The Top 5 Items to Replace or Upgrade in Every Rental Property You Buy

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After you have purchased an investment property, have you ever encountered this dilemma?

Shall I replace this part? Shall I keep it as-is until it breaks?

Granted, chances you have already spent so much in acquiring the property, so you may be reluctant in spending any extra dime in renovating the place (or at least, delay until the cash flow starts coming in).

For some fixes, you can reasonably delay the fix until quite some time.

For other fixes, to give you a better sleep at night, you should always ensure the operations of these items. Don’t even think about ignoring these. Just do it.

Here are the top 5 things you should seriously consider replacing or upgrading whenever you acquire a new investment property, regardless of their condition.

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The Top 5 Items to Replace or Upgrade in Every Rental Property You Buy

1. Toilet

Why is a toilet on top of the list? Because a toilet can be one of the largest money drains in your property!

You may be surprised how large of a water bill a leaking toilet can cause. As an example, one of my toilet leakages went undetected for two months, and the corresponding water bill was $3,500! As a comparison, normally we pay around $150 a month for water, or $300 for two months. That’s more than 10 times the normal usage.

The main reason that a toilet is a must-fix item is because leaking toilets can run 24 hours a day. A leaking faucet or a leaking shower diverter will result in only a small water issue when you don’t turn them on. A leaking toilet, on the other hand, is continuous.

While the potential damage can be immense, the action to be taken is surprisingly easy.

We are not even talking about replacing the toilet (although for long term holds, it’s not a bad idea either). We are talking about just “gutting” the toilet by replacing the toilet system inside.

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

Google “Fluidmaster Complete Toilet Repair Kit,” and you will know what I am talking about. Get a flapper, fill valve, nuts and bolts, etc. and do a makeover for your toilets. All it requires is $20 of material and couple hours of labor.

Ever since the “leaking incident,” we have implemented the toilet makeover policy for all newly acquired properties.

Would you do the same?

Home flush toilet (toilet bowl, paper, plunger)

2. Locks

Even if the lock is fully functional, you should always change the locks. You don’t know who possessed the keys before. Instead of coming up with any justifications to convince yourself why it is okay to use the old ones, just change them.

Money saving tip: If you have multiple properties, you can always recycle locks from time to time. Say you just took out the old locks from 123 Main Street. You can always reuse the same old set of locks at 456 Main Street next time when you have a tenant turnover.

Let’s play locks musical chairs!

3. Light Bulbs (Including Security Lights)

For common areas such as hallway, using long lasting, energy saving light bulbs will reduce your electricity bill. More importantly, new light bulbs reduce the number of easily avoidable “Would you please change the light bulb” phone calls.

In fact, a lot of times, I would go one step further by changing the bulbs in my tenants’ apartments.

Once you change the bulbs, it will be some time before you have to change them again. Each energy-saving light bulb lasts for 9 years (double-life bulbs last for 18 years). These days, as LED technology becomes more mature and costs start to become more affordable ($3 per bulb at Home Depot), we might potentially move in this direction. If you have any experience with LED lights, please share!

4. GFCI Electric Outlets

These are special electric outlets that can shut off automatically when electricity runs through unintended paths (e.g. body, water). Such outlets run a little bit more expensive ($10 a piece vs. less than $1 a piece for normal ones), but they are well worth it in certain places for safety reasons. In fact, they may be required by law for places near water, such as kitchen countertop, bathroom, washer and dryer.

I didn’t bother to check the law, because whether or not it is required by law, for everyone’s safety, you should strongly consider replacing these outlets at appropriate places. You only need a few GFCI outlets per apartment.

Electric cable with hand and Electrical Outlet on the Wall. Power 110v

5. Fire Extinguishers and Smoke Alarms

Another safety item.

Install a whole new set of smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, and you won’t have to worry about them for the next several years (as long as your tenants don’t tamper with them). Of course, if you use the battery operated alarms, you will have to change batteries for the alarms every year. As a hint, don’t count on your tenants changing batteries themselves. Instead of viewing replacing batteries as a chore, think of it as a good chance for you (or your property manager) to “inspect” the property as well.

By the way, if you are looking for the specific type of smoke alarms to buy, consider buying the dual-sensor ones (ie. alarms with both ionization and photoelectric sensors). Such alarms can detect both the slow smothering fires and fast spreading fires effectively.

Related: Rental Renovations: Which Maximize Rates & Lower Vacancy – And Which Don’t?

Final Words

All the suggestions above revolve around several major items: water, fire, electricity and safety.  

