Easy repairs can boost a house's 'wow' factor

Special to the Packet and GazetteSeptember 18, 2012 

How did you spend your Labor Day holiday? I spent mine, well, laboring. OK, maybe not the whole day, but I did not lounge on the beach or swim in the pool as I had originally planned.

The day started when I went to meet Matt, who manages my rental property in Savannah. My most recent tenants had moved out and Matt wanted to meet me at the house to discuss some improvements he felt were needed to best market the house to potential renters.

"Can you meet me Monday morning? I know it's a holiday, but the market is flush with houses for rent right now and we have to be competitive," he told me over the phone on Friday afternoon.

I arrived at the house a little early and while waiting for Matt, I decided to start pulling some weeds from the front yard.

It was hard work, and the whole time I had to remind myself that it's all about curb appeal.

By the time Matt arrived I had worked up a sweat.

"Dude, the yard is actually OK, but there are some things inside that really need attention," he said as he greeted me.

Once inside, I saw what he meant. Some of the window blinds were in disrepair, the vanes splayed at odd angles. The millwork was no longer a crisp white and looked dingy. The hardwood floors, once so shiny, were dull and lackluster. And then it hit me: Nothing shined.

Where was the sparkle? Would this house appeal to me as a potential renter?

I admit, the property has easily rented over the years so I have not put too much thought into it. It is a charming 1920s bungalow located in a wonderful mid-town neighborhood and literally across the street from a coveted Montessori school.

As Realtors will tell you, it's all about location, location, location.

However, I had not actually been in the house to scrutinize its finishes in about four years. Matt's company does a fine job with periodic inspections to ensure no holes have been punched in walls or chandeliers and ceiling fans pulled from the ceilings. And, remember, too, most maintenance issues are really only obvious when looking at empty rooms.

When the previous tenants moved out, I had full intentions of doing some touch-ups, but then new tenants moved in within days of the previous ones, before I got the chance to do anything.

Usually renters are not going to care for a house in quite the same manner as if they actually owned it. It is not their investment and thus they do not share the pride of ownership.

Indeed, I have been very lucky, knock on wood, that the house has been well treated by tenants over the years, but the simple fact is day-to-day wear and tear takes its toll over time. And I try to remind myself that even though I have a sentimental attachment to the property as the first home I ever bought, the house is first and foremost an income-producing entity.

No one wants to really put the effort and time into painting or replacing blinds or applying a fresh coat of polyurethane to floors, much less pay someone else to do it. It is even less appealing when it is not the house where you live. However, it is just one of those things that come with an investment property. You have to protect that investment and periodically improve it to get the best yields from its potential.

I want absolute top dollar for my rental unit. It is, after all, about keeping the positive cash-flow coming in. I tell my clients with rental properties the same thing.

No one is going to pay top dollar to rent a villa for a week that looks like it was decorated in 1982.

Would you?

So, in the days since meeting Matt on Labor Day morning, I have ordered new blinds for the windows and lined-up a painter to give the walls a fresh coat of paint and a new polish to the wood floors.

I know the cost of the improvements will be offset in the long run by attracting new renters desiring a fresh and clean home.

It is a win-win situation for me as a property owner and for the future family who will call the house home.

Gregory Vaughan is an interior designer with Kelly Designs Inc. Contact him at 843-785-6911 or gregory@kelleydesignsinc.com

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