Selling a rental property - what to fix, what to leave

15 Replies

My spouse and I own around 10 properties in our area. One is a property he purchased before we met. It was rented to the same renter for 11 years with a manager taking care of the property. The renter recently moved out and as it is not a good money maker, we are going to sell it while the market is still higher in our area.

The renter didn't exactly trash the house, but her dog(s) did. It is a 1200 sq ft, 3 bed 2 bath.  Our question is what to fix up and what to leave as is.  

It had been carpeted throughout except for the kitchen and bathrooms. It had the original carpet from 2006 and it was disgusting, full of dog hair and dirt.  My husband wanted to keep it and just have it all cleaned, but the house smelled so terrible and the carpet was so worn I convinced him to at least pull the carpet in the living area and hall and put down a mid-range laminate as we were thinking about just re-renting it.

After having the carpets 'cleaned' in the bedrooms, the house still smells terrible (which is not surprising to me). He is having the carpet cleaning company come out again because the carpet still is terrible... but I don't doubt they spent quite a bit of time on it - it just needs probably hours of cleaning to get it even close to livable.  There was literally dog hair piled up around all the edges of the hall and each room. And let's not even talk about the stains.

I've been doing a lot of cleaning at the house myself because there is just SO much to do. Whenever the heat turns in there is such a smell from the venting system, the smell of dog is just overpowering. I have been scrubbing everything. I'm not even joking that this person must never have even wiped out a cabinet as there was still sawdust in the upper kitchen cabinets where the builder had drilled holes for wiring for the range vent. My last straw was after starting to cut what I thought was some gum out of the carpet in one of the bedrooms and finding it was actually oldoldold dog feces that had ground in and gotten stuck in the carpet fibers.

My husband is of the mind to spend the least amount possible. Which is all fine and well, but he thinks he is going to get top dollar for this house and I am afraid he is going to be terribly disappointed when either we get a ton of low ball offers and/or it is going to sit on the market forever.  He even raised an eyebrow when I mentioned I was going to replace one of the (terribly stained) toilet seats for $6. 

The house has ZERO curb appeal, no landscaping, older linoleum in the baths/kitchen, the renter painted a few of the rooms but did a pretty poor job, and it has all the original fixtures & appliances, no fridge or washer/dryer.  My husband and his friend re-painted one room and touched up a couple others when we thought we would just re-rent it.

So if you read all that you're a champ.  My question is, if we want to get this sold for a decent price, what do we fix up/replace? We've never sold a house, we've only bought.  I know *I* woudn't buy this house, but I also know I'm not the most objective person here.

He bought the house for 102k 11 years ago. Looking in the area, nothing has sold in the past year that is in this kind of rougher shape... everything is nicer and move-in ready so comps are pretty difficult. Most similar (but nice homes that have landscaping, updated kitchens, etc) are selling for around 115-120k. My husband wants to list it for 112k and hope to get 102k at the least. 

Would it be worth it to replace the nasty carpet with something inexpensive? Is there anything worth the expense to try and get more for this house? Am I way off base here? Help!

I think you already know the answer. The problem is not that you don't know what to do, but it is that fact that it'll be hard to convince your husband to agree with you to spend some money. That been said, carpet and paint is relatively cheap, and they can dramatically make the house look better, you know that. If anything, that will get the house sold faster. 

@Renee Anders I would suggest having a local "professional" real estate salesperson look at the house and get their take on what it will take to get the highest price.  Sounds like your husband is thrifty but needs some help.  Sometimes, economy costs.

@Renee Anders if the carpet in the remaining bedrooms is met with laminate at the doors, you can often get remnants from carpet installers (new carpet, too short for another full job) for a fraction of the normal cost per square foot. Even if each bedroom is a different neutral color carpet, it would present better than dirty old carpet. When you rip the old out, clean the slab itself if stained. Call around to find an AC Duct cleaning company. There are many scam ones that run a little brush through and charge you, but the reputable ones can fully scrub the ducts. It may be a few hundred, but if the smell comes out from the ac and you've changed the filters, it needs ducts and coils cleaned (may be worth having an AC company clean the coil) Also check into renting an ozone machine if possible. I have one that we use in our car detailing business (it was $500 and would struggle to be effective with anything larger than a bedroom, so definitely RENT the larger one you'd need), Running mine for an hour in a freshly detailed cigar smoker's car with the AC running and you'd never know it had been smoked in. You don't want to breathe ozone at high concentration as it'll irritate your throat and nose, but it isn't "poisonous" per se. You would run the machine for awhile, maybe even 24-48 hours, with the AC on recirculate but a rather warm temp, 75-80° and house sealed. Then come in and open all the windows to air it out. The ozone (O3) reverts back to oxygen (O2) as it oxidizes with odors, so no toxic byproducts or odors are left behind, as long as the odor sources have been cleaned/removed...... and That's my deodorizing rant despite the fact that I don't even have a sense of smell...seriously. Everyone else in my life can smell and I've taken an odd interest in what causes and removes odor, since it's a foreign concept to me :)

In your I’m guessing entry level price range buyers want to finance everything into the mortgage. And why would they buy a yucky house and pay cash/do all the work if they can finance an extra 10-15k and pay it monthly. If all the comps are nicer, maybe the yucky ones sold off market cheap to investors after they dropped off the mls due to the listing expired...because they didnt sell.

