8 Expert Tips for Rehabbing Buy & Holds for Maximum Rentability

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I am a buy and hold landlord. And most of the properties I buy to hold are in some sort of distress. They are foreclosures. They have been trashed by tenants. They have sat vacant for years because the owner passed away and the family could not make a decision. There are a host of other reasons why properties become distressed. Distress does not bother me; I actually look for it because that is where the deals are.

Buying all these distressed properties means I have done a few rehabs over the years. I used to do a lot of these rehabs myself thinking I was saving money with all of my sweat equity. I have since wised up and today hire all of that work out (so I can focus on buying more properties). Either way, though, I have learned a thing or two about doing a rehab for a buy and hold property. Here are eight tips I have learned over the years.

Related: How to NOT Over-Improve Your Properties: 3 Key Levels of Rehab Finish

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8 Expert Tips for Rehabbing Buy & Holds for Maximum Rentability

Fix it Up Better Than Your Competition

Landlords who fix up their properties to a higher level will get rewarded with higher rents and longer term tenants. There are a lot more renters out there these days since the housing crash in 2008, but there are also a lot more properties available on the rental market. Make your property stands out by spending a little extra money. Don’t cheap things out, and use some of the tips below to make your property stand out.

Use Standard Paint Colors

You need to have a set of standard paint colors that you generally use throughout your properties. I personally like Sherwin William’s Navajo White for walls and pure white for trim. Sure, there are some circumstances where a unique color may be needed or wanted, but in general having only one of two colors can really save time down the road when it comes time to touch things up a bit after a tenant moves out.

Use a Satin Finish

Speaking of paint, don’t use a flat finish anywhere. Instead use a satin finish. A satin finish has a bit of washability to it while not being overly shiny like a semi-gloss finish. A flat finish has no washability and simply has to be repainted when stained. A satin finish can thus save a bit of money down the road, as minor blemishes can be scrubbed away.

Use Hard Surfaces on the Floors

I hate carpet. It always ends up being dirty, ugly and in need of replacing. That is why I always try to go with a hard floor, such as ceramic tile or hardwood. It simply is going to last longer, plus it looks better to tenants and is a nice upgrade. As with paint, you should pick a standard type of ceramic tile and have a standard stain color for the hardwood. Finally, two coats of high gloss polyurethane on the hardwood is the way to go.

Add Appliances

In my market, I cannot rent my properties without appliances included. Knowing that, I step up the game a bit and add amenities. I like to install dishwashers and put in washers and dryers. Tenants really like these amenities and will pay higher rents for them.

Install Central Heat and Air

This is a great amenity that good tenants will seek out and pay for. They like the convenience, and they usually save on the utility bills (meaning they can pay you rent). Plus it will save you money in the long run.   Window AC units always seem to break after a year or two, and they always destroy your windows and sills. Eliminate those problems with central heat and air.

Make the Kitchen and Bath Pop

Granite prices have really come down lately. In some cases it is just a couple hundred dollars more to install granite counter tops over formica, so why not go with granite? It is one of those things that will make you stand out from the competition, plus it is harder to destroy. I also like to install a tile black splash for additional beauty. In the bath, clean and simple is the way to go. Never use plastic faucet knobs.

Related: The One Task Every Investor Needs To Do To Save Big Money On Your Rehabs

Keep the Designs Simple

Don’t go overboard with some of these new tile designs out there. Sure, they look good today, but in a few years they will likely look dated and need replacement. Go with classic designs. I like black and white subway tiles for example. Always looks good and is a timeless design.

These tips may perhaps seem a bit pricy on the front end, but as a buy and hold investor, you have to look at the big picture. You need to rehab your properties so you will attract a higher quality and longer term tenant. The amenities and upgrades I describe above will do that, thus saving you money and time over the long term. Plus, you want to make things harder to break and easier to repair as this will also save you time and money down the road.

If you cheap things out at the beginning, trust me, you will only pay for it later. So, keep it simple, keep it nice and classic, and you will be rewarded with higher rents, tenant longevity and fewer headaches.

Is there anything you would add to the list? Is there anything different about your particular market?

Please let us know with your comments.

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

43 Comments

  1. Good recommendations.
    Can you also talk about the Exterior of the house and maybe add few pictures/sketch as to what is your ideal rental unit should look like for maximum rent/rent-ability?

    • Kevin Perk

      Austin,

      Clean is simply the way to go. I find most folks do not care so much about the outside as long as it looks clean. Brick for me is the way to go if I have any say. Otherwise, I just pick decent paint colors and try to keep things well lit. I do not do any fancy landscaping or anything that will take constant care, but I will plant items that will look nice and are hardy.

      Hope that helps you. Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

    • Kevin Perk

      Lin,

      For window coverings I go with the inexpensive blinds that you can find at Home Depot. They hold up pretty well, look decent, are expected in rentals and are not too expensive when it comes time to replace.

