How to Best Prepare an Investment House for Rental (As Opposed to Sale)


There’s an awful lot of advice out there for how to make a house look amazing, and if you’re the kind of person who tends to run with the first ideas you come across, you can end up really shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to your rental properties. That’s because the advice that’s intended to make a house that someone owns look amazing is actually entirely different from the advice you need to follow for a rental. In fact, most aspects of rental house renovations and repairs are quite different from those same tasks when performed for an owned house.

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Almost every investment property you purchase is going to need repairs. (Heck, a close relative of mine just spent $400k on a house and it needed $24k in repairs the day he moved in–and it was newly built!) But what you repair if you’re going to live in it–or flipping it so someone else can live in it–is very different from what you’d repair if you’re planning on renting it.

In part, that’s because renters are less picky than homeowners. They know it’s not “their” house, and so they don’t care as much about the finishing details. They don’t care about having plant hangers under the eaves or what color the fixtures are. They just want to know that everything works and they’ll be safe and warm and able to put their stuff somewhere. Anything you give them past that is usually money poorly spent.

The rest of the story is pure math: You’re still going to be responsible for the repairs eventually, so there’s no point at all in doing repairs now. Why buy a new water heater when you could get a solid 3-5 years out of that old 1987 water heater before it bites the dust? All you’re doing in that case is sacrificing 3-5 years of perfectly good water heating.

Related: 5 Crucial Questions to Ask BEFORE You Buy That First Rental Property


Similarly, in most markets, a solid investment property is probably going to be pretty old, which means the stuff in it is probably going to be pretty old, too. If you’re planning to flip the house, you need to upgrade basically everything to within-the-last-decade tech.

When you’re renting out the property, however, the same logic from repairs applies again. If you need to upgrade the wiring, plumbing, or gas lines because they’re unsafe, of course you will. But beyond the actual safety issues, it’s mostly a waste of money to upgrade items like the range, the cabinet hardware, or the bathtub fixtures. There are exceptions, of course; if the cabinet doors are noticeably off level, you need to fix that. But by and large, unless the tenant complains, it’s not your problem.


You have to keep up with the Joneses. No matter where your property is, there’s typically a baseline of renter expectations. If all the competing rental properties have appliances from within the last decade, you’ll have to give serious consideration to upgrading to match. If you don’t, you’re either going to wait a long time to fill your rental, or you’re going to have to keep lowering the price.

You can also make upgrades that focus on rental-appropriate attributes (i.e. a floor that will survive several consecutive tenants) rather than sales-appropriate ones (a floor that matches the aesthetics of the room perfectly). Combine those two factors, and you can end up making your upgrade costs back, plus a decent amount of extra by the time your upgrades have to be re-upgraded again.

Related: 10 Home Staging Tips to Help Sell (or Rent) Your Property FAST!


Here’s the big, bad difference between flipping and renting a home. When you’re flipping a home, you can afford to decorate with a specific aesthetic in mind. The MLS listings reach enough people that being able to put “Art Deco styling” or “ultramodern” into the description will help you sell the home. So go ahead and put a few grand into getting those particular crown moldings; someone will love them!

A rental, on the other hand, has to appeal to a huge variety of potential viewers. It has to come across as a blank palette ready to be turned into whatever your next tenant might love. This is why almost every rental you’ll ever see advertised is painted a color somewhere in the “taupe-ecru-eggshell” spectrum–because those colors don’t exclude any visions of what the space might look like. It’s also why you should paint your new acquisition in the same vein if you intend to rent it out.

Any tips to add to this subject?

Leave them below!

About Author

Drew Sygit

Drew is the manager of Royal Rose Property Management, a fairly high-tech solution for Detroit Metro area property owners & investors.


    • Katie Rogers

      I say add the screen door. It will not raise the rental price, but tenants will appreciate it. And as someone else mentioned, a little extra quality is likely to be cost efficient because it will last through several tenancies, and may also encourage better care than the cheaply-done rental. It is not that renters are less picky. It is more like renters have choose from what is available, and it is the landlord who is less picky because he doesn’t live there. In general, a little more empathy is in order.

      • Marcia Maynard

        Screen doors are a necessity in some locations and more of a bother in others. We prefer not to have screen doors. One more thing to get damaged… and they do get damaged easily. Very few tenants in our location want them or even ask for them. However, we do put screens in the windows.

