When you’re refurbishing a rental property, you’ve got two main aims: to make sure that the work is done to a high enough standard that you won’t need to carry out any major repairs for the foreseeable future, and to create a safe home that’s appealing to tenants.
Bear in mind that once you’ve got tenants in situ, it can be incredibly disruptive if you need to carry out work on the fabric of the property, so it’s well worth doing a thorough job with your initial refurb.
But what are the key things you need to know and think about to make sure your rental refurb is a success?
Over the years, we’ve seen landlords get it right and get it wrong, so we’ve put together 5 top tips to help you create a fabulous rental property that will be a great investment into the future.
- Take time to plan the whole project
Refurbishing a property – particularly if you’ve got to gut it and start from scratch – is a project that requires a very good plan before any work begins. You need to:
- Put together a ‘schedule of works’ that lists all the separate jobs, in the order they need doing, set against a timescale.
- Find the right contractors, who are properly qualified and insured – and, ideally, who have worked on rental refurbs before. A great solution here is to find a local project manager or ‘lead contractor’ who will take responsibility for managing all the different contractors and tradespeople and keep the project on schedule for you. There will be an additional cost, but many landlords find it’s money very well spent, as it can save you a lot of time and stress.
- Budget well. It’s worth taking time to shop around and make sure you’re paying a fair price for materials and labour, but do balance initial costs against the value you’ll get over time.
- Install energy efficient systems and fittings
As well as doing your bit for the environment, there are 3 other very good reasons to make sure your refurbished rental is as energy efficient as possible:
- Tenants – particularly the younger generations – are very eco-aware, and many will be attracted to a property that makes use of green products. Plus, they know that the more energy efficient a home is, the lower their heating bills will be.
- While rental properties are currently only required to achieve a minimum of E on the energy performance certificate (EPC), the Government plans to raise that to C for new tenancies by 2025.
- If you can get your property to a rating of A or B, you should be able to access ‘green mortgage’ deals, which have lower interest rates than standard buy to let mortgage products. That means your monthly payments will be lower, and the saving could pay back much, if not all of the cost of your energy improvements over time.
So, in addition to installing double glazing and making sure the whole property is fully insulated, here are some other things you could consider incorporating into your refurb:
- A heat pump. If the property has enough land, you could go for a ground source pump or, if there’s very little outside space or the property is a flat, there is a cheaper air source option.
- For gas and electricity, a smart meter and smart thermostat will help tenants monitor and control their energy use.
- Low-flush toilets and water-saving shower heads could cut water usage by around 50%.
- Energy efficient white goods will help keep tenants’ bills reasonable.
- LED lightbulbs use less energy and last longer than standard bulbs.
- Know your legal obligations – especially around health and safety
All rented properties have to abide by various laws that dictate minimum standards and conditions for the property itself, and also relating to fire, gas and electrical safety. And if your rental is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) or falls under a local authority licensing scheme, there will be additional requirements.
- There mustn’t be a problem with damp.
- There must be enough ventilation and natural light.
- There must be adequate space for living and sleeping, with HMOs having specific minimum room sizes.
- You must install interlinked smoke alarms and heat sensors.
- Any furnishings you provide must be fire safe and have manufacturers’ labels attached.
- HMOs must have fire doors.
If you fail to meet your obligations, your local authority can fine you up to £30,000 without having to take you to court – not to mention, you could be putting your tenants at risk – so it’s vital you know exactly which laws apply to your property.
You also need to be aware of your local authority’s requirements around planning permission and building regulations – and you may need to secure permission from them before you begin work on your refurb.
The best way to make sure you stay on the right side of the law is to speak to a local council housing officer as soon as you have an idea of the work you’re going to undertake. Ideally, have them visit the property so they can give you specific advice and guidance. Your local fire department should also be happy to send a Fire Safety Officer to advise you on appropriate fire safety measures.
- Make sure the basic décor is hard-wearing
Your basic canvas – that’s the floors, walls, ceilings and woodwork – should be neutral and hard-wearing. Aim for products that are going to last well, be forgiving on stains and scuffs and still be visually appealing to tenants.
We’d suggest you need three different floorings:
- For the kitchen, a large, square, porcelain tile is ideal – either taupe or mid-grey tend to work well.
- In the bathroom, fully tiling the floor and walls with reasonably large tiles will make it easy for tenants to keep clean – and you can use the same tile for both, with mid to dark grey being a popular choice. To make a small bathroom appear larger, have the tiles laid at a slight angle, and choose a lighter colour.
- In the rest of the property, having the same flooring throughout will make the rooms flow and maximise the feeling of space. Any carpet supplier will be able to advise you on the most hard-wearing products, and mid-brown is a good colour for rentals. If you’re going for hard wood flooring or laminate, avoid cheaper options as they don’t tend to last well and are usually a false economy!
Paint-wise, the temptation for many landlords is to simply grab a job-lot of pale beige, own-label matt paint from their local DIY store and paint the whole property with it. And it’s certainly sensible to choose paint that’s part of a standard range, which is likely to stay in stock, and to use the same paint for as much of the property as possible.
However, there are a few extra rules to follow:
- In the kitchen and bathroom, where moisture tends to collect, use a mould-resistant paint.
- Paint all the ceilings white to maximise the sense of room height.
- Use a white trade satinwood for woodwork – it has a tough finish so will stay looking good for longer.
- For the rest of the walls, light beige or cream is a sound choice, and pick a finish that can be wiped down, such as Dulux Easycare.
- Tailor the finish to your target tenants
Finally, when you’re choosing fittings and furnishings, think about the type of tenant you’re trying to attract and tailor the finish to their expectations.
As a general rule, the kitchen and bathroom should always be sleek-looking and easy to keep clean, and the rest of the property should feel as light and spacious as possible. And bear in mind that, far from being ‘desirable extras’, a dishwasher, microwave and tumble drier are considered essential these days.
Speak to a good local letting agent to find out about current demand, what’s most important to tenants and what tends to make them choose one property over another. What touches can you include that will help your property let quickly to the best tenants at the highest price?
If you’re about to embark on a refurb project, or you’re planning to overhaul your rental property in the next year or so, we’d love to chat through your plans and see if we can help. Give us a call on 01244 316 338 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our lettings team will get right back to you.