Originally posted by @Soh Tanaka :

I think you already know the answer. The problem is not that you don't know what to do, but it is that fact that it'll be hard to convince your husband to agree with you to spend some money. That been said, carpet and paint is relatively cheap, and they can dramatically make the house look better, you know that. If anything, that will get the house sold faster. 

 I think if i use your phrase that includes his favorite word, cheap I might be able to convince him! Any other recommendations, should I put in some basic landscaping just to make it look nicer from the street?

Originally posted by @Bob B. :

@Renee Anders I would suggest having a local "professional" real estate salesperson look at the house and get their take on what it will take to get the highest price.  Sounds like your husband is thrifty but needs some help.  Sometimes, economy costs.

 Good idea. I was also thinking of going to an open house or two just to give him an idea of what I'm trying to impart! Unfortunately he hasn't learned yet that sometimes you DO get what you pay for.

Originally posted by @Russell Holmes :
@Renee Anders if the carpet in the remaining bedrooms is met with laminate at the doors, you can often get remnants from carpet installers (new carpet, too short for another full job) for a fraction of the normal cost per square foot. Even if each bedroom is a different neutral color carpet, it would present better than dirty old carpet. When you rip the old out, clean the slab itself if stained. Call around to find an AC Duct cleaning company. There are many scam ones that run a little brush through and charge you, but the reputable ones can fully scrub the ducts. It may be a few hundred, but if the smell comes out from the ac and you've changed the filters, it needs ducts and coils cleaned (may be worth having an AC company clean the coil) Also check into renting an ozone machine if possible. I have one that we use in our car detailing business (it was $500 and would struggle to be effective with anything larger than a bedroom, so definitely RENT the larger one you'd need), Running mine for an hour in a freshly detailed cigar smoker's car with the AC running and you'd never know it had been smoked in. You don't want to breathe ozone at high concentration as it'll irritate your throat and nose, but it isn't "poisonous" per se. You would run the machine for awhile, maybe even 24-48 hours, with the AC on recirculate but a rather warm temp, 75-80° and house sealed. Then come in and open all the windows to air it out. The ozone (O3) reverts back to oxygen (O2) as it oxidizes with odors, so no toxic byproducts or odors are left behind, as long as the odor sources have been cleaned/removed...... and That's my deodorizing rant despite the fact that I don't even have a sense of smell...seriously. Everyone else in my life can smell and I've taken an odd interest in what causes and removes odor, since it's a foreign concept to me :)

 I'll check out the carpets idea! He may go for that! 

Great idea about the ozone machine! Going to have to pass that along to my parents as well. They have a car they haven't been able to get cigarette odors out of.

I checked a couple companies online for air duct cleaning and they were saying around $700??  Is that the norm?

Originally posted by @Marian Smith :

In your I’m guessing entry level price range buyers want to finance everything into the mortgage. And why would they buy a yucky house and pay cash/do all the work if they can finance an extra 10-15k and pay it monthly. If all the comps are nicer, maybe the yucky ones sold off market cheap to investors after they dropped off the mls due to the listing expired...because they didnt sell.

 That's what I'm afraid of. They're either not gonna have the extra cash to put in new flooring, or even maybe not want to deal with it. I love the other side of this business (buying), and when investors see it they're gonna see dollar signs, throw us a low ball offer and hope we are desperate enough to get rid of it. 

A photo of the front of the house might help us advise you, but keep in mind that this time of year, landscaping is tough in our area. Clean and tidy may be the best you can do right now. Landscaping can get pricey, too.

You definitely have to address the smell problem. That alone will keep it from selling or kill the price.

Fresh paint gives the best bang for the buck of anything you can do in a rehab.

I agree with @Sylvia B. , a picture of the outside would help for us to share our thoughts. If there's any space to put some mulch, go for it. If some bushes/trees need trimming, just do it. I won't plant anything though.

@Renee Anders It is a tricky situation; however, if you are thinking of getting the highest and best price for the property, it is a good idea to spend the money upfront for at least the aesthetics. 

As for the structural and mechanical elements of the house, the repairs can get very expensive so you may want to just sell the house AS-IS. 

