It smelled like Bigfoot’s cave.
Okay, that’s being generous… it smelled like Bigfoot’s tomb.
Not only was the smell so bad that every dog within a 16 block radius was cowering in fear, but the appearance wasn’t much better. Holes in the wall and doors, destroyed carpet, broken light fixtures, disgusting appliances.
If you’ve been a landlord for any period of time, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. If not… don’t worry, you will. No matter how well we screen for the perfect tenant (see Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide) you may still have a problem. Recently, for me, it was a tenant we “inherited” when we bought the property and were forced to evict.
Perhaps you have a lot of money and can simply hire a contractor to come in and total remodel the place. Maybe you have a property manager who will take care of the problem.
However, that’s not me (yet) and I often find myself with a hammer and bleach after a nasty tenant turnover. It’s not that I like doing it, but when contractor bids are coming in around $10,000 to get the property turned over, I can’t help but get in there and do what I can to save some money. (I know, I know… a lot of you are cringing at that, saying my time is better spent finding deals. Perhaps that’s a debate for another day…)
Therefore, this article is for the DIY landlords out there, those just starting out, and those who just want to save money and fix problems themselves. The following are 8 tips that I use to get my rental properties fixed up and rented back out quickly. Keep in mind – I’m not saying this is exactly how you should do it, I’m just letting you know how I do it. Perhaps there is a tip or two in here you can use to save a few bucks on your next tenant turnover.
1.) Consider Hiring Out The Worst
Often times, people forget that it doesn’t need to be “all or nothing” when deciding whether to DIY it or hire a contractor to fix a place up. In the example I gave above with the recent eviction I did, I hired a local handyman to haul out the smell carpet, the tenants junk, and do a quick cleaning of the place before I went in.
Yes, I want to save money, but for under $100, I was able to bypass all the worst parts.
2.) How to Kill Smells
When looking at potential properties, I LOVE a bad smell. Why? Because it drives everyone else away but it’s one of the easiest things to fix. To eliminate most smells:
- Get rid of soiled carpet and pad. This is the #1 biggest reason a place smells.
- Bleach the floors with 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
- Let it dry, then paint the floors (as long as they aren’t nice hardwoods) with Kilz Oil Based Primer. This stuff runs about $12 a gallon but will kill any bad smell on the floor – and it’s easy to do. Just pour small amounts out on the floor and spread it out with a roller on a stick.
- Always use a respirator (about $30) when working with oil primer. Seriously – or you’ll pass out. I’m not kidding.
After a couple days, the primer smell will go away, and you’ll be left with a clean, fresh smelling property. If not… check your sewer pipes!
3.) Paint Color
I’ve done a lot of “testing” of paint over the years. As I documented at depth in my post What Is The Best Interior Paint for Landlords and House Flippers? (Hint… It’s Not What You Think) I primarily use Wal-Mart’s in-house brand “ColorPlace” on all my properties, using the “Country White” color (no, it’s not white… it’s a tan/yellow color) they have pre-mixed. This way, no matter what property I go into to work on, it’s all the same color. To sum up that article I wrote, I tested almost every paint I could find and determined that every single paint brand required 2 coats (one heavy, one light.) The best paint usually covered 90% well on the first coat, but still required a second. The cheapest paint, however, covered about 60% but still required a second coat. So… if all paint required 2 coats…and it all looked the exact same once finished… I’m going to go with the cheapest – ColorPlace. Besides, having it pre-mixed on the shelf at WalMart is awesome.
I also use Semi-Gloss on all properties. Some people say it doesn’t look the best – but I think it looks amazing and have yet to hear a tenant complain otherwise. Instead, I am constantly encouraged by those looking at my properties at how beautiful it looks.
One more tip that Darren Sager advised on the BiggerPockets Podcast a few months back… always write the paint brand and color on the lease. This way, both the tenant and you will know exactly what was used, leading to less confusion. Smart.
4.) Patching Holes
I will never understand why tenants punch holes in the wall. To me, that just seems so painful. However, I see it all the time – a fist-sized hole at chest level. So irritating.
Learning to do drywall repair is a sort of “art” but it’s not really that complicated. Today, there are several tools that can make the process much easier. However, rather than trying to explain it in writing, here’s a quick video on YouTube I found that will show you how to do it:
Another hole that really annoys me (and happens often) is when a tenant punches a hollow-core door in one of the bedrooms (again… don’t ask me why. They just do this.) If the door is paintable, the hole can be sometimes be patched the same way as in the above video, but many times the hole is too large or the surface too smooth for the drywall mud to adhere properly. Instead, I usually do one of two things:
- Get a new door (if it’s a standard size, you can often pick it up just the door slab for under $30 at Home Depot or Lowes)
- Put a mirror on the door. Yes, I’m serious. I learned this trick a few years ago and it has saved me a lot of time and money. Simply pick up one of those cheap, full length mirrors they sell for under $10 at a lot of stores (like this one at Target for $5.99) and screw it to the door. Not only does it cover the hole, it also makes your hallway look larger and decorates the unit a bit for under $10 and 10 minutes of work.
5.) Mold: Calm Down, People
If you live in an area where moisture is often present (like the Pacific Northwest, where I live) you are likely going to deal with mold and mildew often. Contrary to popular opinion, mold does not kill you and it’s much more common than you’d think – and it’s very easy to treat when it’s not completely overgrown. Mold is generally the fault of the tenant, who has their furniture pushed too close to the wall or doesn’t ever allow for air movement in their home. It tends to grow near windows (because of condensation) and in bathrooms.
