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23 Totally Awesome Life Hacks for Landlords (To Save You Time, Stress, and Money!)

by Brandon Turner on August 9, 2014 · 41 comments

  

Everyone loves a good “life hack,” right?

Well, let’s first get on the same page about what a life hack is, for those born before 1985. A life hack is simply a tip, technique, or strategy designed to simplify or manage your time and resources more effectively.

Life hacks can be found all across the internet, offering tips on everything from house organization, food preparation, travel, and more. (For example – when you go to the beach, store your money and keys inside an empty sunscreen bottle that has been cut in half. No one steals sunscreen!)

So… I started thinking, why don’t we compile a list of “life hacks” just for real estate investors?  After all, life can get especially busy for real estate investors who are trying to juggle their investments, their family, and often their full time job.

Therefore, I reached out to the BiggerPockets community in the Forums and asked everyone “What is Your Favorite Landlord Hack?” and the response was overwhelming!  Below are a few of those tips (I couldn’t fit them all!) designed to make your life just a little better!

One last thing before we get to the tips: Although I am offering 23 landlord hacks here, I’d love to make this list longer, so please add your favorite landlord hack in the comments at the bottom of this post!

Related: How to Hack Your Housing and Get Paid to Live For Free

23 Totally Awesome Life Hacks for Landlords

1. Never Forget a Paint Color Again

This hack comes from my good friend Darren Sager, who suggests writing the exact paint color/brand used for every rental lease agreement. This way, you will always know what paint was used when the tenant moves out and the property needs touching up!

Alder-Creek-Living-Room2.jpg (720×480)In a related tip from  Sylvia B (and something I also do,) use the same color paint in all your units. No need to remember what color each place is painted that way, and no partial gallons of leftover paint sitting around – it just gets used on the next rehab.  I also use the same color on both walls and ceilings, which allows the painter to “spray” the entire unit rather than roll, cutting down the costs significantly (tip: choose a very light color if you are going to do this. No one likes a dark ceiling!)

Related: What Is The Best Interior Paint for Landlords and House Flippers? (Hint… It’s Not What You Think)

2. Save Money on Mini-Blinds

Alder-Creek-Dining-Room.jpg (480×720)We like to make sure all units have clean, white mini-blinds in every window. When buying those miniblinds at Walmart or Home Depot, they typically cost around $4 for blind up to 36″ in width and $20 for blinds that are wider than 36″. Rather than spending $20.00 on each window for blinds, we simply use 2 blinds, side by side. Not only does this still look great for half the cost, it also makes it cheaper to replace just one side in the future if a blind gets damaged.

3. Forget the Mini-blinds Altogether

iPhotoWhile I love using mini-blinds, they do get destroyed easily by kids and pets, plus they are a nightmare to clean. Here’s a tip from Dawn Anastasi – Put up a 99-cent curtain rod and some cheap curtains from Goodwill or eBay (like $4). This way, there are multiple benefits:

  • Cheaper than the $8 mini-blinds for every window.
  • Makes the place look nicer and more of a home feel.
  • When the tenant departs they can be washed and rehung – no more throwing away damaged miniblinds that wind up in a landfill.  Then you don’t have to buy more mini-blinds either. Better for the environment and saves money on turnover.

4. Easy, Low Cost Carpet

iPhoto-4I’ve tried a lot of different methods for getting carpet installed – from doing it myself to hiring contractors on Craigslist. However, for me, nothing has come close in terms of cost or convenience to just have Home Depot install it. In my area, Home Depot’s contractors will usually install a whole house of carpet for $37 (flat fee) if you buy the carpet through them. Carpet prices vary, but I typically spend under $1.00 per square foot for the carpet and choose the “72 hour guaranteed install” option. It is easy, simple, and cheap. Plus, I can order it, schedule it, and do 90% of the work online.

5. Angry Tenants+Hollow Doors=Easy Fix

Maybe I just live in an angry part of the world, but I have a real problem with holes getting punched in hollow-core bedroom doors. Maybe it makes them feel more powerful knowing they can punch through 1/16″ thick piece of cardboard.  However, I’ve discovered a great fix for this.  Rather than replacing (or trying to patch… which never works), just buy a $6 mirror at Wal-Mart or Home Depot (they are about 4 feet long and 12 inches wide, like this one) and screw it to the door. Not only does it hide the hole, it makes the hallway look larger and ads some decoration to a boring space!

