Landlord Forum: Dealing with No-Shows

One of the most amazing aspects of human/tenant behavior that I had to learn the hard way is that roughly 50% (and sometimes more) of people who go to the trouble of calling you about a rental and set up a time to view it will choose to simply never show up. This was shockingly foreign to me – I don’t miss 50% of my appointments for simply no reason, and I didn’t think it would be that way for people making appointments with me. I’m also used to calling to let someone know if I’m going to be late or unable to make an appointment. These folks will not bother to call, text or email you in most all cases. Often they won’t even respond if you try to contact them by text, phone or email shortly before the appointment – just to give a yes or no that they will be there. The fact that they are stealing your your time and cost of being at the appointment seems to be unimportant to them.

I’ve tried to determine what causes this behavior, sometimes contacting no-shows and asking them what happened; do these folks all have real emergencies that come up? No. The answer seems to fall into one of four basic areas: 1) They were just “window-shopping” or fantasizing about getting a new place to live. Maybe they are living with family things are going poorly, or they had a disagreement with their current landlord and were just being wishful about moving. The reality of seeing a place and getting the sales pitch would actually burst their bubble when forced to admit to themselves they aren’t going to do it, so they keep it at the wishing stage, but setting the appointment makes the fantasy a little more real. 2) They were looking at other places, found something and just weren’t considerate enough to let you know not to waste your time 3) Their life is such that they aren’t able to keep hardly any of their commitments. For these folks, realizing that Springer is on at the same time as your appointment is enough to distract them. 4) They just changed their mind – maybe they checked the school districts or utilities and didn’t like something, or realized that some money they were going to use for the move isn’t really coming, etc. Once they’ve realized that they are no longer interested, remembering to let you know just doesn’t seem to occur to them. There are some folks who will miss an appointment, but call you right afterwards, or even at the appointment time, to let you know that they’ve had something come up and couldn’t make it. Even though you have been frustrated, those who call may be worth a second chance – the fact they called you at all makes them a cut above many, and potentially a good tenant.

The one of the strangest I had was a lady who no-showed after she had showed. I met her, showed her the apartment, she asked all the questions she could think of and she liked it so filled out the application. We require $100 with the application so she said that she would need to run to the bank to get the money. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, after about 45 minutes, I called her. It was obvious that either she didn’t have $100, or had changed her mind. She had forgotten for some reason that I had her phone number, so when she answered and I asked if she was OK she became so flustered all she could do was stammer. Finally she lied “I’m on my way back now” and hung up. It was more than obvious that she was lying and had changed her mind. I waited 20 more minutes to satisfy myself that she was lying, and when I called her again she wouldn’t answer the phone. So here was someone who was willing to just leave me standing there not once, but twice, rather than admit that they weren’t really going to rent anything. But it helped me understand the mental state of these folks somewhat – she was either too embarrassed to tell me that her renting the unit was just a fantasy, or too embarrassed to admit it even when I called her back on it, but she was obviously embarrassed and lying to cover. Stating the reality that she wasn’t really going to rent would apparently ruin the fantasy; whether she was embarrassed because she was caught having the fantasy or caught bailing out (or both) I couldn’t tell. For most, just setting the appointment is as far as they take the fantasy – she had just taken it a couple of steps further. Whatever the cause, the no-show who won’t even let you know they aren’t going to show prefers to pretend nothing is going on, rather than give you the courtesy of even a text.

I wish I could tell you that there is an easy magic formula for completely eliminating costly no-shows who set an appointment with you to see a rental and then bail out, but there isn’t. Interestingly, many real estate agents say they have a high no-show rate for house sales showings. You’d think that people who are claiming to be contemplating such a serious purchase would be serious about keeping the appointment, but the “fantasy” or “window-shopping” syndrome hits there as well. There are some things you can do to cut down on no-shows, though:

1) Try to answer any questions they may have before setting an appointment. For some, school districts or other civic features will automatically rule out some sites. Maybe you think you’re a natural salesperson who can talk them into taking it anyway, but in most cases you’re wasting time, and sometimes people forget to ask you those screening questions that they had in mind. So just ask them – do you have any questions about school districts, utilities, etc.? Posting this information on a website and directing them to it is the most efficient overall.

2) Absolutely insist on getting a phone number they can be reached at when making an appointment. Tell them you need it in case something comes up and you can’t make the appointment, which is true of course, but the reality of giving out their phone number starts to wake up some of the folks who are just calling on a fantasy. We now enter all appointments into a computer system we had built, and without a phone number and email, it won’t allow the appointment to be made. We just can’t waste time on people who aren’t able to maintain the most basic of modern communications.

