8 Expert Tips for Renovating the Exteriors of Your Buy & Holds

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My last post on renovation tips for buy and hold properties generated a lot of interest and discussion. While that post focused on what I do inside, I want to emphasize in this post that the outside is just as important. The first thing any prospective tenant is going to see when they get to your property is of course the outside. Curb appeal is vital. After all, a property can look fantastic on the inside, but if the outside looks dingy, your prospective tenants may not even make it inside. They may simply drive away.

Over the years I have tried a lot of different things on the outside. Some of them worked, some did not. In general, my goal with renovations to the exterior of my properties is not to reproduce the Taj Mahal, but to make them appear neat, clean and taken care of while minimizing future maintenance issues. Some of these items are going to be specific to my market and may not exactly fit yours. But hopefully the general principle can be applied in any market.

Related: 6 Bathroom Remodel Tips Every House Flipper Should Know

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8 Expert Tips for Renovating the Exteriors of Your Buy & Holds

Look for Durable Exteriors

In my market here in Memphis, TN, that means brick or stone. Brick and stone are simply more durable and will require less maintenance than most other surfaces out there. The other major material used here is wood or composite siding — but those rot and often require painting. So for me, brick is the way to go. Does that mean I will pass up a property with wood or some other siding? No, but I might offer less for it, knowing the future maintenance issues.

Do Not Paint the Brick

I generally do not paint brick unless it is absolutely necessary. By painting the brick, I have just created another future maintenance issue in that at some point, the brick will need to be repainted. I prefer to “touch up” areas with a very small amount of brick colored paint if it is needed.

Get Rid of Vinyl Siding

My experience with vinyl siding has been nightmarish. Here in this market, vinyl siding is used primarily to cover wooden portions of a structure, such as eaves and trim. I have discovered over the years that vinyl was often installed to hide some very damaged wood that should have been replaced. I prefer to rip all the vinyl off, repair the wood and paint it.

I know, I know, above I said I wanted to reduce maintenance issues and am I not creating one by removing the vinyl siding and painting the wood? Yes, but I am also reducing my maintenance issues because, as I said, my experience with vinyl has always been bad. Vinyl comes apart, it falls off, it blows away during high winds, critters make nests underneath it and it begins to look old and dingy after a few years. So to me, I am not increasing the maintenance by removing the vinyl; I am actually decreasing it.

Choose a Complementary Color Palette

I my previous post, I stated that I used two standard colors on the inside. I have found that it is not so simple on the outside. Why? Because often there are differing brick, stone and roof colors, and there are differing housing styles. On some properties you may get away with one color for trim, while another might require two or even three different colors. I like to use neutral colors for large surfaces, but I will select nice deep accent colors for trim to make my property stand out a bit.

Sherwin Williams has some great color palates for a wide range of property types, be they turn of the century Craftsmen or more modern suburban. Of course, your local market will help dictate some colors palettes. What might look good here in Memphis may not work in Miami or Santa Fe. The general rule for me is to keep things simple and use deep, dark colors that match or highlight some feature of the property, such as the roof, brick or other building material. It is also a good idea to pick a different color for your front door to make it stand out. Here in the older sections of Memphis, dark reds, yellows and blues are common for front doors. Using accent colors wisely can really add to your curb appeal.

Install Security Features

In my market it is common to have metal security doors on the property. It is a feature that makes tenants feel more secure and helps secure the property when it is vacant. I also install cages around my condensers.   Lighting is another thing I try to make sure is plentiful. Good exterior lighting all around the property is essential for security.

Install Storm Windows

Many of the properties I buy are older and often have only one pane of glass between inside and out. This is a problem for both you and your future tenants. For you, it means all of the elements will be attacking your windows, leading to paint and glazing issues in the near future. For your future tenants, it means higher utility bills and a potential choice between paying for the heat and paying the rent. Smarter tenants will also realize the benefits of storm windows and be attracted to the property. Storm windows can be pricy, but I have found that they are well worth the cost.

Keep Landscaping to a Minimum

Bushes, shrubs and other plantings are generally kept to a minimum at my properties because they are often a maintenance headache. They need trimming and pruning, and some even need watering. Tenants will most likely not take care of landscaping, even if the lease says they are required to. So it will fall on you to either do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

Related: 10 Renovation Tips That Will Save You Time and Money

That does not mean I will not plant some landscaping, but if I do I will…

Use Low Maintenance Landscaping

I do not need to add to my list of things to do, and watering and trimming landscaping certainly is an addition. Sure, I like the look of flowers and blooming bushes, but it can simply be too much to maintain. If I need to plant something, I like to go with hardy plants that require little maintenance and will also look nice. Here in Memphis, the Little Richard Abelia shrub is almost perfect, as it can take the summer heat, endure long dry spells and needs trimming only once a year or so.

These exterior tips are all about making the property look attractive while minimizing future maintenance issues. Of course, you cannot eliminate all maintenance issues, but the choices you make when rehabbing a property can directly influence the amount of work and money you will need to expend in the future.

So what would you add to the list? What works well or is different about your market?

Please share 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.

14 Comments

  1. Christopher L.

    I’d be curious to see if anyone has any tips for covering a large areas with low maintenance landscaping. We have a rental in southern California with a huge side-yard that is currently nothing but dirt. We want to make it look good but don’t want to cover it in grass and have a huge water bill.

    • Kevin Perk

      Christopher,

      Not knowing anything about southern California, is much or rock an option with some native plants thrown in? Would it be a good place for a patio, or a shed or perhaps some parking? just throwing out some ideas.

      Good luck and thanks for reading,

      Kevin

    • Donna Paget

      Hi Christopher
      I recently went to a Master Gardeners show and was interested in a product called sedum tiles. These are living “tiles” of sedum succulents. They are great for just what you are looking for. They can be a little expensive, but worth it for low maintenance, low water, and covering dirt (easily). I think Lowe’s and HomeDepot carry them.

  2. good tips!–I agree if the outside does not look well maintained most drive by potential tenants will keep on driving– we put on pre painted shutters -easy to install & add a nice look & are low maintenance–also, we repaint the front door, add a kick plate and door knocker– you have to keep the outside looking good –it goes a long way with the neighbors too–

  3. Randy E.

    Great tips, Kevin.

    The mention of storm windows caught my attention especially. Like you, my properties are older homes that usually have the original windows. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve only had to purchase a small number of storm windows so far to replace missing/damaged ones. However, I really want to update to newer windows in my properties. Naturally, the concern is cost. At what point do you consider it overall beneficial to the landlord to replace original windows with newer vinyl windows?

  4. Eva Salas

    Thanks for your article of great hints!!
    By coincidence I was speaking with one of my managers just an hour ago about an exterior update. I’m in Silicon Valley so no brick or storm windows but…I decided to put up lighting on the redwood trees, and weeping cherry tree. paint the trim of my gray bldg black, from its current white. This will contrast with the white vinyl windows.
    Paint the doors black as well. And put black mulch under the weeping cherry. In this google ‘hood I would like my boutique 6-plex to look, as she put it, “like a hip, It bldg.

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