Jul 22 2012
What to do. Find your audience.
If you haven’t found out already, the larger apartment complexes and management teams will not be very open to renting to you. They spend a fortune on advertising and as such, will have a large number of tenants to choose from. Cry if you want to, but let me save you some cash right now, you can thank me later.
“you’d be wasting your time and money…”
Large companies run things by the numbers, people with low credit scores tend to not pay their rent. Thats just statistics. You can certainly try, but unless you’re very convincing, I think you’d be wasting your time and money on application fees. Your best bet is to find a small mom and pop operation, and talk with them right up front. Most of their references will be from word of mouth, free website postings, and good old signs posted in the front yard. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just sweet talk your way into an ideal little apartment. This is a unique little group, just because they don’t have a system in place and an army of lawyers, don’t think they are a bunch of knuckle heads that are waiting to help you out. These folks are even more paranoid than large apartment complexes. When you’ve got the time, google a search for “professional tenant horror stories.” You need to present yourself as a great tenant that will respect a landlords property. Scratch that, you NEED to BE a great tenant that will respect a landlords property, and you need to prove it.
Step one. Set yourself up to shine.
What is an ideal tenant for a small mom and pop landlord?
One that they don’t know exists. An ideal tenant pays rent on time. Hooks up the utilities before they move into the unit. Lives a clean drug-free life. Each adult has a bachelors degree, a steady middle management job of five years in a field thats stable. If the tenants are a family, it is a family of two nobel prize winning kids. The ideal tenant has no drama, but does have a long list of references that have known them for years and can attest as to how immaculately they left their last residence, and how courteous they were to their fellow neighbors. One that communicates clearly and with as few words as possible.
If you have bad credit, it is your job to prove which of these characteristics you have, as well as possible.
You need to be well organized, and committed. Before meeting with a landlord, get their application ahead of time. Fill it out. Get a letter from your employer stating how long you’ve been employed, what your job is, and how much you earn. If you are new to the area, get a letter from your previous employer stating the same thing. If you are self employed get yourself a copy of your tax returns. Scan or photo copy, all of these documents. If you can email this to your potential landlord ahead of time, you’ll be way ahead of the rest of your competition.
Step 2. The number one thing to do because you have bad credit. Pre-Qualify your landlord.
Yep, lets weed out the bad landlords. Do this by including a brief cover letter. Write in a formal, but not a stuffy tone. Explain briefly exactly what you are looking for. Keep in mind it does not have to be exactly what the landlord is advertising, ideally it shouldn’t be. Now, since you have negative information about yourself, bring it up first. Remember, you are trying to get a very paranoid owner to hand over the keys to their investment. You need to show that you understand and appreciate their concerns. What you are doing is opening a conversation. This letter may be the only time you get the chance to pitch yourself, so make it good. Acknowledge that you had some set backs, this shows respect for yourself and those you deal with. Identify some steps that you’ve taken, maybe sold a car you couldn’t afford, or are downsizing to a more affordable rental unit. Finish by asking for a simple bit of help, as you continue on your path to improving your credit.
Cutting to the chase shows that you value thier time. In fact you may want to write that in there just to emphasize the point. Also by bringing it up first, you eliminate a bad suprise and acknowledge that you are responsible. You may think, this will knock you off of thier list of candidates. It might and that’s fine, at least you won’t waste your money on an application fee. Rest assured anyone that turns you down at this point will have turned you down as soon as the credit report gets back to them. They’re paranoid and if you don’t bring this up, they’ll think you’ve lied to them. True you’ve wasted some time, but you’ve also organized your files, and practiced your pitch.
Step 3. Ready to begin. Your Pitch.
Okay so you’ve found some ads and phone numbers from signs. Give them a call. If it sounds like a company, you can pretty much hang up. If it sounds like a hesitant person, congrats you’ve found a small time landlord (or you got the number wrong. ) This is your route to success.
Remember though, they won’t know you at all, so it wont be an easy sell. On one hand they’ve probably had non-paying tenants and on the other, they certainly will have heard plenty of horror stories. Luckily you’ve got that cover letter, and you know what they are looking for in an ideal tenant.
To start the conversation, keep it simple and non-assuming. You want to build a little rapport. Start by talking about the property. “Is the property still available? Great, do you have a few moments to talk about it? Great. Well first off, if I meet your standards how soon can I move in?” It should go without saying to Be overly polite.
Next, ask for their requirements. Mostly they’ll just say that they want the rent in on time. Write down any additional requirements.
Now remember you are trying to show you are professional and will be a smart, fiscally minded tenant. Ask the estimated monthly utilities. They may not know, so you can ask if it has energy efficient appliances, fans, shading from trees, vaulted ceilings (which are more expensive to heat and cool!!).
Now be honest about being able to meet their rent. If not, don’t lead them on, just say “well I wish I could, but I know I cannot afford that right now.” Maybe they will lower the rent. If it all sounds good, tell them “it all sounds great, and I want you to send me an application so I can get it all filled out ahead of time, but I have to be honest, and I really don’t want to waste your time. I don’t have the most ideal credit. If that’s a deal breaker for you, I totally understand.” They may want an explanation. Tell them. Short and direct. If they object. Thank them for their time and then, ask if they know anyone who would be open to helping you out. End with, “if you change your mind, here’s my phone number, feel free to contact me.” Thanks again. If they are open to having you as a tenant, send them all your info and their application filled out, then contact them again to set up a date to check out the property. Don’t let them set up a date without looking over your paperwork. (You want them sold before you waste your time!)
NEVER DO THIS!!
DO NOT, and let me repeat that, DO NOT pay, or even offer to pay multiple months of rent up front!!! While it sounds like simple idea that would solve a lot of headaches, it opens up too much legal problems for the landlord, and it handcuffs you as a tenant! (Lets face it there are plenty of crummy landlords out there.) Hopefuly you won’t have to resort to this. But it does get results. The best approach, offer a larger security deposit than the landlord is asking. There are certain legal rights you are entitled to with a security deposit. With a bit of proper documentation, and a little bit of forethought you can be assured that you will be fully refunded.
Obtaining a nice rental in a nice area can be done, even if you have bad or no credit. It just takes a little smarts. Best of luck. -Eric Gross