You may think some of the specific items are overkill and/or certain things are missing. Feel free to tweak this checklist to better suit your needs.

The intention is to plan ahead and do the small little things to minimize headaches down the road! Your tenants will appreciate them.

For the benefit of your tenants and for the protection of your business, consider changing all the aforementioned items for your next property.

What items do you always change out?

Let me know what you would add to this list!

About Author

Che Chiu Wong

Che Chiu Wong is an investment banker-turned investor. His vision is to cultivate a group of happy and educated real estate investors. Graduated from Columbia University with a Master in Engineering, his analytical mind allows him to always streamline his business methods. Connect with him at and his website at


  1. Greg Carrier

    Good article. We also ran the same trail as you did with toilets. They are all new now. As we have to change a lot of bathroom floors in the SFH’s that we do, it is a good time to do it and we almost always end up just starting over in the bathroom as these seem to be the most dated thing in the houses we buy. That also helps us when prospective tenants are comparing homes.

  2. Franco Vallejos

    One tip on light bulbs. Put fluorescent bulbs in places that stay on. They tend to die quickly if they are turned on and off a lot. If it’s a location that goes on and off a lot put in led’s. What kills led’s is heat. Make sure the fixture is vented or made for them or they will die quickly too.

  3. Andrew Feil

    I have mostly older units and one thing I have noticed is that the previous owners never changed the light switches or outlets. So whenever tenants who were there when I purchased the place move out, I go through and change out all of the light switches, receptacles and covers. It amazes me that the prior owner wouldn’t change something that costs less than a dollar each for years on end. Doing just the little things like this makes the apartment look so much cleaner and updated in my opinion.

    • Rodney Williams

      You do not necessarily need to replace electric water heaters unless they are in bad shape. Just make sure it is clean inside and if so replace the anodizing rod in the tank. The only other part to replace are the heating elements. Lot less cost than a new tank.

  4. Thomas Fosnaugh

    Quarter turn water shut off valves, water lines, ALL dishwasher connections, shower/tub diverters/cartridges, shower heads, sinks/faucets switching out pop up drains to push button – I’ve learned the hard way anything water related is better to do before the leak.

    Outlets, ceiling fans/light fixtures, and outdoor lights are an inexpensive and easy way to dress up a property too.

  5. I would also like to suggest that if the roof needs replacing, bite the bullet and replace it before you get the first renter.This is especially important if you plan to hold the property for a long period. This is one thing a tenant can’t tear up. The leaks and repairs it can cause over the years is not worth the hassle. Another suggestion is to make sure that if your home has those cheap plastic supply lines under the sinks, replace them with the flexible metal lines. People shove so much stuff in cabinets, the lines have a tendency to break. This lesson cost me over $5000 in water damage to a lower unit.

  6. Ricky Williams

    Totally agree on the toilets. I have gotten so good at it that I can totally gut a toilet (drain assembly, riser pipe, flapper, fill valve, and handle) in under 30 minutes – if the bolts aren’t corroded up so badly they have to be drilled out. I’ve learned that it is far easier to do the work while the house is vacant for $20 and 30 minutes of my time per toilet than have to call a plumber when the “emergency” of a toilet that doesn’t flush right comes up. Plumber is at least $200 it seems just to walk in the door.

    Also replace toilet seat for about $10 when doing that. Makes toilet look like new.

    Haven’t been proactively replacing water heaters when purchasing houses, but have started doing them when they hit 10 years old. They are ticking time bombs after that.

    Have also replaced a bunch of window blinds when house has outdated / nasty / dirty blinds. About $30-50 a window from select blinds for modern 2″ faux wood white blinds. Look great and really make house show better.

  7. Jerry W.

    Wow, you nailed my list. First thing is GFCI on any plugin within 6 feet of water. Next at least 2 smoke alarms on each floor but not in the kitchen, sometimes a CO2 detector. An ABC fire extinguisher in the kitchen at least 8 feet from the stove. I replace every outlet that looks burned, broken, and sometimes I just replace them all. Then look for anything that leaks like faucet turn offs, toilets etc.

  8. Joey Marcum

    Good tip on the toilets. I have a 6 Unit building that as of recent has had a massive surge in water bills. Nothing has changed on the property this may be my culprit. I have checked all water lines and faucets for leaks and listened to see if I hear toilets running. I think I will go ahead and replace them all.