Another similar suggestion from Jared Kemper: If you have a bad spot on the bottom half of your interior doors just go buy 2 cheap square metal vents (look like hvac return covers) and cut out the square almost the same size to fit one on each side of the door. It also helps airflow in the home.

6. Replace Flooring the Quick and Easy Way

iPhoto-2If you have ugly vinyl flooring in a kitchen bathroom, or anywhere else, the demo can be expensive and messy. Instead, just install a floating vinyl right over the top!  My favorite flooring is called “Allure” made by TrafficMASTER and it comes in both a wood design and tile design. It works in the kitchen, bathrooms, or anywhere and anyone can install it in just hours. I can’t recommend this stuff enough!

I actually have actually begun to install it through entire homes, both for aesthetic reasons and because it lasts forever. This stuff can withstand kids, pets, spills, and anything your tenants throw at it.  It runs about $2 a square foot at Home Depot.

7. Appliances Looking Bad? Don’t Replace, Repaint!

iPhoto-7I learned this trick from a local appliance repair company.  If you have a stove or refrigerator that is showing signs of age, usually with small rust stains shining through, a $5 can of “appliance paint” from the hardware store can make your appliances look as good as new. I always keep a can of this handy when turning over a unit and am continually amazed at how great it works!

8. No More Slippery Stair Treads

If your rental properties have wood steps, it is easy for those steps to get slippery after rain. For the safety of your tenants (and to reduce your risk of being sued!) nail down strips of roofing shingles on your stairs with roofing nails. Trust me – it actually looks great (no one will know it’s a shingle) and is extremely cost effective.

9. Appliance Sale!

iPhoto-9Appliances go on sale at the big box stores around Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth Of July, so take inventory each year of what you need and plan your purchases around those holidays. (The same is true for paint!)

10. Quick, Easy, Cheap Lock Changes

Several BiggerPockets members recommend using either KwikSet Smartkeys, which allow you to quickly change a lock in just minutes, or LandlordLocks.com, which allow you to change the lock cylinder easily and for around $5 each time.  (This tip from Chris K.)

11. Use Apps to Simplify Your Life

Use those portable scanners that can quickly take receipts, leases, invoices, checks, etc and turn them into digital docs; Use tracking mileage apps, the flashlight app, and a Voip service — so voicemails can be delivered as files to your email inbox. (This tip from Kris Taylor.)

Related: Real Estate Apps: The 10 Best Mobile Apps for Real Estate Professionals

12. Save Your Cabinet Bottoms

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 2.33.36 PM“Put scrap vinyl flooring under the sinks and curl up behind the plumbing.  This way, if there’s a sink leak, it’s not ruining the bottom of the cabinet.  If the tenant has a cleaning supply spill, it’s not ruining the bottom of the cabinet. It also looks pretty nice too.” (This tip and photo from Dawn Anastasi)

13. Store Your Documents Online

“Use Google Docs so you can access your rental contracts at home or the office – easy and free!” (This tip from Brad Barney.)

14. Protect Your Walls Above the Shower

“I like to put small vinyl door stoppers on the walls above bathtubs. They let tenants know exactly where to put their shower curtain rod, and they also protect the walls from repeated installations.” (This tip from Ryan Swan.)

15. Money Saving Tip for Agents

“If you’re a licensed agent buying a rental for yourself, you probably don’t want to take a commission.  Instead, you should consider rolling the commission into the purchase price as a credit/discount.  In other words, if you’re buying a property for $100K and are entitled to a $3K commission on the purchase, ask them to knock the purchase price down by $3K (to $97K) instead. Commissions are taxed at ordinary income and profits when you sell the rental are taxed at capital gains rates. So, you’ll save money on taxes by taking the profit on the back-end (when you sell) than on the front-end (as a commission). Two caveats:

  1. If your marginal tax bracket is lower than your capital gains rates, you can ignore everything above.
  2. If you plan to hold the rental forever, you’ll likely be able to earn more on the commission reinvestment than what you’ll save in taxes (time value of money). But, if you’ll be selling in fewer than 5 years, rolling it into the basis is probably a better investment.” (This tip from J Scott)

16. Easy Tenant Retention Ideas

Stephanie W. offered several great tips for keeping your tenants happy and paying! She says:

  1. I send birthday cards to each tenant with a $5 Starbucks card
  2. I send a postcard to each ‘door’ once a quarter, asking them if there’s anything I can do for them.
  3. On a tenant’s one year anniversary, I give them an ‘upgrade’ of their choice, within reason. It’s usually something I would do when they move out anyway, I just get to do it with them there.