      As far as landscaping, go with choices that require the least maintenance.

      Subway tile is a rectangular white tile. With some black accents it looks very classy and is a timeless design. But that may depend on your location.

      Thanks for the kind words. I do appreciate them and thanks for reading as well,

      Kevin

  2. Walker Hinshaw

    Hi Kevin, I have a property in a part of town that isn’t bad, but is more lower middle class. It is a duplex with only 715 sq ft. on each side. Do you think installing granite counter tops and tile would be worth it in a place like this? Do you think it is almost always better to have some of those more expensive touches (even if it would mean replacing perfectly good carpet and counter tops?). I thought the tips about having standard paint colors for all of your houses and using a satin finish were good ones. Definitely going to keep those tips in mind from here on out.

  3. Valerie Brown

    Great post! I’m planning to use these suggestions. But, I haven’t done this in the past because the single family houses that I own and rent are not in the best part of town. So, I’m always afraid to upgrade and put down another type of flooring besides carpet. I like your tip about the paint and have those colors in the houses. But, overall, it sounds like it’s best to upgrade just a bit for the long run.

    • Kevin Perk

      Valerie,

      It is best to upgrade for the long run. Plus, if you upgrade you might get better tenants who will treat your properties better, even in the not so great part of town.

      Good luck and thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  4. Kevin — man, you nailed this one. I have been preaching this to our investors for the past 4 years and I still lose sales each month to Turnkey outfits that do the bare minimum rehab. I think investors get so infatuated with #’s that they are in denial what the houses actually look like. For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would want to be in this business and not offer a premium product during a time where it is well documented that we have more renters then ever. So many landlords are still operating the same way they did 5, 10, 15 years ago without adapting to market/renter demands. Although your space in Memphis has always had high expectations, I am starting to see that across the board in all “B” class area and most certainly “A” class areas. Our friend in Midtown has been fixing up “C” class to retail standards for years now and I have always assumed that is part of his success. You could not be more right about carpet in high traffic areas, after that first tenant turns, it looks beat down. That second tenant turn, it looks awful. Have you used vinyl plank flooring? It is great for high traffic areas such as living room’s, den, hallways and dining rooms. Cost is about $1.97 a sq ft, but we have bought in on some specials that HD’s frequently runs. Most recently bought it in bulk at $1.49 a sq ft—very easy to lay and very resistant, especially on water. I had a pipe bust in January and the flooring held up perfect. On your Kitchen and Bath comments….AGREE 100%. 2 cm granite right now is about 25 sq ft. But even the pre-fab counter tops with a nice brush nickel faucet, brush nickel cabinet handles looks good against a black dishwasher. I am not sure why some landlords fight so hard against adding a dishwasher–it only makes your place more competitive. The Hotpoint Dishwasher I shared with you only cost about $250 installed. Remind me to talk to you about the Satin finish—we tried that and did not have much luck. Maybe a higher quality paint?

    • Kevin Perk

      Good points Alex.

      It’s hard to get people to spend money, even when you know it will be good for them. 🙂

      I have used laminate flooring and generally like the results, but prefer something harder. Let’s talk and maybe we can figure out another blog post.

      Thanks as always for the comment,

      Kevin

      • Jason Miller

        I agree with the bathrooms and kitchens. I had a turnover in a hot market, but tenant damage killed my rehab budget and I opted to wait one more tenant to do the kitchen and bath upgrades. Just upgraded the floors to vinyl plank flooring. Big mistake, the unit sat longer and I was unable to get the higher rents I desired. The floors look great, but I would have been better off putting my money into the kitchen and holding off on the floor upgrade.

  5. Chad Hale

    Thanks for your article Kevin.
    You have summarized my philosophy well.

    One thing not mentioned, when the rental market turns and there are too many rentals around you’ll be able to get tenants because you have a nicer unit than the competition.

    Regarding, hardwood floors, don’t use a stain. Use the natural wood color with coats of polyurethane. Fixing a scratch is simple, sand as needed, reapply polyurethane, buff. Looks like new. Matching stain colors is harder to do for small repairs.

    Regards,
    Chad

    • Kevin Perk

      Chad,

      Thanks for the advice.

      The hardwood floors I usually end up with have been beaten up over the years and a stain is necessary to hide some faults/stains. but I agree with what you say. If you can keep it natural do so.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  6. David R.

    Great stuff Kevin! Absolutely agree with you on these tips.

    My wife and I are currently going through the rehabbing of our live in Duplex and we’ve utilized several of these tips already. The only one that we’re still debating on is going with hard floors.

    Here why – my tenant has occupied the first floor unit for 18 years which has always had carpeting. Last month he asked if he could replace the living room carpet. We agreed but told him it had to be out of his pocket if he wanted to do it now because we were already planning to spend a pretty dime on upgrading the HVAC system this year.

