Converting Your Home to a Rental: 6 Tips to Protect You & Your Property

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If you’re anything like me, you calculated what your home would rent for before you bought it. There’s no cheaper financing than homeowner mortgages, so why not build your empire through simply keeping old homes as rentals?

But converting your home into a rental property isn’t quite as easy as flipping a switch. Renters aren’t going to treat your baby with the gentle touch that you did, and they won’t be as forgiving as your spouse when something goes wrong.

So what must a soon-to-be-ex-homeowner do when preparing their home for its second life as a rental property?

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Jump Through the Bureaucratic Hoops

In many large, hyper-regulated cities, rental properties must be registered, inspected, and levied with fees — sometimes with more than one governing body. In my home city of Baltimore, landlords have a bare minimum of three sets of red tape. They must register all rental units with the City and pay an annual fee (of course). They must register all rental units with the State (the Maryland Department of the Environment), pay another annual fee, and submit lead paint paperwork. This, in itself, is an expensive set of headaches: Every rental unit must be inspected and certified by an approved lead inspector — in between every tenancy.

Check your local laws, and recheck them often, even if you think you know them. Being informed goes a long way in helping you avoid hassles, heartaches, and hurt profits later.

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Related: How to Create a Rental Property Listing Geared Towards Top-Notch Tenants

Stock Up on Air Filters

Your next hard-knock landlording lesson: Most tenants won’t do anything for your property unless you make it unbelievably easy for them. Stock up on the right size of air filter, and place them right next to the filter slot. Then, write down the exact filter size, write it on a sticky note, and put it on the refrigerator with the words, “Please remember, every 3 months!” You might go so far as to set a reminder in your smartphone calendar to contact the tenant.

An independent and intelligent person might wonder, “Why do I need to write the filter size in several places and remind the tenant to change it?”

Because otherwise, someone will find a way to mess it up.

Protect Your Hardwood Floors!

If you have hardwood floors, they probably won’t look the same after your first set of tenants moves out.

With that said, there are a few things you can do to try and protect them. First and foremost, write a very explicit clause into your lease agreement requiring renters to put felt pads on all furniture feet before they move in.

But like we just outlined, you need to make it easy on the renters if you want any hope of compliance. Buy a pack of felt pads (with a variety of shapes and sizes), and hand it to the tenant when you sign the lease package. Reiterate verbally the requirement that they put felt pads on all furniture feet, and tell them the first pack is “on the house.”

As importantly, it makes it a lot easier for you to deduct money from the security deposit if they damage your floors. Wrap up that discussion with. “Believe me, I’d much rather have the property back looking like this than keep your deposit.” Friendly, but still a reminder it will cost them if they ruin your gorgeous floors.

When Replacing the Carpets, Think Defensively

Sure, those light Berber carpets might brighten up the room, but the slightest stain stands out like an escaping convict in a prison spotlight.

Consider mid-tone carpet colors, and talk to your carpet company about what they offer that hides wear and stains well.

One other trick is to spring for a plush, thick pad, but install lower-grade carpeting. A plush pad makes even cheap carpeting feel softer and richer, and doesn’t need to be replaced between each tenancy (like carpets often do).

Brainstorm Low-Cost, High-Glamour Touches

If you had $200 in your pocket to spend on boosting your property’s asking rent, how would you spend it?

Think outside the box on this one. You want either uncommon upgrades that you can brag about in the listing or upgrades that add charm, luxury, or a certain je ne sais quoi.

One idea is smart home tech. It’s still uncommon enough to add a luxury flare to a rental listing, and most smart home upgrades cost less than $200. On the downside, it’s one more thing that can break, and older renters may be more irritated than impressed.

I personally like installing quirky, charming hardware on kitchen and bathroom cabinets and drawers. For example, in my old home (which I converted to a rental property), I noticed the powder room sink was seashell-shaped. I decided to go full-kitsch: I installed seashell cabinet knobs, hung small shore-themed decorations, and painted the walls a breezy blue. The stone tiles on the floor were already sand-colored.

Related: 3 Upgrades That Add Little to No Value to Your Investment Property

It may sound tacky on paper, but it was routinely described as “adorable!” by visiting women. (I think I heard an approving grunt once from a male friend, but I can’t be sure.)

People love little touches and details. Sure, everyone covets the big-ticket items like gleaming marble countertops, but little touches like memorable cabinet knobs go a long way in adding charm. They’re also priced with a single digit, rather than four.
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If Repainting, Use Semi-Gloss

Semi-gloss paints cost marginally more, but they scuff less easily. It’s also far easier to wipe spills and other marks off of them, making them more likely to survive multiple tenancies.

All too often, landlords need to repaint in between every tenancy, which can be a profit-killer. Boost the odds that you can paint between every other tenancy, not every single one.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the simple fact is that tenants are interested in their own comfort, not in the long-term care and value of your beloved home. And who can blame them? Rational people behave based on incentives, and tenants just aren’t very incentivized to treat your home with kid gloves.

This is not to say your renters will flagrantly abuse your property; hopefully, they won’t. But landlords need to think defensively and make their home as indestructible as possible. Renters will put some mileage on your once-gleaming home, so fortify it to withstand as much damage as possible.

What tips would you add to this list?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Brian Davis

Brian is a real estate investor and landlord with 15 rental properties, who writes fascinating articles for SparkRental.com. His rental management is almost completely automated by now, allowing him to travel the world frequently (if not always in style).

10 Comments

  1. Faran Nasir

    I do really agree with you here but now the days vacation homes, condos, villas, apartments and other kind of accommodation nearby city attractions are more profitable. It is a reason real estate market going up day by day. I’m a property manager at haq homes a vacation rental agency giving homes by owner in Orlando, there are so many other vacation homes are located nearby us and have done a good vacationing business. It means Real Estate is the best of top 10 businesses that is more profitable for business owners. The best way to invest your money is real estate market no doubt every business has ups and down but in real estate risk of loss are so less. That’s why business holders who has enough money to spend in different businesses prefer first to jump in real estate market.

    • Brian Davis

      Vacation rentals can definitely be a profitable niche. For me they’re more labor-intensive than I really want though, and there are some neighborhoods that lend themselves better than others to vacation rentals. I’m sure Orlando does well with them though!

  2. Zach Staruch

    You can leave a box of four new air filters by the furnace and a year later, you will have four new air filters (and one very dirty one).

    Instead, I suggest that landlords use regular air filter changes as an opportunity to clandestinely inspect the unit while replacing the air filter themselves every couple of months. It’s also a good way to build rapport with your tenants and show them that you care about their well-being.

  3. Brian, this is some really good information about making your home ready to rent. I like that you talked about changing carpets and making sure the new carpets are durable. As a renter, I would want to know that the features in the apartment aren\’t going to be easy to destroy.

  4. I appreciate the tips on how to protect a rental property. I agree that it is very important to have carpets that can be good at hiding stains, I have seen this is a big issue with places that have lighter carpet. My mom is looking at buying a place in the future to rent out to college students, I will be sure to share this information with her.

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