3) Do a little pre-screening if you get a chance. People who are getting evicted somewhere else will do a lot to seem like a promising prospect to you (like show up for the appointment), which is likely a waste of your time. Search here at before the appointment. You might find information that would allow you to simply cancel the appointment (like that someone is being evicted) and save yourself some time. We’re in the courthouse regularly, and it’s easy then to check on the eviction suits that have been filed. Check and see if your appointment is on that list if you happen to be at the court clerks beforehand.

4) Require the prospect to contact and confirm on the day of the showing, or at least try calling them an hour or half-hour before the appointment to confirm. Many times they will answer and tell you they changed their minds. They weren’t going to call and let you know that, of course, but when called personally they will admit to it. Having the prospect confirm earlier than day of appointment we’ve learned is useless. It means nothing to them. When they confirm on the day of the showing that tends to stick with them. We still have people fail to show after they have confirmed, but that runs 10-20% compared to 40-60% of ones who aren’t required to confirm.

5) If they don’t show on time, try calling again right away. More than 80% of the phone numbers given to us by prospects are cell phones now. They should either be on their way or headed out the door. If you can find out for sure they aren’t coming at this point, at least you’ll save a few minutes.

6) If you aren’t far from the site, there is another approach in this age of cell phones that we have tried when no-shows get out of control: Tell them to call you when they get there, or just before they get there. If they tell you they don’t have a cell phone, that’s not a good sign, but again, most will have one. You can tell them that way if they get there a little early, they won’t have to wait on you – you’ll come right over and are just a few minutes away. If you never get the call, you’ll know you’ve saved yourself a no-show trip. While this is a little bit aggressive, and a few prospects might find it odd, when you’re running 50% no-shows and have several showings a week, you have to do something to protect your most valuable asset: time. Another thing we’ve clearly observed over the years is herd behavior by prospects/tenants. Even though they obviously aren’t communicating, they tend to move in herds; suddenly we’ll see a wave of them checking the website, skipping out, not showing for appointments, etc. This odd group behavior at least tips us off when to be more aggressive about confirmations and showings. As I write this update, after several months of low problems with no-shows, our last six out of seven either failed to confirm or show. So, we respond by requiring, until this wave of bad behavior is over, a second confirmation that they are on their way or have arrived before we’ll go.

7) Double book. Usually prospects have some flexibility in when they can see a property. If you already have a showing set for 2:00 on Monday and someone else calls wanting to look at it Monday afternoon, try to steer them towards 1:45 or 2:15 or 2:30, so you only have to make one trip. You’ve doubled your chances at least one will actually show up. It also never hurts for a prospect to know that someone else is coming to look at it, so tell them “I’ve got one at 2:00, how about 1:45 or 2:15”. Our custom scheduling software now allows us to “bracket” around an existing appointment, where we only make ourselves available for 30-60 minutes around the existing appointment and unavailable for an hour or two on either side beyond that. That creates a miniature open house where any other prospects have to choose a time close to the existing one and we can double or triple up the showings on one trip; then if one doesn’t show the trip isn’t a complete waste. Because all our showings and the prospect information are kept in a database now, we’ve got a growing data set of people who fail to confirm/show. Eventually we’ll use that (like have the scheduler check against the database of no-shows). I’d like to see the the look on the no-show’s face when that is set up and when they schedule a showing down the road the computer tells them “Just as a reminder, on such-and-such a date you made a showing appointment and failed to confirm/show up. Because of that, we need you to call us when you arrive at the property to make sure we don’t waste another trip”.

8) This one I’ve never tried, and have reservations about, but offer it as food for thought. I heard through a friend in the business of a landlord in Florida who had gotten so put out with the no-show problem, he quit doing showings. He would tell prospects to come by his office (so this doesn’t work so well if you don’t have a public office), and he would take down their driver’s license information and then give them a key. He would then tell them to go take a look and bring the key back when they were done. The concerns with handing out keys are obvious, but apparently it did work for this one fellow, and he completely eliminated his no-show problem. I have also found a property management company in North Carolina which follows this same approach and seems OK with it.

No-shows are costly. They keep you from getting other things done that keep your property management operation growing and well managed. Using the methods above that work for you will save you more than you realize.

Category: Property Management

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