I headed into my first year as a landlord armed with a good lease, good intentions, and a good attitude. So far, things are running smoothly. But in hindsight, I could have refined some processes. Here are four things you should do before renting to your first tenant.
1. Market it pretty
When I posted photos of my rental in my Cozy listing, I was still living in my place, so the photos showed the house with all my furnishings and art. The approached worked! I got lots of applicants right away.
Even if you’ve moved out, or never lived in the place, consider staging the rental with furniture and decor. That way, your future tenants can envision themselves and their belongings in their new home.
If you’re moving out of the home you’re going to rent, remove all personal items and clutter from the living space, basement, and other storage areas before showings.
One of the easiest and quickest way to attract renters is to show them a super clean place. Hire professionals to deep clean so appliances, windows, bathrooms, and floors sparkle.
Boost the rental’s curb appeal. Make sure the path to the front door is clear. Remove any litter from the sidewalks. Perk up the landscaping. If there’s a lawn, keep it mowed and edged. Weed the garden and spread a fresh layer of mulch in garden beds. Add a potted plant to your front stoop or porch.
All these improvements will show your tenants you take pride in your property, which sets the tone for their stay.
2. Screen with success
I heard over and over that it’s important to screen tenants. I took this advice seriously, so I asked applicants to share background and credit checks with me through Cozy. This step is vital. If you rent to someone with bad credit and a sketchy employment history, you could have trouble collecting rent from them in the future.
Be clear on how many people you are willing to house in the unit, based on county occupancy laws. If possible, try to meet each person who plans to live in the unit and think about who should fill out an application.
Additionally, call their references. A few quick calls to former landlords will provide additional information and help you make the right choice.
Let potential renters know what to expect from the house and property. Will the lawn take a lot of time to maintain? Communicate all aspects of the home to future tenants, so they know what to expect, and you’ll get a good match for your rental.
3. Create a low-maintenance yard
If you’re renting out a single-family home, you may have a yard and, potentially, a garden. To keep costs down, create or transition your yard into a low-maintenance outdoor area.
If it works for your space, remove parts of the lawn and replace it with gravel walkways and/or drought-tolerant plants. Use mulches in beds and around borders to prevent weeds from growing. Don’t forget the parking strips, which can easily get overrun with weeds and can make your home look neglected. Parking strips are great places for shade trees accented with low-maintenance shrubs. Create a walkway in the parking strip with pea gravel.
Decide if you want to manage the upkeep of the yard yourself or if these tasks will be the tenant’s responsibility. If the tenant is in charge, clearly outline what you expect of them.
With my first tenant, I explained that they’d need to take care of the lawn. But I didn’t clearly define what that meant. I made several visits to the house to explain what needed to be done, when I could have streamlined the process with a simple list of seasonal upkeep chores right from the start.
Be explicit. Do tenants need to mow the lawn weekly or bi-weekly? Remove leaves? Trim trees? Explain all the upkeep requirements in your lease, and include fees if tenants don’t comply. The fee can be added to the monthly rent, if necessary.
Another option: fold lawn maintenance costs into the recurring monthly rental fee. Figure out how much a landscape company or gardener would charge for regular visits, and divide that cost across 12 months. This strategy will help you avoid potential disputes with your tenants.
4. Fix it fast
Things break even in the most well-put-together homes. Be ready to fix leaky toilets, broken microwaves, and temperamental dryers. Respond quickly to your tenant’s concerns, and discuss the timing of repairs. You can make communicating about maintenance requests easier by using Cozy’s free tool.
In case you need to make a decision about replacing appliances or moving forward with additional unforeseen work, you’ll want to be onsite when contractors arrive.
Create a list of go-to contractors that includes an electrician, plumber, contractor, handyman, roofer, etc. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of tracking down repairpeople, consider purchasing a home warranty, which covers repairs and other malfunctions in your home for an annual fee of about $300-$500.
With a home warranty, when the drain gets clogged, you’d contact your home warranty company and they’d send a repair company to fix it for a service fee that usually runs $65-$80. There are exceptions, including some appliances, so read the fine print before purchasing. Even though most homeowners purchase home warranties when they buy the property, you can get one any time.
Treat your rental property as though it’s your home, by cleaning, preparing, presenting, and maintaining it the way you would if you lived there. And, do your due diligence when it comes to screening new tenants. They’ll be the caretakers of your property, so it’s worth the time and effort to find the right people.