I have been in the residential property management industry for over 13 years. In that time, I have leased hundreds of properties and I’ve seen thousands of not so great, unprepared, unqualified prospective applicants, and only a handful of prepared, qualified and competent ones. The aim of this post will be to help you get into that small category of the prepared, qualified and competent applicant.
First things first. You need to ask yourself these questions: How much money do I make? Do I even know? What is my budget? How much money is in my bank account? You should know the answers to these questions inside and out before you even set foot a prospective home. You need to know how much you can afford to pay in rent every month. Your rent should be the first bill that you pay - you need to have a roof over your head!
Most landlords will expect your gross monthly income to be at least two and a half to three times the monthly rent. Take some time before you start sending out inquiries to properties, to find out if the amount of rent is something you can afford. If the rent is $2000 a month, you need to be grossing a minimum of $5000 a month to be considered, and that's on the low side. Ideally, you would need to be closer to $6000 a month. After you consider your rent costs, you then need to consider your other monthly bills (i.e., car payments, medical bills, phone bills, gas groceries, utilities, etc.) Once you have carefully considered these factors, then you can begin your search for your next home!
What does your credit look like? This is the question that strikes fear into the hearts of most prospective tenants. You need to know the answer before you start your search. What is your FICO score? Do you have any late payments? Is anything in collections? Are there any negative marks on your report?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, you are NOT ready to start looking for a house to rent/lease!
Do yourself and the landlord a huge favor and know your credit score and history inside and out before you even apply. You want to know what the outcome of that credit report is going to be before the landlord spends your money. Most landlords are going to want you to have a strong credit report.
The credit report gives the landlord a very good idea as to how responsible you are with your money. He will assess your report and use that assessment to determine whether or not you are going to be responsible enough to pay the rent on time every month. The higher the FICO score and the less late payments the better. We usually like to see a FICO score at a minimum of 650, but obviously the higher the better.
You can download the Credit Karma app on your smart phone and very quickly get a good idea of what your credit looks like and whether or not you are going to be in a good position to compete with other strong applicants for your next dream home. If your FICO score is below 650 and you have multiple negative marks on your credit history, it would likely be wise to get your credit straightened out before wasting money sending out multiple applications only to be denied.
Gathering your documents:
You should have ALL of the following documents ready to go before you start looking at houses, in either paper or digital form (If in digital form, PLEASE take the time to properly scan them into a PDF document. Taking pictures of your banks statements and pay stubs is NOT the same and not good enough and can result in your application being denied).
- Most recent w2, 1099 or summary tax return page
- 3 of your most recent pay stubs from your current employer
- 2 months of your most recent bank statements
- Statements showing any other sources of income (disability, child support, military aid, stock dividends, savings etc.)
- A brief introductory letter of who you are, what you do for work, your family, your values etc.
- A valid form of government identification
These documents should be provided for each person who is 18 years of age or older and who is helping to qualify for the home and helping to pay rent. You should not only bring copies to give to the showing agent, but also be prepared to send them digitally with your application.
Your physical appearance:
Would you walk into an important job interview wearing sweatpants with messed up hair looking like you just rolled out of bed from a late-night drinking wine, watching reruns of Bachelor in Paradise? Of course not. So why would you show up to a viewing looking like that? The home you live in will be just as important and can have just as much effect on your life as that next big job interview. Show up looking as sharp as you can. Be clean, neat, and well put together. Take the time to look in the mirror before you leave the house. Brush your hair and your teeth.
These things may not seem important, but trust me, they can play a role in the mind of the landlord, and in today's competitive market, you want every edge you can get. While a landlord cannot base his decision as to whether or not to rent to you based off of your physical appearance and manner of dress, it can definitely play a role in his/her subconscious mind while he is mulling through applications and recalling the in-person visits and who stood out.
Pushiness vs. Confidence:
How you speak and the questions you ask while viewing the home can be just as important as your physical appearance. You should always maintain a level of respect and decorum for the home and the agent while you're viewing the property. Be calm, assertive and competent. You should know the basic information about the home before you go to view it. Have your viewings lined up with a brief printout of information about each property and familiarize yourself with it before you go in. This will allow you to ask competent questions to the showing agent, allow you to maximize your time, and you will get more out the viewing than you would have otherwise.
Some prospective tenants feel the need to be overly aggressive regarding their desire to rent the home. I have had prospective tenants tell me that I should stop showing the home, because they are going to rent it or that they will give me the deposit right then and there. Some even go as far as to tell other prospective tenants at the showing that they should not apply, because they themselves are going to get the property. These types of efforts to show confidence do not come off as confidence, but rather pushiness. This does not help you secure the property. In fact, it has the opposite of the intended affect. The vast majority of the time it gives the impression of being desperate and insecure. No landlord is looking for a desperate tenant.
Above all, be honest...:
As you're going through the process of looking at homes, talking to agents, filling out applications; always always tell the truth. Some applicants may feel the need to over exaggerate their strengths or under exaggerate their weaknesses, while others still feel the need to hide or lie about certain aspects of their finances, credit, or living situations. These sorts of things always come to light during the applications process and will result in automatic disqualification. If you are honest and upfront during the process, even with any perceived flaws in your application, you will stand a much better chance of being selected for the home. Many times, flaws or negative marks on your application can be worked through with some good communication, a thorough explanation and perhaps some extra deposit money.
If you follow this advice, you will be able to compete better in today's fierce rental market and be on your way qualifying for that step up in the housing market you've been hoping for!