A rental property can be a great way to generate income, but when a rental sits vacant, it can quickly drain your bank account. I recently lost my long-term tenants. As I walked through my empty rental, I realized it was a far cry from the turnkey condition it used to be. Everywhere I looked, something was missing, broken or damaged. Since I needed to get this property in rentable condition as soon as possible, I made a list of repairs, established a budget and created a timeline. Then it was time to get the ball rolling on my first rental rehab.
The very first call I made was to get the electricity turned on, which was done remotely and almost immediately. The second call was to a locksmith. I had all the locks replaced, including the community mailbox. The locksmith also mentioned that I should get the garage door openers reprogrammed — easy enough to do yourself and instructions are usually available online depending on your garage door opener. Once those items were taken care of, it was time to tackle the more complicated (and more expensive) projects.
The walls needed a fresh coat of paint, but I also wanted to update the existing dark tan color. Deciding on the right color for your walls can be a painstaking chore, especially if you have paint commitment issues. Thanks to apps like ColorSnap you can virtually paint your walls to get a preview of what your newly-painted room might look like. Upload a picture of your room and pick out a color. A few clicks later, you can see what your room would look like with that paint job. I settled on a neutral beige that would be easy to maintain and would appeal to most potential renters.
My rental property is a tri-level townhouse with high ceilings in the stairwell, so DIY-painting the whole place was not an option for me. I considered saving money by painting some of the rooms myself, but when I got quotes from paint contractors, it made more sense to leave it up to the pros — especially because they would work faster and the clock was ticking. The paint contractors I reached out to were word-of-mouth referrals. According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), word-of-mouth referrals are the most common way to find leads for contractors. NARI recommends getting leads from friends, neighbors, lenders, real estate agents and material suppliers. The pros I hired were able to get the job done ahead of schedule and it ended up costing less than I had initially projected in my budget.
I knew that I would have to replace the laminate flooring in the high-traffic areas as it had seen better days, but I ultimately decided to gut all flooring (which helped speed up the painting since the painters did not have to worry about protecting it). The previous tenants had pets. When they moved out, they had the carpets cleaned and treated for pet odor, but the smell still wafted through the unit. I attempted to do spot cleaning since the carpet was only a couple of years old, but it proved futile. That smell was not going away. I reached out to a few different sources, big names like Home Depot and Lumber Liquidators, but I also got another referral from a small local flooring company. The local company offered fewer options within my budget, but they were able to schedule the job and get it done sooner than the bigger companies. My original plan had not included the expense to replace all flooring so it set the budget back a bit, but eliminating any traces of pet odor would likely get the place rented faster — making the cost worth it in the long run.
A realtor friend once told me that kitchens and baths sell houses. The kitchen was definitely due for a makeover. The cabinets were grimy and dated. Since my budget didn’t allow for replacing them, I opted to refinish them. I had refinished kitchen cabinets in the past, so I was comfortable taking this project on myself.
If you’re up for the task, there are plenty of resources on how to refinish kitchen cabinets — consulting your local paint store for tips and products is a great place to start. I also wanted to replace the white tile countertops, since pieces had chipped off. I received a few estimates on the cost of more durable surfaces from a big box home improvement store as well as an independent stone supplier. The prices were comparable, but the big box store would not be able to install for a few weeks and the stone supplier required me to go pick out stone from their warehouse, which I could not get to right away. I decided to hold off on any decisions until the cabinets were done. I am glad I waited. The old brown cabinets were now a calming gray with new, brushed steel hardware, making the white tile countertops look pretty good. I ultimately kept the existing countertop and just replaced the broken tiles — resulting in a significant savings.
The three bathrooms were in decent shape, but the bathtub on the third floor had a puncture right below the water spout. This was troubling since there was a concern about possible water damage and the potential nightmare of third floor water trickling all the way down to the bottom floor.
I assumed I would have to replace the whole fiberglass unit. I asked for an estimate from a handyman I had used in the past. Factoring in labor, disposal (from the third floor), plus the cost of a new unit from a home improvement store, it was going to cost a few thousand dollars. I mentioned this to a friend who works for a commercial property renovation company, and he said, “You don’t need to replace it. Just call a bathtub refinisher.” He referred me to a bathtub refinishing company he uses regularly and told me to drop his name. For a few hundred dollars, they came out to refinish the bathtub, making it look brand new, and also refinished the white porcelain kitchen sink.
Before this renovation, I had managed the property myself. If I didn’t hear from the tenants, I assumed all was well. (Experienced property investors are shaking their heads right about now.)
Walking around the unit and taking in the condition of the place, I realized the error of my ways. A lot was missing and had to be replaced: light switches, oven knobs, toilet flushing levers, etc. Doors had holes in them and most of the smoke detectors had been removed. It could have been a lot worse but I simply got lucky that catastrophe had been averted, and I didn’t want to bank on luck anymore. It was time for another pro. I hired an experienced and recommended property manager. He performed his own walk-through and knew what to look for. He then made a list of items that needed to be addressed and brought in his handyman to take care of all of the random tasks so the place could be ready to rent within our projected timeline.
Hiring a property manager was the best decision I made as a part of the rental rehab. The monthly expense of a property manager, which is typically between 7-10% of the rent, is well worth the peace of mind it provides.
Once all the work was finished, the townhouse looked and smelled like new. Thanks to the updates and good property manager, the unit was rented within a week of hitting the market.
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