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Know When To Hold 'Em

I'm not naturally a poker face, but I have certainly developed that art since becoming a full-time property manager. It comes in very useful when interviewing prospective tenants. The things that slip out of people’s mouths can determine if they are worth keeping, or you should walk away.

For instance, I have learnt to say "really?" in a "tell me more about that" kind of way, when what I’m thinking is "Oh my goodness!" When someone says "We've been trying to get a flat for a long time, but keep missing out". Why? What did the other landlords discover that I do not yet know? Quick! Formulate gentle enquiry! Sound empathetic! Convey interest, not panic, in body language! It works; the prospective tenant lays their cards on the table and tells me all about it. While showing a property in Naenae, the prospective tenant comes out with this statement, and follows it with "I was looking for something really nice, but now I'll take anything". Gee, thanks honey. I wonder if they'll be rough on the property because they figure it won't matter if they damage it. Hmm. Next please! But on the plus side, it’s clear indication the owner needs to replace that old carpet. I'll get him some quotes....

Another prospective tenant, after grilling me about various apartment options, enquires about the bond and rent. I explain it is 4 weeks bond, and go into rent-in-advance at length. He asks if he can pay weekly, until his next monthly pay. Sure, we can change the rent pay period, as long as he is in advance. "So," he clarifies, "I can pay one week when I move in, and when my monthly pay-day comes, I can pay the bond?". Heck no. "No bond, no keys" I tell him, resisting rolling my eyes. "But I have had a lot of expenses lately! I can pay next pay-day" he insists. "Yeah, right", I think, but what I say is "then you cannot afford to move right now. Come back to us when you can".

I was once shy about discussing a person’s financial position. Now it is so second nature that I often shock people. I have learned to add "if you don't mind me asking" to lessen the blow. What's to be ashamed of? You either manage your money well, or you pawn your jewellery. Here's a hint, the former are more reliable payers of rent, but are harder to find. I was delighted to sign up a tenant (an auditor at a big accountancy firm, no less) who said "I don't mind which fortnight I pay rent, I don't live from pay to pay". Jackpot! I could have hugged her.

"Do you do credit checks?" should always be answered with "Yes, why? Will yours come up with something?" even if you generally don’t bother. It is a safe bet the enquirer will have reason to be asking, and you don’t want to be another creditor on that list. Be wary if they fill out the application in their partners name to get around credit checks – signal you will be checking the history of all adults living in the property to force their hand. Next player!

Some other things tenants say include "But I am a good tenant, I shouldn't have to pay a bond." OK, and Santa Claus delivers all those presents in just one night. I'll ask him if they are on the naughty or nice list. The same tenant said "But I don't move in for two weeks, I shouldn't have to pay a bond or anything until then". My response was along the lines of "That’s fine. If you want to sit this one out, I’ll deal with someone else". She paid promptly. It’s a good idea to make all your contracts conditional upon receiving the bond and first rent within a specified, but short, time-frame. If they don't pay within that time, you can legally let the property to someone else. Not everyone’s word is their bond, that’s why we get money.

Ideally, the tenant brings the bond and rent money when signing the agreement – we certainly ask they do. However, some tenants say "Oh, didn’t I mention? I was going to get the bond transferred from my current place". You know, I am rarely happy about this. At least have them raise something towards the new bond now, and they can have that refunded back to them when their old bond is processed. Then you will be at least partially covered should something go wrong with their last landlord.

I have tested my poker face after writing up the lease and thoroughly elucidating the clauses, I get to the point where the tenant needs to pay their money, and the tenant says "what money?". I explain (again) they need to pay a bond now: if they can't, then no deal. I won't sign the contract and they can't have the property. I have shown people the door with great effect – they called me within 15 minutes to say they'd just been to the ATM and would be right back. It sounds mean, but I do it firmly but nicely. I really don’t want them to walk away. Would you want to go through the whole tenant selection process again? These could be the best tenants for the property, if a little naive about contracts.

Jokers who say "do you really need to speak to my landlord?" and then hesitate about who to put on the application form can have something to hide. Is it really their landlord they are giving you? Be suspicious also of those old enough to have been away from home for some time, but they claim not to have rented before – perhaps they have genuine reasons, but perhaps those reasons are the same ones not to make them your tenant. Get every other reference you can, and double check them (for work references you can ring the reception – get the number from yellow pages - and ask if both the applicant and the referee work there, and what their position is).

Sometimes people applying own their home – if you are not sure, a few cunning questions can verify that. Try "what are properties in your area worth now?" Or "what are your rates like these days?". If they draw a blank, maybe they don't own their home. If you really need confirmation, you can ask them to verify the information for you (rates notice, S+P agreement), or go secret-sleuthing and make friends with someone with land title information. You'd be surprised how many people are looking to rent really do have their own home(s). Change of workplace, or of marital status, are just two reasons to find home-owners back in the game and looking at your rental."

People who own property can make the best tenants. They have already figured out how to not break most appliances, and how to sort out minor problems. They are more likely to fix whatever they have done without grumbling. While signing up a property-owning gentleman to an apartment, I handed him the A4 list of common issues tenants encounter and how to avoid them (I titled it 'Murphy's Law'). He glanced at it. "Do you really need to tell people the vacuum cleaner bag needs emptying?". After checking he wasn't really asking if I could possibly be that pedantic, I replied "Yes, we really do. Everything on that list is something someone has done, or failed to do. I was called one holiday because the vacuum provided wasn't sucking. All it needed was emptying". He shook his head in wonder, "You property managers have to put up with a lot. How do you deal with it?". A sense of humour and venting through writing articles works for me.

Another tenant rang the same day to say her waste disposal was not working. After talking her through the obvious (switches, plugs etc.), I asked her to look inside for any blockage. "There are these bones inside" she says. "Really?" I say, straight faced. This is in my Murphy's Law list - 'it doesn't chop hard items, such as bones'. "Yes", says she, "but they are only soft bones". Well, that's OK then. I had congratulated myself that these common faults dramatically decreased since publishing 'Murphy's Law' and distributing it to every tenant in those apartments, but you can't always win. Common sense just isn't. Value it when you find it, and if you haven't got it, it's best to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Enough said. Who's in for a round?


Our Philosophy

We are honest and act with integrity.  We think it is necessary to love what one does, leave things better than they were found and take time to enjoy the world while we walk it.   We bring quality to others in our dealings and treat people with respect.  
We think it is essential to have fun, so humour is always welcome at Rental Results.

Awards & Associations

We are a member of the Independent Property Managers' Association (IPMA), and Leading Property Managers of New Zealand (LPMNZ).

We are also members of the Wellington Property Investors Association and Jackie Thomas-Teague is the former president.