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Everyone deserves a decent, safe, warm and comfortable place to live. Even if you specialise in social housing, like a good landlord, you should provide a home in which you would feel comfortable living.
Getting a distressed property up to such a standard can be a major headache if you have no guidelines and are unaware of the legal requirements.
To help soothe this headache, here are some important refurbishment tips that you should know, whether you’re an accidental landlord, a landlord with a handful of rental properties, or a big-time property investor.
Assuming you’ve already taken possession, changed the locks, and contacted your local council about any major changes you plan to make, you can begin striping out and preparing the property.
- Organise a skip large enough to contain all the rubbish you’ll strip out. Check if you need permission from the council or building association to park it. Always check with neighbours too, just to make sure you’re not placing your skip in someone else’s parking space. Good landlords are considerate of the neighbours, even though they don’t live next door.
- Think about getting cheaper labourers to strip and clear out the property instead of skilled tradesmen. You don’t need to know your mist coat from you finish coat to rip out the carpet.
- If you have an ugly artex ceiling to remove, check out this guide; 5 Ways to Deal with An Artex Ceiling.
- After the clear out, the property is ready for the skilled tradesman to start work. If you don’t already have tradesmen in mind, check out Rated People. It’s an incredibly useful tool for finding good professionals, seeing examples of their work, and reading reviews from their previous clients.
Organise The Process
It’s important to have your building work done in the correct order, as it will be mighty frustrating – and expensive – to have the electricians turn up after the walls have been plastered.
Assuming the property is structurally sound, and you’re only doing an internal refurbishment with no extensions, below is the general order of works:
- Electrics and plumbing are done before anything else because they’re messy and may require floorboards to be lifted etc.
- Your plastering, doors & windows, bathroom & kitchen fixes and painting & decorating, should all be done before the flooring.
- External cleaning, painting and gardening can be done last. You want to make sure you leave a couple of days to do snagging and a major deep-clean before your tenants move in.
Painting and Decorating
- Paint in neutral colours, and not the colours you like.
- All woodwork should be standard white gloss. This is not only aesthetic, but it’s also money-saving too because white wood-paint is more affordable and available when it comes to repainting and upgrading in the future.
- Don’t skimp on the undercoat. A great base, as with everything in a rental property, is worth its weight in gold. Touch-ups in the future will be child’s play if your undercoat is of good quality.
- Use Matt on ceilings and new plasterboard to prevent light reflection, and to hide imperfections. Check paint suitability for all other areas, especially kitchens and bathrooms before buying. This Interior Paint Buying Guide by B&Q gives very detailed paint advice.
- Remember to buy paint in bulk. If you have multiple properties, this helps you to cut down on costs. If you use a standard paint colour for each room – of each house – think of how much money and storage space this will save when you need to redecorate. For future-proofing, always make a note of the colour, as you want to be able to buy (or mix) the same paint.
- Painting is a relatively simple task you can take on yourself. If you plan on painting your own walls and ceilings, make sure you follow these 27 top tips on how to paint without leaving a huge mess.
Pro Tip: become a member of LNPG (landlords national property group) and benefit from discounted materials (and some services too) across a range of brands from Johnstone’s paint to Magnet kitchens.
Safety and Accessibility
Good landlords safeguard not only their investment but their tenants as well. These key factors are essential to protect the life of your property, and the lives of the people who live there. It is imperative that you read, download and familiarize yourself with the Government regulated HHSRS before even thinking of buying an investment property.
If you already own an investment property, do check this out, as you’ll be held liable if your property does not adhere to the regulations in the link above. If you’re aware of them before you refurbish, it’ll be cheaper, more efficient and easier to incorporate the features when the work is being done.
- Smoke alarms are vital and compulsory for rented accommodation. There should be at least two separate units installed in a two-story house– one in the upstairs landing, and the other in the downstairs hall. Modem smoke alarms are linked so that when one goes off, so do all the other connected units. Note: The rule for HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) varies, depending on councils. Contact your local council for more info.
- A Carbon monoxide detector should be located near gas sources such as a gas boiler.
