How far to go with updates on a rental in an A Class area? New sod?

20 Replies

We've recently closed on a SFH in Royal Oak, MI that we intend to keep as a buy and hold. The house was in pretty good shape - fresh paint and carpet, new kitchen with granite counter tops, and new windows. I would have been comfortable moving right in.

We've been doing some light rehab including:

  • New flooring in laundry room
  • New hot water tank
  • Faux wood blinds throughout
  • touch up paint, where needed
  • Bringing some electrical up to code
  • Installing a microwave
  • Bathroom:  Grouting tub, replacing some damaged tiles, fixing exhaust fan, re-trimming window, new showerhead
  • New smoke detectors
  • Painting some built-ins in the basement that were bare wood
  • Finishing off a bar in the basement
  • Powerwash of exterior
  • New address sign
  • New mailbox
  • Repair of interior and exterior doors
  • Dealing with a disaster of a yard!  We've filled over 50 bags with yard waste including trees.

We've spent about 2K on renos.  The property cost $139,900 and we got $1,500 back for repairs.  That was fair.  It sold in less than a day with multiple offers, so I feel like we did well.  We expect to get $1425 per month in rent.  

Here's the question.  How much further should we go?  We're considering:

  • Replacing decent bathroom countertop with granite ($200)
  • New bathroom faucet ($80)
  • New bathroom light fixture ($40)
  • Spraying basement ceiling black ($700) - basement is finished and ceiling currently painted tan but black is all the rage around here
  • And here's the biggy - resod the backyard.  ($1400)

The re-sod project is tricky.  After we cleared a yard full of scrub, we found a 10x10 hill sloping towards the house.  That needs to be regraded for maintenance reasons.  Which leaves us with a bare chunk of yard.  New sod will stick out like a sore thumb if it's just done in one place.  To redo the whole yard is so expensive!  We realized there were some grading problems, but it's worse that we expected.  What to do?  Should we just hand dig and level the hill and put in the sod?  How much value does fresh sod add?

I'm worried the tenants may not maintain the yard over the long term and the grass will look bad in a couple of years.  But our grade will be correct.  

Any insights will be appreciated!  And if anyone happens to know of a company that can regrade on the cheap in the area, let me know.

If the house was already move-in ready then I would have rented it out without doing any additional work

Are your numbers correct? It seems like you have spent quite a bit more than $2,000 on renovations, even if you did the work yourself.

I would absolutely not spray the ceiling black in the basement. That sounds ridiculous, and I cannot imagine that being anything that costs you a renter.

The first 3 items on the list are negligible. If the faucet works, I would leave it as is. You don't want to put extra money into a property that you don't have to.

Since you are in MI, you don't have 6 months of summer. You probably have 4 at best. I would not spend the money to resod unless every other competing property has it, too. And if you put it in, I would make that a condition of the lease that they take care of it, and if they do not, you will charge their security deposit to repair/replace the grass.

How about seed and straw instead of sod? You can seed/straw an entire yard yourself for probably less than $100. It has to be watered whether it is sod or seed, so that's not really an issue. If it is a timeliness thing, you can use an annual ryegrass or other landscaping mix that comes up fairly quickly, mixed with more long-term grass seed for your area. Contact your local municipality on what they use for water/sewer line repairs or street work; that mix is usually pretty hardy and comes up rather quickly. 

Hand digging 100 SF of property is going to get old really quick. You need to rent a bobcat if nothing else. 

I can't see painting the ceiling black. That sound quite trendy. 

Originally posted by @JD Martin :

How about seed and straw instead of sod? You can seed/straw an entire yard yourself for probably less than $100. It has to be watered whether it is sod or seed, so that's not really an issue. If it is a timeliness thing, you can use an annual ryegrass or other landscaping mix that comes up fairly quickly, mixed with more long-term grass seed for your area. Contact your local municipality on what they use for water/sewer line repairs or street work; that mix is usually pretty hardy and comes up rather quickly. 

Hand digging 100 SF of property is going to get old really quick. You need to rent a bobcat if nothing else. 

I can't see painting the ceiling black. That sound quite trendy. 

 The seed is a great idea.  We're hoping to rent out soon, so I wasn't sure if that would turn off prospective tenants too much.  But I hadn't considered that some grass might sprout more quickly than others!  Thanks for the idea.

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Originally posted by @Mindy Jensen :

Are your numbers correct? It seems like you have spent quite a bit more than $2,000 on renovations, even if you did the work yourself.

