I’ve learned many lessons in my real estate investing career through “the school of hard knocks,” and by sharing them, I hope I can save you some time and headaches as you purchase your first property and prepare it for tenants.
Even if you already have a rental property, these guidelines apply—whether you are a seasoned veteran or are just beginning as a part-time real estate investor.
The important things to convey to you are the general guidelines. Less important are the specifics, such as the colors or materials I use or the prices I pay.
Keep it simple and focus on how to Simplify, Beautify and Comply whether you are evaluating a property to purchase as a future rental or whether you already own the property and you are managing it as an existing rental.
No. 1 – Simplify to maximize the appeal
Think about how to keep your rental properties neutral—whether you own them now or are out shopping for your first one. What I mean is, you want to maximize the appeal of this house to the maximum number of tenants. That goes way beyond the color of the paint you use on the walls.
You want a neutral house that is neither too unique nor too limiting. It needs to appeal to a broad number of tenants. So keep that in mind as you look at potential rental houses while shopping for your first one. The simplified, neutral house will have the broadest appeal.
Believe me, that will appeal to more tenants and it’s going to benefit your tenants—and you, down the road, when it comes to maintaining the property or getting it ready for new tenants.
No. 2 – Beautify your property
You want to make this house something you can be proud of when you drive by it or show it to potential tenants.
You also want it to be a house your tenants can be proud of when they come home from work at the end of the day and as they sit down to write that rent check to you each month or when they invite their friends and family over.
By “beautify your property,” I mean you want to be proud of it—not ashamed. And you want your tenants to be equally proud of it (and not ashamed).
Do everything you can to ensure your property accomplishes those goals for your customers—your tenants.
No. 3 – Comply
You do have some guidelines and standards by which you have to manage and abide.
Depending on the communities where you invest, some of these may be very rigidly defined. Be sure to check with your local municipality to make sure you are complying with those guidelines in the way you maintain your properties.
Specifically, pay attention to the issues of safety and code compliance.
Now, let’s talk about these in more detail
These considerations are not in any logical order, and they do not necessarily fall into one of those three buckets in any particular order.
Let’s start with the first and most obvious detail: paint. My advice is to avoid the temptation to get creative.
We paint the inside of all of our houses the exact same color.
We use a paint color called Kilim Beige. We use a Sherwin Williams product, but there are many, many other products out there that offer the same or similar shade.
It’s a great neutral color that will appeal to all of your tenants. And it is going to look good with all of their furnishings, regardless of the color schemes they use or bring into your property.
We use these on all of our properties, because when a tenant moves out and you go in to touch up or repaint, you do not want to be spending a lot of time or money testing new colors or trying to get creative. You want to quickly get into the property and perform that make-ready, that paint touch-up or total redo—whatever you are doing—and quickly get out.
It’s great when you know the paint you are going to use, you know where you are going to buy it, you know how much it costs, and you can do all of that quickly. If you have the exact same paint, those touchups go quickly and easily, versus trying to match some unique color you thought was a great idea four years ago and you used it in one house. In a case like that, you’ll find yourself back at the paint store trying to get the right tint so that you can touch up rather than having to repaint the entire place.
Keep your colors neutral to simplify
We paint everything in the house. We paint the walls, the ceilings, baseboards, all the trim work, the doors, the closets, even the shelving. We paint it all that same color of beige. This may or may not work for you in your market, but it works here in Dallas for the grade of properties we lease out.
Now, if you are dealing in higher-end properties, you may want to paint your baseboards or your ceiling a different color. Even your closets and doors may need a high gloss white.
But for a lot of rental properties you can paint the whole thing one color, and it will look great, and you will thank yourself later on. It’s easy. It’s simple. And it looks great. You will be glad you did it this way—if that is appropriate with the grade of properties you are renting.
In the kitchen
We do cabinets in standard semi-gloss white: very easy, bright and clean. It really makes the cabinets “pop.” We even paint countertops if they are not granite. In our market there are a lot of linoleum countertops in our standard rental properties.
When that linoleum gets tired or worn, there are great products out there that you can use to repaint your countertops. You can even put a little fleck material in there to give them some texture, which spices them up and gives them a fresh look without your having to replace the countertop.
We even paint tubs and sinks with white porcelain.
Flooring and fixtures
Flooring is very similar. You can do a lot of different things with flooring, but in our market we use Frieze carpet at a $1 a square foot and a lot of ceramic tile. Don’t get too fancy.
Go for hardy products that stand the test of time and in neutral colors.
Fixtures are very much the same. We use a lot of nickel fixtures. We do not get creative. We use white ceiling fans, nickel door stops, brushed nickel door handles. They are affordable, easy to find, easy to duplicate and easy to replace in the future.
We use white appliances in our market. Once again, what is important is not the color or the size of the materials we use, but the principles. You may need to use stainless steel in your market, but here in Dallas—with the grade of properties we rent—good clean, new, white appliances work wonderfully. They are available everywhere, and they are inexpensive.
We do not offer refrigerators in our properties here.
A lot of people have their own refrigerators. A lot of people are very particular about their refrigerator. “I want the freezer on top. I want a side-by-side. I want an ice-maker.” Their preferences vary.
We find we do not have to provide refrigerators. They are very high maintenance if you do. So it is nice for you as the landlord if that is one piece of the property you do not have to provide and maintain.
You may be able to get away with that in your market, or you may not. Here in Dallas, it is not a must. Most tenants bring their own and prefer to bring their own.
Landscaping to beautify
On landscaping, the “simplify” guidelines play right along with “beautify.”
We do not buy homes, lease homes or maintain rental properties with a lot of external additives. We avoid sheds, decks, swings, patio covers, carports and screen doors. These often result in excessive maintenance for you as a landlord, and if avoidable, we eliminate those prior to leasing a property for the first time.
If a house has a lot of those things, we factor it into the purchase price when we buy it—the fact we are having to remove a lot of those. Simplify and beautify that exterior of that property so it is easily maintained and very appealing to the eye—not only to the tenant, but everybody in the neighborhood who sees that property on a daily basis.
We will even remove fences. If a fence is not necessary in a particular neighborhood, we will remove it. Fences are expensive to maintain with gates, staining and broken pickets. We have removed many fences over time to simplify and open up yards, improve our maintenance on the properties and make them more appealing to the eye.
We definitely avoid do-it-yourself add-ons and customizations. If we see a house that was a “handyman special” over time—where previous owners added rooms, garages, sheds or patio covers—those are things we want to remove or avoid at the time of purchase and move on to the next house.
They are symptomatic of requiring a lot of maintenance and they are not appealing to everybody. They may have appealed to the previous owner, but chances are they may not meet the standards, expectations or desires of your tenants. So keep things simple and avoid those types of elements on the properties you buy and the properties you maintain.
We always have a rule when we do our make-ready on the outside of our homes, “If you can pick it up, take it away.” Rocks, boulders, timbers, lawn ornaments, logs, anything you can pick up and remove will simplify and beautify that property.
Finally, let’s wrap up with “comply.” Make sure you are in compliance with all safety and code requirements, including locks, smoke detectors and security bars.
Your city may require house numbers or fire extinguishers or special trimmings for trees. Get up to speed quickly and make sure you are in compliance with those, because that is extremely important.
Buy a house that is easy to maintain, is appealing to your customers and is in compliance with your local codes, and you will do great.