17. Keep Things The Same

“We use standard paint colors, the same tile, same faucets, same toilets, same door hardware, same shingles, same ceiling fans etc on all of our rentals. When we need to do repairs, touch-ups etc it is obvious what the specs are. Leftovers don’t get wasted, just stored until needed.” (This tip from Walt Payne.)

18. Automatic Lease Extensions

iPhoto-5Lease clause that renews leases for another 12 months with a built in rent increase. Lease clause allowing tenant to buy out lease at any time for a specific dollar amount (my dollar amount is about 2x rent). Bill S.

19. How to Keep Cats Out of the Flower Beds

iPhoto-6“If you have cats in the neighborhood who have discovered your planting beds as a good place for their deposits, lay down chicken wire mesh on top of the soil and cover it lightly with mulch.  It is the only deterrent that has worked for us.  Plants can still be planted by cutting a spot in the chicken wire mesh.  You or your tenants can also place potted plants on top of it.  The cats try scratching once, get their claws caught on the wire and won’t come back.” Marcia Maynard

20. Easy Lease Signing and Storage

“Use Docusign for lease signings and file them away in Dropbox.” (This tip from Dawn Brenengen)

21. No More Broken Water Heaters

iPhoto-8“When you buy a property, if water heater is more than 2 yrs old then just go ahead and replace with a new one, sell the old one on Craigslist and you don’t get the 2 am call that unit is flooding!” (This tip from Kendall T.)

22. No More Broken Cabinet Drawers

Take out and flip over your kitchen drawers (bottom of the drawer facing upward). Take liquid nails or adhesive spray and apply the adhesive to all four inner creases where the drawers meet.  This will make the drawer stronger and should not break for years to come. (This tip from Marrio Barnes.)

23. Brighter Units

If you want your rental appear brighter and more appealing to renters.  Replace all the light bulbs in the home with the clear light bulbs that are usually meant for bathrooms. Renters will subconsciously remember your unit over the rentals that had poor light due to a cheap 40 watt bulbs. (This tip from Marrio Barnes.)

24…  ?

Alright, now it’s your turn. What is your best landlord hack?

Leave your comments below! If you don’t have a great hack, let me know your favorite from the list above.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Jimmy Moncrief August 9, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Awesome List!

Mine is using Evernote to automate a lot of your real estate investing.

Specifically, file all your financial data and deal data in one Evernote folder, then share that folder with your banker (or investor) and anyone else. This get’s you out of email hell!

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Gabriel Everhart August 11, 2014 at 7:29 am

Jimmy, I use Evernote quite a bit and love it – mind if I ask how you use it to organize your RE activities? I’d love more detail, always love to hear how other people organize things… I’m weird that way!

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Great tip Jimmy! Yes, after several years, I’m FINALLY getting into Evernote!

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Jered Sturm August 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Anything that makes saves money and makes life easier is great!

Here is three of many.

To prevent mold or mildew in bathrooms we install exhaust fans in all bathrooms. The Simple tweak is to wire the exhaust fan to the same switch as the light fixture. If the fan and light are separate tenants will never turn on the fan but they will always turn on the light. Wire them to the same switch and if forces tenants to use exhaust fan while taking a steamy shower. (check local codes for GFCI protection)

Ask your paint supplier to print off an extra copy of the paint stickers they put on the top of the can. Stick these to the underside of a kitchen cabinet drawer, and label them with specific rooms, and dates. This way the info is never lost, and always on site. You can pop the drawer out and take it to the hardware store if needed.

During your initial rehab make sure you have proper attic ventilation (through soffits and out ridge gable or other vent up high on the roof). Proper ventilation can increase your roofs life span 100%. unvented/poorly vented attics can cause mold and/or 200 degree temps in the attic that dry rot the roofs decking and shingles from the inside out (Ohio).

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Great tips, Jered! All of them, fantastic! I also force wire the fan- it’s amazing how much that actually helps!

