Home Improvement Tips for Landlords
Here we look at some of the best ways to help landlords achieve a great look and finish for rental properties, be long-lasting, and reduce maintenance costs in the future. We've also recommended some home improvements that could help attract and keep the best tenants and outlined our top five maintenance tips.
While it might not save you a huge amount of money initially, choosing the right paint for your rented property can help greatly with maintenance costs in the longer term. One of the keys to good coverage and long-lasting paintwork is making sure you choose a paint that's designed specifically for each surface – whether that's wood, plaster, brick or tile.
Ideally you want to have a good quality undercoat, followed by several coats of a washable paint. This can save on re-decoration as walls can be washed of marks and stains rather than have to be repainted too often. Always keep a note of the colour and type of paint you use so it can be 'touched up' if required.
With colour, most tenants will want a blank canvas so, while you might like to experiment with tones and trends in your own home, keep your rental properties neutral. For the walls, choose something like a soft cream that has a light but warm tone and paint all your woodwork white. You can always order paint colour samples or try colour visualising apps such as Dulux Visualizer.
Painting other interior walls
In areas that are likely to experience a lot of traffic, such as hallways and stairwells, go for extra hard-wearing paint that can be easily wiped down. For other walls, use a good-quality matt emulsion and paint with the same colour throughout so you only have to keep one pot aside for touch-ups.
Although you might personally prefer an eggshell finish, it's better to use a hard-wearing, traditional gloss for your rental property, as it's easy to clean and is less likely to be chipped, so it will stay looking good for far longer.
First impressions really do count if you want to attract the best tenants, and also can make a difference if you are having the property revalued for a new mortgage, so it's well worth investing in some decent paint for the exterior of your property. Dulux has recently introduced a lifetime guarantee on its Weathershield masonry paint, which resists peeling, flaking and mould staining. They promise that if you experience any issues 'for as long as you live in your home', they will refund you the value of a replacement product.
While you clearly don't need to spend a fortune, don't be tempted to go for cheap paint, as it is unlikely to get good coverage and the finish may not last as long, proving a false economy in the long run, especially if you have to give a longer time between tenancies to re-decorate unnecessarily.
Bathroom paint & Kitchen paint – are they different?
With damp and mould being finable offences by local authorities, it is important to keep condensation or damp under control, especially in the kitchen and bathroom where steam and other moisture tends to collect. If your rental property is susceptible, it is worth considering a moisture-resistant or anti-mould paint, such as this one from Ronseal - http://www.ronseal.co.uk/home/damp-mould-and-wall-paint/anti-mould-paint/ - that is specially designed to last in a damp environment.
If you have a serious problem with the build up of moisture, or if your tenants are only renting individual rooms, then you may have to consider putting in a ventilation system.
If air isn't allowed to circulate, it can quickly lead to a build-up of moisture, resulting in condensation and surface mould forming.
If any dampness and mould aren't dealt with at an early stage, they can spread quickly and widely, damaging furniture and belongings, and even causing mite infestations. As well as being unpleasant and uncomfortable to live with, moulds can produce mites which in turn can cause allergens, irritants and even toxic substances, meaning that if they're touched or inhaled, your tenants could end up suffering allergic reactions, asthma attacks, respiratory infections - even a weakening of their immune system.
An increasingly popular option for landlords who want to take a big step towards eliminating these risks is installing a ventilation system, such as the ones provided by Envirovent. Their products range from single extractor units for kitchens and bathrooms to energy-efficient, whole-house systems that reduce humidity levels and diminish damp, mould and condensation issues throughout the home.
When you consider the cost of ventilating, versus the cost of solving severe damp issues and potentially falling foul of your Housing Health and Safety Rating System obligations which can mean fines of up to £30,000, it should work out to be a worthwhile investment and their initial assessment is free.
When you're making improvements to your rental property, always think about how you can improve energy efficiency. One of the key things to consider is that the lower the utility bills for your tenants, the more likely they are to be able to afford the rent, or any increases.
In addition, from April 2018, it will be illegal to let a property rated F or G on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and this is something that may well be tightened up again in the future. If you do as much as you can to get the energy rating up to the average of D or above, you'll 'future proof' the property, giving yourself the best chance of not having to make any further energy efficiency improvement works in the next five to ten years.
Key areas to insulate are the loft, floors, and if you can walls too. Ideally windows should be double glazed and all the window and door seals should be in a good condition. Once you've made insulation improvements, have an Energy Assessor visit the property and issue an up-to-date EPC.
Large panels, made from laminated board or acrylic, are becoming an increasingly popular option for landlords when they're refurbishing or installing bathrooms. Using them on the inside walls of a shower unit will help keep it looking good for longer than the more traditional tiles with grout, which can quickly become discoloured if tenants don't clean regularly.
The panels are usually cheaper than tiling, create a very modern look and, importantly, are much easier for tenants to keep clean and for landlords to restore between tenancies.
The other place you can use these panels is on the ceiling above the shower unit. This is where mildew tends to form, which can quickly turn into a more serious mould problem if it's not dealt with. When this happens on a painted ceiling, it can grow deeper into the plasterboard beneath and become unsightly and more of a problem to resolve in the long term. If a panel is fixed overhead, it's harder for mould to form and any surface mould can easily be cleaned off.
