Every prospective tenant is looking for something unique in a rental home, and the landlord who understands what that is, is one step closer to having his rental occupied. Whether the prospect is looking for a home that is near his work, one that has an oversize garage area that will fit 2 cars and a motorcycle, or is in the highest rated school district in town, everyone wants something different. Some love sprawling 70’s ranch homes, others want a cozy condo or a McMansion with a diving pool. Most of the time, these are things you property either has or doesn’t but cannot be changed. However when you are renting real estate, there are some things that nearly all prospective tenants want, and these are changes you can make that will impact the number of days your property sits vacant.
1.Cleanliness. This is the Holy Grail to tenants. Do not scrimp on this most important item. No one wants to live in someone else’s dirt, even if they are not the tidiest people themselves. And I am not just talking about the big stuff like grimy sinks and a dirty oven. Even the everyday dust that gathers when a home sits vacant can be the deciding factor between your home and one that is immaculate. Make sure that the house is made clean before it is shown, and touched up prior to your new tenants taking possession. Moving is difficult enough without having to spend a day cleaning the previous tenant’s cookie crumbs out of the kitchen drawers and battling the calcium deposits on shower heads and doors. When your property manager advises you to spend a hundred and fifty bucks to have to home professionally cleaned before the listing goes up on the MLS, heed that advice! Any home is more appealing and will rent faster, and for a higher rent if it is squeaky clean, and studies show that renters take better care of properties that were clean when they moved in.
2.Hard floors. The past 10 years have seen a huge change in the way we live here in Arizona. For decades, people in the rest of our great nation enjoyed hardwood flooring while it was almost unknown in our region. We muddled through renting homes with carpet ( shags, berbers, high low and cut pile) that, after the first tenants moved out, could never be considered really fresh and clean again. Think back to what we just talked about. Cleanliness. Hard floors can be easily and thoroughly cleaned. Luckily for landlords and tenants alike, styles have changed and now days tenants want hard floors….tile, laminate or hardwood. The wonderful news is that tile and laminate are inexpensive and nearly indestructible and look fabulous. Installing new tile or laminate in any home will make it look larger, more modern and, most importantly, cleaner. If your property is a two story home, consider installing hard flooring on the first floor, and carpet on the second floor. This will help keep sound at an acceptable level ( no clomping around upstairs or one child sounding like an entire heard of horses as he runs up the stairs after school). Hard floors also have other advantages. Tile floors can add a touch of elegance to any home, while laminate can make an otherwise dull and boring rental seem warm and cozy. And don’t forget, it is much easier to say “yes” to pets when the entire home has hard flooring. Nothing to be damaged by accidents and nothing to take away from a fresh, clean smelling home.
3.Low maintenance landscape. While everyone enjoys a beautiful yard, most tenants are not blessed with the time, skill or desire to spend their precious Saturdays mowing lawns, pruning roses, and working on the sprinklers. Now this can be a real problem. Uncared for, irreparable damage can occur to landscape plants and thousands of dollars can be lost with the death of shrubs and most especially mature trees. This problem can be approached several ways. If you acquire a property with little or no landscape in place, be very mindful of how you proceed. Leaving the yard as is, in a tribute to the great Dust Bowl, just doesn’t work. People who are paying rent want a yard that looks decent and that they can use. Consider installing minimal desert landscaping, and by that I mean a few colorful shrubs like lantana, desert sage, and bouganvilleas, adding a few cactus plants, and covering the main areas with a thin layer of small diameter gravel. Always use gravel that is ½ inch or less in diameter. This allows women to walk in it without ruining their fancy shoes, children to play there without having rocks big enough to fling at each other, and pets to access the yard without limping around on sore pads from the abrasion of the larger gravels. If your rental home already has established landscape that is simple and uncomplicated enough for the average 16 year old boy to manage, do your part to help the tenants maintain the yard. Provide them with a lawnmower. Most tenants do not have one. Luckily there is no need to spend hundreds to do so, you can pick one up on Craig’s List for $50 or $75. An inexpensive leaf rake and a garden hose will help them keep things looking good. Make certain that you have a well functioning irrigation system to keep the lawns and plants watered. These small things will pay off big time, both in preserving the long term health of your investment property’s landscape, and in tenant satisfaction. As for trimming the shrubs and trees, do yourself a favor and send a service to do the trimming in April and August. You will keep the tenants happy, the HOA off your back and ensure that a clipper crazed tenant doesn’t whack your shrubs to the ground or fall off a ladder trying to trim the sycamore and sue you for his injuries. One last thing, if your property has extensive or expensive landscaping, hire a lawn service to maintain the yard and build the cost into the rent. You can keep those gardens green and healthy and not have to worry about losing precious plantings, and your tenants will love you for it!
4.Matching appliances. Everyone knows that sales is the business of overcoming objections, but trying to rent a home with mis-matched kitchen appliances is one of the most difficult tasks in the rental market. Please, please, please provide your tenants with a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, and over the range microwave that are all the same color. A washer and dryer would be nice too. And while it is great if they match the kitchen appliances, the laundry machines can often be a different color without impacting the tenant’s perceptions, if they are located away from the kitchen. While most tenants appreciate stainless steel kitchen appliances, it is rare that a tenant will pass on a home that has clean, modern, white or black appliances, just because they are not stainless. And when I say “matching” I do not mean they all have to be the same brand, just the same color. Here again, Craig’s List can be your friend. If that home you just acquired has a white dishwasher and fridge and a black stove, spend a $100 or $150 on a white stove and bring harmony to the home and a renter to the table!
5.A great property manager. Last but not least, all tenants want a professional, responsive property manager.When I interview prospective tenants, I always ask them why they are looking for a new home. Sometimes it is to be closer to work or school or family, sometimes to find a larger home, but more often than not, I am regaled with tales of uncaring and incompetent property managers. Of course, poor maintenance response is the number one complaint against property managers in general, but I hear tales of intrusive inspections, excessive fees and difficulties with HOA violation responses, not to mention the near impossibility of having the manager return their phone calls. Now it is easy for tenants to blame their last failed rental relationship on the property manager (after all, the tenant is NEVER going to admit that the yard had been full of weeds, the kids stuffed up the toilet with toys at least twice a month and they were late paying their rent every other month), but way to many of the complaints are valid. Find yourself a great property manager! The relationship between your property manager and the tenant is the biggest factor in your tenant deciding to renew his lease, thereby saving you all those turnover costs and vacancy days. Choose a manager who has actual experience in managing rental homes, not just the agent who sold you the property. You need someone who treats your property as if it were his own, returns tenants phone calls, schedules maintenance promptly and understand the many laws governing residential rentals. A great property manager does not cost you money, she MAKES you money!