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A Primer for Relocating Alexandria Homeowners
Alexandria is always a sought-after location for rental properties —though it’s a sprawling area that encompasses both inside-the-Beltway territory and commuter neighborhoods further afield. For most Alexandria properties–whether condos, townhouses, or single family homes–it’s not hard to attract metro-area tenants. But the majority of homeowners I talk with want to know what they should do — besides relying on location alone to attract top tenants.
1. Keep in mind, They’re Just Borrowing Your House.
Even in higher-rent areas where some luxury might be expected, it’s unwise to sink money into renovations or improvements that would attract a home buyer. These are not buyers, they’re renters. And they will put your house through some wear and tear, no matter how good or nice or responsible they are. It’s simply the nature of renting. And the definition of a “good tenant” really begins with the landlord setting realistic expectations.
Bad tenants are the ones that leave landlords with messes to clean up or big fixes to make. So don’t put fill your house with high-end bells and whistles. Under no circumstances should you put any of the following into your house prior to tenants moving in.
- Upgraded appliances.
- A remodeled kitchen.
- New faucets, toiilets, or vanities in bathrooms.
- A finished basement. (Think creating an extra bedroom will add to your home’s rental value? It won’t matter as much as you might think–and remember, the more people living in your home, the more wear and tear.)
- A deck (or replacement of existing deck). Your tenants will get by without the added space for barbecues from May to September
It’s very important that every new landlord remember that the tenants are not buying your home. Quite the opposite — you are loaning it out to them for a period of time. (In many cases, that period of time will be just a year. And since the majority of your rent will be going into mortgage, taxes, and insurance; how could it be worth it to pour money into improvements for someone who will be moving on as soon as it’s convenient for them to do so?
On the other hand, you may want a buyer for your home sometime soon after your landlord experience is over. Save the upgrades for when you can impress those prospective buyers with all the brand-spanking-new goodies you’ll be putting in after the tenant leaves? (And what better time to cover over nicks, scratches, stains, and wear than after the lease is over?)
In all my years of Alexandria property management, I must admit, I have never once witnessed these kinds of improvements boosting a landlord’s bottom line. (More often, putting in brand-new anything prior to renting will lose you money. You’ll lose out in two ways. First, there’s the (usually exorbitant) cost of the materials and labor for your refurbishment. But remember, then you’ll also (likely) be facing doing this stuff all over again some time after the tenant moves out.
That is, IF you want everything shiny and new when it comes time to sell the place.
So, repeat after me: “I will not install the following budget-busting upgrades into my house.”
- Custom paint colors
- Upgraded flooring
- High-maintenance landscaping
- Custom lighting–either indoors or out.
- Custom plumbing fixtures
Basically, don’t install custom anything. Tenants won’t appreciate or care for your custom touches. Save yourself the headaches.
2. Get Everything in Working Order.
I think I made my point that high-end upgrades are completely unnecessary. However, what is necessary? An easy-to-live-in home whose systems function welll. You may be one of those homeowners who’s gotten used to living with a dryer that take an hour to dry a few shirts. Or a dishwasher that has to be run twice to get plates clean. It’s time to make certain that every appliance, fixture, and major home system is in perfect working order.
How do you know what to fix and what to wait on?
The easy answer is to ask how you’d feel about living with the problem if you were the tenant.
Refrigerator that freezes everything on the bottom shelf? Yep, that needs fixing.
Garage door opener not opening the garage door. Please take care of it.
High-end speakers not working in your media room? Nope. Tenants can live without your theater-quality sound system. Just take them out and store them awhile. Or let the tenant know If your dishwasher truly is not up to snuff, then consider either having it repaired or replacing it with a utilitarian grade model. And by the way, purchasing utilitarian grade appliances will also mean fewer service calls and less chance they’ll be wrecked by tenant abuse or neglect.
The rule of thumb should be, go for basic and functional. Here’s my list of optimal features for saving you money and keeping tenants happy.
- Neutral paint colors throughout the house
- Mid-grade flooring
- Utilitarian, well-functioning appliances
- Yards that require minimal care and maintenance.
- Basic lighting and plumbing fixtures
3. Allow Pets (On a Case by Case Basis)
I see too many landlords who entertain expensive upgrades but who are adamant about having a no-pets policy for their rental. We suggest our clients consider allowing pets–though on a case by case basis. Why do we do that? Three reasons.
1. With the right additional security deposit, your risk will be covered.–but with an attached higher security deposit. Make it clear you’ll consider pets on a case-by-case basis–not as a blanket policy.
2. In our experience, being open to pets will bring you a wider applicant pool from which to choose.
3. The most qualified tenants we see also happen to be pet owners. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but take my word for it. You don’t necessarily gain anything by adopting a blanket no-pets policy.
4. Let the Renter Pick the Paint
Have you painted home with carefully chosen custom interior colors? While your walls probably look beautiful, your taste may not match your prospective tenant’s. And in a high-rent area like Alexandria, your renters will certainly want to have the home reflect their own preferences (and not clash with the furniture they own!). Be prepared for tenants to request that you repaint the walls in a neutral color.
It’s fine to ask the tenant to share the expense of repainting, but you should do your best to work with them on the matter of paint.
And likewise, if your new tenant asks you to okay a palette of custom paint colors, say yes. With the stipulation that they must pay for that choice and repaint to the original colors before they leave.
So, what are the Alexandria property management essentials?
Do you want to guarantee you’ll get applications from Northern Virginia’s cream-of-the-crop tenant pool? You won’t do it by spending on high-end home improvements. You need basic, well running systems and appliances–and a willingnes to try to accommodate your renters’ pets and color preferences.
WJD Management can advise and help you on he many aspects of leasing your home. Here’s what Sheung Leu, one of our clients, said about working with us:
As owners of a rental house managed by WJD Management, we are very pleased with the services they’ve provided. The are very responsive to the requests of the tenants and discuss with us for the repairs needed and execute to the satisfaction of both our tenants and us. WJD knows the market trends and provides updated information to us, we can depend on them and save a lot of management tasks.