To clean mold, there are a lot of different products, but I’m a big fan of the 32 oz. Mold and Mildew Stain Remover made by ZEP and available at Home Depot. The stuff costs $2.47 and works like a charm. It’s amazing what a roll of paper towels and a $2.47 bottle of this chemical can do.
(Keep in mind, if you’ve got a major mold problem, you may need to call in the professionals. I’m not talking about black grass growing across the ceiling. I’m talking about the small spores that develop on the window ledges and corners in the shower. Don’t freak out, just clean it and move on.)
6.) Door Knobs
You should be changing out the locks every time a tenant moves. After all, you don’t want to be responsible if a disgruntled tenant comes back to their old home and steals all the new tenant’s stuff. However, lock changes don’t need to be expensive. In fact, if you have multiple units – it doesn’t have to cost much at all.
I always save my locks/keys and keep them well organized and labeled. This way, I just rotate my lock sets around to different properties when I need some changed. Just be sure to keep track of what properties a certain lock has been on so you don’t put it on the same property again.
One final tip on locks: by buying the same brand for all your properties, you can avoid having to change out the “guts” of the lock, and simple replace the knobs with two simple screws. This can save you half the time of replacing the locks. Myself – I use “KwikSet” brand locks from Home Depot on all my properties, which run about $20 bucks for deadbolt and door knob set.
Some landlords like using the KwikSet “SmartKey” locks, which allow you to re-key the lock whenever you like. For me, however, I kept loosing the tiny little tool they give you to re-key the lock, so I ended up switching back to just rotating my cheaper lock sets. It was just easier in my opinion, and the SmartKey locks start around $50.
Perhaps the most expensive fix when turning over a property is the flooring. You have a few choices, and it’s hard to say for sure which is the best, but here are my thoughts:
- Carpet: Carpet feels nice, looks nice, and is quick to put down. Installing carpet is typically not a DIY job (though, it’s easier than you think.) However, even though I know how to do my own carpet, I usually don’t. Instead, I usually use Home Depot to get my carpet installed. Home Depot (and Lowes) usually have $97 whole house install on their carpet, which is a great deal. I usually order one of the carpet styles that they sell in the store, on the rack. My favorite color is called “Fireworks” and it sells for under $1 per square foot ($9 per square yard.) This dark, speckled color hides stains well and can handle traffic exceptionally well. I have it in most of my apartment units, and it looks great in all of them – even those that have been in for several years. Home Depot and Lowes both carry some really cheap carpet for under $.70 a square foot – but I’d recommend avoiding this. You’ll rip it out next year. Instead, look for darker colors, thick carpet, and carpet that is “FHA Approved” – which means it should hold up just fine for what you need it for. In order to get the $97 instal at Home Depot, you will need to buy the pad and carpet from Home Depot as well, so assume about $.40 per square foot for the pad (they have contractor grade pad for about $.25 a square foot, but it doesn’t count toward the $97 install. Instead, go with the 6lb pad for around $.40 a square foot. For 1000 square foot apartment, you’ll be looking at $1,400 worth of materials, $97 for install, and then tax. I usually assume about $1.50 per square foot for installed carpet from Home Depot.
- Laminate: Laminate flooring is great. It looks and feels like wood, but it’s a composite material made of saw dust and other odd materials. It also can withstand a lot of traffic, dings, and dents without getting ruined – so although it’s more expensive than carpet, it can last a lot longer (and easier to clean between tenants.) Laminate prices can run anywhere from $1 a square foot to $5 a square foot (including pad), but I usually use the Harmonics brand laminate from Costco which runs $2.30 a square foot and has the pad attached. I really think the Costco Harmonics stuff is the best laminate flooring I’ve ever seen. It may take a little bit of work to learn, but installing laminate is a DIY job if you want to do it (I usually do it myself.) If not, you could likely find installers for around $1 – $2 per square foot if possible. Home Depot and Lowes usually also charge around $400 for a whole-house install, so be sure to check into that also if you plan to hire it out.
- Tile – The grand-daddy of flooring, tile is perhaps the most cost effective flooring you can do because it lasts SO long (like, forever.) However, it can be spendy to get it installed if you use a professional tile layer. Luckily, tile floor is fairly easy to learn to put down if you have the time and patience to do it. Tile prices are all over the board, but for a lower-end rental, you can easily find tile for under $1 per square foot from any large home
8.) Mini Blinds
Another inexpensive way to make your rental properties look great is using mini blinds. These come in either white or tan and you can pick them up for around $5 each from Home Depot (these are the ones I use), Lowes, or even Wal Mart. I like to replace the blinds often, as they are cheap way to make a unit look incredible (and it’s often faster to replace than clean.) They take just a couple minutes to install and will help your unit look more like a home when showing prospective tenants.
A quick tip about saving money on mini blinds: if you have a larger window, you can save 50% by purchasing 2 smaller blinds rather than one large one. For example, a 70 inch mini blind at Home Depot will cost you $20, but you can get two 35 inch blinds for just $5 each. When installing a few dozen, this can quickly add up to a lot of savings.Plus, the end result looks just as good, and gives the tenant some more flexibility for letting light in.
Alright, enough for now. I could probably go on and on for days, but these are just a sample of some quick tips you can use to save money on your next tenant turnover.
As I said at the beginning, yes – you could hire this all out. However, if you are just getting started or want to save some cash, doing your own work and being smart about the repairs can save you a lot of money that you can use to buy more property (or take a nice vacation!)
So next time you walk into Bigfoot’s tomb after a tenant vacates, keep calm, make a plan, and re-visit this list to tackle the turnover with the least money out-of-pocket.
Do you have any more quick tips you can add to the list? Or do you have any questions/comments on the tips above? Please – leave your comments below and let’s talk about it!