Trust your Instinct on Lettings – If Something Does Not Look Right, Walk Away

“Always follow your instinct” is a good mantra to live by.

Some years ago, we were letting a property and we thought we had found a good applicant.

As usual, I had requested the applicant provide all the documents we needed to see. And he was fine with that. In fact, he said, why don’t me and my wife come over to where they were living and he would give us all the documents we needed to see that evening.

Some landlords think this a good thing to do – you get to see how people live – and that must be a good thing, they say. If they live in a mess and the house is filthy, you can then avoid them.

Mmm, I have never been too sure about this.

First, I don’t have time to do this.

Second, the people may live some way away – so then it is not even practical, especially in rush hour traffic.

Third, what would you do if their place was filthy, but all the documents were OK, and they could afford it? Would you then reject them for living in a filthy house?

I would not like to do that; it would feel uncomfortable, though I am not averse to checking out the state of someone’s car. A filthy car is, I think, correlated with a filthy house and a lack of care for your property.

But on this occasion, it had been a long day and I fancied a drive out anyway, so I said “yes”.

Now, I had already done the credit checks and this had turned up that the man’s wife had a minor unpaid CCJ, which was odd. A small amount, but it was there.

Still, I kept an open mind.

And so, my wife and I arrive at their house that evening.

It was immaculately clean, they had lots of nice stuff too. We were given decent coffee and good biscuits and the couple were impeccably well spoken and polite, but something did not stack up.

First, the lady was not aware of her unpaid CCJ. That did not make any sense to me.

Second, the man made a great play of how we had decorated this and fixed that at this quite impressive let property, but he was evasive about why they were moving.

They would be saving about £150 a month by moving to my property, but our place was smaller – a two-and-a-half-bedroom house, whereas this was a four-bedroom house. This was going to therefore involve them storing stuff – and that is not cheap. Plus, they had two kids aged 19 and 21 who were at university and could come back for holidays.

He showed me credits from his account to his current landlord but was somehow unable to show me actual bank statements or even bring them up online at that time.

We were there for about an hour and more delicious coffee and biscuits were served.

I asked him to send the bank statements over by email the next day – and he said he would.

As my wife and I left, we both said at more or less the same time, “something does not make sense here”.

We could not see the economic logic of them moving – once the storage costs for all their stuff were added up, it made no sense. And this was before one even considers the aggravation of moving.

The couple had an unusual name.

When I got back home, I typed his name into a search engine.

Oops. It returned a lot of things about him. And not good things!

Apparently, he had been in prison for several years because he was the mastermind behind a huge Ponzi scheme in which he had preyed on members of his own community, stealing millions from them.

Oh dear.

Well, funnily enough, he never provided those bank statements – and that meeting with him was the last we ever heard from him.

Of course, if he had a more common name and had been in the news, it would have been much harder to identify him online. He would have been “lost” in the general noise of the Internet.

Still, the lesson is valid – if something just looks wrong, it IS probably wrong – and you should walk away or at least try to dig a little deeper.

Even if he had not had this awful past involving major fraud, I would have not let to him. His reasons for leaving his current place just did not stack up and the matter of his wife’s unpaid CCJ was a worry. Plus, he was so evasive – polite and charming but evasive.

Trust your instinct.

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