How Real Estate Agents Assess Prospective Tenants

How Real Estate Agents Assess Prospective Tenants
Image: iStock

Prospective tenants need to make a good impression on the real estate agent who will decide who gets to rent the property. Here are six factors that can help or hinder your chances of getting approved.

Two-thirds of tenants in Australia rent through a real estate agent. A national shortage of private rental housing forces these tenants to impress the real estate agent to secure a property – their application needs to stand out from other applications.

An analysis of articles on leading online real estate sites and identifies six aspects of interactions between the real estate agent and tenant that affect a tenant’s ability to secure a rental property. My research reveals the power of the agent over the tenant. Agents strongly stigmatise certain tenant characteristics during the property search.

These real estate articles typically fail to recognise the systemic issues of housing shortages in Australia. As owner-occupied housing becomes more unaffordable and public housing becomes less available, a variety of household types are competing in a high-demand private rental market.

Households have differing economic, cultural and social capital. This puts some applicants for a rental property at a disadvantage. But real estate sites present the issue of secure rental housing as an individual problem that can easily be overcome once a tenant understands how to highlight their desirable characteristics when applying for a rental property.

How do agents assess tenants?

When assessing a rental application, the two most important qualities a real estate agent looks for are a tenant’s ability to pay the rent on time and their ability and/or willingness to care for the rental property.

In addition, a tenant’s ability to impress the real estate agent matters. My research identifies six aspects of interactions between agent and tenant that affect the ability to secure a rental property:

  1. responsibility – positive reference/s from previous agents and/or landlords help demonstrate this
  2. making an impression – dress appropriately and be on time for inspections, engage with the agent and present an easy-to-read, error-free application form
  3. established relationships – a previously established relationship with the agent or landlord improves the tenant’s chances
  4. honesty – tenants are encouraged to be honest with their agent about their lifestyle
  5. flexibility – be flexible about lease length and the cost of rent
  6. creative thinking – for example, bringing cupcakes to a rental inspection.

Through these interactions, tenants can highlight their desirable characteristics while downplaying their undesirable characteristics.

Selection process reinforces disadvantage

The ability to make a good impression on the agent, however, is largely based on a variety of factors that place some tenants at a disadvantage.

A pet, no matter how cute, is unlikely to help you secure a rental property. (Image: Getty Images)

For example, tenants are advised that several lifestyle factors may hamper their ability to secure a property. These include pets, dependent children, age, a negative rental history and other potential housemates.

These findings match those of an Australian survey of private renters, commissioned by Choice, National Shelter and the National Association of Tenant Organisations. It found 50% of renters have experienced discrimination in the private rental sector. This includes discrimination on the basis of: pets (23%), receiving government payments (17%), age (14%), having young children (10%), being a single parent (7%), race (6%), needing to use a bond loan (5%), gender (5%), disability (5%) and sexuality (2%).

Further, when it comes to making an impression, some tenants are at a significant advantage. For example, factors such as English proficiency and the ability to “dress to impress” are often a reflection of economic and cultural capital.

The articles assume that presenting an application form with no spelling and grammatical errors is simply a matter of taking a little extra care. However, a newly arrived migrant may find this difficult, not because of laziness but because they may not yet be proficient in English.

The articles also highlight a tenant’s willingness to be flexible as important. Flexibility is presented in the following ways:

  • where demand for properties is high, tenants are advised to offer more rent
  • when a tenant has no rental history, they are advised to offer to pay rent in advance
  • tenants are also advised to cater to the needs of the real estate agent and landlord by being flexible about the length of the lease.

Tenants’ ability to be flexible in these ways varies greatly. For example, not all tenants have the means to offer more rent or pay rent in advance. The ability to be flexible about lease length also differs depending on individual circumstances.

My research shows the process of securing a rental property could reinforce the disadvantage of some tenants. This raises an important question. When private rental housing is the only option, what happens to those tenants who fail to impress the real estate agent?

The Conversation

Bronwyn Bate, PhD Candidate, Urban Research Program, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.


  • So TL;DR real estate agents expect tenants to bend over and think happy thoughts. The amount of “flexibility” agents and landlords want is purely to screw over tenants with high rent and short leases and scare them with threats of eviction if they do not comply.

  • Being a Choice Magazine Comity member, and renter, I will have a lot to say during the coming months as Choice investigates our rental market:-

    Now that most Australians rent it is time for the table to to turn. We will be looking at:-

    If the house is a pull-down it must be included in the rental listing and the lease, if it is not included then the property can not be demolished or tenants asked to leave for 24 months.

    If the home owner of a brand new dwelling who was intending to sell as soon as it was completed finds the market is soft and wants to rent it out until they can get a better price, then they must allow the rental tenant to stay up to 24 months after notice is given, then put it on the market.

    Landlords can not terminate the lease inside 10 years unless the tenant is causing property damage or more than 90 days late with the rent. Do not laugh, as this IS how it is throughout most of Europe.

    Owning a pet is a human right and does not make up part of the lease. ( children have the right to have a pet )

    It is time to take into account rental properties are a part of human life and should not be abused in the name of profit. Our law makers need to understand we are dealing with families and children and find a fair balance for owner and tenants alike.

    • Yeah the stock photo they used puzzled me

      It appears to be a couple quite literally assessing a naked woman who’s just opened a door.

      Is Lifehacker implying the couple are the real estate agents assessing a renter?

      • Well, if you haven’t noticed that LH has been laying on the prurience lotion thick and hard for the past … mmm… year and a half?…. you have probably been fast asleep. With a definite focus on upper female anatomy. (Just scroll up the page to see what I mean)
        Kinda sad for an institution (yes, they do rate that word by now) that was founded by a female, from memory.
        Still, probably done with extensive focus group surveys and male-dominated editorial meetings. So the marketing folks obviously love it.
        And in between the selling of flesh and coupons, they do have some interesting grabs. So it’s a watering hole that works. Kind of.
        But … yes, an amazingly dumb selection in their stock pics. Often.
        Coming to think of it… DumbHacker does have a pleasant ring to it.
        Oh well..

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