getting a rental unit ready to rent

6 Tips to Craft a Highly Coveted Rental — Without Over-Improving It

Originally posted by Brian Davis of Bigger Pockets

Somewhere between “no one wants my rental unit” and “I got 150 calls within a half hour of listing,” there’s a perfect balance of property improvements, rent pricing, and high return on investment. But how do you find that balance?

That question isn’t as simple as it sounds. Every neighborhood has its own expected amenities, and this gets even more blurry when a neighborhood experiences rapid appreciation or a demographic shift.

And is it even good strategy to simply offer expected amenities?

No stone tablet was handed down from the heavens, but there are still basic rules landlords can follow to maximize returns on their investment.

6 Tips to Craft a Highly Desired Rental — Without Over-Improving It

1. Become a neighborhood expert.

If you don’t know your neighborhood market inside out, upside down and 10 ways from Tuesday, prepare for mediocre returns or worse.

As with any business, you need to know exactly what the competition is offering and at what price. Don’t assume you know exactly how nearby rental units compare to yours — find out. Firsthand.

Look up five or six available rental units as close to yours as possible, both geographically and structurally. Then go walk through them as a prospective tenant. Invoke your inner method actor and actually think like a prospective renter as you walk through. What tugs at your heartstrings? What turns you off? What strikes you as average or boring? Imagine yourself living there, and think through what would make your life better by living there.

After collecting some firsthand impressions, sit down at the old drawing board. What amenities seem like a baseline, simply expected and assumed in the area? What amenities do some units have but others don’t, and how did they affect rent pricing?

Related: 13 Proactive Ways to Increase Rent & Add Value to Your Rental Property

That latter is important: You need to know exactly how much more you can reasonably expect to charge if you were to add a given amenity.


2. Decide on a market segment to target.

Before going any further, you need to stop and decide what segment of the local market you want to target. Do you want to minimize all costs and target lower-end tenants in that neighborhood? Go mid-market? Or spend a little more and target the best tenants in the area?

That answer largely depends on the unchangeable aspects of your unit. Is it on the edge of the neighborhood, closer to more marginal areas? Does it have an awkward layout? Is it missing some essential feature that is not practical to add? If so, you may want to target more budget-conscious renters in the area.

Alternatively, if your unit could potentially attract the best renters in the area with a few tweaks and improvements, consider a higher-brow approach.

3. Gauge response rates, pricing, and the purpose of improvements.

What is the point of spending money on your rental unit?

There’s only one answer: to earn a better return in the long-term.

Every improvement you consider, from new flooring to central air conditioning to a new deck, must be justified by higher rents. Period.

Before making any improvement, you need a good answer to the question, “How much more can I charge in rent if I invest in this upgrade?” Then you can determine how long it will take to recover the cost.

Here’s a hint: The best upgrade investments pay for themselves within a single tenancy, let’s say a two-year period. Many property upgrades have diminishing returns, either because the tenant will cause wear and tear or because technology and tastes evolve over time. After all, olive green appliances were once all the rage, but how long did that trend last?

Target a price point, and then advertise at it. You can gauge your accuracy and success by the response rate to your rental listing. How many people contact you with interest? Just be careful to adjust for demand in the area; some neighborhoods are so rough that you may not get many replies no matter what.

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