How much to upgrade on a rental property

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Hey guys - My wife and I live in Columbia in South Carolina - she has being in grad school for a couple years but we are planning to move back upstate early next year. When we moved we rented our house out and self managed, it has been successfully rented out for the entire time we have been away (by successful, I mean that it has not been vacant and has cash flowed around 300/month)

We are planning to move into the house for 18-24 months before moving into something else and keeping this house as a rental. 

My question is: assuming, we are going to do some upgrades to the house before moving into it, what rules should we follow about how much to put into a rental property? How do you gauge future rental value when deciding what to upgrade? 

Just a little bit more background, this house has been a rental for many years, we bought it from the previous landlord - It has not been well taken care of nor has it been updated over the years. That said, it is in a gentrifying part of town, and based on the nearby commercial and municipal upgrades is in the future path-of-progress.

Thank you so much for any advice you can offer!


Something I like to do when gauging the amount of upgrades and repairs needed on my units is seeing what is on the market near them. You can look at both active and rented listinga and check out the pictures to see what is included in each. If you have the opportunity to check them out in person I'd recommend that. After a while you'll notice a pattern and you can see where the market is heading for upgrades. Or you can see all the things that the other rentals are lacking and put them into your unit to give you an edge. It is important to not go overboard because you may find that a property that was once cash flowing may no longer be doing so. Appliance switch outs are the easiest upgrades along with light cabinet refacing if needed. If the unit has carpeting, replacing that may be a good idea as well. I wouldn't do too much more than that if you don't have to.