak with their former employer and sign over a waiver.

Contract Services Are the Most Difficult to Verify

Imagine receiving an application where the potential new hire worked for a contract agency as an independent contractor. How can you verify that this employment was real as a 2nd level subcontractor? The first stage is to verify the first level of the contract. Did the main organization actually contract out those services to another business? If not, then you’ve confirmed the information isn’t true. If the services were contracted out, then see if you can discover the business name who received the contract. This is often a matter of public record, so just asking will generally get you the answer. Just because a business gives you a different name doesn’t invalidate the work history. The business could have changed names or recently won the contract. Now contact the business who won the contract and ask if they hired independent contractors within the time period listed. If they just started the contract and the other business has shut their doors, you can either keep searching for more data or assume the information provided is true.

 

Conduct a Social Security Background Check

If you can’t verify enough data about an employment history, then a background check on a Social Security number can help you match data about the applicant to data that is on the application. Although this method may not be 100% reliable thanks to virtual offices and telecommuting today, it is very effective in verifying older employment records. It will also collect any public records that are available, including arrests, judgments, and sometimes even information about an applicant’s neighbors.

Ask for Tax Records

Although an applicant cannot be compelled to provide their tax records, this may be the final step in the verification process. Those tax records will have the details about past employment on them thanks to W-2 forms being issued, self-employment income claimed, and other income details. If an applicant refuses to supply them and you can’t verify their employment history in any other way, then you can legitimately move on to the next candidate for lack of information. Most applicants will provide these records if they have them on hand to secure a job, however, so it never hurts to ask. Up to half of all job applicants today will alter their information in some way to their favor. By verifying the employment history that has been offered, you’ll be able to see the truth through the possible curtain of lies.

How to Get Started as a Landlord

Becoming a landlord can be an exciting and lucrative decision, yet beginning the process can be overwhelming for some. While regular monthly income and being your own boss are perks of the job, there are a few things you should keep in mind when renting a property for the first time. The landlord must take vigilant steps to ensure the property is well taken care of, the renters are comfortable and satisfied with their home, and any laws regarding landlord-renter relations are upheld. When you first start out, all of this may make your head spin, but you’ll soon find being a landlord is a very rewarding job.

Assessing the Property

Whether you already own a property or you are looking for a property to buy and then rent out, several factors play roles in assessing your property’s value like location, size, and interior. A property in a good neighborhood demands more rent for its good location. Moreover, if there are recent renovations such as a new master bathroom or back patio, for example, your property will fetch a higher price. Be fair in your pricing but also make sure you still profit in the end.

Your Property, Your Rules

Once you have decided on the price of your property, you must set forth guidelines about what you are willing to allow. This could range from allowing pets, prohibiting smoking or allowing the renter to make minor changes, like painting a room. The leasing contract should be explicit about anything you do not feel comfortable with inside your property. Making your stipulations known to the tenant beforehand will help you avoid any problems in the future. If the tenant and the landlord both know what they are in for in the beginning, the relationship will be much smoother.

Finding a Tenant and Reviewing a Tenant Application

Vacancies will only cost you money, and getting tenants into your property and keeping them there is key when seeking long-term success as a landlord. First, have a tenant fill out an application form and cross check all the tenant’s information to make sure there are no discrepancies. Next, you will need to verify the information which can easily and quickly be done with online tenant screening. This process varies from state to state, with some states requiring you go back five years. But tenant screening will raise any red flags about the tenant’s past such credit history, renting history and criminal records. Request references from former landlords or employers in the application to paint an even clearer picture of the prospective tenant.

Maintaining the Property

Once a tenant has been found, it is the responsibility of the landlord to quickly fix any problems that may arise. Whether it’s a leaky pipe or a broken appliance, responding quickly to a tenant’s problems will ensure a positive tenant/landlord relationship. Some choose to hire property management companies to take care of small matters like these; however, if you hire a third party, it eat into your monthly profits. Being helpful when needed will go a long way with your tenants so try to be around when you are needed, but otherwise give the renter their space as if it were their own home. Happy renters are likely to re-sign a lease, keeping your monthly profits steady and consistent.

How to Find an Old Tenant’s New Address

Having a valid residential address for a former tenant allows you to contact them via certified letter or serve them with court documents.

Unfortunately, many tenants who owe their landlords money will not provide this information.

However, there are several methods you can use to find their new address, so you can collect the debt.

Requesting the Address From the U.S. Post Office
The simplest way to find an old tenant’s new address is to use the U.S. Post Office.

First, you should send a letter to the tenant’s last known address and write “address service requested” underneath the stamp.

If the tenant has filed a change of address form with the post office within the past 12 months, the post office will notify you of the correct address for a small fee.

They will also forward the letter sent at no cost.

For an additional six months after the first year, the post office will return a letter with the wrong address to the sender and provide the new address at no charge.

Landlords can also file a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain the address from the post office.

In order to make a valid request, you must provide your own address, daytime telephone number, the maximum fee you are willing to pay for the information, and the records you seek.

You don’t have to provide a reason for the request, but explaining why you want the information may allow you to view possibly exempt documents.

Obtaining an Address From Friends or Family
Another easy way to find a tenant’s new address is to call their emergency contact and references from their rental application.

It’s illegal for landlords to lie about their identity, but a polite phone call explaining that you need your former tenant’s new address may yield the information you need.

Consider Checking the Court System
If it’s possible that a tenant is being sued, is getting a divorce, is applying for bankruptcy, has been arrested, or has recently gotten a ticket, you may be able to find valid address through the court system.

Some court systems have public records that can be searched online.

Other court systems may require that you fill out a form and pay a fee for a public records search.

Visit your local court system’s website or call the court office to learn about the procedure in your area.

Calling Your Tenant’s Employer
Landlords are also legally allowed to call former tenants at work to request payment of a debt or the tenant’s new address.

Unless tenants state that calls are forbidden at their place of employment, or specifically asks that they not receive calls from creditors, landlords can call the tenant at work.

Other Possible Methods for Finding an Address
Not all of these tactics are allowed by every state or institution, but these methods are also valid ways to find a tenant’s new address.

  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out if the tenant has filed a change of address with the DMV.
  • Search online public voter registration records to find the new address.
  • View online phone books and white pages to look for a tenant’s new address.
  • Some utility companies and banks will provide creditors with a tenant’s new address.

Do You Need the New Address?
While finding a valid address is preferable, you can still initiate court proceedings or send an account to a collection agency without this information.

In some states, if you intend to sue, you can serve your tenant at his or her place of employment.

Other states allow you to publish a public notice in a local newspaper in lieu of sending a letter to the tenant.

If you obtain a judgment against your tenant, you can then try to garnish wages or a bank account.

At the very least, you can report your tenant’s refusal to pay by reporting the debt to the three major credit reporting agencies.