    • Joey, unless the toilets are very old and should be replaced anyway, don’t jump to conclusions too quickly! A good tip for finding those pesky leaking toilets….put some dye (food coloring works well) in the toilet tank and look for any dye that leaks into the bowl. Sometimes toilets leak quietly and this will reveal leaks every time!

      It would be better to check this first before replacing all the toilets. It would suck to spend the money on toilets just to find out there is leak in the underground main between the meter and the building, a leak in the crawlspace, or worse, under a slab foundation! $$$

      • Great comments.

        Once the toilet and building lines are ruled out, how would you test to determine if the leak is under the slab foundation or between the meter and the building?

        Any comments re: the process to get leaks at these points fixed?

        • Micah Watson

          The best way to determine leaks in supply pipes is to use a compressed air test. To properly do this, you will need to isolate the system you need to test (ex. – All the pipes in the house, or the main supply coming from the meter to the house)
          To do this, find the location the main is coming into the house. You will need to cut the pipe where the main shut off is located in order to cap off the house side or the “street” side of the pipe – which ever one you need to test. (Note: you can never rely on the shut off valve for this purpose of “capping” off or isolating these areas because these valves will usually never fully seal. It’s best to actually install a cap.)

          If you are going to test the house pipes, follow these steps:
          -disconnect the water heater and use one of the hoses from the water heater to loop the cold water pipe to the hot water pipe coming out of the wall. This allows you to test the cold and hot water pipes in the house.
          -now disconnect all supply hoses at each fixture and cap the valves (toilets, sinks, laundry, dishwasher, etc)
          -cap all shower head pipes and bathtub spouts
          -cap all exterior faucets
          -install a test gauge with valve and fitting to accept an air compressor
          -fill the system with compressed air (10psi) and go around to different locations in the house. Open each valve to blow the water out of the pipes. (Do this step before you cap each valve location….)
          -fill the system with compressed air to around 30-50 psi and close the valve at the test gauge and let sit for an hour. If the pressure drops within an hour, you have a leak somewhere. The hard part is finding it! ?

          If you are testing the pipe from the meter to the house:
          -cap one end of the pipe and connect the test gauge and valve to the other end
          -fill pipe to 80psi and see if it holds pressure

          If you find leaks in piping underground or under a concrete slab, there is a cost effective alternative to digging up or tearing out the concrete slab. Find a company in your area that will do “pipe bursting”. It is a process that pulls a new pipe through the old one and splits the old one open as it pulls the new one through, leaving the old one abandoned in place. This can be much cheaper than digging or messing with a slab. They use this method in really old neighborhoods that have failing sewer lines from the house to the street.
          Hope that helps. I’m sure there are good detailed videos on the Internet on how perform these tests.
          Key word search: winterizing/dewinterizing, pressure testing house pipes, pipe bursting, pipe sleeping, etc

  9. Darren Sager

    The primary reason why toilets leak is because the tenant has used a chlorine bleach tab inside the tank causing the flapper to distort over time and water to just go down the drain. Put in your lease for them not to do this and equip your toilets with a FluidMaster Flush N’ Sparkle system which keeps the chlorine out of the tank and only releases it into the bowl.

    Also we only use Toto toilets because of the super low costs in maintaining them.

    I would put all these items on your list to inspect when you do your regular inspections of your units. Also put in your lease that the tenants are to report any water leaks immediately, including a running toilet. Explain to them what it is and that way they’re responsible for any water leaks. Just a thought.

  10. David Spurlock

    With regard to toilets, there is a new product available now here in the U. S.. They now have a gasket system to replace the wax ring concept. One brand is titled “Perfect Seal” (and there are more with similar type names). The gasketing arrangement provides a better seal even if the toilet moves for some reason. It allows the toilet to be moved and/or repositioned as necessary. No wax ring mess and no leaks.

  11. Great list, mahalo (thank you)!

    Regarding changing the locks – I install Kwikset Smart Key door knobs. If I buy several sets (front door, back door, outside closet door, etc.) and they are all the Smart Key types, once they are installed in the doors I can very easily change out all the doorlocks to one of the keys, and I save the other keys for the future.
    When a tenant moves out, I simply use the Smart Key tool which resets the lock to neutral, and then put in a “new” key. It takes a few seconds and all the doors can be reset to the new key. Make copies for the new tenants so they have their set and you keep a master.

    Mahalo again!


