By Neil Scarano
It takes more than everyday maintenance to keep renters happy and maintain the value of your property. The trick is to balance the cost of improvements against the return on investment you get from rental income. How much you’re willing to invest can depend on several factors. If your rental is a vacation home that you sometimes use, you may be willing to spend more than if it’s a full-time rental.
You can increase your property's value and make your rental more appealing to potential tenants without breaking the bank.
Make a Good First Impression
The outside of your property is the first thing prospective renters will see either online or in person. Have it repainted if old paint shows signs of fading or chipping. At least ensure the surfaces have are clean. A good power-wash will take away an amazing amount of dirt and grime.
Add some container plants to the balcony or front steps. Plant Maryland native flowers, so they'll be easy to maintain. The flower pots will add a splash of color and make the place seem more inviting.
Go With Neutral Paint Inside
While the property is still vacant, consider a thorough professional cleaning and painting inside. Plain white for walls has been a favorite in rentals for years but go for a subtle gray or beige complemented by fresh white baseboards and molding. It won’t cost any more and will be more appealing to prospective renters.
Shed that Old Carpet
Wall-to-wall carpeting gets stained and nasty and needs replacing every few years. Homebuyers have voted with their feet: in real estate sales, carpet is out, hard-surface flooring is in. There’s no reason to believe renters of vacation properties feel any differently. If your property has good hardwood floors, have them cleaned, refinished or both. If you don’t have hardwood, consider “floating” laminate floors. The cost of materials is about the same as carpeting, and installation is quick and easy. Modern laminates last up to 30 years — most carpet will not.
Little Things Make a Difference
Electrical outlets, switches, and wall plates get dirty and dingy quickly. Replacements are cheap and on freshly painted walls provide a “new home” look. The same is true of doorknobs, hinges, cabinet pulls, and HVAC grills. Replace outdated ceiling light fixtures. A worn or dirty-looking toilet seat is an automatic turn-off. New ones are inexpensive and will definitely win the favor of a potential renter.
Pro tip: Everybody has cellphones now. A few electrical outlets with USB ports will give the property a state-of-the-art feel.
Replace Outdated Appliances
The condition of the kitchen is critical to would-be occupants, and they’ll expect appliances to be modern and in good working order. Avoid mismatching finishes as you replace them. White is once again popular, and you can usually save $100 or more per appliance when you choose it.
Think before Replacing Cabinets
Solid wood cabinets last a long time, and you can refresh them with minor repairs and new finish or paint. It's cheaper to replace only cabinet doors and hardware than to tear out old cabinets. Granite continues to be popular for countertops, but engineered quartz is less expensive and can last forever.
Once your upgrades are complete, engage in a little “staging” to put your property’s best foot forward. If you're renting it as furnished, make sure it's neat and de-cluttered. Plants and accessories can give it an inviting feel. Potential renters will likely see it online first, so consider hiring a professional photographer to show it in its best light.
Neil Scarano is a retired real estate agent who now stages homes on the market. He enjoys redecorating and flipping houses in his spare time.