I'll qualify this with the fact that there may be MANY correct answers for this. Here's the one that has developed over the decades for me:
On deciding how nice to make a rental in preparing it for rent, I have two primary areas I consider:
1) What kind of return will I get from the improvements I'm considering?
For this, I have to compare my condition or projected condition to competing rentals, how long an improvement will last, (Granite counter-tops versus an upgraded toilet paper holder) the trends in the market place, such as what tenants appear to be trending toward liking, how popular a particular item is, and wether I might get only the same rent as I would have, but possibly just get a better tenant.
Those are all bottom-line, figuring out the net dollars concerns.
2) How much time and aggravation it saves me:
Here, I go beyond just how many net dollars in extra rent I'll collect, versus the cost of improving, and I consider how much extra time it takes me to wait another week to rent it, or possibly how much time I waste dealing with a "b" quality tenant, when for an extra $1,000 worth of upgrades, I might have attracted an "a." (I make decent $ in my regular business, so more time saved can be converted into $$, when I'm not busy posting on BP.)
Also, (and this is maybe part of point 1) I consider how much more quickly I'll get it rented. Obviously, if the rent is $2,000 per month (remember, I'm in Southern California) and I rent it 15 days earlier, $1,000 that I spent is more than recovered since I don't have to pay the light bill on a vacant place, or incur more cost of marketing a vacancy.
Another item I've been running into lately is thinking way ahead, and wondering when the tenant gives their notice to terminate the tenancy, how will the unit or house look if I'm going to show it to prospects while they're still there? (which I often do) I LOVE to get those "back-to-back" rentals, where tenant A moves out on the 4th, and we're fixing up fast and tenant B moves in on the 10th. That's almost as exciting as as, well..........it's not that exciting, but I sure like it!
So if the unit is fixed up better, then when I do go to show it to new prospects, I'm more likely to get one of my quick turnarounds.
Brandon, was this what you were looking for? Hope this helped!