Judy Markoe has been holding open houses for years to find tenants for the efficiency in her Logan Circle rowhouse. And she’s learned that you never know what will happen.
“I’ve had times when there were people literally lined up waiting to come in and times when I’ve gotten just a few people,” she says. “In one case, people were trying to overbid what I was asking for rent; that was a lovely position to be in.”
For renters heading to an open house, it pays to be prepared for any scenario. Doing a little legwork ahead of time can help you land a hot property or make a good first impression on a potential landlord.
If possible, obtain and complete the rental application from the landlord ahead of time. Have it in hand at the open house so that if the place fits your needs, you can be the first to hand it to the landlord or property manager.
If you can’t get the application early, show up at the open house with everything you might need to demonstrate your worthiness as a tenant — pay stubs, bank statements and references.
“Get together the basics if you’re not sure what a landlord is looking for,” says Laura van de Geijn, vice president of Nest DC (202-540-8038), which manages more than 300 rental units owned by private individuals in D.C.
Why the need for paperwork promptness? Some landlords might process every application, but in many cases, they start with the first application they get.
“If you’re the first person in line with your application, most likely they will process yours first,” says Sergio Herrera, principal broker at D.C.-based property management and real estate brokerage Scout Properties (202-506-4632). “If you’re qualified and able to pay, what’s the point in trying to find someone else?”
That’s the approach Liliane Willens is taking while looking for a tenant for a one-bedroom apartment she owns on Wisconsin Avenue, not far from the Naval Observatory.
“I’m doing it all on my own, so I’ll be going through applications on a first-come, first-served basis,” she says.
So don’t stroll in toward the end of the open-house window if you really want a shot at the rental. “Show up a little early,” Herrera says. “If an open house is from 1 to 2 p.m. and you show up at 1:45, it’s not going to help your chances. Be one of the first people in the door, because the early bird usually catches the worm.”
Coming with checkbook in hand can help show that you’re prepared to make a move, even if a landlord doesn’t require a deposit on the spot.
“For us, bringing a paper check is not necessary, because we don’t take security deposits until a lease is signed,” Herrera says. “But it’s nice to see someone who’s eager. It shows that you’re ready to go.”
Individual landlords may be more interested in getting monetary proof of a tenant’s commitment.
“If someone is serious, then I’d like a check,” Markoe says. “But I won’t deposit it unless we end up doing a deal.”
Making yourself more appealing to the landlord can also put you at the top of the applicant pile. For Willens, it would be appealing if a tenant made a longer commitment to her rental, which decreases the number of times she needs to go through the hassle of searching for a tenant.
“If someone is willing to sign a two-year lease, they would get an advantage over someone who only wants a one-year lease,” she says.
In other cases, it might mean demonstrating how well-behaved your pet is, or submitting a written summary about a group of friends looking for a rental house.
“Putting a bunch of 20-somethings into some of the older houses in the city can be scary for some owners,” says van de Geijn of Nest DC. “When tenants describe why they would be a good fit, it gives us leverage to say to the owner, ‘Here’s a great group and here’s why.’ ”
For private landlords like Markoe, who lives above her tenant, intangible factors come into play when reviewing applications. “I think chemistry matters,” she says. “Someone who’s a developer might not care about that because they’re not going to live there too.”
Preparation and a pleasant personality always go a long way with landlords looking for tenants.
“We really like to see people who have done their homework,” van de Geijn says. “We want to feel that the people we’re taking applications from really enjoy the space and feel like it’s a good fit.”