Today's renters are more savvy than yesteryears and the expectations and stakes are higher. The old mindset that, "It's just a rental, so anything goes", is not only disrespectful to your future renter, but an archaic thought, that will have you loosing potential applicants. Many folks today are renting by choice and some have been for decades. Others have been longtime homeowners and either may be entering the rental market due to circumstance or by choice. Either way, today's renter pool is more educated, so homeowners need come prepared.
Let's start outside with curb appeal. If you were driving up to the house for the first time, would you be enticed to take a look inside? How do the grounds look? What type of expectation are you as the owner setting for future care? It's obvious that you want a green, weed free lawn. Also pay special attention to flowerbeds, shrubs and trees. Let's get those oil stains out of the driveway. Let's make sure the exterior is free of debris such as, leaves, cobwebs, etc. Fix anything in need of repair, such as leaning or rotted fence posts and anything that appears weathered and old. Be sure to have your property manager hire a lawn crew to keep the lawn looking it's best during the vacancy. Many people still drive through areas of town they'd like to live in, making a first impression is a golden opportunity.
Once inside a vacant home, people's eyes are drawn immediately to flaws. Let's try to minimize them. Homes with fresh paint and clean carpets leave people to contemplate the floor plan, rather than what kind of Landlord owns the home. Homes should also be professionally cleaned. Did you pull out the oven and fridge to clean behind it? What about on top of those high plant shelves? A professional cleaner will know to do so.
How does it smell? Don't let that smell you hope no one is going to notice waste anyone's time. There are many a-people out there with sensitive noses who can smell pets and mildew that are long gone, but it's just enough to ruin a deal. This is why a professional clean followed by a carpet cleaning is so important. Your renter will be expected to clean the carpets when they move out, so it's a fair trade -
Love those bold paint colors on your wall? Well don't expect everyone else to. Colors are personal and since you aren't living there, you should try to appeal to as many people as you can - and you do that with neutral colors. Try shades of sand, beige and tan, with white trim. When you do have white walls, try to avoid having the trim work the same shade. You want there to be a break in color.
Let's talk risk. Do all your bedrooms have smoke detectors? They need to, it's code and a requirement of CPM. Do you have GFCI outlets in your bathrooms and kitchens? You should. Outlets trip for a reason, safety! How are the handrails, the stairs, the floorboards? Also, think about the last time you had your dryer vent and chimney cleaned. Preventative maintenance can keep you (and me) out of court. Anything else around the house that is in need of repair? Most of these things are simple fixes, and if they aren't then we should re-evaluate.
Many first time landlords are shocked to hear me say that I want to change their locks. New occupants have a right to know that the only people with a key to their home is their professional property manager and them. There are horror stories that include people with keys getting out of jail only to let themselves into a house that is no longer occupied by their loved ones. The thought of someone having access to your home is frightening. Your renter should feel and be safe.
Lastly, you need to take any emotional attachment out of the house. If you lived in a house that you are now turning into a rental, you need to draw a line in the sand. You are a landlord now. You are running a business that comes with risks and rewards. You cannot expect to make rational decisions when emotions are involved. Not everyone is going to love the house the way you did. And that's OK. Remember, you are working on not being emotionally attached. Blunt advice coming - but renters don't care that you laid that hardwood floor yourself, refinished the tub yourself or your granddaddy built the home with his bare hands. Besides, most people with good credit and references seldom cause much damage. So with good screening in place, your confidence should be raised. But you must expect that each year that goes by, there is going to be wear and tear on any home. There isn't much that can be done that isn't fixable.
Hiring a professional property manager to help navigate you through state and federal laws, bizarre circumstances and tenant expectations is a wise business decision - and, another write off!
Contributed by Andrea Mayer