I would absolutely not spray the ceiling black in the basement. That sounds ridiculous, and I cannot imagine that being anything that costs you a renter.

The first 3 items on the list are negligible. If the faucet works, I would leave it as is. You don't want to put extra money into a property that you don't have to.

Since you are in MI, you don't have 6 months of summer. You probably have 4 at best. I would not spend the money to resod unless every other competing property has it, too. And if you put it in, I would make that a condition of the lease that they take care of it, and if they do not, you will charge their security deposit to repair/replace the grass.

 I just double checked the receipts. I wondered if I was forgetting something! But that number is right. We did all of the work ourselves, except for about $200 of electrical and 700 to have the hot water tank installed. That was a coupon on Angie's list :-). We had a lot of the other supplies on hand because we do a lot of rehab work.  

This is our first property in a higher and neighborhood. That's why I'm considering the New bathroom faucet and countertop and a few other cosmetic updates.  There are some beautiful properties for rent around here.  The typical tenant is a medical resident, pilot, or a young professional.  We might get a couple.  We are not asking the top of the market for rent but we are not at the bottom either.  I'm not sure how far the amenities go toward making the property desirable.

I would have left the side as is, except for the grading issue. We don't want water running toward the house. That's why this is such a dilemma. Do we do the job halfway and only solve the maintenance problem or do we go all in and make it look really good?

Can you compromise by planting flowers and using mulch rather than sod? You don't want to plant too close to the house, but a few plants and mulch is far less expensive. @Jennifer Streamer ?

Originally posted by @Mindy Jensen :

Can you compromise by planting flowers and using mulch rather than sod? You don't want to plant too close to the house, but a few plants and mulch is far less expensive. @Jennifer Streamer?

 We were just discussing that very thing. It just means a lot of digging to knock down that hill! But we have places to move the dirt in some planting beds along the fence.  We have some serious digging in our future!  Thanks so much for brainstorming.

I'd do the bathroom upgrades -- good bang for the buck and it will make it more appealing to your potential tenant pool. Royal Oak renters are choosing to spend more than they have to spend for a certain amount of space in that area. They typically appreciate and will open the wallet a little more for a place that's better than a typical worn-out rental.

On the other hand, I wouldn't do the black basement ceiling. That's a lot of money for a something that won't really pay back. I don't think I'd do it, and I already have a commercial paint sprayer.

I would definitely fix the grade. Royal Oak has a high water table in many areas and you don't need any more water pooling around your foundation, especially with a finished basement. I wouldn't put sod in for a rental. We build a new house near downtown that we sodded but that's a different story. If you seed it and keep it moist it will come in well, especially if the weather stays on the cooler side. I did that with a flip in Ferndale and after a month or so it was looking good.

If you seed then get an automatic water faucet timer and water a few times per day for a few minutes. Don't let the seeds dry out.

If you have to get grass to grow in a repaired area, then that is the extent of sod that I would even think about - I would not re-sod everything. And as others stated, seed will grow. Whether you sod or seed, watering will be essential to getting grass to become established. 

Originally posted by Tom N.:

I'd do the bathroom upgrades -- good bang for the buck and it will make it more appealing to your potential tenant pool. Royal Oak renters are choosing to spend more than they have to spend for a certain amount of space in that area. They typically appreciate and will open the wallet a little more for a place that's better than a typical worn-out rental.

On the other hand, I wouldn't do the black basement ceiling. That's a lot of money for a something that won't really pay back. I don't think I'd do it, and I already have a commercial paint sprayer.

I would definitely fix the grade. Royal Oak has a high water table in many areas and you don't need any more water pooling around your foundation, especially with a finished basement. I wouldn't put sod in for a rental. We build a new house near downtown that we sodded but that's a different story. If you seed it and keep it moist it will come in well, especially if the weather stays on the cooler side. I did that with a flip in Ferndale and after a month or so it was looking good.

If you seed then get an automatic water faucet timer and water a few times per day for a few minutes. Don't let the seeds dry out.

 Thanks for the local perspective.  We've decided we'll do the bathroom upgrades and skip the ceiling.

We're still figuring out how to handle the yard.  We're eager to get it rented out in the next couple of weeks.  If the seeded area turns people off, it could cost us more in rent than the cost of the sod...  We're expecting another quote today to do just part of the yard.  The grading will be expensive unless we do it ourselves, regardless of what we do with the grass.  

