How to get to the front of the rental queue

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2013

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In the tight Christchurch rental market, renting a house - any house - can be a tricky business.

Hundreds of people have been known to attend viewings, as the quakes thrust many people who have never rented, or haven't for a long time, into the rental market.

Compared to Christchurch and parts of Auckland, the rest of the rental market is virtually flat. Even so, good property managers take care to select the right tenant for their properties.

So how do you improve your chances as a prospective tenant? We asked property managers in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland and got similar answers.

1.First impressions count.

That's right from your first enquiry, says Jackie Thomas-Teague, the owner of Wellington property management firm, Rental Results.

"If you're rude on the phone, you're unlikely to get the property."

Landlords will ask after a viewing about whether certain applicants were nice or tidy, says Joe Schellack, Crocker's general manager of property management in Auckland.

"It's almost like a job interview, isn't it. You want to turn up best presented and fill things in as well as you can, and that will help you get a foot in the door."

2. Be honest.

Few people live a spotless life but with so much information online, there's absolutely no point in lying, says Matthew Curtis, a senior property manager at Bayley's Canterbury.

Fudging the truth on tenancy troubles, a bad credit history, or giving fake referees will likely catch up with you.

An effective landlord or property manager will check those things, even going so far as to check the title of your so-called landlord's house to establish whether he or she is real. With the Tenancy Tribunal, past rulings are on record for seven years.

So don't even bother lying, says Curtis.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100...we'll catch you if you decide to tell porkies."

To build a picture of you, landlords and property managers will ask some fairly personal questions.

Nothing that contravenes the Human Rights Act, says Thomas-Teague, "but definitely the landlord has the right to ask how much money they're earning and how many people will be living there, and what sort of relationship is between those people – whether or not they're flatmates or a family".

This is where people may be fearful to admit they smoke or have a pet. One of Thomas-Teague's previous tenants even failed to mention an extra child.

She says landlords can be more sympathetic than you expect, but they do have the right to be concerned about overcrowding, and many of them have been burned over pets.

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Dogs have been known to eat woodwork and tear up gardens, and many a landlord has had to rip up carpet to get rid of the stench of cat pee.

"People underestimate how much it costs to put things right," she says of pet ownership in rentals. "Really, it does jeopardise a lot of applications."

So in the end, it's better to be straight up with your landlord.

"It's all about no surprises. If landlords know about it beforehand, they're much more likely to say yes."

3. Viewing etiquette

Top property managers insist people visit the property physically. It's too easy to be disappointed over the size of a room or the location of a house if you just view it on the web.

But think of it as an opportunity. You get a chance to show off your best side. That means being considerate - not blocking the driveway, being on time and leaving your shoes off at the door.

However, if you're caught sneaking around the back for a peek, or if your kids are not under control, you could put yourself at the back of the queue.

"I've seen children run amok and their parents did not get the property," says Thomas-Teague.

In a tight rental market, attending viewings is almost imperative. Joe Schellack says a popular property will get applications either at the viewing or straight after.

"And because we're looking to fill that property as soon as possible, we start processing applications as soon as we have some."

4. Be prepared

Landlords and property manager love it when would-be tenants have the information they need at hand. Referees are particularly important, including employers and the current landlord if possible.

"We always confirm employment...just to check they're not a temp and just there for a few weeks," says Schellack.

In most cases, tenants are asked to fill in an application form. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has a standard one, and Thomas-Teague recommends prospective tenants get familiar with them.

"They'll get a feel for what kind of things people are asking."

Matthew Curtis is a big fan of cover letters, where tenants can briefly describe themselves and why they want the property.

"It always makes you stand out because 95 per cent of people won't do it.

"It takes five minutes to write a wee letter, especially if you're a group and not a family, that says there's four of us, this is what we do, we've known each other for three years or lived with each other for this amount of time.

"There's nothing worse than getting three months into a contract and one tenant doesn't like somebody else so they want to move out."

5. Be aware of the credit check

As mentioned earlier, your credit rating and household income will be looked at.

Landlords are sometimes reluctant to take tenants on, if the rent is more than a third of their household income. Don't be offended if rejected on this basis – they know that for some people, it only takes one disaster to fall behind with the rent.

Thomas-Teague says it's a pity many people don't guard their credit histories more jealously instead of missing payments on appliances and getting into debt collection situations.

Curtis says the credit check is the last thing they do.

"And again, not everyone's credit history is perfect, but if you've got a credit issue then just be honest with us and tell us about it. Because if you've been bankrupt and never told us, well, that's a pretty big one. If you'd told us about the situation then we could have discussed it with the landlord."

Property managers say the five tips apply no matter whether tenants are scrabbling for properties or have plenty of choice.

"Discerning landlords won't take crappy tenants or a tenant who's hard to deal with straight off the bat, even when it's hard to fill a property," says Thomas-Teague.

"Because you're better off with no tenant than a bad tenant."

- BusinessDay

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