Minimizing Costs, Maximizing Rent: Renovating a House
Renovate (ren-oh-VAIT), v: “to make new again,” from the Latin reno meaning “money pit,” (see Reno, Nevada) + vate meaning “the act of upending your wallet into.” c. 13th century British.
Renovating a home after a client has given it to your property management company to oversee is pretty much part-and-parcel of today’s PMing world. Because the good property managers do everything with an eye on their clients’ bottom line, it’s imperative that we learn to ride that fine line between pleasing the next tenant and keeping the client’s costs as low as possible. How do you balance those two seemingly-exclusive drives? Here’s how:
Treat It Like a House — Not a Home
This place isn’t going to be anyone’s lifelong residence, and your tenants certainly aren’t going to treat it with the kind of respect that they would treat a place that they own. Your job is to make sure that they can live there comfortably and safely, not to make it someplace that will suffer expensively from the tenant’s (deeply rooted and psychologically near-unavoidable) mild neglect.
Renovate Toward Space and Brightness
When a potential tenant tours the property, whether they do it consciously or not, they’re asking themselves if they can envision their life in that home. One of the most important things you can do to help that vision is to renovate with the goal of open spaces and bright rooms. If the living room is dreary even when it’s clean and you can’t just put in a new window right there where it would do the most good, try some tricks to make the light spread out. Paint the walls white, put in a big mirror over the mantle, polish the hardwood until it gleams — whatever it takes to make the space as airy and bright as it can get.
Focus on the Kitchen and Bathrooms
There’s nothing that turns a potential tenant off faster than a grimy kitchen or dank bathroom — even if they’re not actually grimy or dank. Renovating the 1970s out of a kitchen and replacing it with refurbished 1990s is a huge step forward. Replacing that disturbingly mucus-colored orange and green tile in the bathroom with a fresh wall of sparkly white will instantly turn a bathroom from iffy to stunning. As an added bonus, the kitchen and bathrooms are also the places most likely to have mechanical and/or plumbing trouble, so you can address those at the same time.
Don’t Ignore the Exterior
While it might seem counterintuitive with the first point about not putting in too much effort, the curb appeal of a rental is still the first impression a potential tenant gets — and as such, it’s the single most important aesthetic impact the rental will have on them. At the minimum, mow and edge the grass, cut back any overgrowth, prepare any obvious garden beds, and clear any major obstructions between the main windows and any significant view that might lay beyond them.
If you approach the process of renovating a new property as a series of small jobs instead of a single enormous one, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to create breakpoints and prioritize, which just by itself can save your client a surprising amount of money. Keep your eye on that goal while you work toward the other — of creating a pleasant, comfortable space to live — and you’ll automatically be doing well for your client.