HOW TO REDUCE TIMEWASTEr NEW LETTING ENQUIRIES – PART Two OF TWO: THE Follow Up

In the first part of this piece about how we reduce the large number of time waster enquiries we get, I looked at how we put certain information in the advert text. This is specific information which relates to the property and our referencing processes.

We do this to cut the number of enquiries down from people for whom the property would not be suitable or who will not be able to pass our tenant suitability and affordability checks.

The link to part one is here: How to Reduce Timewaster New letting Enquiries – Part One of Two: the Advert – Letting Focus

How to Reduce Timewaster Letting Enquiries – Part Two

Here, in this second and final piece of this article, I look at the follow up of enquiries part of the process, as far as it works with OpenRent, which is the online service we use. (Other online agents are available of course for those of you who like me, like to oversee the Tenant Find process).

So, if you got the rental price pitched right, the enquiries should start rolling in.

Now, your advert will have stopped a lot of the unsuitable tenants contacting you in the first place, but there will still be quite a lot of unsuitable ones who contact you, so a further sifting is required.

For our properties in London, we would expect to get 20 to 25 enquiries on the first day the advert appears and then, ten to fifteen on each of the next days the property is advertised for, for as long as it is advertised. Of course, in areas of lower demand, you will not get so many enquiries – and you will definitely not get too many if you have over-priced the rent either!

But let’s explain what we do.

For OpenRent, we receive the tenant enquiries on their system. Applicants can, if they choose, provide more information about themselves in their response along with their email address and phone number. Most do provide some more information. Some also post a voice message too. This is all useful information, and anything provided here should be noted down.

At this point, one could contact the tenants by phone or email if one wishes. However, the volumes of enquiries we get are usually so great, and we are so busy, that we don’t do this.

What we do is send a response on the OpenRent system which basically repeats the key information from the advert – i.e., key information about the property and what we expect in terms of income/ references from the tenants along with our telephone number for them to call during office hours. We send this to about 25% of the people that come through the system. This will include our phone number.

The other 75% of enquiries will not be suitable. They will have not read the advert properly and their response on the system will reveal that the property is not suitable for them. The failures, in order of “reasons for fail” are as follows:

  1. Income is not sufficient (combined income is less than 2.35 x the rent) and allied with this, they may also want us to accept a guarantor (we generally do not need to accept guarantors on our properties). We can accept lower multiples, but only if the person can show us a chunk of money in savings – this can sometimes be the case for some elderly folk and even some “Trustifarians” on benefits, who may have come into an inheritance.
  2. They would need to move into the property weeks before it is available.
  3. They cannot start a tenancy until weeks after it is available. We don’t do voids in our business! Neither should you.
  4. The number of people who would be living at the property is not acceptable to us. There is a maximum number of adults and/ or older children we accept, which varies depending on the property. (Sometimes, one is restricted to only accepting “families” by local HMO rules, if the property is not licensed).
  5. They have a cat or dog (we prefer not to accept pets).
  6. They wanted it fully furnished and we only provide “white goods”.

We send these 75% a brief message on the system thanking them for their interest and the reason for why we have declined them. (We do not say “Read the Flipping Advert Next Time”, tempting though that may be! People have busy lives, and we appreciate that they don’t all have time to read the text in our advert).

Letting Enquiries – The Phone Interview

We then wait for their call.

When they call, we then “interview” them on the phone by asking them a series of questions. Here is what we say to them and ask them:

Thanks for calling and for your interest, I just need to ask a few questions to establish the property is suitable for you. It takes about 5 minutes, is that OK?

First, you may have enquired about a lot of properties, so I need to just check we are talking about the same property. We are here talking about (GIVE ADDRESS OF PROPERTY).

OK, it is furnished with washing machine, cooker and fridge freezer. No other furnishings are provided.

It is available from (GIVE DATE).

I then, ask, Is that OK so far?

OK, good, some questions for you?

Who will be living at the property please? (We establish how many adults and how many kids and their ages)

How old are you?  (We prefer people who are 23 or over)

What do you do for a living? (For each tenant)

What is your total annual income? (For us, this must be at least 2.35 times rent. We may, in the future, make this a higher multiple due to rising energy costs)

Do you have pets?

Do you have any adverse credit history or are you in an IVA? (Anything here is a “fail” for us, currently).

Then I make this statement: “OK, just so you know, we do require to verify your income, solvency and past credit history. We do by this by asking to see your last 3 months bank statements (or up to 6 months for self-employed people and requesting your authority to run a credit check on you. Is that, OK?

Then, I move onto the final set of questions.

Where are you living now?

If renting, are you renting from a landlord or letting agent?

What rent are you paying now?

What is the agent/ landlord like? Any good? Awful? (If they say they are great, we expect to get a reference. If not, we make a note of that (and why) and may expect not to get one!)

(If renting), How much notice do you need to give?

Have your given notice to leave your current property yet?

When does that expire, please?

Why are you leaving?

Sometimes the conversation may flow and the answers sort of come up in the chat, but in the wrong order. That is OK, but it is important to check you get all the answers and not get too side-tracked.

Whilst you are having this conversation, it is important that YOU control things. To see how to do this, listen to any radio talk show host or game quiz host on the TV – watch and learn how they do it. People like Chris Tarrant are brilliant at this. Think “friendly, business-like and assertive” and you will be OK.

As you do the phone interview, you need to make notes, (which will be useful if they go to viewing stage), so get used to writing fast. You will still be weeding out a lot of people in this interview who are not suitable, it is tough, but you whilst you must be polite and make clear the reasons why, you cannot be too sentimental here. You are in business and not a charity. Again, avoid the temptation to say, “Read the flipping advert next time so as not to waste my time and yours!”

But hopefully, you have got some good applicants who are worth inviting to a viewing. To find out how we select based on the answers given here, you will need to get one or both of my landlord books.

Assuming you have, then confirm the viewing date and time by an email – and if it is on another day, request they reconfirm ON THE DAY of the viewing. People tend to forget things the next day.

You then do the viewings and if they are interested, they should be given all the information they need to collect to send to you so you can process their application.

They should be told that under no circumstances can the property be “held” for them, pending receipt of the documentation you need to see – references, income proofs etc.

In a typical campaign for each property we let in SE London, we may get 70 enquiries, we will weed out 40 of these at first stage, we will weed out another 25 at second (phone interview) stage and we will do five viewings. Of these five, normally three or four will want the property, so three or four are destined to be disappointed, either because referencing and income checks still turn up something ugly or they just get beaten to it by another applicant.

These metrics may be very different in different areas, of course.

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