Tip #45

Consider an Applicant’s Soft Skills

Written on November 11, 2014 by , updated on September 30, 2016

Soft Skills

Responsive, Available, Teachable

To evaluate an applicant’s character, I look for these three main “soft skills”.

During the screening process, I always ask myself: “Is this applicant Responsive, Available, and Teachable?”

More Than Numbers

When screening tenants, a landlord should consider other attributes besides income and credit.

In The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening, I point out that there is really only one “must-have” requirement when screening applicants:

Is the applicant able and willing to pay rent?

But income isn’t everything!

Though an applicant might make $200K a year, they may also have a problem with authority, or lack respect for their fellow humans.

In an extreme case, the applicant might refuse to follow rules or even refuse to pay rent in order to satisfy some sort of passive-aggressive power trip (yes, it’s happened).

Character Matters

Determining if the person is able to pay rent is only half the equation. The applicant must also be willing to pay rent.

So how exactly should you determine if the applicant is Responsive, Available, and Teachable?

What does a perfect applicant look like?

Are They Responsive?

  • They show up on time and call prior to confirm.
  • They respond to my emails in a timely fashion.
  • They answer or return my calls promptly.

Applicants who are self-centered will waste my time. They will show up for an appointment at their convenience, and fail to apologize.

In my experience, applicants who are not responsive are much more likely to want to abandon the lease as soon as it’s not convenient for them, and won’t even consider giving proper notice.

If you have a tenant who is parking on the grass, I would bet you $100 that they were also late to the initial property showing or lease signing.

Are They Available?

  • They are available to meet for a showing.
  • They are available to sign a lease.
  • They are available to move in when I need them to.

Whenever I list a property, I usually have at least one inquiry that says, “I’m super interested in the place! But I’m going out-of-town for two weeks. Can you hold it for me?”

My answer is always, “Sure, if you want to drop off a security deposit.

Applicants who are “too busy” will often forget to pay rent, or won’t have the time or attention span to clean their unit or notify me of repair issues.

Are They Teachable?

  • They are excited about the unit.
  • They are willing to follow my lease rules – even if it’s “not what they are used to.”
  • They seem to have a healthy respect for authority – often times displayed by their ability to keep a job.

Applicants who seem like they are “settling” for my apartment will continually find issues with it, and will often ask me to replace their light bulbs (ha!).

They will never be happy with the unit and will always view the landlord as someone who “talked them into it.”

I Want You to Want… the Unit.

In 1979, Cheap Trick wrote the song I Want You to Want Me. As a landlord, I want my tenants to want to live in the property.

Finding an applicant who is responsive, available and teachable is just as important as finding someone who qualifies financially. Personally, I think they make the best tenants.


photo credit: Mike Kniec via cc
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3 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Chuck

    Lucas, great post thank you for sharing. One thing I am wondering about is how you go about screening soft skills if the law says you have to accept the first applicant who meets the owners financial qualifications including credit and income?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Chuck

      That’s a great question. One that I struggled with for a while. A while back, I started doing some digging into this topic, and though accepting the first qualified applicant is a best practice, I have yet to find a statute that requires it – in any state.

      The CA fair housing guide says a landlord should accept the first qualified applicant, so I called their office and talked with their lawyer. He said it wasn’t law, but rather just a “good idea”. I don’t disagree in its importance, but it’s critical to see the difference.

      So, I asked an attorney friend of mine to write a post on the topic. He’s an expert on fair housing, and it was very eye opening:


      • sharon r bower

        My first tenant was this night mare. He felt he owned the place and proved it by trashing the unit. Left the toilet running and backed up the sewer. He like to play emotional games also with questions like ” are you made at me”. He brought in a puppy and did not treat it very well. He dumped it somewhere. Before he left he snuck in a kitten and abandoned it when he left. He tried moving in his girlfriend who had a newborn by another man.
        It was a night mare for the 45 days he was in the unit.

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