Today on the Buy2Let property blog we have the honour of a contribution from James Wells. James is co-founder and director of Propia Limited, a company whose sole aim is to create properties which are more valuable, more marketable and sell or let faster. James runs the operational and research side of the business to devise the improvements implemented by the build team. He has a background in real estate investment and development as well as renovating a few of his own properties himself when time permits.
Void periods are the worst enemy of all landlords but they are sometimes unavoidable when a tenant simply decides to move on. When this happens, the landlord has an opportunity to recalibrate their position and update their product to make sure that they can maximise their long-term income going forward.
A crucial element of this is to take advantage of having an empty property and make those overdue improvements. Some landlords can often be reluctant to spend too much money at this stage since they do not think that the investment they make will be reflected in their return, but this is a dangerous approach. In the short-term, it is true that any uplift in rent will likely take many months to repay the cost of improvements but there is far more at stake than just a short term consideration.
From a maintenance perspective fixing potential problems is often cheaper than rectifying them in hindsight and keeping all the working parts of your property in good shape should be top of the list. Looking further forward, a property finished to a high standard will entice a tenant to stay and not move on after a year thus avoiding any vacancy period and re-letting fees. Even further forward, it is worth remembering that a property is potentially both an income and capital producing asset, making improvements will improve the long-term value of the property.
So, what improvements should you make? Each property and micro-market is different but here we look at the top low cost items to consider improving between lets:
Repairs and maintenance
This really should be a no-brainer which is why it is top of the list.
It is essential to make sure everything is in working order and that everything looks neat and tidy, prospective tenants will remember issues such as damp or cracking when considering which property to rent.
The old adage really does stand true, a lick of paint is a very inexpensive process and, if done properly, can reinvigorate a property.
Keep it bright and neutral and make good use of caulk to keep the lines clean.
Sealing and grout
In a kitchen and bathroom the grout and silicone are often the first elements to show signs of ageing yet, thankfully, these are the easiest bits to rectify.
If the grout is only a bit discoloured then this can be tidied up with a grout pen which paints a thin layer of grout over the existing layer. Where the staining is worse or there are signs of mould then it is recommended to scrape all the grout out and start again.
Any beads of silicone can easily be removed with the careful use of a Stanley knife and the re-applied using masking tape to get a perfect straight line, it is worth using good quality mould-resistant silicone.
Depending on your budget and the state of the existing flooring there are a number of different ways to approach this.
If you do not want to replace it then at least make sure it is clean, tidy and not showing signs of wear, all carpets should be shampooed properly to improve both the visuals and odour.
Any floor takes a lot of usage so do not scrimp on quality here, we would never advocate laminate flooring as it simply does not have the required longevity.
One very simple improvement is to replace that tatty shower curtain with a reinforced glass screen.
This immediately makes any bathroom feel bigger and is both a more effective and more modern solution.
Be careful to make sure that the wall any screen is fixed to is robust enough, they can be very heavy and fixing to solely plasterboard (if no stud behind) is not recommended.
Switches and sockets
Plug sockets and light switches in particular are constantly in the line of sight in any room, so make sure they are complimentary to the style of property and finish you are seeking.
Changing existing fixtures without moving them can be done relatively easily, but if you are unsure then always use a qualified electrician.
Be it through curtains, blinds or shutters your tenants will most likely require privacy from the outside world and this should not be forgotten.
Cheap solutions will be noticed and often break easily given the heavy use they receive.
Be careful with any corded blinds to make sure they have appropriate child safety devices.
Depending on the existing state of a kitchen, the whole set up need not necessarily be replaced. Kitchens are very modular and you can pick and chose which parts to upgrade.
Worktops dominate most kitchens and it is worth doing these properly. For letting, laminate worktops are often the right solution given their low price and durability but it is worth making sure they are fitted correctly with seamless joints.
Elsewhere, most doors and handles can be swapped relatively easily and the same goes for sinks, taps and appliances.
Carefully positioned mirrors can make a property feel much bigger when being viewed and generally positively add to the decor in a property.
In the bedroom try and find space for a full length mirror while in the bathroom and new mirror cabinet with in-built lighting can really appeal to many tenants.
You do not need to re-wire a whole property to significantly improve the lighting network.
Existing ceiling lights can be upgraded easily whilst dark corners can be lit with floor or table lamps controlled with a remote.
Light is crucial to the atmosphere created in a property and it is worth remembering that there is more than one type of light; different bulbs give off different variations in warmth of glow, colour etc and should be chosen appropriately.
Finally, a slightly more expensive option, but it is worth considering the feasibility of adding in any en-suites to bedrooms.
An ensuite bathroom can be a big selling point and need not necessarily be that big; if there is an existing bathroom elsewhere than a small but well designed shower room is all that is needed and, subject to plumbing, does not have to cost a fortune.