Podcast 40: How to Make a Proper Verification Call

Getting background information on an applicant is one of the most important things a landlord can do to predict what kind of tenant they will be. In this episode of Night School, we’ll go over how to perform a proper verification phone call and share some tips on making the most of them.

Transcription for How to Perform a Proper Verification Phone Call

Jeff: Welcome to Landlord University Night School. I’m Jeff Pearson. And this is my co-host…
Stephen: Stephen White.
Jeff: Hello, Stephen. How are you doing today?
Stephen: Pretty good, Jeff. We’re going to be talking about verification phone calls today. It’s something that we do here at RentPrep, but we, also, obviously, offer a lot of packages that don’t include the verification phone calls because a lot of landlords want to do that themselves. They want to have that control. You know, don’t get me wrong. There’s definitely the landlords out there that say, “Listen. I’ll have somebody else do it. That’s what you guys do. You have the ability to communicate, correspond. You guys handle that,” but then there’s, obviously, the handful of landlords that say, “I want to be the one to hear, you know, directly from the landlord’s mouth exactly what type of a tenant this person was.” So verification phone calls can be tricky. They’re not as easy as you would think. So there’s a couple of things that we want to dive down and talk about.
Jeff: Great. And I can understand. You know, some people really want to be hands-on and that whole idea of, “I want to hear their voice. I want to know what’s behind the words that they’re saying.” And, you know, for some people, it does make sense. You know, I think for many people, if not most, it really makes sense to have a professional do that for you, but not always the case because some people, they have that second sense of knowing, “Yeah, this is what they’re saying, but I can read between the lines.” And I’m sure the professionals get that, as well. And I would expect that they’re providing that in the reports that they’re providing back, but still, you know, sometimes you’re gonna do it yourself. And so let’s dive into what is it really that makes a proper verification phone call.
Stephen: Well, there’s two different categories of verification phone calls. One is going to be the really easy one that you always hope you get. And that’s usually dealing with a smaller landlord. We’ve, you know, often identified them before as non-professional landlords. So these are people who are, you know, normal professional people that have income properties and manage it on the side. They’re doing it from their house. Those verification phone calls are, usually, pretty easy to knock out because they don’t require that you’re faxing them anything. They, a lot of times, don’t require to see the authorization signature that the tenant has signed giving consent to release the information. Those phone calls are usually really, really candid. You know, they’re going to give you this very real story. You know, a lot of times we hear more than what we even want to know, but we’re also very candid in our notes and making sure that we’re translating what we’re hearing exactly onto the report, so the individual landlords, the smaller landlords, the smaller businesses, mom and pop businesses. They’re all going to be, usually, a phone call. And it’s going to go pretty routine. You’re not going to have to send any information to them. You’re not going to have to send that authorization signature. And I’ll dive deeper into the questions and the content of the phone call, but just to identify the different types.
So the next one is going to be dealing with property management companies. Almost always, I’ll say 95% of the time, a property management company is not going to release any information about that tenant, unless they see that the tenant has provided their authorization signature. So there’s some correspondence that has to happen. And so for some landlords, it’s, you know, nice and easy. For some, it’s a pain in the neck. Usually, you’re faxing stuff over. You’re waiting on them to get back to you. A lot of them won’t tell you anything over the phone. They want to fill in the blanks. So they’ll require that you provide a fill-in-the-blank verification form. And so we’ll start there. If you’re going to do a fill-in-the-blank style verification form, you want to make sure you’re asking all the right questions, obviously. And some of them may not be super obvious to you. And we’ve talked about this before, where, you know, a lot of the questions that you’re going to be asking are loaded questions. They’re questions that you already know the answer to because the tenant has already filled out the rental application and put the answers on the rental application.
So a great example would be how much was the monthly rent? What was your move-in date. So questions like that again, the landlord should or the tenant should have filled out on the rental application, you should already know it. That way, you can cross-reference it and make sure everything’s matching up and lining up. That’s, usually, the best way to sniff out somebody that’s not being honest with you. Usually, with property management companies, you know you’re getting, you know, the straight scoop anyway, but so some of the questions you want to have is are they a current resident? Were they ever evicted, ‘cuz remember, you can go through the eviction process, catch up on stuff, and then not have that eviction process finalized and still end up living there. So we see that a lot of times where…And a property management companies are not afraid to pull the trigger on an eviction. They will evict somebody month after month after month, if the person is late. And then they end up catching up 10 days later. It doesn’t matter. That eviction has still been filed. So, definitely, a good question to ask, have they ever been evicted?
Are their rent payments current, as of this date? Do they have a good payment history? Were they clean and not destructive? What condition did they leave the property after they left? Have they ever received any noise complaints or neighbor complaints? And, again, these are all things that there is no database in the world that can tell you this information. This is only stuff you can get straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. And then, obviously, like I had mentioned, the move-in dates, move-out dates, you want to make sure that all the dates match up because what you’re looking for is gaps. We see it a lot of times where a tenant will have a previous address. And just for easy dates, I’ll say the tenant claims that they moved out in January. And then, you know, you find out that they actually moved out in November of the year prior. So you wonder, “Well, where we they for those couple of months?” And a lot of times, that’s where there’s an eviction hiding in between there. So you, definitely, want to make sure you’re getting all the answers down. And when you send the form, if you’re making a form to send over, if they request that, you gotta send the verification signature. So the signature at the end of the application, which we’ve talked about before, that needs to say somewhere that this person authorizes the release of this information. And that gives employers and property management companies the green light to go ahead and give you the information that you’re looking for.