- Install fire doors – especially in HMOs. If your property already has fire doors installed, do NOT remove them like I mistakenly once did. Either replace with new fire doors or leave the originals in place if they’re in a good condition. In my case, I reinstalled the originals, gave them a fresh lick of paint and replaced the door hardware.
- Obtain electrical and gas safety certificates
- Fit a heat detector in the kitchen. Heat detectors are better suited for kitchens than smoke detectors, as they won’t go off every time you burn your bacon.
- Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. This will extend your property’s life and will also protect the health of your tenants. Kitchens and bathrooms are the main areas that require efficient ventilation. If you’re replacing windows, make sure the new windows have trickle vents so that all rooms can be properly ventilated, even in winter.
It’s now illegal to rent a property which is rated below E, on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPG).
This approved assessor will help you decide how your property fares on the scale, and what actions you need to take to raise your property’s rating.
Note: Insulating floors, the loft, external walls and windows will make your property more energy-efficient. In certain areas, there are government grants to help you raise your property’s energy rating. Contact your local council to find out if you qualify.
Future-Proofing your Investment
There are several ways a good landlord can save themselves the pain of constant refurbs. There are many new developments in the world of laminates and PVCs, that extend the life of various fixtures & fittings.
Bathrooms and kitchens are notorious for needing constant upgrades, but there are ways of getting around these potential headaches safely and efficiently. Here are a few:
- Instead of tiling, use laminated or acrylic boards, or clear, laminated plastic panels in the shower. These can be fitted as shower walls and above the shower. These boards do not require tiling or grouting. They stay clean and are extremely hard-wearing. Note: get a professional to fix them; preferably the supplier. I had one of these panels fitted to my own shower and ended up with a leak because the builder did not sufficiently seal the panels. I did it myself about five years ago, and it’s been perfect ever since. These panels are also available (from large DIY stores like B&Q) for kitchens and splashbacks.
- Avoid fancy showers with underfloor or hidden parts. Get strong, hard-wearing showers and taps. Certain taps are easier to replace than others, so ask your builder for advice, and make sure he fits the ‘easier to replace’ variety.
- Have an electric-heated shower installed, which doesn’t rely on the gas boiler. This way, your tenants can still shower if the boiler breaks down, which gives you or your letting agent more time to arrange for a plumber to drop by.
- Purchase high-quality, standard-sized kitchen cupboards that will last for twenty years or more. This means, when your kitchen needs an update, you only have to change the doors and door accessories. Buying standard sizes ensures that the size and shape of your cupboards will be around for decades.
- Go for simple appliances with long guarantees. Avoid fancy features and do not buy a combined washer/dryer as they’re likely to break more easily.
- Use laminate flooring in bedrooms, hallways and living rooms because they’re easy to keep clean and change out. If you must buy carpet for your bedrooms and living room, purchase thick, good-quality underlay and buy cheaper carpet. A good underlay makes cheap carpet feel much nicer underfoot, and its no big deal to replace the carpet when it goes bad. I picked this tip up from Suzie at The Good Property Company.
- Rent your property unfurnished, as there’s less to break and be responsible for (all furnishings supplied must have fire-safety checks as well). Supply the basics like the fridge freezer, oven, hob, washing machine and range hood. Note that the extractor fan should be piped outside, as your tenants may not change hood filters, which means cooking fumes and moisture may not be sufficiently extracted.
Pro Tip: Pay builders a fixed price, NOT by the hour. Always get at least three quotes. Try Rated People and check reviews, so you are tempted by the cheapest quote.
External and Security
As a good landlord, you know that you’re responsible for giving your tenants peace of mind when it comes to security.
Plan and budget for the jobs below when you’re doing your refurb. Your electrician should easily be able to fit a couple of external lights when he/she does the re-wiring.
- All external doors – including patio doors – should be fitted with deadlocks. This insurance company puts it in perspective and gives extensive details on the subject of security.
- Have motion lights installed for peace of mind for your tenants, and as a deterrent for potential burglars. Read more about security for your home in this article.
