Dear Landlord: Use your imagination.

For this topic, I’d like to ask that you look at your rental property from a different viewpoint…. imagine you are a prospective applicant, seeing this particular residence for the very first time.

Applicants will have a judgmental opinion of your property. This is not a good or bad characteristic, it’s simply a fact. Applicants do not necessarily have the same priorities or interests as the landlord. They look at your residence and ask, “Does this home work for me, does it suit my needs?” At DeDe’s Rentals, our goal is to have every aspect of your property reaffirm for the suitable prospective applicant a one-word answer to that question: “yes.”

Obviously, each property is different, and an applicant who needs a spacious four-bedroom home would not be interested in a cozy two-bedroom condo. However, large or small, there are consistent details that apply to every property.

First impressions matter. Every day, people apply first impressions as a way to categorize people, places and things; first impressions allow us to simplify our decision-making process. As an applicant walks through your property, details add up. Sometimes, there’s one major item that becomes the “deciding factor.” Other times, a multitude of smaller details simply tip the balance overall. What qualifies as a major item? How about matted, beaten shag carpet that looks over twenty years old? Failed double-pane windows, etched with lime? Tobacco odors (or other unsavory smells) which have permeated the walls, flooring and cabinets? Water stains on the ceiling, indicating a roof leak. Outdated wallpaper. An unstable deck with loose railings.

I would ask you to be objective and honest when appraising whether your home is ready for rental. Is it safe? Is it desirable? Does the condition and location support the price you’re asking? If it weren’t your own house, would YOU live there in its present condition?

Just as there are major deterrents to rental, there are frequently POSITIVE attributes that become particular “selling points.” Granite countertops, remodeled kitchens and baths, extraordinary landscaping, expansive decks and other areas appropriate for outdoor living… these “big ticket” items are often found when what was originally an owner-occupied home is later converted to a rental. While attractive, it’s not typically necessary (or fiscally wise) to spend the money that might be needed to ADD substantial high-end features to your rental, especially if it is being held as a long-term investment and you are concerned with ROI.

Instead, applicants oftentimes make first impressions based upon a series of incremental details. Does the house look and smell clean? Are the walls scuffed or dirty? What about the window coverings? Are there antiquated light fixtures with a mismatched collection of bulbs? When was the grout around the tub and shower pan last replaced? Are the markings on the oven worn and illegible? What about the bathroom mirror and medicine cabinet – are they showing their age?

By the same measure that a 100-point exam is graded one question at a time, applicants evaluate rentals based on individual, small impressions that eventually add up.

Don’t let a potentially desirable tenant walk away from your unit with a bad first impression, because you likely won’t get a second chance. In any competitive market, applicants have numerous options to choose from. Our goal is for GOOD applicants to envision your house as their home. Once accepted, we strive for them to become long-term, responsible tenants who take care of the property. When that happens, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Ultimately, you have to have to spend money in order to make money. Most of the time it’s as simple as cleaning and updating the property. When you put money and effort into a home’s condition, you achieve three significant results: you set a standard for tenants – “the landlord cares enough to make sure this property is well-maintained, and expects the same of their tenants.” In addition, you lessen the likelihood of future security deposit refund disputes: you have files (and frequently photos) documenting the various projects completed in preparation for occupancy. This gives additional credibility to the perception that you are a responsible landlord, who made sure the property was in suitable condition before the tenant took over. Lastly, like dipping into the Fountain of Youth, you slow the overall aging process of your investment.

Here are a few helpful tips that Dede’s Rentals, a property management firm in Santa Rosa, picked up along the way:

  • Replace outdated bath and kitchen lights with newer fixtures; spend just a bit extra to choose esthetically attractive “mid-priced” models. (Don’t limit yourself to the least-expensive options.) This is an easy, cost-effective way to modernize any home. Make sure all fixtures have a full complement of bulbs, make sure the bulbs match – and are appropriate to the fixture. (For example, don’t use chandelier “flame” bulbs in the bathroom.)

  • Upgrade and replace outdated plumbing faucets and fixtures, applying the same philosophy: invest a minor amount of money for a major impression.

  • Add ceiling fans in bedrooms. It makes the room cooler in summertime, improves air flow year-round, and upgrades the appearance dramatically.

  • Make sure carpets are clean, or replace them if outdated, worn, stained or frayed. The same approach should be taken for curtains, as well.

  • Clean the entire inside of the rental unit, which means toilets, appliances, sinks, showers, tubs, closets, windows, etc. Basically, clean anything and everything.

  • Repair or replace damaged or defective doors, door handles, screens, window frames, electrical outlets and leaking taps.

  • If you have scuff marks on the walls as a result of previous residents,  seriously consider painting. Often, a moderate touch up can make it appear as if you completely repainted the walls. However, if your last tenant lived in the rental unit for 5+ years, you should expect to repaint in whole or in part. Tenants who stay in a home for a longer duration usually tend to scuff, scratch and create holes in the walls from pictures; a prospective tenant will be looking at your house as a “blank canvas” for them to personalize. Wear and tear from previous residents will significantly dampen their interest.

  • Maintain gardening services while the rental property is vacant; curb appeal is important. Prospective tenants will typically judge a book by its cover, even before they see the interior. If your home has a dead or overgrown yard it will definitely be a turn off. Furthermore, a subconscious message is conveyed: if YOU don’t care about the appearance of the house, why should they?

  • Know your market and know what the objective value is for the residence. What you owe on the mortgage has no correlation to the rent value.

Investing in real estate can be a lucrative proposition, but it’s important to remember there is an inherent cost to owning rental property. Spend money wisely on the property at turnaround, so you can command a competitive rent, attract desirable tenants and maintain the home’s value. Otherwise, properties that are perceived to be “worn” and less desirable run the risk of longer vacancies, lower rent values and/or more challenging tenants.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at DeDe’s Rentals. We will be happy to help you.