Get your units into rent-ready condition in 5 steps

Amanda Maher
Amanda Maher | 6 min. read

Published on February 23, 2018

One of the best ways for property managers and landlords to maximize revenue from their properties is by keeping vacancies to a minimum. “Easier said than done,” you might be thinking. After all, it can take time to re-lease a property after a tenant has moved out.

But how much time it takes to re-lease is well within your control. Even in weaker rental markets, property managers who are proactive, thoughtful, and have the proper systems in place can rent units in record time. It’s not uncommon to see two units of similar quality and price, managed by different property managers, lease up at dramatically different rates.

The key is understanding what it takes to make an apartment “rent-ready” in your market. Here’s how to make your apartment rent-ready in 5 steps.

Step #1: Understand the Renter Mindset

Some owners use an impending vacancy as an opportunity to spruce up their property—and with good reason. Once a renter has moved in, it becomes much harder to make upgrades and repairs.

That said, it’s important to understand the renter mindset. A resident won’t care if you’re making repairs to the furnace or roof. They won’t find much value in new windows or a retaining wall. They care about how their unit looks and functions, and this is something that you won’t be able to change once a renter has moved in.

When a unit turns over, focus on what residents care about most: The kitchen, bathroom, and living area. Even if your property is on the older side, fixing up these areas can make a huge difference in terms of how quickly you’re able to rent a unit.

Step #2: Clean from Top to Bottom

When a prospective renter tours your property, it should truly be sparkling clean. To attract high-quality residents, you need to show that you have high standards for how your properties are maintained. All appliances should be cleaned inside and out. All floors and surfaces should be cleaned. Consider downloading a cleaning checklist to guide you through the process if you plan to clean the unit yourself. This will remind you to clean things like the living room blinds, or the inside of window sills—areas that are often overlooked.

We generally recommend hiring a cleaning crew if you want to get units in rent-ready condition quickly. Aim to have a cleaning crew in the unit the day the unit turns over. This will allow you to begin showing the unit ASAP if you haven’t begun to do so already.

Step #3: Focus on Paint & Walls

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for an apartment. Walls should be patched and sanded prior to painting. Pick a light, neutral color to appeal to the broadest group of renters. This has the added benefit of making small rooms look larger. Don’t skimp on the quality of paint: Good, high-quality paints usually only require one coat and hold up well over time.

If your budget allows you to do so, we recommend hiring a professional painter. A painting crew can get in and out of your unit quickly, which helps you to get units in rent-ready condition faster than if you were to take on all of the work yourself.

One last point on walls: If you haven’t replaced wallpaper or wood paneling yet, now’s the time. You’ll be shocked at how much more modern your unit will look without it!

For more home improvement tips and tricks, check out our DIY Maintenance Guide.

Step #4: Upgrade Flooring & Replace Carpets

Your rental’s floors should be at least relatively modern. Outdated carpet, vinyl, and other flooring can drastically decrease the desirability of a rental. At a minimum, you should be steam-cleaning carpets. If the carpets are particularly beat up, consider replacing them altogether, either with new carpet or with hardwood floors. Hardwood floors are more expensive, but they hold up better over the long run, are much easier to clean, and have the best ROI of any home renovation.

Step #5: Spruce Up the Yard

First impressions are everything. Be sure that the grass is cut, the hedges are trimmed, the leaves are raked, and the property is well-lit. Consider adding some new planters out front to add a touch of color and stress to prospective renters that you care about how the property is maintained.

Final Tips

Before you make any changes, consider how these upgrades will translate into increases in rent. Many property managers and owners become overly focused on larger-scale investments, such as replacing appliances. If your apartment is on the older side, adding shiny new appliances may not be worth the cost.

Case in point: We recently spoke with an owner who invested $25,000 in a kitchen renovation for a property located in a blue-collar neighborhood where the average home value is $150,000. He then increased the rent from $1,200 to $1,600 per month, but the unit sat vacant. He dropped the price by $100 each month until the apartment finally rented for just $1,300 four months later. It wasn’t the price point the owner had hoped to achieved, and he later realized that he had overspent on the renovation. Generally speaking, your updates should be in line with the value of your house.

When you’re thinking about what will make your unit rent-ready, go back to the renter mindset. Think of what matters most to them: Cleanliness, paint, floors, and outdoor areas. The savviest property managers know that focusing on these areas will get an apartment in rent-ready condition quickly—without breaking the bank. Treat your “rent-ready” process like a beauty pageant by spending money where tenants will see it.

“Days to Rent-Ready” is a key performance metric that we encourage all owners to track. Benchmark your performance relative to other properties in the area to see where you can make improvements to stay competitive and reduce the time a unit sits vacant.

Leasing season is almost here! Learn 5 steps to make your units rent-ready on the #BuildiumBlog. Click To Tweet

In our experience, if you follow these best practices, there’s no reason why you can’t have a vacant apartment in rent-ready condition within a week after a tenant moves out.

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. She holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a master's in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.

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