In some cities, getting into a good rental can seem as competitive as getting accepted to an Ivy League school. But if you’re prepared, knowledgeable, and professional when you apply, you’ll stand out from the throngs of people waiting for the open house to begin.

As an apartment manager, I’ve spent years meeting and evaluating applicants, so I know what makes potential renters rise to the top. Here are some tips and tricks that will make you—and your application—grab the attention of any landlord or property manager.

Keep your word

All too often I deal with applicants who make appointments but never show up, then fail to email or call back when they say they will. Sometimes they contact me a week later asking if the unit is still available, with no explanation as to why they ghosted. If you’re serious about seeing the property, show up. And please, be on time.

So, you made it to the showing appointment, love the apartment, must have it, and promise to fill out the online application as soon as you get home. It’s in your best interest to actually fill out the application as soon as you get home (or somewhere where you can fully fill out the app).

If the landlord is using Cozy, you can fill out an application from your phone before you even leave the property. If the landlord is still using paper applications, you can still share your Cozy renter profile, which gives them more info and helps set you apart.

Most competitive rental situations generally operate on a first-come-first-serve basis for qualified applicants. If the next qualified person to view the unit gets their application in first, and they’re approved, you’ll probably lose the apartment.

Have all your info ready

In most cases, you’ll only need a handful of items to apply for a rental property. These include, but aren’t limited, to:

Employment history

Not only will you need contact information and payment history for your current position(s), but likely for the past two years, as well.

Pay stubs or other proof of income

Most landlords require you to prove your income. Be sure to check the income requirements for the particular property. Some require you to earn at least two times (and sometimes three times) the monthly rental amount.

Rental history

Gather all your past addresses and previous landlords’ contact information (phone number and email). Your potential landlord needs to check your rental references to ensure you’ve paid your rent on time and haven’t had any disputes with past landlords.

Credit score

It’s valuable to know what shows up on your credit report before you apply to any rental property. If there are any inaccuracies, you’ll have time to dispute the issue with the credit bureau. And, if you see any potential red flags, you can tell your potential landlord right away so there aren’t any surprises when they check your credit report. You can check your own credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com, the only source for federally-authorized free credit reports.

Check your credit score and credit history before beginning the application process. While an application won’t ask you directly for your credit score, you can be sure that at some point during the application process, the landlord will check your credit score. There are a handful of credit resources online (including annualcreditreport.com) that allow a free credit check every 12 months. Be aware of the credit requirements for the rental property; it may not be worth having your credit pulled if you know you don’t meet the requirements. A soft credit inquiry won’t negatively affect your credit score.

Rental references

Most potential landlords will want to interview your former or current landlords. They’ll want to know if you paid rent on time and kept your place clean. Be sure to leave on good terms, and ask your former landlords if they’d be willing to give a positive reference.

Personal references

Most applications require you to list at least two personal references. These people can be previous bosses, friends, roommates, or people you trust who’ve known you for a long time.

These days, many rental companies and landlords accept applications online, but sometimes you’ll be asked to fill out a paper application at the time of the showing. Make sure to bring all the information listed above so you can fill out the application as thoroughly as possible. If there is a link to an online application in the rental advertisement, filling it out before the showing can be a great way to “cut in line.” However, rental application fees are typically non-refundable, so be sure this is really the apartment for you, or be prepared to forfeit the application fee. If a property manager is still using paper applications, be sure to ask how they plan to secure your sensitive information to mitigate the risks of identity theft.

Treat a rental property viewing like a job interview

First impressions count, even when applying for a property. Just a little preparation will make a big difference.

Make a good first impression

Dress professionally (or at least like you didn’t just roll out of bed), be on time, and be courteous. More than once, I’ve met applicants who showed up wearing pajama pants or with alcohol on their breath to view my apartments. We notice these things.

Know your stuff

Be as knowledgeable about the rental property as you can. A good rental advertisement includes details like the rental amount, security deposit, lease duration, which utilities are included, and the screening criteria. The more you know, the more it shows that you’ve done your legwork and are serious about getting the place.

Ask good questions

These include things that you’d have no way of knowing from the rental ad, like how the landlord prefers to handle maintenance issues or for details about the “vibe” of the building.

Let them know why you’re moving

This is a touchy subject because not everyone has a positive reason for a move—and by no means do landlords expect you to divulge extremely personal information—but what we really want to understand is your motivation. Show a landlord you’re ready to move, and prove why you’d be a great tenant. Do you have a history of staying long-term at past rentals? Do you play well with others? Are you easygoing and responsible?

Don’t try to hide your past

Life happens. Every landlord and property manager is a human who has the capacity to understand that we all make mistakes. Sometimes it just takes an explanation and their understanding for you to get a second chance.

Disclosure is key. If you have a DUI on your record, less than stellar credit, or even a negative rental history, fess up. I’d much rather hear an explanation from you upfront than uncover your background while I’m researching your application. Otherwise, I might assume you were trying to hide information, which is not a good way to begin a landlord/tenant relationship.

Some landlords will forgive credit blemishes if you are willing to pay an additional security deposit. Timing matters, too. Is your poor credit score because of problems five years ago or five months ago? Most landlords weigh student loan and/or medical debt differently than a year of missed credit card payments.

Some landlords may let you have a cosigner who is typically a relative (but can be someone else as well). This person should be willing to vouch for you and take on rental payment responsibility.

It can be tough to find a rental if you have poor credit or an eviction on your record, but it’s not impossible. Do your best to be upfront about any issues a landlord may find during the application process, and ask if they’d be willing to work with you. This will save everyone time, and more often than not, you’ll be rewarded for your honesty.  

Be yourself

I know, I know, it’s a cliche. But the more you let your wonderful self shine while viewing the rental, the more you’ll get an idea of whether the property is right for you. A happy tenant makes a happy landlord, and there’s nothing better than a happy landlord. Trust me.