The pressure to fill a vacant property can lead many property managers to cut corners and miss red flags. It’s important to remember that finding a tenant is only half the battle. Locating (and keeping) quality tenants is the key. That’s why thorough screening is so critical. Otherwise, you could end up in a worse situation than you are now. But what happens if you have a prospect that isn’t honest on his or her application? The good news is, there are ways you can spot fake references right away, saving you time, money and aggravation in the process. Let’s take a look at a few of these strategies below.
Request verifying details.
Quality landlords keep a file on each of their tenants, as most expect to be called upon to serve as a reference in the future. At the very least, the person on the other end of the phone should be able to easily provide certain verifying details about the tenant, such as the tenant’s date of birth, as well as move-in and move-out date (or length of tenancy). Be sure to ask the landlord to provide you with this information rather than feeding it to them and asking them to confirm. If these details don’t match or can’t be verified, something’s off.
Ask the right questions and analyze the responses.
Have a list of detailed questions to ask, such as whether they paid their rent on time, how they communicated with the landlord, if they ever caused trouble, etc. Be mindful of how the reference answers. If they are vague or sound confused or uncomfortable, it could be a red flag. On the other side of the coin, be wary of answers that seem too personal or contain information that only a friend or family member would know, such as how clean they kept their bathroom.
Check social media.
Just as employers research applicants for open positions, property managers can also turn to social networks like Facebook and Instagram to confirm the identity of former landlords. Specifically, check for any overlaps in profiles. This can indicate a more personal relationship, which could be a big red flag. For instance, if they are tagged in one another’s posts or pictures, chances are they’re friends and not landlord/tenant as presented.
Cross-reference phone numbers.
Do a quick Google search of the phone numbers you’ve been provided to verify whether they match with the names of the references listed. You can also do this in reverse by looking up the landlord’s name to see if the number that pops up matches what’s on the application. Keep in mind that this tactic may not work with mobile phone numbers, but it’s worth a shot. If you discover a difference in numbers, call to find out why.
Brush up on your acting skills.
Another sneaky but effective tactic savvy property managers use to verify references is to do some acting of their own. Rather than calling to ask about the tenant in question, pose as a prospective tenant yourself and call to ask whether there are any available properties for rent. If the person on the other end is an imposter, he or she will likely be confused by this and probably hang up. A real landlord, on the other hand, wouldn’t miss a beat and would simply answer yes or no.
As a property manager, a significant part of your job involves filling properties with quality, long-term tenants. Including thorough reference verification as part of your screening process, such as the strategies above, can help you avoid costly mishaps and keep you a few steps ahead of the game.