Decorating and Maintenance Tips for Landlords

As a lettings agent, I can promise you that nothing causes more friction with tenants than poor maintenance. Whether you’re using an agent, or managing your property yourself, there is no avoiding these responsibilities (and if you do you could get prosecuted and fined!). 

Even the best tenants will occasionally need to call you up and report a fault, just as your own home needs a little care and attention to keep it looking good, and more importantly keeping it safe. Avoiding, delaying, or doing these works on the cheap will often bring headaches further down the line. An unhappy tenant is more likely to move out, possibly leaving you with a void period where you are not earning any rent – so suddenly that relatively small bill for repairs you decided to avoid spirals into hundreds of pounds in lost income, not to mention that you’ll probably have to do the repairs anyway before you can find a new tenant! 

So this week I’m sharing my tips on how to deal with these inevitable calls, and keep your property running smoothly.

  • Things break.
    • This shouldn’t be a surprise, and it does not necessarily mean your tenant is careless or intentionally causing trouble. If you’re not getting these calls regularly, give them the benefit of the doubt, be calm and polite, and arrange to get the problem inspected promptly by either your agent or a tradesperson. Your tenants will appreciate the effort, and good relations can be maintained.
  • Don’t ignore it.
    • A small maintenance issue now can become a major job if left unattended. Light bulbs which blow regularly, leaking taps and damp patches can all sound like nuisance faults, but have the potential to escalate into expensive jobs if left unaddressed.
  • Remember who this property is for.
    • This is not your own home – it will be someone else’s. And while tenants are overwhelmingly responsible bunches, who want to live somewhere just as nice as you do, they will never care for it in the same way.
  • Spend more than the minimum.
    • You could fit out a rental property for peanuts by using generic white paint on every wall, carpeting throughout using those scratchy carpet tiles you remember from your schooldays, and fitting a second hand Ikea kitchen yourself. But what is going to happen over the next 2 years? Real life people will live in it, which means wobbly drawers will break, grubby children will leave hand prints on every wall (if you have kids of your own you know I’m right!), and the carpet will be threadbare in places.
    • This means that before you can advertise the property again, you’re going to have to pay for all those areas to be renovated, plus you’ll miss the income for the duration of the work. It’s a false economy!
    • In practice, this means you should think about durability. Don’t go buying 100% cashmere carpets just because you like the look of them – get carpets designed for high traffic areas, paint hallways and kid’s bedrooms with child-friendly washable paint, use mould-resistant paint in bathrooms and get a reasonable quality kitchen. Not only will you end up spending less in the long run, your property will look better and you will rent it faster – earning you more in the long run.
    • Consider using tiles in kitchens and bathrooms. The initial outlay is higher, but if you use dark coloured tiles and dark grout then they will last longer than laminate or lino flooring, without looking grubby. For wall tiles, I’d always advise tiling considerably further out from the shower/bath/sink areas than you think you’d need. Some people seem to spread water around as if they are in a waterpark!
    • Cheap taps break, and plumbers cost more than taps. So buy a decent set of quality taps for the bathroom, and save in the long run!
    • All that being said, remember who your target audience is. If this is a £200 pcm flat, don’t spend £20,000 doing it up, or you will never see a return on your investment. Likewise, if you’re aiming at high earning young professionals, they will expect better quality for their money.
  • Consider a ‘spruce up’ between tenants.
    • Have a look around between tenancies, and get any areas that look shabby spruced up before you advertise it again. This will pay dividends in the long run, and avoids trying to schedule work around the lives of your tenants further down the line.
  • Plan ahead.
    • You’ll get at least one month’s notice if a tenant is moving out – so get started right away. Arrange an inspection and ask the tenant if there are any faults which need addressing (you may even find that by fixing something they haven’t told you about you can prevent them from wanting to leave).
    • Get tradespeople in to quote for the work, and schedule it for the day after your tenant vacates. Good workers will be in demand, so book early.
    • Your aim is to minimise the gap between tenants – if you have managed to maintain a good relationship with them then you may be able to do some of the work before they even move out – with their permission of course.
  • Apply for a Council Tax exemption.
    • If the property is going to be unfurnished and unoccupied during your renovation, then you may be eligible for a Council Tax exemption – potentially worth hundreds of pounds in savings.
  • Consider using credit cards for large purchases.
    • If the work is going to involve major expense, then credit cards can be a good option. Cash-back deals, air miles and special offers are easy to come by, and extra consumer protection applies if there is a problem with your goods. However, be careful to read the small print and remember to clear you r balance in full before any promotional period ends.
  • Keep ALL of your receipts.
    • Any cost, no matter how small, can be offset against your tax bill if it is used for maintenance. You cannot offset costs which are for upgrading the property.
  • Gas Safe registered engineers are not optional.
    • If it’s gas powered, get a Gas Safe engineer to fit it, or at least to sign off on the work. It’s cheaper than prison!

The bottom line here is to spend what you need to – either to reach your target market, prevent long term expensive headaches, or simply to be a responsible landlord. Spending the right amount early, will save headaches in the long run – believe me!

As ever, if you want to know more, contact myself, Matt or Jasmine on 0115 945 5179. Happy lettings!