- Exterior paint is very important when it comes to curb appeal or attracting good tenants. A good-quality paint can last up to 10 years, so don’t skimp on exterior paint. This Exterior Paint Buying Guide by B&Q provides some good advice on buying exterior paint.
Once you’ve finished your refurbishment and followed all the tips above, you’re ready to stage your property.
Hire a photographer to take professional photos that you can use for advertising. These photos will be far better, than you or your letting agent will take, and they will attract more potential tenants.
Now that you’ve taken care to efficiently and safely refurbish your property, you’ll want to keep it in good condition by letting it to good tenants.
Over to You…
Do you have any top tips not mentioned in this list? If so, please add them in the comments, and I’ll include the best ones in this section. Remember to include a link to your site/blog/social media profile, etc. so I can credit your tip.
The tips below come from Ben King at Delbury Project Management. Thanks, Ben!
- Regarding skips, think about getting a tarpaulin which you can cover the skip with and also lock it down. You don’t want to return it the next day and find someone else has filled your skip! Better yet, fill it the same day it’s delivered.
- Organising the works. Try to build a relationship with trusted trades, and get them to look around the property as soon as you get the keys. Agree on a scope of works which are required, this then allows you to build a specification which you can use to obtain prices. Getting them in early also allows you to ask the trade when they need to start the works, e.g. before painting but after strip out etc…
- For painting, try to finish all the sanding before painting, OR make sure the paint is dry before doing more sanding…for obvious sticky reasons!
- For painting; use Perma white or similar for bathrooms and kitchens, it provides a protective covering which stops mould and is washable…great for tenants.
- Painting – decide whether you want to go with oil-based or acrylic paints, oil-based yellows more but look online for the pro’s and con’s
- All smoke alarms should be of the same brand/ make. If they’re hard wired and are of different makes they could trigger each other to alarm (based on what I’ve been told).
The tips below come from Paul Thomas from the Property Hub forum. Thanks, Paul!
- Rather than skips, I tend to use grab lorries so I don’t pay for the licence of an on-road skip. I ensure non-mixed waste goes into it as I tend to do extensions etc where I get a lot of rubble/bricks/earth. Equally, I would try to re-use this waste in landscaping. Don’t pay to throw away, especially if you later need to buy and bring it back! BTW, I’ve just had 5 tonnes removed for £80, as I was charged by weight.
- Try to split your waste, plasterboard is VERY expensive to dispose of. Try to isolate it and find a specialist who will remove.
- If removing ceilings and they have lathes, keep them as fire starters at home (if you have an open fire) or bundle and sell them. 100-year-old thin timber is perfect!
- All major manufacturers (e.g. Dulux, Johnstons, etc.) have technical support numbers. Call them with questions as it can be quite a complicated area, especially for newbies
- For newly plastered walls, always remember that you need a watered-down coat first (aka a mist coat). As it happens, I’ve just done a house using Johnstones ‘Durable’ paint. I used 4 cans of 5-litre paint for a 3-bed house. Instead of doing a white mist-coat first, I took some advice and used watered down ‘Durable’ paint. It worked a treat, saved me buying and applying white paint and resisted absorption on final coats.
- Use water-based paints, not oil-based
- Keep a record of what paints you used. This way, when you need to touch up later, you can.
- Use interlinked smoke alarms as they only cost £12 each. Put them in all rooms, but especially kitchens and areas with open fires. If you are unsure, call up the manufacturers and they will tell you what you need and where.
- Ventilation – if you have problems with tenants who don’t know how to open a window, put in a positive ventilation system. They cost about £350 and pump air into the house.
- Keep your eye out for cheap insulation from B&Q and other companies who offer it from time to time, or look on Gumtree etc. for people who have bought too much!
- Run Cat5e cables to all rooms (two if possible), bringing back to a central location. A 305m real should be about £50. Do the same with CT100 (TV cables)
- Add one power socket to the rear wall of your property and do the same with a water outlet. I would also suggest running an armoured cable (6mm) to the front of the property (or at least ducting) to allow charging of electric cars. You don’t need to do anything expensive, just run the cable. Leave it unterminated in the consumer unit (or nearby).