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By Isabella Cormier

When you sell your home, you only have to make appealing upgrades once ahead of sale, and then you’re done. As long-time property managers and landlords know, the calculus is much different for a rental property: you need to impress new prospective renters on a regular basis and make the case that your rental is both worth the monthly cost and better than others in the area.

This means that property upgrades aren’t just a luxury; they’re a necessity. In this article, we will review the four property improvement projects you should plan on tackling first, as well as the reasons why you should renovate your rental property.

Focus on the Make-and-Break Items First

Whether you are a full-time property manager or a part-time landlord of one property, you don’t have the luxury of an unlimited repair and upgrade budget. If you are going to see a return on your investment, you need to set limits for what you spend on the property and determine what to prioritize. This means taking care of the essential make-or-break items first. These are aspects of the property:

  • If you have a current renter, could lead to them leaving the property (as applicable under your state’s laws)
  • If you don’t have a renter, could lead to you needing to keep the property unoccupied until the issue is resolved.

These essential make-or-break items include structural repairs, AC system repair or replacement, or major plumbing problems. These will be deal breakers for prospective renters and recourse to get out of the lease for current ones. In this way, all of these items could be a double-whammy for your property: not only will you have to pay the upfront cost of fixing the problem, but you could lose out on months of rental revenue.

Our recommendation is that you prioritize any needed repairs before moving onto projects that would be classified as upgrades or value-added additions.

Upgrade the Kitchen

If you have the budget this summer to upgrade one room of your rental, make it the kitchen. Today’s renters are looking for modern kitchens—complete with new or refurbished cabinets, stone countertops, and updated appliances—that fit their lifestyle and home life needs. A new kitchen makes your property more appealing to a wider group of renters, which means you can raise your monthly rent while still attracting plenty of prospective leases. 

If you are so inclined, you can complete much of a kitchen remodel on your own, including finding, purchasing, and installing appliances; installing tile, laminate, or vinyl flooring; and adding a backsplash. You will probably want to have a professional handle the installation of new cabinets and countertops—installation mistakes here could result in a kitchen that looks low-quality or shoddy, which would negate the positive effects you’re seeking from the project.

Replace the Worn Flooring

More and more property managers are opting to replace carpeting with hard floor surfaces. While initially cheaper, carpeting is less resistant to the high wear-and-tear that renters put the apartment, condo, or home through on an annual basis. From pet messes to spilled drinks, renters can do a number on carpets, and the cost and hassle of cleaning may not be worth it for you—even with a deposit involved. Many landlords and property managers are starting to opt for the following types of flooring:

  • Tile: Known for its durability, tile is difficult to damage, stain, or scratch. While the initial installation costs can be higher than other types of flooring, you’ll get more years out of your tile floors while simultaneously impressing prospective renters. “Wood tile”—a rectangular ceramic tile designed to resemble wood plank floors—is very popular right now.
  • Vinyl: This flooring material has come a long way over the past few years. Vinyl is now more durable and waterproof than ever. Plus, the costs have come down, putting it more on par with carpeting for the entire home. Of course, the difference is that vinyl floors fit anywhere, including the kitchen and bathrooms.

Get More ROI Out of the Small Upgrades

So far, we’ve described some relatively big-ticket upgrades—new HVAC systems, new kitchens, new floors, etc. However, if you are working on a tighter upgrade budget, you still have options for sprucing up the rental and making it more appealing to renters. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Paint: One of the least expensive and most effective ways to make even an older rental feel new again. Painting the interior and exterior of the property can bring new life to every room. Plus, this is a project most landlords can take on themselves, which means an even higher ROI for you.
  • Lights: In many cases, a property isn’t dingy, just dark. You’d be surprised what new lighting—including updated lighting fixtures and switches—can do for a property. Match your new lights to the room, with cooler, dimmer lights in the bedroom and bright pendant lighting in the kitchen.
  • IAQ: With all the renters who have come and gone throughout the years, you might notice that the property has started to smell, well, lived in. This is especially true if you have a smoker in the property previously. Contact a local HVAC company and schedule an indoor air quality test. With some filters and cleaning, you can make the property smell great, which can really influence other’s perception of the place and how much it’s worth in rent.

Find the Intersection of Cost and Quality

Whether you are planning on tackling a big project, some small upgrades, or all of the above this summer, be sure to set a budget and stick to it. For the best-possible ROI, insist on quality work: hire only the best remodeling professionals in your area, and make sure that projects you take on personally are done right and done safely. With a lot of planning and even more elbow grease, your rental property will be looking great—just in time for your next renters to tour it.

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