So the other type of verification is employment. Employment is trickier than resident verification because employment, you’re gonna run into a bit more resistance on some things. And, again, it’s hit and miss. Some employers will give you everything. And some employers will give you nothing. And so it’s really based on the business. Usually, what we see is the larger companies, the large corporations, IBM, Walmart, you know, some of those bigger companies that are around, they’re not willing to give you a whole lot of information. They’ll usually just verify that the person is employed. And that’s it. It stops there. They’re not going to give you salary information. They’re not going to give you status, whether they’re part-time or full-time. They’re not gonna give you how long that they’ve been there. So a lot of times, we run into landlords who are frustrated because they can’t get the information that they’re looking for on employment verification. So in cases like that, there’s no better way to verify employment. Obviously, a phone call definitely works, if you can get down and get all of the information, but you want to follow that up, either way, with pay stubs. There’s no better way to verify what their income is. I mean, obviously, somebody can make a pay stub, but if you’re making that call to follow up and they say, “Yes, they’re employed there,” they can’t give you any more information, but you have a pay stub now, you know, to verify the information that you’re looking for, now everything matches. And everything looks right.
So the other thing to consider is very rarely do verifications get completed in one phone call. So a lot of times you’re leaving messages. So this may seem really simple and pretty elementary, but it’s obvious. In the message tell them exactly what you’re looking to do because a lot of property management companies, and especially a lot of employers, won’t take the time to call you back, unless they know exactly what it’s for. So we’ll always tell them in a message…I’ll give you an example of an employment verification message. So we’ll say, “You know, I’m calling from RentPrep or I’m so and so. And I’m calling to verify residency for tenant’s name. They filled out an application for rental. And we need to verify that this is their current employment. If you can please call me back at…,” and then give you phone number. The reason we do that is we found that a lot of employers are pretty standoffish because they get these phone calls. And they immediately, in their mind think that their employee’s leaving and they’ve applied somewhere else. And now this other company is calling to or this other person is calling to get a reference from them.
And so there’s almost, immediately, a little bit of, you know, they’re a little standoffish because they don’t want to, necessarily, give that information up for that reason, but if you let them know it’s for a rental, they’re usually pretty happy to, you know, to…if it’s a smaller business, to call you back and at least let you know, “Hey, we can’t do it,” or, “Send me the information proving that the person signed,” or, “Let’s just do it right now over the phone.” With the residency verification, the same thing. Messages, usually are being left. Be very clear in your message why you’re calling. And, usually, they’re pretty good at calling, but especially property management companies, they’ll call you back and tell you what they need, where to fax something to. And landlords, usually, end up calling us back. And a pretty common question we have is, “Is the tenant leaving?” So they have received no notice from the tenant that they’re leaving yet?
And so that’s, you know, sometimes a big concern for them, but it’s also a good indication, you know, of what’s the current, the tenant’s current situation is. You know, have they given 30-days’ notice to leave yet? Sometimes the landlords are aware. And a lot of times, they’re not. So it could be a great indication, you know, of the character of the tenant that you’re working with here, too. So in a nutshell, I would say that the verification phone calls can go either way. They could either be very easy. They could be a very quick one call, reach out and, you know, get in touch with the person and ask your questions and get very honest answers. And on the other end, it could be very frustrating for landlords to make these calls because they’re not gonna get the information that they’re looking for. And there’s really nothing you can do about it. I mean, if a property management company tells you, “Sorry. It’s not our policy to release that information,” there’s nothing you can do, which, obviously, you know, puts a damper on the screening process.
So in those cases, what you would want, because the property management company is less likely to give the information up to someone else, whether it be RentPrep or an individual landlord. However, a good tenant will always be able to obtain a reference letter from a current landlord or a property management company. And they can go there themselves and get that. So if you try and you strike out and, you know, that verification is critical and you want to make sure that it’s gonna get done, I would absolutely recommend the tenant go to the property management company and say, “Hey, I’m giving you notice. I’m going to be move moving out or you already knew that I was moving out. And my new landlord requires a reference letter from you guys.” And, usually, in the reference letters, they’re able to give payment history and just an overall, you know, yes or no, was this person a good tenant? You’ll be able to get a good indication from it. And chances are, if that tenant’s willing to go back and get a reference letter, they’re confident enough that they’ve been a good tenant to get that.
Jeff: That really makes sense. Now, one of the things you mentioned was, you know, leave a message. Let them know why you’re calling. And I would think, in this day and age of electronic communication, it wouldn’t hurt to leave your email address. Say, “Hey, you know, I might be a little difficult to get ahold of by phone, but if you give me your email address or here’s my email address. If you want to send me an email to give me the information that you need from me, that might be a simpler way to communicate.” And I think a lot of people, in this day and age, will get back to you quicker using an email, rather than calling you back or trying to play phone tag.
Stephen: No doubt. And I’m waiting for the day that you can text a business because, you know, that will be it. It would be 100% verification’s complete. Everyone would be like, “Oh, I got a text. I’ll just send it right back,” but yeah, you’re right, anything that you can do to make the process easier. And something we’ve talked a lot about is creating systems and creating processes. So taking the time to create that verification form is a good idea because then you have it. It’s ready to be sent out, you know, whenever. And you’re using the same form for every potential tenant because, again, a lot of the times, you’re gonna get ahold of somebody that says, “Hey, I need you to email that to me or fax it to me.” And they just want it to be as easy as possible. So having that ready, being prepared ahead of time, and, like you said, you know, if they do email you, you can then just very easily respond to the email and attach that form or attach the written authorization and say, “Here you go.” And you can expect an email back.
Jeff: Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Stephen. That wraps up another evening of Night School. I look forward to talking to you tomorrow.
Stephen: Thanks, Jeff.