How to Host a Landlord’s Open House

Written on August 20, 2012 by , updated on June 6, 2014

Traditional Open Houses may work really well for Real Estate Agents, but I’ve found that they are not as useful when trying to find Tenants for my rental properties.  Tenants usually “just need a place to live”, which is a far different motivator when compared to a Buyer who is “looking for a home”.   I have found that tenants typically want to minimize the time spent when trying to find their next home.   After all, most tenants view a rental property as a temporary home and are less invested than traditional buyers.

Over the years, I’ve created something called a “Landlord’s Open House“, which is a hybrid approach, between Traditional Open Houses and Single Appointment Showings, that tends to work well for all parties involved.

Summary

When scheduling appointments for showings with potential tenants, try to consolidate them all on the same day – within 30 minutes of each other.  Tell your current tenants to leave the premise during the showings.  Encourage potential tenants to bring a deposit check with them. Show the property to as many people as you can in a single day (by appointment only).  By the end of the day, you will hopefully have multiple applicants!

Instructions for hosting a Landlord’s Open House

  1. Pick a Day/Time.
    Pick 4-5 hour window of time, on a single day to show the property.  This day/window of time  must be acceptable for both you and your current tenants living in the property. I usually try to pick a Saturday afternoon – from 1-5pm.
  2. Ask Tenants to Leave.
    Politely ask your current tenants to leave the property during those hours.  Tell them the truth – that  it is just less awkward for everyone if they were not there during the showings.  The incentive for them is that it is far less inconvenient for them to vacate the house for a single 4 hour period than multiple individual showings scattered throughout the week.  It’s less disruptive to their lives and minimized the invasion on their personal space.  They will thank you for it.
  3. Start Advertising.
    Advertise your rental property for 1 week prior to the day of your Open House. I post an ad on Craigslist every 2-3 days to make sure my listing stays at the top of the listing feed. In the ad, tell folks to email or call you to schedule a showing.  Optional:  About 3 days prior, I will create a new add (or change the current one) to including something similar to: “Scheduling Saturday Appointments Now” or “Saturday Showings – By Appt Only”.  I usually never say the words “Open House” because I don’t want people to think that they can just show up whenever they want.
  4. Receive Inquiries and Schedule Showings.
    When potential tenants respond, even if they want to see it immediately, propose that they come see the property on the day that you have chosen for the Open House. Try to line up each appointment 30 minutes apart.  In a perfect world, you’ll have 8 showings, from 1-5pm, one right after another, every 30 minutes. Be sure to get their cell phone number when confirming the appointment.  In my email response, I usually say:

“It’s great to meet you!
I’d love for you to come see the place. How about Saturday, MM/DD/YYYY at 1pm?”

  1. Send out Reminders of Appointments.
    If I get a lot of interest, I will sometimes send a follow-up email (24-48 hours before the appointments) to the scheduled people, and attach an application to the email.  I usually tell them:

“Hi there, I’m looking forward to meeting you on Saturday.

You seemed really great in your email, and I just wanted to give you a head’s up.  I’ve had a lot of interest in this property, and a lot of appointments scheduled for this Saturday.

If you think you might want the place, you should come prepared to provide a completed application and a security deposit check on Saturday.”

The Benefits

  1. Saves Time. You don’t waste a lot of time on no-shows, and can knock out a ton of showings in one day.
  2. Creates Excitement. It creates a sense of competitiveness and hype between the potential tenants that do show up.  Often times they will run into each other during the showings and it will give your property a greater sense of appeal.  Human history shows us that we want something that someone else is interested in.
  3. Keeps your current Tenants happy. It’s respectful to your current tenants.  They usually don’t mind vacating the property for a few hours – especially on a nice saturday afternoon.  What they do mind (and get annoyed about) is when you schedule a single showing – every weeknight at 7:00pm, for 2 weeks straight.
  4. It WORKS!  In the past, this strategy usually produces at lease one interested party who is willing to give me a deposit check and fill out applications on the spot.

My Experience

I have one property (a group house) that is in a fantastic location, and I usually get 8-12 responses for each Craigslist ad I create.  Last year, when I held my “Landlord’s Open House” for this property, I had 6 groups view the property within a 4 hour window, and 3 deposit checks in hand by the end of the day!  This strategy worked so well that I even had one group call me later that day and offer to pay more in rent if that would help me choose them over a different group.  I then proceeded to review all the applications and the pros/cons of each group of applicants. In the end, I gave the apartment to the most qualified group of applicants, and cashed their deposit check.  After confirming acceptance with that group and ensuring that their deposit check was good, I then notified the other groups who were not accepted.  You have to give them a tangible reason as to why they weren’t accepted and cannot discriminate over race, religion, gender, etc.  If I get to the point of pulling their credit report, I will give them a copy of the report when I mail them back their deposit check.  Some states/cities do not allow you to share a copy of these reports with tenants, so make sure know the rules.

