4 steps to finding good tenants

Last updated: 6 October 2017

No two ways about it: finding potential tenants – and making sure they're the right tenants – is a pain. While it's something you can get down to a pretty fine art with practice, it's still a time-consuming business – but given that the alternative is an empty property that's not making you any money, it's something every landlord should spend some time getting right.

If you don't have the time to (or don't want to) go through this process yourself, you can always use a letting agent – either to provide a “let only” service, or to manage every aspect of the tenancy.

In this article we'll have a quick run-through of the steps involved:

Although it might not feel like it, this really is just a quick run-through of the key points. There's a lot more detail in my book, How To Be A Landlord.

Deciding where to advertise

Where would you start if you were looking for a property to rent? Chances are you immediately thought “Rightmove” or “Zoopla” – and as it turns out, it's the same for almost everyone else.

As a private landlord, you can’t directly add your property to the main portals yourself, but there are a large number of “online agents” who’ll do it on your behalf. You give them all the info, they place the advert, then pass enquiries on to you.

There are lots to choose from, but I like OpenRent.

Depending on the location and the type of tenant you want to attract, you might also consider trying:

Writing the advert

What you ideally want is to generate a huge amount of interest, so you can then get picky and whittle the applicants down to your dream tenant. The one thing that will make or break your ability to do that? The advert.

Before putting your advert together, spend some time in the shoes of a tenant (not literally) and browse your chosen channel – Rightmove, Facebook groups, the local paper etc. – as if you were looking for a place to rent that's similar to yours. You'll notice that some listings jump straight out at you, others blend into the background, and yet others frustrate you because you can't find the information you need.

Bring those insights to putting together your own advert. For a typical online advert, it should include:

Again, I go into all of this in a LOT more detail in How To Be A Landlord.

The other information is necessary, but the description is the part on which your advert will live or die. A common failure of adverts is not to give enough information for a potential tenant to make up her mind – and rather than phone up to ask questions, she's far more likely to just move on and book viewings at properties that she knows are suitable.

The description should include:

A floor plan can be a handy extra, to help people better imagine what the property is like and put the photos into context.

Speaking of which…good photos make all the difference in the world. Don't just take a few snaps on your phone and hope for the best: if you don't have a good camera or you lack the skills, £100 on a professional photographer is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.

No interest?

If you have to keep calling your own phone to make sure it's actually working, one of two things has gone wrong:

If you're convinced that the rent is competitive, look at your advert in context: make the same search that potential tenants will be doing, and look at yours alongside all the other listings. Get a friend to do the same, and come up with ideas of what you can tweak to better compete.

Conducting viewings

Once the phone is ringing, it's time to book in some viewings: but before you commit to spending your time showing someone around, qualify them on the phone to make sure they sound suitable for the property (and vice versa).

Ask:

If the conversation goes well, book something in. Chances are it will need to be in the next few days, because people tend to look intensively for a property for a short period of time then stop as soon as they've found something. Do, though, try to batch viewings together where you can – some percentage of viewers just won't show up, so it's a waste of your time travelling there for just one viewing that no-shows.

At the viewing itself, get there a bit early to make sure the place looks presentable, turn on the lights and heating if appropriate, and generally prepare yourself. Once they arrive, don't rush them around: point out the main features, then gracefully withdraw and let them look more closely without you breathing down their necks.

If they seem to be asking lots of questions and sticking around, that's a good sign. Don't be afraid to ask questions of your own: in the guise of casual conversation, you can find out where they work, where they're living now, if anyone else will be living with them, and so on.

Whether they say they want it there and then, or call you the next day, the next step is to take a holding deposit and put some important details in writing to avoid confusion:

How do you vet tenants?

Once your potential tenant wants to move ahead and has paid the holding deposit, the first step is to establish that they are actually who they say they are. You'll also need to establish that they have the right to be living in the UK, thanks to a government scheme called Right To Rent.

You can do this by asking to see the original copy of their passport, along with any other relevant residency documents like a work visa. You should see this for every tenant (not just the lead tenant), and take a copy. If you're unsure about what the documents show, you can use the government's online checking service.

Once you've established that they're allowed to be in the UK, you can answer the next question: are they the kind of person you want to allow to live in your property?

Some landlords make all referencing checks themselves, but I think it makes sense to use a professional referencing service. (Google “tenant referencing” and you'll find lots of options.)

For around £20 and within a day or two, the company will obtain:

That's a lot of work off your hands for a small amount of money. Of course, you can still supplement this with your own checks if you want to: you might want to speak to the previous landlord yourself, for example, or want to see their last couple of months' bank statements to satisfy yourself that they manage their finances well.

However long it took you to find someone or how inconvenient you found the process of conducting viewings, you should absolutely not scrimp on referencing or ignore anything suspicious that emerges during the process. Ultimately, it will be a lot more expensive and painful if you let the wrong tenant move in.

Conclusion

If you have the right property at the right price, the thought of finding tenants shouldn't intimidate you. Although there's a lot of work to be done in terms of viewings and referencing, the process of actually getting the phone ringing with potential tenants isn't difficult – and once you've got an advert written once, you can re-use it every subsequent time the property becomes empty.

Again, you can read a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know about letting and managing a property in my book, How To Be A Landlord.