When Prospective Tenants Phone

You're likely to have your first contact with prospective tenants over the phone. Don't forget that they are your potential customers. They expect you to be pleasant, courteous, and businesslike. Your goal in talking to them is to convince them that they want your apartment. Make it sound attractive by talking about special features so that they'll make an appointment to see it.

You can ask what they're looking for and how many bedrooms they need. But never ask any personal questions such as how old someone is or their marital status or whether they have children.

Talk About the Property

When you answer the phone, instead of asking questions, talk about the apartment. Tell callers how much rent and security deposit you require. Describe the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, whether or not utilities are provided, and when the unit will be available for them to move in. Tell them what appliances are provided; if you include a washer and dryer, let them know whether this equipment is coin operated.

Describe Special Amenities

Be descriptive but truthful about amenities. You want to “sell” your apartment so that potential tenants will want to see it. Does it have a fireplace, hardwood floors, spacious rooms, walk-in closets, a balcony, or a patio? Is there a cable hookup? Is there off-street parking or a garage that the tenant can use?

These special features appeal to tenants and may set your unit in a category apart from other apartments available at the time — if your property offers any of these things, be sure to mention them.

Be aware that sometimes you may be showing your apartment to testers. They work in pairs — usually a minority and a Caucasian — to see if landlords are adhering to federal, state, and local fair housing codes. Testers won't identify themselves, and you won't know they were there unless they report a violation on your part.

What's in the Area?

Talk about the nearest public schools — both grade and high schools — and the school district you're in. Tell the caller about shopping in the area, whether public transportation is available, the proximity of parks, a lake, or a river. Some landlords can talk about a spectacular view or a country-like setting even though the apartment is located in town. Be sure to promote any of these that apply to you.

Tell Them What You Need

Let callers know what criteria you'll use in deciding on a tenant. For instance, will you do a credit check? Will you require the employment history of all prospects? Let them know. Tell them if you routinely talk to previous landlords and employers as references.

By listing your criteria for evaluating prospective tenants, you can turn the conversation into a prescreening process conducted solely by the caller. Those whose background won't stand up to scrutiny very likely will thank you and hang up. After they opt themselves out, you are free to concentrate on more likely candidates.

If you have to leave an outgoing message on an answering machine asking callers to leave their name and telephone number, play it back. How do you sound? Would you want to leave a message for this landlord?

Treat Each Caller Equally

Before your ad appears, jot down a list of your apartment's features. That way you'll have a “script” to run through when you answer phone calls. The list will help you keep the conversation on track so that you don't inadvertently ask any questions that might be misconstrued by the caller as being prejudicial. A list will also help you recall every detail you want to include that will help “sell” your apartment.

As soon as you hang up, write down who called, what time they called, when they will view your unit, and what both of you said. Be sure to include the date you talked to them.

Show the apartment to everyone who wants to see it. Never arbitrarily rule out prospects based upon information you get in a telephone call. All of your decisions in the process of selecting a tenant must be objective. If they aren't, you might face a discrimination complaint.

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