How Real Estate Agents Assess Prospective Tenants

How Real Estate Agents Assess Prospective Tenants
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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.

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 them 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, and has been updated since its original publication. 


  • 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.

    • @Sawyerh – As a landlord I can say that the rights of the tenant’s already exceed the rights of the landlord.
      – I cant go to the house without the tenants approval
      – I cant inspect the house more than once a quarter without approval from the tenant
      – I cant forcefully remove a tenant who hasnt paid their rent in 3 months
      – I cant forcefully remove a tenant who is willfully damaging things.

      The principles and “rights” that you are spruiking fundamentally change the business models of being a landlord, and this is what always seems to be overlooked with the catch cry “fat greedy landlords…who always punish tenants…for dollars in their pockets”. People seem to forget that more than 80% of all rentals in Aus are owned by people who are working for a wage just like the tenant. In my case I just want to try and get ahead for my family.

      Simply put…If I as a landlord cant set reasonable conditions to make it worthwhile for me to own the property. Then I wont do it. If the tenant doesnt like the conditions – go and find somewhere else to rent. If people like you advocate for more tenant rights, removing the worthwhile conditions for me as the investor, then I’ll simply sell the house and put the money somewhere else. This essentially removes the house from the pool of available rental properties and ultimately makes it harder for people who are looking for rental properties. If the tenant wants to dictate the terms of a rental, then they should buy a house….In many cases its the cheaper option long term anyway.

      I find it extremely irritating that people (apparently like yourself) fundamentally miss that it HAS TO BE a two ways street, otherwise it doesnt work. These are all the principles of offer & acceptance that are enshrined in common law. I think the government understands this and this is why these points you make, arent already law, because it tips the balance too far in favour of the tenant

      • @soitbegins most things you’ve said are untrue.

        At a basic level, the renter is renting their home. Of course you can’t just go in whenever you feel like it. When you rent out a property you are exchanging certain property rights, and you give up the right to go in and out of it as if it is your home.

        You are also pretty confusing on the two-way street thing. Landlord disinvestment doesn’t happen in practice and even if it did it doesn’t reduce the supply of housing stock. Plenty of places with growing rental sectors have a better set of laws for renters, compared with Australia.

  • I think I have a reasonable position on this, having once been a renter, currently a landlord and having a wife who has been a property manager for >20 years.
    Prospective tenants, communicate with your property manager! By this, I don’t mean ring them and expect to get an instant answer as they quite often have to refer queries to the landlord, but at least communicate, either by email or the reception at the office. If your lease is coming up for renewal, let the PM know what you intend to do so they can organise a renewal or start advertising the property to minimise the vacancy.
    If you want a pet at the property, let the PM know, as quite often pets are not the stumbling point people think it is. My wife quite happily points out to prospective landlords that >50% of Australians have a pet, and rejecting tenants because of this can seriously reduce your potential tenant pool.
    As pointed out by soitbegins above, most landlords are wage earners looking to get ahead, and they are not trying to be difficult. They have a mortgage they have to service and if you are not paying rent, it comes out of their pocket.
    Please keep the property tidy, and let the PM know if there is any maintenance that needs to be done. small bits of maintenance can avoid long term damage and inconvenience for both you as a renter, and the landlord.
    Regarding non-english speakers, my wife has many of them as tenants and there is usually someone who can translate for them and assist with applications.
    As a PM she is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex, nationality, or any number of other criteria, so in the end it comes down to previous rental references, proving that you can pay the rent, and a history of being polite with the previous PM. Also if there is a legal ruling against you for outstanding rent or damage to a previous property, it will come out. By being honest and admitting to this, whilst you may find it harder, you may also gain points for honesty, particularly if you can prove that the circumstances that resulted in your previous issues have changed.

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