Teresa BitlerDo you want your rental property in better shape after your tenant moves out? Landlords who conduct a good initial walkthrough of their rental property with a new tenant will experience less damage and receive the property back in better shape than those who rush through or skip the walkthrough altogether.

Walkthroughs protect you the landlord renting out the property, as well as your tenant who is renting your property.

Here are seven tips for an initial walk through with a tenant that can lead to a more successful final walkthrough.

 No. 1 – Create a form

You will want to have a form that lists each room of the house and its components so the existing condition of each can be noted. You can find generic walkthrough forms online or, sometimes, as part of property management software and smartphone applications. However, it’s just as easy to make your own form.

List each room, and then divide the room into its elements: floor, walls, door, window, sink, light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc. In the kitchen, include each appliance. Be thorough. Allow one or more blank lines to list additional items that might come to your attention during the walkthrough.

Your form should include columns next to the items so you can record move-in condition, move-out condition and an estimated cost to clean, replace, or repair any damaged item.

At the end of the form, include signature lines for you and the tenant. Then, when you’ve completed the initial walkthrough, sign and date the form and make a copy the tenant can keep for his records.

No. 2 – Do the property visit together

7 things to go when walking through your rental with tenantsBefore the tenant moves in, schedule a time to walk through the property with the tenant and anyone else whose name appears on the lease.

This accomplishes two things.

First, it allows both parties to go through the property, room by room, and note the condition of the property on the walkthrough form together, theoretically reducing disagreements when the tenant moves out.

Second, it sets the tone for your expectations. You have the opportunity to point out the oven’s clean interior or to talk about the difference between damages and wear and tear.

While the tenant should be present for the initial move-in walkthrough, you might want to think twice about having him present for the final move-out walkthrough after he moves out, says attorney Tristan R. Pettit. He finds that, by that point, the tenant has made all the repairs and done all the cleaning he intends — he’s only interested now in arguing for return of his entire security deposit.

No. 3 – Keep the process simple

You want to keep the process simple; otherwise, the tenant may start to question the condition of the property and the decision to rent the property, says Kelly DeCesare, vice president of sales and management for Real Property Management TriState Area.

“I always tell people it’s like a checking a rental car,” DeCesare says. “You’re looking for the dings.”

She likes the rental car analogy because it’s easy for most people to understand. If the rental car agent points out every little scratch or imperfection, you start to wonder whether you’ll be penalized if it doesn’t look like it just rolled off the assembly line when it returns. The same goes for the tenant, if you over-document during the walkthrough. He’ll start to wonder whether he’ll be held accountable for scuffs on the floor.

The average walkthrough should take approximately 20 minutes, says Kevin Ortner, who operates Renters Warehouse franchises in Minnesota and Arizona.

No. 4 – Take pictures or video

There’s really no excuse for not visually documenting the property’s condition with photographs and video, says Kimberly Smith of Corporate Housing By Owner. Most smartphones have a decent camera and videotaping capabilities. Take a general photograph of each room and then a close-up of any damage, preferably with the date stamp feature enabled, if available. Clearly label the photos and backup digital photographs on a hard drive or in a cloud storage system.

“My favorite is getting a video,” Smith says. “When the tenant moves out and says the stains were already there, I can go back and review.”

Ortner began videotaping every walkthrough — introducing the tenant, at least verbally, on camera — after experiencing up to 10 disputes per month at the time of move-out for legitimate damages. Since implementing this strategy, Ortner and his team have reduced the number of disputes to just a few per year. He feels the reduction is a direct result of videotaping the walkthrough.

Very few tenants decline to appear on camera or feel intimidated when his agents videotape the walkthrough, he says, and the videotape offers another advantage: he can print screenshots, which serve as photographs.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” he says. “A video is worth a million pictures.”

No. 5 – Do your own checks before the tenant shows up

A walkthrough entails more than just checking the carpet for stains and the doors for broken knobs — you need to go through the property with a fine-tooth comb beforehand. Ortner finds that taking the time to test all elements of the property greatly reduces issues that the tenant might have in the first few days of his tenancy, a time when you are trying to build trust and establish a good relationship.

Run the air conditioner. Flush all the toilets, observe water pressure and check to see that the built-in microwave works. Open and close all blinds, doors and windows. Be thorough. Finding out in front of the tenant that the kitchen faucet doesn’t work sends the message that you don’t really take much interest or pride in your properties.

When you walk through with the tenant, go through the process again and have the tenant agree that the items are in good working order. That way, later, the tenant can’t claim that the microwave never worked or the door was “always like that.”

Don’t forget to test these elements when you complete the final walkthrough. You don’t want to learn after signing off on the property that the tenant damaged the air-conditioner, leaving you with an expensive repair.

No. 6 – Give the tenant time to find additional problems

Give the tenant time to discover additional problems. Smith recommends at least 3 days.  If the tenant does find something legitimate, document it in writing and with photographs, if applicable.

Then, when the tenant moves out, you have a record of the additional damage. Realistically it could take a few days to determine if everything in your rental is still working correctly. For example, the dishwasher might come on, but until the tenant actually tries to run a load of dishes, it may not be obvious that it doesn’t drain properly. Similarly, a broken cabinet could go unnoticed until the tenant moves in a few days later and opens it to put in dishes or glasses.

No. 7 – Know what landlord tenant laws say in your state

State law determines what a landlord can and cannot do at the time of move-in and when the tenant moves out. These laws govern the amount of the security deposit that can be collected, the circumstances under which the landlord can keep some of that deposit and the timeline for the deposit’s return.

Landlord-tenant laws also indicate which repairs the tenant is responsible for and which the landlord is responsible for, elements that could come into play when the security deposit is in dispute. Your lease may also spell out additional responsibilities.

It’s crucial to know the law and understand when you can keep the security deposit and when you can’t, because a tenant can sue you if you violate the governing landlord-tenant act. Smith points out that if you work with a property management company, you don’t have to worry about making a costly mistake like that.

“A property management company probably does walkthroughs 50 times a month,” she says. “If you’re not doing this on a regular basis, you can miss things or do something wrong and then the tenant can sue you.”

Cleaning up and making a property ready between tenants is not only wise from a maintenance point of view, but it also helps ensure the fastest possible rent-up to the next tenant as a desirable home and, thus, maximum rent — and profit — for you.

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  • Teresa Bitler

    Teresa Bitler is a regular freelance contributor to Think Realty Magazine. Contact her at teresa@teresabitler.com.

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