Hope this helps, Renee. Goodluck. Thanks! - Ola  

Paint interior, all nuetral one color for the house. replace 10 year old carpet. Nuetral remnants or all one color in bedrooms, you will need to remove pads to do this. I assume you have plywood subfloor, check for stains before re-carpeting you may need to do something about them because they can be the source of the smell. Clean and fresh will make a big difference. The rest of it is how far you want to go and what sells in your market. do post a picture so we can comment on exterior.

After 11 years with one tenant I think a full cosmetic rehab would be pretty standard. To get top dollar you need to sell to homeowners, and homeowners. In its present state I think it will only be attractive to other investors looking for a good deal. Have an agent give his/her opinion on what it will sell for in its current condition, and what it will sell for if it was cosmetically rehabbed and I think he’ll change his tune.

@Renee Anders I had an friend awhile back that would just pick up a new piece of carpet for his kids rooms every year or two since the hallway was tiled.  He knew a carpet installer, so he would get 12' x 12-15' pieces of carpet for less than $50 and throw it over the same pad, and I'm sure the installer had already paid for the carpet on the job and just used that $50 for beer money for the weekend instead of throwing a basically useless piece away.  But his kids mainly just tracked in dirt and left markers/paint/etc about, so the pad never saw the nasty stuff like it would with dogs!

I'm really not sure what duct cleaning should cost.  That price seems rather high, but if other quotes in the area are the same, it must be the going rate.  If so, you may check first into renting the ozone machine and having an AC company come do a coil cleaning, or look up DIY coil cleaning.  My AC evaporator luckily has an access panel that is easily removed and then a service plug in the side panel of the coil (plastic disc wedged into sheet metal) that I was able to remove, liberally spray down the coil on the 'incoming air side' with cleaner bought from lowes, and carefully spray some water onto the coils from the easily accessible 'outgoing air' side to back rinse after waiting the recommended time.  I had to do all the rinse parts slowly as my condensation pan and line could only handle a trickle.  I nearly overflowed the pan rinsing with my garden hose (ac unit is in my garage) which would have left standing water in an inaccessible part of the return duct (would have had to cut a hole through the wall and duct to get to it, yikes!).  I cleaned mine ok with lots of tedious caution and a little flash light, but am hesitant to recommend it as a DIY service to others since it was harder than I imagined and since I believe many AC companies will come do an annual service with coil cleaning for around $150 (again, just guesstimate) and likely have a method more foolproof than my aerosol cleaner can and garden hose, plus they can look the system over and catch/fix any small issues before a home inspector would find them.  My airflow in the evaporator comes from the bottom up.  If yours is laid on its side, it'll have a more solid drip pan and be easier to rinse. My drip pan is just the perimeter under the edge of the " /\ " shaped coil with an open square in the middle for airflow.  They can be mounted either way by HVAC techs depending on how the house is built.  

Since I own an ozone machine, I have no idea what they cost to rent.  I have heard on the BP forums of people renting them, so I know it is possible.  If an AC coil cleaning is $150 and you can rent an ozone machine for $50/day, I'd give both of those a shot before the duct cleaning.   Duct cleaning would be an absolute must if you had major mold problems or some other health hazard, but the coil cleaning and ozone alone may get rid of the smell in the ductwork if you leave the HVAC recirculate fan on while ozone running, in which case you could leave duct cleaning up to the next people.  Literally everyone who hasn't had a recent duct cleaning has some sort of dust and funk in their ducts that doesn't hurt anything....and you just need to get rid of the smell as cost effectively as possible!  I bet a lot of the smell is hanging out in the carpet and pad as well as in debris in the coil if filters weren't changed frequently.  

It seems like your husband is approaching this through the eyes of an investor, not a homeowner. So speak that language and look at this property as a light flip.

In that light, it might help to do a little homework together...
-look at homes in your desired price point to get a cosmetic baseline for what would need to be done in order to be competitive.
-crunch a few numbers on the cost of those updates. And then pare that list down to the minimum of what you’re willing to put into the home.
From what you’ve said, paint, flooring, cleaning of the HVAC system, and a session with an ozone generator would be wise. Plus, after ten years, paint and flooring are a pretty standard update anyway. You might find that spending $3K will put you in a better position to make $10K. Bear in mind that only investors smell pet odors and see dollar signs. ;) If your house smells, retail buyers will turn right around, walk out the door and go straight to the next property.
If you really don’t want to put the cash in, another option would be to offer a cosmetic update allowance, but I believe it will decrease your buyer audience and lower your chances of getting the price you want. Most people want a move-in ready home, but... there’s a buyer for every house.

Bottom line, it will come down to you and your spouse’s decision on how much you’re willing to invest in it and how quickly you want it sold.

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