Investing in single-family rental properties provides one of the most stable forms of passive income available. But there’s income only if a property has tenants paying rent, and for that reason, owners spend a good deal of time thinking about what they can do to reduce the time a property is vacant.
Most landlords correctly sense that a new bathroom or kitchen will attract better tenants and shorten times between leases. But what if an owner doesn’t have thousands of dollars to spend, or can’t see a way to charge enough rent to offset the cost?
It turns out you don’t need to break the bank to a bit of “wow” factor to your rental. In some cases, you barely need to open your wallet. Here are nine simple, low-cost steps you can take to impress tenants, improve the look of a property and reduce vacancy time between leases.
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1. Buy Matching Outlet Covers
We’ve often seen properties in which the owner has painted the walls an off-white, but has failed to replace yellow or brown wall plates for outlets and light switches. When a prospective tenant makes a first visit, the mismatch stands out. Correcting this can cost as little as a few dollars and can be rectified in a few minutes with just a screwdriver.
“When you match the covers with the paint, the room looks crisp and pulls together,” says Dan Hines, Mynd’s Vice President of Property Services. “It’s a small investment that provides a lot of value.”
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2. Make Sure the Exterior Lock Opens Smoothly
One of a prospective resident’s first impressions occurs when they unlock the front door. If the lock is sticky, and requires special effort to make it work, it registers with the tenant that there may be other small problems ahead.
A smooth front door lock, on the other hand, gets the visit off on the right foot. In most cases, simply oiling the lock can ensure that it opens without and the prospective tenant will have a good first impression. If the oil does not work, think of investing in a new mechanism.
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3. Match Light Bulb Color Temperatures
Light bulbs emit different colors, which are measured on the Kelvin scale of color temperature. A color temperature of 2700 produces a warm, living room-style glow, while 5000 degrees is a cool, almost blueish white sometimes used in kitchens or garages. The scale is the same for traditional incandescent, LED, halogen, and fluorescent bulbs.
Whatever bulb type you wish to buy, it is important to avoid mixing color temperatures in the same room, and to especially avoid mixing temperatures in the same fixture. Mixing bulbs that emit different temperatures produces unpleasant lighting and can make fixtures throughout the property look cheap. It also suggests to the prospective tenant that the owner is not paying attention to details.
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4. Add Fresh Caulking to Toilets and Sinks
You don’t need a renovation or even new plumbing fixtures to give a bathroom a clean, crisp look. Fresh caulking around sinks and toilets can do the trick. Discolored or cracked caulking immediately gives a bathroom an unfinished appearance, which may give a great new tenant pause.
But there’s additional value in caulking: it can save you from more expensive repairs down the road.
“Many daily activities can lead to long term water damage if they go unchecked,” says Dan Hines. “Things like bathing a child or a pet can result in splashing, which can cause big problems over time if the caulking fails.”
A decent caulking gun and a few tubes of all-purpose caulk are a small investment that an owner should make without hesitation.
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5. Keep Window Blinds Clean and in Good Repair
Traditional window blinds are a popular type of window treatment, but over time they often look worn or haphazard, with broken, damaged, missing slats, and knotted or broken pull cords.
Imagine a very good tenant is ready to rent your property, giving the blinds a pull, only to see them in ready-for-replacement condition. That tenant will register a reason to look elsewhere. The good news is that blinds aren’t expensive, running around $35 per window.
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6. Touch Up the Paint
After a paint job, there is almost always left over cans of paint — be sure to save these for when the apartment turns over. Spending some time going around the apartment to paint over marks and dings in the finish will help pull the space together and let prospective tenants imagine they are moving into a clean new space.
Of course if the paint job is generally worn and a touchup fails to bring the desired result, a complete paint job makes sense. Painting spaces goes much more quickly when they are empty, and hiring a professional ensures a quick turnaround and a new look.
Choose neutral colors with a lighter palette as they will help the space feel larger. Painting the entire space the same color will also lend an air of greater space. Be aware of reflected light from nearby buildings — a nearby sunny red brick building will cast a rose-colored glow.
Consult with a color specialist at a quality paint store and she will offer advice to make sure you are using paint and colors that lend a modern look. New tenants should feel that the space they are looking to move into feels fresh and new.
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7. Replace the Carpet with a Wood Floor
Carpets can lend a room an air of comfort and warmth, but they are prone to staining and wear in high-traffic areas. And if there are pets in the house, hair and muddy paws can make for a cleaning nightmare.
Consider replacing the carpets with hardwood floors or another long-lasting, easy to clean flooring material like bamboo or laminate. This is a more substantial investment, but likely more cost-effective in the long run since it does not need to be replaced every few years like carpeting.
If there is carpeting in the bedroom or other areas of the house that do not take such a beating, it’s probably fine to leave those in place. Think of having them professionally cleaned between tenants or rent a steam cleaner to do them yourself between tenants. Any leftover odors from previous tenants will be washed away.
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8. Clean Up the Yard and Spruce Up Flower Beds
Curb appeal is important when new tenants arrive at a property they are considering renting. Make sure the lawn is cut and that the edges of sidewalks are trimmed, which will make the property appear neat and cared for.
If there are flower beds, buy some bags of mulch and spread them around. New plantings help as well, but the fresh mulch brightens up outdoor areas that can otherwise look tired and neglected.
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9. Paint the Front Door and Clean the Entryway
Again, it’s all about first impressions and curb appeal. If the front door has a fresh coat of neutral paint and the threshold and sill are clean, prospective tenants might not be able to pinpoint why they feel like they are walking into a home that is cared for and well-maintained.
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10. Update the Kitchen Hardware
Old or chipped handles and knobs on kitchen cabinets or drawers are not noticeable at first glance, but they impart background visual noise that will register with prospective tenants. Likewise, sleek and modern cabinet hardware adds clean lines to the space and are a visual clue to tenants that it is well taken care of.
While you are at it, make sure all the cabinet doors close and are square with its companion. Small adjustments to hinges with a screwdriver is often all that is needed to accomplish this.
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11. Polish Window and Mirrors
In this case, skip the Windex and paper towels and try this method for cleaning windows and mirrors:
- Mix a half cup of ammonia and a quarter cup of vinegar in a bucket of hot water and use a rag (preferably and old towel or t-shirt) to clean surfaces.
- Crumble up old newspaper pages and use them to wipe the surface dry.
- The paper will absorb the liquid and impart a sheen to the surface.
- When the newspaper stops absorbing liquid, use a new page.
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12. Pay for a Deep Cleaning
It’s tempting for owners to save a few dollars by cleaning units between tenants. Even worse, some pay outgoing tenants to do the cleaning.
“Would you want to stay in a hotel room that was cleaned by the previous guest?” Hines asked. “Most people would say no.”
There is no substitute for a good, professional cleaning. Good tenants can also tell the differences between a true cleaning and amateur work. It shows up in the small corners of the bathroom, the dust on ceiling light fixtures, etc.
Cleaning services can cost as little as $150, depending on the market – money well spent if it means landing a quality tenant.
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