Reality Check!

Obviously, getting 6-8 scheduled appointments on a single day is a Landlord’s ideal situation, and it doesn’t always happen this way.  Inevitably, appointments will cancel, or just not show up.  But even if you get 2-3 showings on a single day, it’s better than not having any.  I also have a pet peeve – which is having to make dozens of trips to a property over many weeks.  Performing a Landlord’s Open House is respectful of everyone’s time, and helps me save on the number of trips that I have to make to the property. Using this process has made hosting showings a less daunting task, and allows me to get the property rented quickly – which is my primary goal.

What’s Your Opinion

Use the Comment form to answer these….

  1. What has your experience been with this strategy?  
  2. Do you have any suggestions for improving the “Landlord’s Open House”?
photo credit: smiteme via cc
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19 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Ed

    Great article!

    Regarding Step #5, you mentioned adding this to a followup email:
    “If you think you might want the place, you should come prepared to provide a completed application and a security deposit check on Saturday.”

    But, what if I’m using cozy.co to collect the deposit and application? What should I write in my followup email, maybe this?

    “If you think you might want the place, you should follow this link to complete your rental application. [insert link here]”

    • Lucas Hall

      Hey Ed,

      You are very observant my friend!

      If using Cozy, you simply can’t collect a deposit the day of the showing if you want to do it electronically.

      Since I switched over to using Cozy, I’ve changed my message to say exactly what you suggested. If you encourage them to fill out an online application before even seeing the place, you’ll have a better idea if they qualify before the showing. It saves you the trouble of collecting a deposit on folks that don’t qualify.

      If you only have one group of tenants interested in the unit, there’s really not that much pressure to collect a deposit immediately – simply because you have no other options. It’s best to wait until you’re actually in a lease agreement so everything is documented formally.

      If you do have multiple interested parties who have formally applied via the application, you can ask for a paper check deposit to hold it while you write up a lease or review credit scores. Then, when accepting the applicants in Cozy, you can ask them to set up their recurring rent without a security deposit (since you’ve already collected it). Easy!

  • david vilkhovoy

    Thanks Lucas for the simple straightforward guideline to showing to renters/ not buyers! There is a great difference that I ran into myself with that.

    However, I was hoping you would share on how to “Show the Home” in terms of “The Pitch”… what should you mention while showing the home, what shouldn’t you mention, what you should wait to mention and do you allow the interested party to roam the house on their own or do you first give a quick overview, then give them space to look around? How much eye contact is good versus being too awkward?

    Thanks,

    David Vilkhovoy
    Property Manager

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi David,

      That’s a great idea for a new blog post.

      Generally speaking, if the property is vacant, I allow the tenants to roam. If the property has existing tenants, then I give a tour. Remember, it’s not really an “open house”, because everyone has an appointment. I don’t want random people walking around the house and stealing things from my existing tenants.

      I usually just recap everything that I put in the add, and try to lead with the unit’s strongest features. Throughout the tour, I’ll ask more about the renter, and try to hone in on his/her priorities. For example, if the renter doesn’t have car, I’ll describe proximity to the local subway or bus stop. If the renters have kids, I’ll talk about the privacy fence in the back yard, and the security features.

      As for eye contact – you’ll just have to play it buy ear (pun). Most people who are excited about the unit will want to look at you in the eye – to see if you are lying about anything. Those that are disappointed when they walk-in will not look you in the eye. If you try to force them, you’ll just make it weird. If you look away when you talk, they will think you are hiding something, so I always speak directly, and with eye contact. If it makes them uncomfortable, I’ll tone it down.

      I use another trick to learn more about the renter, that they might not want to disclose: http://www.landlordology.com/whats-in-their-backseat/

  • George

    Always insure that the home is odor free! Odors will turn off renters. Insure that the property is spotless, especially the bathrooms, and kitchen. Insure that the streetscape is pristine. First impressions are lasting ones. Cut the grass, weed the flower beds and insure that trees and shrubs are trimmed. Make sure that whoever is showing the property, is dressed neatly and is prepared with all the information, such as feature list, rules on the community, pet policies. Have quantity of applications at hand, they all will take one.

  • Kim

    I fill my rentals this way too, works great. I’m always stumped as to who to take a check/deposit from. Do you collect a deposit with each application and then state you will return the check if they are not selected or ? Can you further explain how you go about handling “application fees” or a deposit and what sequence of events works best. I’ve run into a few times people wanting to “take the rental right now” or “I will pay you more if I can have it for sure right now” or they want to pay the deposit in cash, then I have to write them a return check and mail it to them if they are not selected…..no big deal, but seems like there should be a fluid way to handle this. Advice? Thanks!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kim

      Glad to hear this method works for others too!

      I tell all groups that I will review the applications simultaneously, but that I also need a holding deposit to take the unit off the market while I review the applications. Many times, they will give me a check immediately. I usually take that in good faith, and just hold on to it (don’t cash it, because I can usually screen tenants in an hour or less once their complete info as been submitted).

      I collect all applications through Cozy. Cozy provides a free online application that they can either fill out on their mobile device or on a computer. Sometimes they will go back to their car and fill it out while parked outside the house. Other times, it takes a day or two for everyone in their group to fill out the application.

      If someone offered to pay me more for the house, I would consider that in my evaluation – but I’d still take a holding deposit until their application(s) get approved.

      If I reject anyone (for any reason), I always give back their holding deposit (in full). It’s the only thing that makes them feel comfortable giving the deposit in the first place. If I select a different applicant, who passes the screening process, then I give back all the other holding deposits immediately.

      Once an applicant is approved, it’s their holding deposit that is on the line if they fail to sign a lease – so I’m comfortable giving back the deposits to the other groups.

      I don’t every accept cash. period. If they want to pay in cash, I tell them to go down the street to the convenience store and get a cashier’s check. Then, if I have to return it, I make them pick it up and sign for it. If they prefer to live a cash lifestyle, then I force them to be the ones who are inconvenienced.

      Cozy (cozy.co) let’s a landlord collect a deposit electronically, but it takes a few days to process so it’s no ideal for a “landlord’s open house”. However, if you only have one applicant, then it works well because they are not competing against another group.

      I hope that helps.

  • Lindsey Jansma

    We use Cozy for our rental applications and require a background and credit check. When accepting multiple applications at a time do you also require that the prospective tenants complete these checks (requiring they pay the $40 fees) or do you only have them submit the application and once you’ve chosen someone you make the selection contingent on passing these checks? Part of our minimum requirements to rent have to do with a minimum credit score (but I do allow some leeway based on the report) and favorable rental history so I’m torn as to how I should handle this.

    • Lucas Hall

      Personally, I require the screening reports at the time of application, no matter how many interested parties I have. It’s the only way hat I know they are interested. If I only ask for an application, and then try to ask for the credit report later, there’s a chance they would have moved on. Or they don’t respond and waste my time – all while losing the other interested people. That’s just my two cents.

      • Lindsey Jansma

        One more question. We asked all applicants to bring a cashiers check for the deposit to their showing since we have multiple interested parties. I got a response from one party saying they think this is a scam and they’ll be reporting me to CL. Have you experienced this? My thought is any rental company would expect a deposit on the spot in order to guarantee a lease will be signed, is this not the case?

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Lindsey

          I’ve done this exact thing before. It’s not illegal to ask for a deposit if they want to hold the place. In fact, the only way to be sure the check is good is if you ask for a cashiers check, or a bank check.

          I’ve never had anyone accuse me of being a scam, but if I did I would just say “you don’t have to provide a deposit, but the house is going to be reserved by the first person who does. You can look up the public property records online and see that I’m the owner.”

  • Raquel B

    Hi Lucas,

    We have our rental in a lower to lower-middle income area which I have found that many of the potential tenants aren’t as professional in confirming appointments and even follow up. I’m worried about making trying to schedule appointments in that window block like you suggest because I’ve found that typically the applicants show up 5 min late. If I did just have more of an open house without appointments do you have any suggestions?
    FYI- I did sign up for Cozy but then realized that your cost is too high for us to charge. Wisconsin limits the cost to $20 per application for background checks and credit reports. Wish we could use your site.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Raquel,

      If requiring appointment times doesn’t work in your area, then try something else. Sometimes a standard open house will work well. Try different techniques until you find one that works.

      The $20 rule doesn’t apply when using Cozy. The statute in WI states “a landlord may require a prospective tenant to pay the landlord’s actual cost, up to $20, to obtain a consumer credit report on the prospective tenant from a consumer reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis. ” http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/atcp/090/134/05/4/a

      With Cozy, the tenant is buying it directly from the vendor (Cozy), and sharing with the landlord, therefore the landlord’s actual cost is $0. This situation is more similar to section (b) of ATCP 134.05: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/atcp/090/134/05/4/b

      Because the actual cost of paid by the tenant to the vendor, rather than a reimbursement to you, there’s no limit on price according to the statutes.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

      • Raquel B

        Thanks Lucas. That did help. My husband said the same thing about the $20 so we have advertised using Cozy among others.

  • EJ

    That’s the worst advice I’ve ever read…ask the tenant to leave??? Though we own the property it’s a true invasion of their privacy as it is their home. I take 25% of each rental payment I receive and place it on a fund that covers all transitional cost. In that way, I can be a GOOD landlord NOT HOOD landlord and dignify my tenant. A corporation would never practice such tactics.

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