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James Pratt August 9, 2014 at 8:08 pm

#3 is far better than #2.

#12 On the scrap vinyl under the kitchen stink, use screen trim 1/2″ x 1/4″ to keep the vinyl down. We also caulk all around the edges of the vinyl.

#14 is one that I never thought of, good one Swan.

When repairing a hole in the floor or wall, put the replacement piece over it and cut both at same time. Perfect fit every time.

Nail holes, trim gaps use painters caulk to fill in and hide. We always caulk both edges of all trim, even floor trim to keep out dirt and insects.

Install motion detector porch lights for about the same cost as regular lights, makes renters feel more secure and stay longer.

You can install Formica over old after cleaning and filling in any damage areas.

That’s enough for now. Good work Brandon.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Thanks James! All great hacks! Thank you :)

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Denise August 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm

I just took position of my very first investment property today that I plan to rent out once I get it fixed up. This article is an absolute God-send I plan on using many of these life hacks on my first property.

God bless you Brandon for sharing so much information with those of us aspiring to be in the real estate business!

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Thanks Denise! Best of luck on your rentals!

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Eric August 9, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Great tips.

All my units are the same color and trim color. Just pick up a bucket of paint and I’m set to go. All semi-gloss, so very seldom do I even need to paint.

I always use Home Depot carpet anymore. 72 hours is fast, and they are super informative and do a tremendous job of following up.

Vinyl under the sink I do as well. Just roll up a bit in the back and caulk the edges. Do it on vanities too.

I very seldom get broken doors anymore. My screening standards keeps the bad ones out. And very seldom have a vacancy. Better tenants allow showing before the apartment is vacant, and new tenants can see that good tenants live there.

I use Lowes for appliances. I always get 10% off the best sale prices. They pick up and haul away.

If a tenant ever leaves anything behind, try to give it away on Craig’s first. Most stuff is picked up in hours. Water heaters go to a scrapper.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Looks like you and I are very similar Eric! Thanks for the extra tips!

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Samson August 10, 2014 at 8:17 am

I use canned responses through gmail to automate response emails to prospective tenants. It helps prescreen tenants upfront, and I’m not replying to a million emails everytime I have a unit available.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Samson, this is an AWESOME tip. I’ve just started using Canned Responses for some BiggerPockets emails, but never thought to do it with rental stuff. I’ll be right on that!

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Ric Miller August 10, 2014 at 8:29 am

Donate as much tenant leftovers to Good Will. Use the donation as a tax write off.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Great tip, Ric! Thanks!

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Seth Williams August 10, 2014 at 8:40 am

I love this kind of stuff – it only comes from years of experience. I can’t wait to try some of these with my rentals. Thanks Brandon!

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Thanks Seth!

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Deborah Burian August 10, 2014 at 8:51 am

# 14 is genius. Thank you. We also automatically install the doorstoppers on all bedroom door landing sites.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Hey Deborah, yes! That’s an awesome addition- it sure saves the walls from getting banged up. I actually need to do a better job of making sure these are installed!

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Cort August 10, 2014 at 9:43 am

If your local housing court post case files online as public information, just be sure to do a quick search of prospective tenants’ name. Last thing you need is a prose attorney-tennant with judgement for evictions and nonpayment will popup. Sort of like a free background check.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Great tip, Cort! thanks!

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Shari Posey August 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

We always paint with Swiss Coffee and we always use semi-gloss because it’s easy to clean. If we’ve had a fairly clean tenant often times we can just use a Magic Eraser to wipe spots and don’t need to paint the room when they move out. And, it actually makes the room brighter because it has a slight sheen.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Hey Shari, thanks for the comment! We also paint with semigloss, for the ease in cleanup. And the Magic Eraser is gold!

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Ryan August 10, 2014 at 10:38 am

Refinish tubs and sinks instead of replacing or installing inserts.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I’ve done that a couple times with success, Ryan! Thanks for adding this tip!

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Amy August 10, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I painted an ugly, damaged counter-top with special counter-top paint from Home Depot. I never thought it would last, but so far it has lasted for two (very clean) tenants and counting!

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Hey Amy, I’ve always wanted to try that stuff, but haven’t yet. Good to know it seems to be holding up! Thanks for the tip!