Pay a landscaper to regrade and seed and straw the yard .July is not a good month for seeding . i would get someone lined up for late Aug or early Sept for good results. Forget the shovel , and unless you have experience on a bobcat it will be a mess .  

I'd leave it as is. Sounds like a good property, but it's still a rental. As things break down or go bad I'd replace it with products that match the home. But wait until you actually need to do those repairs.

The grade of the house is an issue, I'd probably correct the grade and do hydro-seed. 

Congrats Jennifer!

Royal Oak is a fantastic area for renting. Here is my opinion on a few of your questions. 

First, I would do the bathroom upgrades. It will add value and will help to attract a more stable tenant. I have been in hundreds of houses the past year and I have yet to see a black ceiling? Leave it...

As for the yard, if the grade is currently affecting the basement then, of course, fix it. If the basement is dry then leave it. I don't think sod is necessary at this point for a rental. Have tru-green or someone come out and plant for you. 

What are the specs on the house? A nicely finished Royal Oak 3 bed might be able to pull more than what you are thinking.... 

Originally posted by @Bill Bodziak :

Congrats Jennifer!

Royal Oak is a fantastic area for renting. Here is my opinion on a few of your questions. 

First, I would do the bathroom upgrades. It will add value and will help to attract a more stable tenant. I have been in hundreds of houses the past year and I have yet to see a black ceiling? Leave it...

As for the yard, if the grade is currently affecting the basement then, of course, fix it. If the basement is dry then leave it. I don't think sod is necessary at this point for a rental. Have tru-green or someone come out and plant for you. 

What are the specs on the house? A nicely finished Royal Oak 3 bed might be able to pull more than what you are thinking.... 

 Thanks!  The bathroom upgrades are in progress right now.  Except for the counter top.  Turns out the vanity isn't a standard size, so a new counter top would have to be custom made.  We'll wait until we replace the vanity someday.  We're switching out the faucets, hardware and lighting.  The bathroom tile is original, I believe, but it's an attractive shade of tan (rather than pink or powder blue!) and it's in perfect condition.  A few tiles were loose, so we reset them.  The toilet is newer.

I'm surprised people are surprised by the black ceilings!  All my friends are doing it and it looks amazing.  So much more headroom than a drop ceiling and it gives a cool, loft vibe.  But we've decided to skip it and just leave the ceiling open.  The basement is drywalled, but it looks like it was a DIY project.  Not awful, but not great.  Good enough.  There is no trim, which bugs me, but we're going to leave it as is.

We've gotten a new quote on the grade.  $600 for grade only if we seed.  $900 for grade and sod.  That's $500 less than the first quote and so we're going to go for it - if they can schedule us in.  The $300 more for sod vs. seed is less than a week worth of rent, so if it gets a tenant in faster, it will pay for itself.  The basement wall is slightly moist after it rains, and I'm sure this will help.

You think $1400 is too little?  It's 970 square feet - a bungalow.  It looks like it fits in among the other homes that have been for rent this spring at that price.

It's 1.5 miles to downtown.  So an easy bike ride and walkable, but not a stroll.

It all depends on the finishes... PM me with the address and your email if you would like.... I will do a quick market analysis on it for you.

That's a good deal on the addition of sod - for the extra $300 I would do the sod. 

Originally posted by @Bill Bodziak :

It all depends on the finishes... PM me with the address and your email if you would like.... I will do a quick market analysis on it for you.

 Thanks so much for the offer.  I've sent you the address.

Quick update for anyone following this thread.  After great communication last week and a written quote, the sod company won't respond to my calls or emails to schedule a date!  I'll wrap up the thread with some before and after pictures once we get things sorted out.

We posted the rental last night after midnight and have 5 inquiries so far...

Just a warning on the sod, don't over fertilize it too early. Talk to the installers on what they recommend for upkeep the first few months and do your own research to verify. If it is specific stuff that will require you or the tenant to do something besides watering once a week, 1 every 2 weeks (depends on your climate) Note: will take a lot more watering when first installed. I would discuss this with the tenant and make sure they are comfortable or do not mind you making frequent visits early into the rental period. 

Here is a link of a random website that has good info from what I remember laying sod in school for construction companies. I just googled it, no relationship with this site. http://www.brucecompany.com/pages/garden-center/Basic-Lawn-Care-Newly-Sodded-Lawns.php

5 inquiries in a few hours..... can get more $$$ :) I'm sure as a BP member you have done the research on tenant screening. MREIA is a great resource too. There is a meeting this Thursday in troy and it is always a good time. I will send you an analysis this afternoon. 

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