It’s a good time to be a landlord or rental property manager. After all, 88% of property managers are increasing their rental rates, according to Rent.com’s 2015 Property Management Report. Homeownership rates continue to plunge since the housing crisis, meaning there’s plenty of customers looking to rent.
One aspect that’s not so great: cleaning and preparing rental properties for new occupants after past tenants leave. As a new landlord or property manager, you’ll find that this is one of the toughest parts of the job. Even if you’re well-versed in the business, you probably find preparing for a change in tenancy a constant challenge.
One thing to remember: cutting corners is never a good way to manage a property, and it can help to have a list to reference and ensure you cover all your bases.
Here’s a basic checklist to help you out, as well as some property management software suggestions and resources that can help you manage your tasks.
1. Attend the move-out inspection
The move out is an important part of the rental process, so make a point of being there. This is the one time tenants can dispute property damages; attending helps you avoid paying for false claims submitted in writing.
Your presence also facilitates important conversations such as stipulating exactly which remaining damages or repairs are the tenants’ responsibility, and which are yours. It’s also a good time to hand over any associated move-out rebates and avoid possible haggling later on.
Don’t forget to get all sets of unit keys back, including any tenant-created duplicates.
2. Maintain photographic records for all properties
Visual evidence is the best way to defend your position should any disputes or additional charges arise after a tenant moves out. Photographs aren’t always taken as absolute proof, but they are a good way to clear matters up, as well as maintain a record of what the property looks like over time.
For all of your properties, take the time to thoroughly document the living spaces. This will save you some work if you need to get a listing up quickly or lack the funds for professional photos. These days, quality before-and-after shots can be taken with a digital camera or almost any smartphone .
3. Check utility accounts
Don’t assume that tenants will switch utilities off or close their accounts when they move out.
Add in a move-out step requiring proof of turn off or access to relevant utility accounts to avoid any problems with re-leasing your property. If a tenant fails to pay or turn off a utility account, it can have serious consequences for their landlord.
You may want to consider retaining control of the utilities for all units and charging tenants with their monthly rent. This can save you time and keep associated accounts under your control.
4. Clean, clean, and clean some more
Taking the time to complete a complete and thorough deep cleaning of all residences is essential for both re-leasing a unit and identifying any issues that need to be addressed.
Create a detailed checklist covering the deep cleaning process, and a second list that includes residential maintenance and upkeep points. Potential checklist items include cleaning appliances, testing light fixtures, sanitizing hard surfaces, shampooing any carpet you aren’t replacing, clearing air intake vents, and replacing HVAC filters.
Re-clean the unit’s key areas
After all that work is done, go back and clean the important areas again. Start with the kitchen and any dining areas, which can make or break a new rental agreement if they’re perceived as dirty.
Go over the unit’s bathroom and bedroom with a trained eye to identify any plumbing issues, leaks, mold, or mildew. Failing to thoroughly clean or replace a unit’s toilet and tub / shower can also be a deal breaker for potential tenants as they’ll be considering maintaining their personal hygiene in those areas while touring your property.
5. Patch and paint the walls
Between tenancies is the best time to patch, repair, and paint an apartment or home. Do this at least once per year, or more often if feasible.
Fresh paint should be applied to all indoor areas of an apartment, including walls, doors, trim, and ceilings. The nature of your property will determine how often you should consider repainting a unit’s outside, but keep in mind that paint is one of the most cost-effective ways of increasing curb appeal.
New patchwork and painting make a property appear fresh to potential tenants, so don’t skimp on this expense. Clean, scuffed walls are still scuffed and remind tenants that they’re not the first inhabitants of your unit, detracting from potential feelings of having found their new home.
6. Clean or replace carpeting
For some properties, cleaning up existing carpets with a shop vacuum and deep shampooing can be sufficient, but this is more the exception than the rule. While cleaning carpets is better than leaving them as the previous tenant did, replacing carpets is the best way to go.
Replacing carpets helps with pest control, the overall look and feel of your units, and can remove any unwanted odors and stains. Choose neutral or light colors, but avoid stark white carpeting—that’s just setting you and your tenants up to fight a losing battle.
7. Repair and inspect plumbing
Plumbing leaks are one of the most damaging and expensive issues that arise in rental units. Floors, walls, and ceilings can all be impacted by water damage. Flooding can damage multiple units in a very short time, and is one of the most costly problems a property owner can incur.
Allot plenty of time to inspect, review, replace, and repair plumbing within each of your units. This is the best investment you can make to ensure the longevity of your properties. Plumbing maintenance and repair is an ongoing expense for smart property managers seeking long-term success.
8. Keep up with the property’s landscaping
This final touch is often the first thing prospective tenants will see. All home properties need year-round, routine landscaping.
If you don’t have a dedicated landscaping staff, your best bet is hiring a professional company or landscaping service. Landlords and property owners that attempt to complete all landscape maintenance themselves will often miss one or more problem areas. You have enough on your plate without it.
Keeping up with landscaping and tree trimming can be important for more than curb appeal; failure to do so can lead to city violations, local ordinance issues, and associated fines / fees.
Want to be a better landlord?
Managing rental properties is a difficult task but not impossible, and you’ll it figure out as you gain experience. If you utilize the right tools—particularly good rental property management software—you’ll become a better property manager overall. Check out these resources to start improving your property management skills: