While this blog post covers my hell’ish experience of redecorating and renovating in-between tenancies, much of what I discuss can be applied to preparing any BTL property at any stage, specifically to help ensure longevity, cost-efficiency, and of course, good style.
The last two weeks have been hell.
Literally, a complete bollock-ache.
But it usually always is during the period in-between tenancies, when landlords have to prepare a new and presentable case to entice the incoming replacements. The circle of life.
I’d say dealing with rogue tenants is the most stressful aspect of being a landlord, and in second place is the period in-between tenancies. Often it can be a piece of cake, a seamless exchange of the baton, but mostly, it’s one of the most tedious, time-consuming and frustrating periods of the landlord cycle. That’s because you’re left to deal with all that staging and prepping, which usually involves cleaning up the cocktail of shit the previous tenants left behind.
Generally, my tenants stay between 3-4 years, and after that much good living, the residue of fair wear and tear shows its mark, usually in the form of skid-marks smeared on the walls and across the carpets. Of course, it depends on what type of tenants you have, but even the good ones will leave behind their decaying odour in some shape or form. There’s usually ALWAYS cleaning to be done, whether it be scraping greasy shit out of extractor fans and behind the cooker or disposing of tacky garden ornaments left behind.
I usually have to completely repaint every room, or at least the key living areas (e.g. bedrooms, living room and kitchen) in-between tenancies, and that can be such a time-absorbing asshole, especially if you’re doing it yourself, and doing it properly (which I always do, or at least try to).
To add insult to injury, the property I’ve just turned around required more than a lick of paint. Not because the previous tenants caused a riot, but because it was time; certain features of the property were outdated and they needed addressing if I intended on attracting suitable replacements. Operative word being “suitable”- I didn’t want to find replacements that were more than happy to roam around like diseased rats in squalor. Not that I was offering squalor, but you know what I mean.
Most landlords, in fact, most of you reading this, will have 1 or 2 properties, and you won’t have the budget available to employ people to completely manage the overhaul. Hiring people to paint and decorate an entire house isn’t cheap, so it rarely makes financial sense to venture down that path even if the funds are available. Usually, the only feasible option is to put your life on hold and throw yourself through the grinder, by enduring the soul-destroying monotonous labour of redecorating and cleaning through thick layers of greasy cheese-and-onion grime (which usually make you realise how disgusting your tenants truly were).
As soon as my tenants gave me notice, my stomach sunk and slipped out of my ass like an oversized dildo, because I knew that particular property needed a substantial amount of cosmetic attention, which was temporarily going to suck the life out of me. I started feeling anxious about the prospect weeks before they were due to vacate because I knew my body was about to be torn between redecorating a 2 bedroom property while living my regular life, which was already suffering from insufficient time availability.
In short, I’ve been worked to the bone, and to say that I’m relieved it’s over would be an all-time understatement. The whole experience was every bit as terrible as I had imagined. I’m pretty certain I lapsed into various stages of chronic sleep deprivation. Not only was I working longer hours than I’d care to remember, and making horrendous amounts of car journeys, but also my mental condition was reduced to slosh when dealing with labourers and tradesmen that didn’t have an ounce of intelligence between them. It was painful.
I’m probably dragging back excruciating memories for those that have been through the trials and tribulations of what I’m talking about (and I’d love to hear your story, but not yet, this is my time), while the newer landlords have yet to experience it. I’ve been through the process a few dozens times, of redecorating and painfully polishing up tenant’s shit in-between tenancies while simultaneously trying to find new tenants, and I generally go through the same ordeal and thought-process every time. It doesn’t seem to get easier, it’s always such a drag. That’s the best way to describe it, a complete and utter drag, because it literally disrupts life.
I’m going to briefly go over the thoughts and decisions I made during my experience, because perhaps my drivelling mumblings will prove to be useful to someone. But for a more detailed article on how to decorate for a BTL, you may want to go to my Decorating/Renovation Tips For Buy-To-Let Properties & Landlords post.
Do you need to redecorate in-between tenancies?
Of course we don’t have to redecorate. It’s a choice we make while bearing in mind the current condition of a property and the value/comfort we want to provide our tenants.
But the odds are, if you have tenants vacating after 3-4 years, you will probably need to make some cosmetic improvements to remove the battle scars of living. Well, that is, if you want the best chances of attracting decent tenants. I know some landlords don’t bother, they just re-let immediately because they simply can. But they’re idiots. Let’s face it, it’s the cheap and easy option, so it’s desirable. But still, it’s the preferred method for idiots. Avoid it.
Failing to meet certain standards is a terrible game plan, whether it be out of laziness, cheapness or any other inexcusable justification. If you’re serving a plate of shit, you’re going to attract pigs. I’m a firm believer in getting rewarded for the value you provide, and over the years, that’s proved to be a valid principle. Besides, you don’t want to be a dogshit landlord. You should value your tenants and recognise their worth, and the best way to do that is by providing a clean and safe living environment.
Contrary to popular belief, being a landlord isn’t a one-off investment. It’s literally a money-pit; you have to keep haemorrhaging money like a cocaine addict. It’s a continuous investment, and a large part of it is about investing in people (your tenants).
From my experience, if you’re letting an average property, all you need to focus on is ensuring it’s clean and safe. You don’t need to spend a tonne, or equip the property with all the latest gadgets and fittings. They won’t add any real value. If you look around your property and think, “this looks a bit dull and grotty”, then you should probably be addressing the issues causing the gloom.
Assessing what work needs to be done
Minutes after the final property inspection and after my tenant left the premises, I assessed all aspects of the property and took notes on what needed attention. There was no messing around or time wasting, because the countdown had begun; every vacant day is costing me money and subsequently jeopardizing the financing of my unsavoury addictions.
As said, in this case, I knew a lot of work needed to be done. Here is an actual copy of the notes I took:
If you read through it, there’s quite a lot to do, and there’s some notably expensive items on the list. For example, a new free standing cooker, new carpets, and new windows. You’ll also notice that I wrote down cost estimates, which totalled to £3,370 (I skipped a few of the smaller/miscellaneous tasks). I definitely didn’t have that kind of budget, and realistically, I’d need a £400-£500 contingency buffer because shit always overflows, so I’m looking at approximately £4,000 just to replenish a property. That’s a whole lot of cheese!
My advice is to write down EVERYTHING that needs addressing, even if you don’t have the budget for it. Make the list a hybrid between a wish list and a realistic set of to-do’s. However, don’t just throw on pointless tasks that won’t add any value, or tasks that don’t really need to be addressed. You don’t want to do more than you need to (this should correlate with what type of property you have, and what type of tenant you’re trying to attract).
After tenants move in
I just want to quickly mention…
If there are lengthy tasks that can be done after your tenants move in, all the better. Of course, this will need to be discussed with your tenants and negotiated.
I once had tenants move in under the condition that I replaced the kitchen with in 3 months. That was cool by me, because the kitchen needed replacing, and it’s obviously more cost-effective refurbishing with an occupied property. So if you have the opportunity to be in that position, take advantage.
Calculating what makes financial sense
Decorating doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, it can be dead cheap, especially if you’re going to be doing most of the heavy lifting. Needless to say, it can also be nose-bleedingly expensive, depending on what needs attention and the options you take.
In my case, it started to look like a semi-expensive turnaround. However, I was always expecting that, but it was clear that I needed to make some compromises because I didn’t have the budget to address all the issues I listed, at least not at the prices I estimated. My next step was to analyse the to-do’s and group the items accordingly, between what “needed” to be done, what I could do myself (i.e. to keep costs down), and what I needed professional/outside help for.
Here is a list of my thoughts/compromises/money saving decisions I made:
- Carpets: the carpets looked like they had been religiously smeared in rhino shit. They were the original magnolia carpets that came with the property when I purchased it. They couldn’t be saved, not even with professional help and a Rug Doctor, so they had to go. This was one of the more expensive items on the list, but it wasn’t optional. Similarly, a new cooker, reviving the windows and changing the kitchen tiles.
There are going to be some items on the list that can’t be avoided. Those need to be identified and thought of as essential. If you can (and if you need to), trim the fat, and whittle the list down to only what’s essential.
I opted for a mid-tone brown to compliment the “Matt Mocha” Dulux paint because they tend to be durable and resist the signs of wear and tear.
Kitchen floor: another essential item. It wasn’t in particular poor condition, but it needed changing in order to revive the lifeless corpse of a kitchen.
I was contemplating using tiles, but the cost would have massively escalated, so I opted for vinyl. But I actually find vinyl extremely practical for BTLs, and they look pretty decent, so it didn’t seem like a massive trade off.
Sometimes cheaper alternatives make the most sense.
- Freestanding cooker: the current one was on its last legs, it had been reduced to a rusty monstrosity after years of good service. Now it’s just embarrassing though.
Like the carpet, It came with the property, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s older than I am. I’m actually surprised it lasted so long. I didn’t even contemplate trying to resurrect it, despite the wonderful work professional oven/cooker cleaners can do these days. From the moment I saw it, I knew it was destined to be launched onto a scrapheap, where the rats can fill their bellies on the congealed grease that was alarmingly left inside it.
I spent quite some time surfing around for cookers, trying to salvage a decent one for a bargain price. I didn’t want to buy a cheap piece of shit that was going to break down on me after a year, but at the same time I didn’t want to break the bank. Turns out, the good ones aren’t that cheap.
After hours of searching, I came across a website called All your appliances. They sell appliances with slight physical defects, which means they are able to offer appealing deals. I found a stainless steel Beko cooker that currently retails for £550, which had a few small scratches on the oven door handle. I snatched it for £350. It arrived next day free delivery; well packaged, with an instruction book and 1 year warranty. The tenant won’t even notice the defects, I barely did.
Moral of the story? Always shop around and make compromises that make financial and practical sense.
Cooker extractor hood: the prospect of mold growing scares the shit out of me, so extractor fans are essential, especially in notoriously prone areas like kitchens and bathrooms.
There was an extractor already in place, but it was a very cheap, flimsy, plastic model, which couldn’t have cost more than a Happy Meal. It definitely wouldn’t have sat right with the new stainless steel cooker I ordered. Needless to say, it was saturated in grease and parasites, and unfastening it from the wall brackets was an experience I never wish to repeat. For some reason tenants detest keeping extractor fans grease free.
I fell upon some luck with this one. My parents had recently refurbished their kitchen, and my mum informed me that she had kept their former Hotpoint stainless steel extractor hood in storage. Still in excellent condition and works perfectly. I snatched that puppy up and moon-walked out of there!
The point is, it’s always worth asking around for items; you never know what delights you’ll fall into.
Kitchen tiles: there’s an area above the kitchen worktop that’s tiled, approx 4 square meters. I got away with not replacing them last time by shamelessly using tile paint. It was a great solution back then, and I would highly recommend trying it if you’re on a tight budget. The pot of paint cost £20, and it saved me from replacing the tiles. It didn’t look amazing, but I never expected it to. However, it served its purpose and made the kitchen look clean. But that was a temporary solution, like using clingfilm as a condom. This time I needed to replace the tiles.
Admittedly, rather daringly, I tried something I’ve never attempted before. Yes, I thought I’d try tiling myself because I had the audacity to assume it’s not particularly difficult.
I didn’t really do it to save money, although that was an added bonus, which some lucky lady from the local strip joint will benefit from. I did it more out of curiosity and just to learn a new skill. I started off by watching a few tutorials on YouTube (yeah, seriously!) and then progressed by clinging onto a builder friend of mine, harassing him for tips.
Long story short, I went to Top’s Tiles Discount Store (they sell tiles that are out of production) and purchased the tiles I needed (and some extra) for £35, and bought some grout, adhesive, couple of spreaders (is that what they’re called?) and a tile cutting tool, all of which set me back £50.
I intentionally purchased some rustic looking brick tiles which have a rough texture, so they didn’t need to be aligned perfectly, which means they’d be forgiving to my amateur touch. In fact, the imperfect finish added to the effect (I’m not just saying that to make myself feel better). It took 2 days, and yeah, it was done. £85 all in.
I’m not suggesting for people to do this, but there’s a lot to say about learning new skills and “just doing it”
- Painting the walls/skirting & architraves: admittedly, these weren’t in terrible condition, and I probably could have got away with leaving them untouched. However, if I were the tenant viewing the property, I would have been bothered by them, because they still looked noticeably gloomy and used.
Taking into consideration the cost of painting the property (approx £150, for all the paint and tools), it seemed like something I should do, as opposed to something I needed to do. I know from experience how much difference a freshly painted house can make; it adds so much value. Visually, it just brings a room alive, and can have a massive impact on how quickly tenants are acquired.
Due to the dramatic impact freshly painted rooms can have, it’s one of the few exceptions to the rule, whereby I would just do it, even if it’s not entirely essential.
I’ve painted many 2 bedroom houses in the past, and it usually takes me the best part of a weekend.
- Windows: the most expensive item on the list, and something I could have really done without replacing. While they are double-glazed, they unfortunately came with wooden frames in piss-poor condition. The paint was flaking off like it had caught a disease, and much of the wood was also starting to chip away. In my mind, they noticeably hindered the aesthetic value of the property. I wouldn’t say they were deal-breakers, but they were approaching that region.
As a compromise, I ended up getting a ‘labourer friend’ to sand down all the frames and repaint them. What a difference that made; the touch-up dramatically improved the appearance of the property. That cost me £250, which is a massive difference between the estimated £1600 to replace them.
I want to highlight two key points here:
- Paid help: ultimately, I could have saved myself £250 by sanding down the windows and painting them myself. It wasn’t a particularly skilled job. However, it was labour intensive, and took 2 days of grafting.
I’m not workshy, but I do value my time, and I already had so much to get through, so I reached out for help. I talk more about time management below, but I just want to emphasise that it’s crucial to value your time, and it’s often cheaper to get help than allow the days to pass by.
- Compromising: replacing the windows would have been the ideal scenario, but I knew my budget needed to be spread across more crucial areas. However, I also knew I couldn’t leave them in the condition they were in, but with a little TLC, I was hopeful they could be given a new lease of life, so I had to make the compromise. I’ve essentially delayed the project for a couple of years, and I think that was a good solution.
(sorry, it’s difficult to tell the difference from these pictures)
- Paid help: ultimately, I could have saved myself £250 by sanding down the windows and painting them myself. It wasn’t a particularly skilled job. However, it was labour intensive, and took 2 days of grafting.
Replacing the kitchen: although not specified in my to-do list, I did initially have premature thoughts about replacing the entire kitchen because it looked dated and generally unappealing. But after further inspection, it didn’t make any sense to go ahead with that idea; I realised I was just getting carried away.
The kitchen units are actually in good condition, they’re just not the most desirable of colours, which dragged the entire room down. But I figured if I replaced everything else around the units, such as the tiles, vinyl, wall colour, cooker and extractor hood, the kitchen could transform itself, and escape from being the hideously, overweight, greasy older sister. And it actually did.
Before digging deep and replacing everything, use due diligence, and determine whether or not anything is worth saving. If so, assess whether they’re worth working around. It’s so easy and tempting to start from scratch on a blank canvas. While that can often be the easiest and cheapest solution, that’s definitely not always the case.
