Saturday, October 27, 2007

I'll Just Wait Outside

I promised to write about one of the more interesting folks that I've come in contact with while showing our rentals to prospective tenants. Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I don't feel showing a vacant house is the most safest thing to do--whether you're a landlord or an agent. So, if I had to meet a caller alone, I would never, and I mean never, enter the house with them--regardless of their gender or whether or not they were accompanied by children.

I only show our homes when they are vacant and rent-ready. Therefore, I don't have to safeguard a tenant's belongings. I would open the door, let them pass me in, and say, "I'll just wait outside. Let me know if you have any questions." Besides this being the safest thing to do, I think it's a good marketing ploy. This gives them the opportunity to open the closets and medicine cabinets, to talk, and take their time imagining themselves living in the home. Have you ever been to a FSBO showing and the guy follows you around and tells you about every special light bulb that he has installed in the house and every small improvement he's performed in the last 20 years? It's so annoying. No time to think. All you want to do is get close enough to the front door so you can make a run for it. I don't want to transmit that aura to people.

Some prospective tenants were downright scary. I met an appointment at the scheduled time at one house. The man was with his young daughter. You'd know why he brought his daughter if you saw him. He was a small man in his fifties with a long braid that went down the middle of his back, a bandanna on his head, a leather vest, and so many tattoos that I couldn't see his skin. Not that I wanted to see his skin. As I waited outside, I scolded myself for being so judgemental. After all, it's what's on the inside that counts. He was a very nice man. He liked the house and gave me $500 in cash (from a giant wad he pulled out of his pocket) to hold it until he and his wife could complete rental applications.

I called the background company that I used to screen all applicants and gave them the man and his wife's social security numbers. I was told that that guy's number belonged to a 70 year old man and the wife's number came up with nothing. I called the prospect and said that there must have been a mistake. He said, "Of course, my daughter filled this out for us and got the numbers wrong. Here try this one." He proceeded to give me a totally different number. I called and this time his SS number belonged to a dead man. Well, well, well.

I reviewed my options: rent to him anyway, ask for yet another (fraudulent) number, call the police. I decided that I really didn't have a good reason to call the police, plus I feared for my life. So, I called the gentleman back and said, "I can't seem to prove who you are. Until you get this cleared up with the Social Security Administration, I won't be able to rent you the property. However, when you do straighten this out, give me a call and, if it's still available, you can move in (NOT!!)."

But I had another problem now--remember the cash? I had to return it and I didn't want to put cash in the mail or issue a check (I didn't want him to know where I lived). I wanted to get rid of it and him. I called back. Now, he wouldn't talk to me (he was probably packing to make a quick get away if a knock came to the door). His very unhappy wife growled that I should meet her in a parking lot to return the money. Ok, so I'm literally shivering in my boots.

My husband had a conflict and would not be able to accompany me until the meeting time. I pulled into a parking space, looking for the car described to me--and for my husband. I didn't need him to come out with me, but I did want him to watch my back. He's nowhere to be seen and up pulls the "lady," again with the daughter that they assume gives them reams of credibility. I exited my car, shakily returned the money, and burned out on my way home. I saw my husband as I was leaving, but I didn't stop for anything.

Lesson learned: Never accept cash from a prospective tenant to hold a property.