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!
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!
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!)
2. Save Money on Mini-Blinds
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
While 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
I’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
If 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!
I 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!
Appliances 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.)
12. Save Your Cabinet Bottoms
“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:
- If your marginal tax bracket is lower than your capital gains rates, you can ignore everything above.
- 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:
- I send birthday cards to each tenant with a $5 Starbucks card
- I send a postcard to each ‘door’ once a quarter, asking them if there’s anything I can do for them.
- 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
Lease 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
“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
21. No More Broken Water Heaters
“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.)
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.