Acrylic panels are usually more expensive than laminate, so are probably more appropriate for a high-end let. In either case, make sure you have a carpenter fit the panels to ensure they're fixed and sealed properly – don't just leave it to the plumber.
Kitchen fittings and bathroom fixtures
You can get away with installing a plain, cost-effective suite as long as the doors and worktops can be replaced, rather than having to update the whole kitchen. This can reduce the time it takes to refurbish a kitchen and also ensure that it keeps upgrade costs to a minimum.
With bathrooms it is worth ensuring you have any shower 'working parts' on the outside of tiles or walls, so if something goes wrong, it can be quickly and easily fixed. Try to ensure you choose a shower supplier that supplies replacement parts. A https://www.watersafe.org.uk plumber should have the required knowledge to ensure any works carried out are done so to comply with the UK's Water Fittings Regulations and Byelaws.
Never go for cheap bathroom accessories such as cheap taps, shower heads and handles, etc., as they can start to look shabby very quickly. If you spend a bit more and invest in decent hardware which can easily be replaced or fixed, it will raise the look of the whole bathroom and it will last longer, both in terms of fit and finish.
Security was recently revealed as one of tenants' top three concerns, so it's worth spending some time and a little money on ensuing they feel safe in your property. Many landlords don't realise they have a level of responsibility to make sure a property offers security for tenants.
If possible, make sure the external doors are fitted with five-lever mortice deadlocks and that all the windows have lockable handles. Patio doors are a popular target for burglars, so it would certainly be a good investment to upgrade them to modern, double-glazed casements that have solid locks.
If the property is in an area that's not well lit, consider installing motion-activated security lights outside and, particularly if you're in a city, you should know that modern security cameras are one of the most effective break-in deterrents.
Remember to check what home security measures you need from an insurance perspective as some insurers may require a certain level of home security to be in place for cover to be provided. Having quality security measures in place at your property can also help to reduce your annual cover costs.
Parking and external storage space
The vast majority of tenants now expect parking and external storage to be included as standard, so if your property doesn't already have those, it's worth finding somewhere to put a secure shed and perhaps sacrificing a front garden for a parking area.
Extensions and loft conversions
It's a big decision to extend or convert a loft, but it can be a worthwhile investment with some surveys estimating extra space can increase the value of a property. However, this depends on the supply and demand of properties in your area and you need to seek out some advice from local experts before you go ahead. Make sure you'll get your money back either with an enhanced value and/or increased rental income.
If your property is a semi or terraced, it is likely a loft conversion or extension will require a 'party wall agreement' with neighbours which a RICS qualified surveyor will manage for you. This ensures any work done which affects either side will be rectified and can help reduce any arguments over work carried out.
If there is the potential to convert or extend, it's likely that things like adding an en-suite or extra bathroom will help deliver the best returns. Although you may not need planning permission, always speak to the local council planning department to secure their confirmation in writing and find out what building regulations you will have to comply with. If converting a loft, consult an architect and builder to ensure there is sufficient headroom and enough space to put in a proper staircase before spending any money on plans.
Top 5 maintenance tips for landlords
- Schedule regular property inspections and maintenance works to keep the property in the best possible condition. This also ensures that even if your tenants haven't reported a problem, you should still find it before it's become a big and potentially expensive issue.
- Check and record the condition of smoke detectors, fire alarm systems and other fire safety items, and keep a record of all visits and repair issues. A paper trail is invaluable when it comes to queries at the end of the tenancy or an insurance claim.
- Make sure all the contractors you use are qualified to carry out the work and belong to a relevant trade body or association for their trade. Always obtain guarantees/warranties for work and if it's a big job, hold back 10% of their final bill until you're happy the work has been finished to your satisfaction.
- Forward plan when you renovate your bathroom to make sure workings are easily accessible for repairs, i.e. don't be tempted to conceal cisterns and shower units behind sealed walls or tiles.
- Check the property is watertight ahead of winter. Look for any loose or missing roof tiles, gaps in the brickwork, and loose pointing – anywhere water could penetrate. Have the gutters and drains cleared and make sure all the guttering and downpipes are in good condition, so water is being carried away from the property in the way it should.
While all these improvements and recommended maintenance steps should result in attracting the best tenants and securing the highest possible market rent, they also, importantly, go a long way to preserving the capital value of your property asset and ensuring it grows at least in line with the local average.
The other thing to bear in mind is that if you provide a good quality finish, invest in quality fittings, and maintain the property well, you're showing tenants that you really care about it. That tends to rub off on them and, generally, when they're given something nice, they look after it.
However, when things do go wrong it can be very expensive to put them right. That's why it's important to make sure you have the right landlord insurance cover for your property.
Our award-winning Landlord Insurance is designed specifically for landlords and buy-to-let owners and allows you to cover Buildings Insurance and Landlord Contents Insurance under the same policy, or separately if you already have either cover in place. However, remind your tenants that they also need to take out their own contents policy.