By no means do I consider that the best or most modern kitchen on the rental market. However, it’s fitting for the property, but most importantly, it’s clean and safe.
I guess the key for me was to identify what improvements needed to be made (i.e. which improvements my new tenants would value the most) and making suitable compromises to keep costs down, which wouldn’t necessarily have a detrimental effect. I made quite a few compromises and ended up saving a lot of money.
Your efforts will burn in flames
Through my college years, I was a part-time waiter so I could fund the lifestyle of the average teenager, which included cheap alcohol and fireworks. The usual stuff. One of the most tedious aspects of being a waiter was the repetitiveness; I was literally going around in circles. I would prepare a table, watch pretentious assholes make a mess, and then reset the table for new assholes to make a similar mess again. Truly tedious and brain-numbing.
That’s usually how it works with decorating BTL’s. You’re rarely ever going to walk back into a property in the same condition you left it in, and that’s something all landlords should accept and consider when pumping money/energy into refurbishing.
That’s why I always focus on making a property clean and safe, and nothing more. Forget the bells and whistles, they’ll end up crippling you. It’s a trap many new landlords fall into- they want to make everything perfect and act like they’re decorating their own home.
Needless to say, time is of the essence.
From the moment your tenant vacates, you’re losing money. You’re a sinking ship.
You need to turn your property around as quickly as possible and find tenants at the same time (if you haven’t done so already). This proportionally adds to the stress and why this entire deal is plain and simple bullshit.
It really is all about timing, and there isn’t a set schedule for everyone, because it largely depends on the circumstances. However, I want to discuss a few areas which particularly stuck out to me…
The following is sickeningly cliche, I physically want to throw up just for saying it. But…
Organisation is key.
From the moment I formed my to-do list, I went home feeling anxious and worried about the coming weeks, but I managed to make a plan. I thought about what I needed to do, how much it would cost, and who I’d need help from.
- Schedule events logically: ordering each task was crucial for me. For example, I needed to paint the walls and skirting/architrave before the carpets were fitted (I needed to bear this in mind when ordering the carpets), I needed a gas engineer to remove the old cooker before I could fit the new kitchen flooring, I needed to fit the new tiles in the kitchen before painting the walls etc. Every task needed to be placed in its logical position.
Plan this shit out, it will save a lot of time. Also, it’s psychologically more fruitful and productive to follow an organised to-do list.
- Book labourers/tradesmen: if you know you’re going to need assistance from labourers/tradesmen, book them during the very early stages, refrain from calling them as and when you need them. If you’re calling upon anyone that’s worth a damn, they’ll be busy. Waiting around for open slots can be a real production killer (I’m sure there’s a horrific sexual innuendo in there somewhere.).
- Act quickly: don’t waste time, seriously. It’s easy to let days slip by without realising how much money is truly being lost. Most of the work for an average in-between tenancy turnaround should take between 3-10 days.
Just do it
On a few occasions my production levels started grinding as I became overwhelmed with how much work I had to get through. I literally wasted hours walking back and forth, just thinking about the tasks that needed to be tackled instead of just doing them.
The thought of applying gloss to the skirting boards and architraves through the entire house made me want to neck a bottle of turpentine. I was procrastinating like crazy; I was texting stupid people I didn’t even like just to delay the inevitable. I genuinely just couldn’t be arsed. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to throw money at the problem by getting extra bodies through the door and consequently piss my profits away. If you’re ever in a similar place, fight that urge!
After sparring with myself, I eventually broke down my mental barriers and started applying paint. I finished it all in just under two days, and it really wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be. It actually felt therapeutic, because painting skirting is generally a delicate process. The thing is, starting was the hardest part; once I got going it was a case of knocking down the dominoes.
Unfortunately, unlike decorating our own homes, we don’t have the luxury of being able to waste time on procrastination.
Just do what needs to be done and then go back home to your average life.
