Landlording & Rental Properties

Buy This, Not That: 4 Best Materials to Fix Up Rental Property Bathrooms

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mold in bath, a duck toy in a dirty bathroom closeup

As a lot of real estate investors already know (and newbies may have heard), some tenants are very hard on rental properties. Over the years, I have had to replace miles of carpet—and in the bathroom, even a smashed toilet or two.

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For me, one of the biggest challenges is keeping the bathroom as carefree as possible. We all know what goes on in bathrooms and what kind of extra care they need. So, here is a list of things that I have learned over the years that make turnover quick and cheap.

Dos & Don’ts When Redoing Rental Property Bathrooms

1. Ditch the cheap shower surround.

Please don’t buy that cheap five-piece shower surround that you saw at Home Depot or Lowe’s. I promise you it is cheap for a reason and will only cause problems.

First of all, caulk in a bathtub will never last. From mold to people picking at it, caulk will need touched up at least once per year. A typical five-piece surround is held together with glue and caulk, and without maintenance, it will fall apart and just cause you more problems.

Related: 6 Bathroom Remodel Tips Every House Flipper Should Know

Instead, go ahead with a two-piece surround or even a tile surround. Yes, you will have to caulk in some places especially around the tub/wall), but it will be very minimal to what a five-piece surround takes.

I only put two-piece surrounds in my full gut rehabs. They are my favorite, because they are cheap and snap together higher, which better protects from splashing water. Plus, they look so much nicer than a bunch of panels glued to the wall.

For my existing bathtubs, I usually do a tile surround. This not only looks nice but also lasts forever.

2. Get a good exhaust fan.

Even if your bathroom has a window, I would still suggest this. Moisture in a bathroom is killer. If you walk into a bathroom and see peeling paint on the ceiling, you know that room was not ventilated while showers were taken.

I have all my exhaust fans wired to the same switch as the light so that the fan has to be turned on. (Go ahead and spend the few extra dollars for the quieter fan; then the tenant won’t notice it as much.) Turning on the fan will also help eliminate bathroom odors and odors from harmful bathroom cleaning chemicals.

Pro tip: I always have cleaning the exhaust fan on my cleaning crew’s checklist during turnover. Tenants won’t know there is a problem with the fan until it is squealing. And by this time, it is too late.

luxury bathroom remodel with gray tiled shower light gray cabinetry white walls and light vinyl flooring

3. Use sheet vinyl or luxury vinyl tile.

Please don’t use snap together laminate or carpet. Don’t be that guy or girl who likes that it’s cheap, thinks that it’s trendy, or is just plain lazy and puts that stuff in a bathroom. It’s not water resistant, and it’ll just cause a headache of problems.

I go with either sheet vinyl glued down or LVT because of the waterproofing capabilities. I have used ceramic tile in the past but have since steered away from it. The cost and the grout turned me off. (Yes, the grout. I have had ceramic tile grout lines that were so soaked in urine that we couldn’t get the smell out.)

Related: 4 Types of Renovations That Are Better Left Undone

Although I love the look of ceramic tile, vinyl is my go-to in a rental bathroom. Of course, this varies among different classes of properties. So, make sure you do your research before installing cheaper flooring.

4. Beware of the towel bar.

This has to be the number one thing in rentals that gets destroyed. Do some people think this is a pull-up bar?

Most towel bars are 24 inches, but as we both know, most studs are 16 inches on center. Using that little plastic drywall insert is a joke—plus, nobody uses it.

What we have started doing is one of two things. The first thing we like to do is cut the towel bar down to 16 inches so that the mounting brackets will screw right to the studs and not just drywall.

If this is not possible, we go and buy butterfly nuts and bolts to attach the mount that can’t be screwed to a stud. These are those spring-loaded clips that you collapse and push into a hole in the drywall. When you screw them tighter, they pull against the back of the drywall. They are not as good as screwing to a stud but work a lot better than those plastic inserts.

No matter what you choose to do to your rental property’s bathroom, just make sure it looks good and can hold up to tenants’ wear and tear. Remember, turnover is one of your most expensive costs, so try to eliminate downtime and repair costs by doing it right the first time.

Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to renovating or maintaining rental property bathrooms?

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Matt DeBoth has been an active real estate investor since 2011. Matt served in the United States Marine Corps for eight years as a Force Recon Marine and has done multiple deployments to Iraq, Afgh...
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    Wesley Kyle Schmidt from HTX
    Replied 9 months ago
    I think this highlights some very important small things that can save you from BIG headaches. Currently renovating one of my bathrooms while house hacking and I'm definitely taking these tips into consideration.
    Prabir Mehta from Alpharetta, Georgia
    Replied 9 months ago
    Thanks for sharing!
    Ingrid Femenias
    Replied 9 months ago
    Great idea about cutting the towel bar to 16 inches!! Also, interesting advice about Vinyl on the floor instead of tile, I will keep that in mind for the next time I have to redo a bathroom floor!
    Christopher Leet from Investor from Gilbert, AZ
    Replied 9 months ago
    Great tips!! Appreciate the article.
    Mike Woody
    Replied 9 months ago
    Great tips. I would add that using the green drywall for wet areas is a must also.
    Mark JOhnson Investor
    Replied 9 months ago
    I do single sheet vinyl on 70% of my baths and kitchens now. There are a lot of great looking choices available. For me, LVT is best when you cant get good sheet optimization using rolled vinyl. I never really thought about the towel bar. Great idea! One more point, never use the cheap wooden towel sets. They are junk.
    Kristi Kandel Developer from Stateline, NV
    Replied 9 months ago
    Awesome comments even for the simple things like towel bars in reality of how construction is done. It's the simple things that if you know them reduce multiple headaches later.
    Jeff Tarver Realtor from Houston Area
    Replied 9 months ago
    I laughed when I read about the towel bar as I have had to repair two this years. On both I was like it's not even in the studs. I decided to go with just putting a board backing and then remounting. Good article! Semper Fi
    Phil Schertz Rental Property Investor from Morton, IL
    Replied 9 months ago
    We put up vinyl 1x4 base & make sure it's caulked into the vinyl floor and onto the wall to help make it impervious to water. The other thing we do is use FRP panels on the walls & ceilings in bathrooms. That stuff never peels & is also impervious to water. Once that's installed everywhere in a bathroom, the tenants can get it as moist as they want and it doesn't hurt it at all.
    Casey Spivey Realtor from Evansville, IN
    Replied 9 months ago
    I would add two things that have been helpful for us especially since you are replacing tub surrounds anyway. We always switch out the shower valves to a single valve Moen, especially if it's a double handle presently. Usually the shower heads are set low so it's a perfect time to fix as well. We also paint every room in Behr Pro i100 semi gloss. We only use three colors including the ceiling. This allows us to move paint from one job to the next and it can be wiped down with soap and water between tenants.
    Brian Keyser
    Replied 9 months ago
    Good solid suggestions. From experience I will second his ideas. An important point, research what is common and expected in your class of rental unit. Don’t put cheap fixtures in class A rentals and conversely, don’t put high end in class C units.
    Cara Murray from Red Bluff, Ca
    Replied 9 months ago
    This is a great article. The one other thing is don't buy the cheap tubs. They stain and even chip, the tile surround looks great still but now the tub looks nasty.
    Mikey Raymond
    Replied 9 months ago
    Good solid recommendations that I can put into play shortly!
    Peter Clapham Rental Property Investor from St. Louis, MO
    Replied 9 months ago
    Thanks for the post. Like the towel bar idea.
    Dave Rav from Summerville, SC
    Replied 9 months ago
    I love this post. Getting into the nuts and bolts and the nitty gritty of renovation.. I do agree on the tub surround. And honestly, the price difference (if you know where to go, and how to shop) is only $100-200. Totally worth it. As for caulk, I would like to mention the importance of caulking every book and cranny. Water is the #1 killer of bathrooms. If it gets in the subfloor or walls, overtime it all has to be replaced. Recommend spending an extra few bucks on a good acrylic caulk (harder to pick at, as you suggested most tenants do!)