    So anyhow, he went ahead and ripped out the old carpeting and had the subfloor exposed for two days while he awaited Home Depot to come and install. During those two days we could hear every footstep and conversation they were having from upstairs.. yikes!

    But we totally agree that hard floors will cost you less in the long run, less maintenance etc. So in the future I guess we may want to invest in some sound insulation. Thanks for the great article!

  7. Jennifer Tornus

    Thanks for the tip on the Satin Finish! I’m actually about to paint the interior of my own house and need all the help I can get keeping it easy to clean, lol.

    I disagree with you on the Central Air/Heat, though (depending on the market). Most of the homes in my city, New Orleans, only have window units. When I first bought my duplex here, I looked into adding Central. I got three quotes and the cheapest one was $7K for EACH side. This would be an upgrade I would lose a lot of money on because it would only slightly raise the value of both the house and the rent I can charge.

    In addition, perhaps I’ve just been lucky, but I bought four used window units off Craig’s List when I first bought the house four years ago. And they’ve been quite reliable for the minimal cost.

    Two were $50 and two were $75. The $75 ones were bigger and also had heat. No idea how old they were before I bought them, but three are still going strong and the fourth one lasted two years before it died. The heating elements went out on two of them after two years…got them replaced for $40 each. One just went out again and the other one is still working, but the A/C part has always worked fine for both. The one that totally died, I upgraded and bought a new unit that also had heat for $400. At any rate, I’m much happier with the $700 I’ve spent so far as compared to $14,000 for Central!

    • Kevin Perk

      Jennifer,

      Thanks for talking about your market. It is all about what your market will bear. I know NOLA quite well and you are correct, almost everyone has window units. I’m glad you have had good experiences with window units. I unfortunately have not. Perhaps I need to look on Craig’s list. But I am still going with central if I can just less headaches down the road per my experience but i understand where you are coming from. It is expensive!

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. It is great to hear differing opinions and I do appreciate it,

      Kevin

  8. Jules Dominguez

    Thanks for the post! Definitely very valuable. I’m thinking the exact same thing, spend a little money on the bathroom and kitchen, maybe install a dishwasher and a washer/dryer and it seems like more people would be attracted to these units and you’ll be able to have higher rents. Great suggestions!

  9. Marcus Auerbach

    Could not agree more. I’ve just been scratching my head over doors for my current rehab. Most people go with inexpensive hollow core doors, they come pre-finished, pop right in and look great. But when you look a little closer you discover that the jambs are made of particle board with a shrink wraped plastic surface. If this gets scrached or damaged its hard to impossible to repair. But the solid wood doors are a lot more expensive and need to be finished on site with ads another expense and set. In my case I had a choice between $66 (on sale) for the particle board version, $99 for the unfinished solid pine and $175 for prefinished oak. Tough call when you need 14 doors…

    I am planning on either holding my properties indefinitley, but if something changes I may sell in lets say ten years. And then the question will be after ten years of renting to a family with three kids what is the condition of the home and do I have to rehab it over again before I can sell it?

    After a weekend looking at different doors in different places I decided to go with the solid pine doors and will have them painted white. They are heavier in the first place and should wear better, plus I hope that if they get dinged or scratched they can be sanded and repaired and I wont have to rip out trim and jambs. What are you guys doing for doors?

    • Kevin Perk

      Marcus,

      My properties are generally older so they have solid doors to begin with. The trick here is matching them if one is missing, finding a four panel or five panel door to be consistent for example. I rarely put in hollow doors because the just look so out of place in our properties, but that is just our particular market. We just paint our doors white semi-gloss and go from there. Works pretty well for us.

      Hope that helps you. Thanks for reading and for the comments,

      Kevin

  10. Kate Hall

    I love hardwood flooring and will keep it anytime that I can because it takes a beating, however, I’ve been going back and forth with an upstairs unit and think I will need to pad and carpet that to keep the overhead noise down for the unit below. I don’t go to the extra expense of adding sound proofing materials, but I don’t want “noise” calls from upset tenants below. What are your thoughts, Kevin?

  11. Doris Dobson

    Very informative and detailed advice for an absolute scared newbie. I was surprised to find out about the satin wall paint. I always assumed it would show imperfections more readily, especially with an older house. But I can see how it could be wiped/scrubbed clean more easily.

    • Kevin Perk

      Doris,

      It does just a little bit, but the extra durability is worth it and tenants do not seem to mind.

      I was scared of this stuff one too. Your fear will go away as you learn more and DO more. Be sure your fear does not keep you from getting started. If you need advice or help, many of us here on BP are more than willing. Just ask,

      Good luck and thanks for commenting,

      Kevin

  12. Nancy Wheaton

    Great points! I have put either hardwood or ceramic tile through-out many of my properties. While its tempting to “go cheap” with carpet and vinyl, I havn’t needed to replace my flooring at all, in any of my properties. I have also found that it is cheaper to put 2cm granite than Formica and renters think I spent a boat load in it! Great article, thank you.

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