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Al Williamson August 10, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Install a keybox and give out the code when tenants lock themselves out. Change the code after every use.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Awesome tip, Al! Thanks!

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Kendall Todd August 10, 2014 at 11:29 pm

I also put door stoppers behind my doors, I would also recommend really looking to estate sales. I picked up 4 matching matching bathroom vanities and matching mirrors, with expensive bathroom hardware 2 expensive low profile toilets and hurricane panels for around 200. I put 2 of the mirrors in my personnel home, put 2 mirrors and expensive bathroom hardware in my personnel home as well. I put a matching mirror and vanity and expensive hardware in my rental, and then sold one vanity for 125. And 2 more vanities sold for 500 for both, toilets also were sold, and I sold some hurricane panels. So basically I got paid for free stuff.

I also LOVE the allure floor, I put it in my rental house.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Great tips Kendall! Thanks for the comment – I need to go to more Estate Sales! :)

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Jerry Davidson August 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

Have your tenants deposit rent directly into your bank account by using a bank with lots of branches near them. This provides convenience to tenants, alleviates “in the mail” excuses, and also allows you to accept cash payments with a record of the transaction. Make each rent rate a slightly different dollar amount to know exactly which tenant paid (e.g., $1245, $1250, $1260). Caveat: giving a tenant access to your bank account number could result in a partial rent payment and mess up your accounting, or worse, delay an eviction.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Hey Jerry, I do this with a couple of my tenants, and it has made things a bit easier, but there is that increased risk. But they are my good tenants, so I’m not too worried :)

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Tony August 12, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Slight variation: separate accounts for each property.
keeps all things separate.

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Stacey Van Roosendaal August 11, 2014 at 10:28 am

I use http://www.utahsright.com/ for a “free background check.” I’m not sure what sites are available in other states, but this lets us know when tenants have histories we need to deal with or not. If they’re upfront about charges and don’t hide them, we are a lot more forgiving.

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Brandon Turner August 11, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Thanks for the tip Stacey! I’ll have to see what they offer like this in Washington!

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Jason August 12, 2014 at 7:58 am

Brandon,

Great List. Here are a few of my own.
– I have started installing artificial grass in the front lawn of my rentals. Always looks nice and only requires annual maintenance. Very good for desert areas like Colorado.
-Find a good used appliance store. We have a great one in Denver. I can put in a top of the line stove for $200. In fact we bought Elite Fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer for our own house for $2000. All in fantastic shape.
-A new front door can change the appearance of an entire home. We put in $150 glass oval insert front doors. The look really stands out with a rental.
-Do a sewer scope prior to buying a house. I can’t tell you how much I have paid to root out sewer lines that could have been done by the seller or seller concession. We also inform tenants that any clog expenses as a result of baby wipes, toys, feminine products, or diapers will be paid for by the tenant. Keeps many of those issues at bay.
-If you have a brick rental, pressure wash the outside for a more vibrant look. Its amazing how much dirt collects in the brick.
-Give a list of the exact repair costs of each item to tenants on move out. Its amazing how much a tenant will scrub to save $5 on their deposit. (Example: $3.00 to replace burner plates, $10 per blind, etc etc)

Keep the list coming Brandon. I can’t wait to see part 2 of this post (hint, hint)

Jason

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Chris Shepard August 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Great Thoughts Jason,

Great idea on the sewer scope! We are just about to buy a property any more good ideas prior to closing during our inspection?

Also do you have a list of item costs on move outs that you give to tenants? Would you post it on the forums for us?

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zulf August 19, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Hi Jason;

Thanks for this excellent tip on the item cost sheet. Would you be able to share it. If not can you point us to the website where it can be purchased on downloaded.

This would help me out when tenants move out of the property

Thanks,
Zulf

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lamac66 August 12, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Consider inexpensive laminate flooring instead of carpet for lower to mid-income units if you have a lumber liquidators near you. You can even order online to deliver to store or location.

It can be purchased for well under $0.99/sqft. Durable, looks nice and cleans easy when necessary. No allergens, stains, and wear and tear. Can be easily repaired if need be.

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Tony August 14, 2014 at 9:04 am

Brandon,

regarding #7,(painting the appliance) ,
do you mask the interior surface, remove the gaskets/handles?

just curious from the “been there, done that” …
Thanks

Tony from Chicago

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