Value your time
Don’t try and do everything yourself if it’s going to take twice as long to complete, because you’re potentially losing money by slowing down the turnaround period. It might just be cheaper to shove £20 in Paddy’s back-pocket for extra assistance. Also, be realistic, don’t try and do something just to save money when you know perfectly well you can’t do it, whether it be due to time restrictions and/or saving money.
Value your health
If the last 2 weeks has taught me anything, it’s reconfirmed how emotionally and physically stressful turning around a property in-between tenancies can be, especially when you’re under a strict deadline and losing money by the day, not to mention, while juggling other life commitments. It’s easy to see how the process can have a detrimental effect on one’s health.
While I’ve highlighted how this period can be difficult, and how it’s important to keep costs down, it’s not worth killing yourself over. You know your body, you know what you’re capable of. Fortunately, I’m young, ripped-to-shit, and able to bench press your body weight on a bad day, so I was able to take the heat and push my limits.
Do what you can. Push yourself, but don’t kill yourself.
This can be tricky.
- 1) Find tenants before your old tenants vacate, knowing full well the property needs work.
- 2) Find tenants as soon as your old tenants vacate, knowing full well the property needs work.
- 3) Find tenants half way through the turnaround so it’s in a semi-reasonable state
- 4) Find tenants when the work is complete, even though this is the least productive and slowest approach
Personally, I always opt for option 3, and there’s a few reasons for that (although, the other approaches also have their merits):
- It’s easier to tell when the property will be complete half-way through the refurb, and that’s useful to bear in mind when marketing your property and finding tenants.
- It shows the prospect tenants you are improving the property, which they typically like to see. They will also get a glimpse of the direction you’re heading in. That’s particularly important because if a prospective tenant agrees to letting your property before they see any evidence of work, they may change their mind after they see the finished article, and you’ll be way behind schedule in that case.
- It’s the middle ground between being super efficient (which would be option 1) and being super slow (which would be option 4).
- You’re more likely to attract better tenants when trying to find tenants during option 3 than option 1. Like I said, if you’re serving a plate of shit, you’re going to attract pigs
While I’m on the subject, I may as well point you in the direction of the how to find a tenant guide.
I actually fell into a stroke of massive luck with this particular property. I had full intentions of starting my tenant finding campaign half-way through the refurb, but I actually found tenants the 2nd day after my previous tenants vacated. It didn’t cost me a penny either, although I had to sleep with someone hideous to seal the deal. Joking. But I would have made the sacrifice. Whatever it takes.
The neighbour actually approached me, informing me that he knows of a very sensible couple that are looking for a 2 bedroom house. So I gave him my number to pass on. An hour later, the prospective tenant got in touch. I explained the property was in the process of going through an overhaul, he was understanding, and so we arranged a viewing.
He viewed the property the next day, and he was sold there and then. I did all the usual tenant checks, which came back positive. They moved in a few days ago, and so a new chapter in our humble lives begins…
It’s worth noting, asking the neighbours if they know anyone that could be interested is always a great way to find tenants. Try it.
In conclusion, it took me 10 days to complete all the work and get new tenants in, and I ended up spending just under £2,000. I have a few more grey hairs than before, I’ve had substantially less sex than usual (due to time restraints, tiredness and stress), I’m in dire need of a manicure, and the entire ordeal was generally horrific, but it’s something that needed to be done, and I’m totally relieved it’s over.
So, what’s your experience been like in-between tenancies? Do you dread it as much as I do? Can you relate to what I’ve said, or am I just being an overreacting, quivering little pussy? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some smooth and stress free transactions, this just wasn’t one of them.
Disclaimer: I'm just a landlord blogger; I'm 100% not qualified to give legal or financial advice. I'm a doofus. Any information I share is my unqualified opinion, and should never be construed as professional legal or financial advice. You should definitely get advice from a qualified professional for any legal or financial matters. For more information, please read my full disclaimer.