Jason Robie: Rockin Rental Remodel

Tis the season. Regardless of whether you live in a college town or not, fall is a popular time for rental tenants to migrate. For landlords, this is the perfect time to invest a little into your property and ideally give you the opportunity to increase your rental rates. There are loads of options you have when doing a renovation of your property, but today our focus will be on those upgrades that will provide a solid return on investment. At the same time, we don't really want to break the bank so our focus will also be on those projects that we can (maybe) do ourselves and that are cost-effective. Let's dig in.

Two weeks ago we kicked things off in the kitchen and today is no different. First and foremost be sure you have full-size, energy-efficient appliances. I can tell you from experience, there's nothing more frustrating than preparing to bake cookies only to realize your crappy oven is too small for your baking sheet. Also, tenants will want the full-size refrigerator for that additional storage that we all love. If you have to replace the appliances that are there, even this won't hurt your wallet too bad. Bite the bullet and you can forget about getting a phone call on a weekend that the old ones have stopped working.

A few other items we've covered for remodeling our own homes apply to rental homes as well. Switching up the hardware on the cabinets and sink can liven up a kitchen in under an hour and make a world of difference. Another of my favorite tips is re-surfacing the cabinets. This can be as simple as a quick paint job but with the significant impact on the entire room. Lastly, consider the countertops. While this can be a bit more of an undertaking, the kitchen sees the most traffic of any room in the house. Upgrading these heavily used features can save you money in the long run and help attract tenants who appreciate good quality and are willing to pay for it.

Speaking of high traffic areas, let's talk flooring. In a rental property, you may not want to spend a lot of money on the flooring. We all know most tenants won't be taking care of your home the way you would. With that understood, it is important to remember that higher cost often equates to quality and durability. When my brother and I were growing up, mom stopped buying the cheapest pants and socks she could find and started buying higher quality items. She learned that the better quality socks and pants lasted far longer than the cheap ones and that turned into savings in the long run.

Buying higher quality flooring is almost always going to pay off over the life of the product. The aesthetic benefit of new flooring is going to help rent the property faster and allow you to demand a higher rate. But the spills, scrapes, accidents and other fates that befall a floor will be far better tolerated since you've opted for higher quality. "Good quality flooring tends to withstand more abuse and retain its attractiveness far longer than the cheap stuff," notes Badger Realty agent, Janet Nickerson. She continued, "In today's age of disposable appliances and other products, flooring still maintains that ‘you get what you pay for' adage."

Even though kitchens and bathrooms may sell homes, it stands to reason they would help rent a home as well. The beauty of a bathroom is that the fixtures and cabinets are much more manageable when it comes to upgrades (as is the flooring!). Consider simply swapping out the entire vanity for a higher and wider version with modern fixtures. This provides more storage for the tenants (which we all love!) and offers more counter space than those cheap, tiny vanities we are all tired of. In the shower itself, upgrade the showerhead with a good quality one and if the tub itself is tired or worn, consider a replacement surround or even upgrade to a walk-in shower. The vast majority of tenants have no need for a tub.

One of my favorite features I added to my house was some extra lighting. I included motion-sensor lights in the driveway and in the main entrance all the way up to the kitchen. I also added hidden string lights under the trim along the entire stairway. Literally every time I drove in the driveway or walked into a dark house only to have my way automatically lit, a smile appeared on my face. Consider some creative lighting options in your rental property. Your tenants will love the modern feel and will certainly appreciate the lit walkway when they come home with arms full of groceries. You can do a lot with lighting without involving an electrician or expensive remodeling. Get to a lighting store and see what options you have.

Finally, don't forget about the tenant's "stuff." Storage is hugely important to tenants since most properties won't have a garage or a shed or even a basement. Look into creative options for storage in every corner of the home. A pantry can be added to an unused wall in the kitchen. You've already covered the bigger vanity in the bathroom, so nice job on that! And look into some shelving options for another inexpensive but effective upgrade for the tenant's benefit.

Owning a rental property can be very rewarding. Take the time during a vacancy to upgrade a few areas that will not only make your tenants happier but could pay off with higher rates. Your upgrades don't have to be massive undertakings and don't have to empty your wallet. Small updates can make a big difference for both sides.