    • Kevin Izquierdo

      Im a locksmith by trade and will say that the Smart key Kwikset locks are awesome, but they are prone to jamming. They are really odd because I deal with customers where theyve had it for years with no problems while another customer will have problems with it on the first day. have you experienced any issues with them?
      I would actually recommend the Auto door locks with the keypad. Batteries last a really about a year in my house with constant use and abuse and have never had any issues with them. they are expensive, but it sure beats getting calls for lock outs in the middle of the night

  12. Alex Chin

    On LED bulbs – I would be a little cautious if it’s a house that has dimmer switches, those occasionally can interact with the driver and cause a flickering or loud buzzing. Check to make sure that they are approved to work with any switches you might have in the house, also ensure that a switch to LEDs doesn’t drop the total power draw so low that the circuit has issues.

    LEDs have been continually dropping in price while the quality has gone up, they’re cheap enough now where I would buy a few and try them out, get the soft white or warm white versions for living spaces.

  13. if I need to replace a toilet I use a dual flush toilet, $99 or less at Sams Club or Home Depot. My tenants understand 1 for #1 and 2 for #2. These reduce the water bill (nice no matter who pays the bill) & tenants feel they have a high tech toilet. Plus they look great!

    • I avoid dual-flush toilets. The simpler the design, the better the function.

      I also avoid low-flush toilets altogether as the design seems to only allow for partial not complete flushing of the bowl. Cleaning becomes more frequent and with that, a greater use of environmentally unfriendly cleaning products – unless one likes dried “residue” to remain in the toilet bowl for days/weeks.

  14. chris carollo

    One of the greatest things that I’ve switched to as I turn over properties is the switchable lock sets. I can rekey a house in 15 minutes. It’s a quick easy set up and they are easy to work with. Life is all about systems and this is one I wouldn’t live without.

  15. Kevin Izquierdo

    Thomas hit the nail on the head with changing the water shut off valves. I recommend changing them into the Sharkbite quarter turns. The easiest and fastest way to change bad shut off valves. Great Article, i love the toilet and Fire extinguisher. I have yet to see an apartment where the Landlord provides a fire extinguisher.

  16. Zachary Kurtz

    LED lights are a great way to go. They use far less energy than CFLs and they last a very long time ( about 23 years based on 3 hours per day of use) I have fully switched out all the lights in two buildings to LEDs and the savings is fantastic. They may cost about one years worth of saving up front, but knowing that even if the lights are on 6 hours a day I won’t have to replace them for a decade is a good feeling. It’s probably the most simple way to increase cash flow.

  17. I definitely agree that you should always change the locks in your new home or apartment. As you say, you don\’t know who possessed keys before you actually moved in, and so changing those locks right from the get-go will help you to ensure that only the people that you know and want into your home have access. Additionally, you don\’t know when the last time was that those locks were actually replaced, too, so you don\’t know what condition they really are in. Thus, to replace them is to give you the peace of mind that you need that your home is secure and safe. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Not sure how carefully you guys complied this list…
    1. Change your toilets? You mean change your flappers and fill valves. Ok. Sure. Though I would recommend you just use good quality parts as they can last 5-10 years.
    2. Don’t change locks. Rekey! Rekeying is a lot easier with something like the Schlage Smart Key system. Same locks. New keys. Done in 5 minutes and for basically nothing.
    3. We changed all cans and most fixtures to LED. 50,000 serviceable hours and they cost under $10 per unit. If you are responsible for changing bulbs, you can see how this makes the most sense.
    4. REPLACE GFCIs? For heavens sake, why? Do you mean replace outlets within 8′ of a water supply with GFCI if they are not ALREADY GFCI? Ok that makes sense. But you wouldn’t do that every time. Just the one time if they weren’t already installed, right?
    5. Fire extinguishers? We don’t provide those. I don’t know any landlord that does. Smoke alarms? Ours are all hard wired and guaranteed for 10 years. We will swap them out every 8.

  19. Chad E.

    When you have leaking valves and faucets, sometimes replacing toilet valves and faucet cartridges are just a temporary fix to a deeper problem. Over time seals will breakdown and leak and that’s normal. In my area it is common to have 120+ psi coming off the water mains. Most houses I inspect have regulators installed but occasionally they will fail or aren’t rated for the incoming pressure. A $10 gauge from your local big box store will screw onto a hose spigot and read the pressure. Ideally you want 40-80 psi. My house was like this, the water was pushing through somewhere causing higher than usual water bills. We assumed it was leaking underground since we never found the leak in the crawl space or anywhere in the house. Luckily for us, replacing a $40 regulator fixed the problem.

    High water pressures are hard on water valves, seals and joints in the water lines and can cause them to fail.
    So as the saying goes…”an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

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