  1. Eric Reichelt

    I can barley stomach this idea, I see it where I am and of course everywhere where landlords don’t care about the community. It’s shameful at best and purely driven by zero empathy. I love how the money dictates what you believe people desire in a home. How many homes have you seen with no real appeal and thought awesome, I’d love to live there?

  2. Jerry W.

    I agree that how a house needs to look to sale it compared to how it needs to look to rent it are very different. If you were planning to flip and ended up renting for a year there is a lot of touch up that would be needed. The cost of wow would rarely pay off in a rental.

  3. Nathan E.

    When I needed to replace the counters in my rental, I thought about this question. Since the surface was small, the upgrade from laminate to granite was proportionately small. No rentals in my area / price have granite so this is something that gets people on the phone, in the door, and ultimately on the lease quickly. Its also a durable surface. That said, now that I know how to install the prefab laminate counters from HD, I’ll probably stick with those all day.

  4. Cheryl Hutchison

    When it comes to counter tops, I address my acquisition with how current does it look and what condition is it in? I have used quartz in a recent acquisition because of the durability factor. I know those counter tops are going to last through several tenancies whereas a laminate says, cheap rental and no need to be careful. My philosophy is create a rental property that the tenant would enjoy living in…not just existing. But then I guess that is why there are econo lodges and Hilton hotels. Would you rather rent to someone who can afford a little more or the basis low cost applicant? I find giving a little more gets more in return.

  5. Deanna Opgenort

    I’ve been happy with having modular flooring (carpet tiles — twice now indelible stains have been removed by simply pulling out the damaged carpet tile and replacing it with a new one. I have the legato style (post-it-note type adhesive, wavy edge). I got them on Craigslist, so 20% of new price, but they’ve seen me through 5 years of tenants with dogs & kids, and it still looks really good (color looks darkish brown).
    I like the idea that I’ll be able to replace JUST the damaged part, rather than 800 sq feet of carpet at a time (or handing over an increasingly dilapidated rental).
    Next project is click-lock vinyl planks for the kitchen/dining room. Anyone have any suggestions for these?

  6. Waverly Rennie

    Hi @Deanna- I just did the click lock laminate flooring in a short term rental, Super easy and fast. I got it at Costco when they had their $10 off per carton sale, which they apparently do several times a year. I ended up with enough to do 2 bedrooms for about $450 in materials. I also had to spend about $20 for an installation kit at Home Depot (the mallet and a puller-thing that helps you pull the boards together) plus about $6 for a little handsaw and $12 for the plastic covering you put on the concrete subflooring. I had never done it before, and am not at all handy, so I got a semi-handyman friend who had done it in his own house to help. The main challenge was that we put it in and then realized we were going to end up with a very thin strip to fill in on the front edge of the room. So we then cut the very first row, at the back of the room, in half, so that the very thin strip at the front would be more like 3/4 of a plank wide, and shifted the whole pre-assembled floor back towards the back of the room. Longwinded but just to say that if even a dummy like me can do that……

  7. Marina Kimak

    I am very surprised by the tone of this message and low esteem for people renting apartments or houses. It is also counterproductive to think about your home as being a “cheap rental”. In the end, what you put out, is what you will attract. If you are not able or willing to add value, to keep your property at the highest level possible, and consider your tenants as deserving beings (after all they pay your mortgage), than maybe you shouldn’t be a land lord, just a slam-lord. I am not sure for which purpose this article was written? Maybe just to stir a discussion?

    • Marcia Maynard

      The author makes some good points. Although I don’t agree with his blanket statement that “… renters are less picky than homeowners. They know it’s not “their” house, and so they don’t care as much about the finishing details”, in my experience of 20 years, what he said is more often true than not. The key is in knowing your market and being responsive to it.

      We choose durable and good looking materials and will make upgrades from time to time, even while a tenant is in place. We also employ a policy of “make it your own home” whereby we will make an improvement or add a feature that is of importance to the tenant, upon their request.

      I didn’t read into it that the author was advocating to offer a “cheap rental” or to be “slum lord”. To the contrary, I think he makes some valid points, especially…. “A rental, on the other hand, has to appeal to a huge variety of potential viewers. It has to come across as a blank palette ready to be turned into whatever your next tenant might love.”

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