This year, I’ll move. Having spent 22 years living in either condos or apartments, I like the idea of living in a mortgage-helper kind of suite, an apartment in a home, or at least in a multiplex that has a yard.
Looking at ads already, I’m stunned at shortcuts some homeowners take when designing/executing their mortgage-helper spaces.
It’s almost as if some think “So, who cares? They’re renters. All they want is a space to live in.”
If that’s the thought process behind building an investment suite in your home, then you’ll probably get the renters you deserve by setting your bar low because the “you get what you pay for” adage has never been more true than of designing a mortgage-helper.
I’m a renter ’cause I dreaming of living abroad in a couple years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have standards for my home today.
In fact, being a renter means I have higher standards. Shortcomings tell me volumes about the maintenance I can expect down the line with my potential new landlord. I won’t rent if the landlord is promising something will get done in the future, since I’ve been to the rodeo before and know “in the future” is a pretty hazy place that seems forever further on the horizon.
If you’re offering a mortgage helper for rent, the better you care for your space, the more thought you put in its design, the more likelihood you’ll find a renter looking for a home, and not just somewhere to live. I say this as someone who held the same apartment for 13 years.
From the outside in
Smart renters begin their examination of your space outside. Is the yard well-maintained? Is it trimmed and cared for regularly? This shows a landlord cares about details.
Is the garbage area cleaned at present, and does it look like it’s often that way? This shows a landlord is on top of cleanliness and likely is vigilant about pest control.
Are there areas of dry-rot near windows and doors? If so, this indicates problems underneath, which can indicate long-term minimal maintenance, and likely repeat fixes to maintain rather than solve problems.
Do not underestimate the condition of decks, yards, or window sills in a renter’s appraisal of your suite.
The basics aren’t basic
Even if it’s a basement, most renters will want full-height ceilings. Surprisingly, this isn’t as obvious as you’d expect. I saw an ad last week for a basement that was very nicely finished but with a shockingly low six-foot-two ceiling. Yeah. Six feet. At 5’7, I’d feel like a giant.
It doesn’t take a brainiac to know you’re limiting yourself to a population of 5-foot-tall renters when you’re offering a 6-foot ceiling height. And maybe breaking some building codes in the process.
Another baffling rental scenario are all the lovely suites that seem to offer everything you could possibly dream of — in-suite laundry, fireplace, dishwasher, even a friggin’ microwave, but you get to the bathroom and what’s there? Just a shower.
You’ve pretty much eliminated at least half of the female public from renting your apartment, if not more, by cutting corners with just a shower stall.
The rental’s in the details
Things like carpeting aren’t a deal-breaker, but there’s a reason why so many landlords can push the fact that a place has hardwood floors — because renters like them.
Carpeting can be gross with what it can hide. Anyone who’s ever owned a clear-canister vacuum knows it’s a horror show. That doesn’t begin to address bedbugs and lice and fleas, which love carpeting, or the horrors of viewing a place with mystery stains on the carpet.
Hardwood and laminate are easier to maintain and clean, and allergy-friendly for the growing population who are developing allergies to dust and other environmental triggers.
Fact is, cutting corners anywhere has drawbacks. Case in point: Lighting. Cheap lights attract a different quality of renter. Fluorescent lights suggest tackiness and low-brow decor, unlike nice pot, pendant, or track lighting. As a work-at-home tenant, I’m a building owner’s security-rental dream — I’m always around. If a suite has fluorescent lighting, I won’t even view it.
Another huge quality-of-life detail is insulation. Since heat’s usually included in rent, the more energy-efficient you make the place obviously pays off, but there’s also sound-dampening to consider. Not having tenants complaining about noise, or fearing the volume knob on a constant basis is made of win.
Space, space, baby
Another sticking point for renters are foolish use of space. Strange wall placement can be off-putting. It’s safer to go for an open layout than to throw up walls in an attempt to pitch the place as “1-bedroom-plus-den” instead of “a large one-bedroom”.
Fact is, furniture varies renter to renter, and if you can’t accommodate larger pieces because of unnecessary non-load-bearing walls, you’re limiting your demographic.
Storage space and fixtures also say a lot to tenants. The more built-in shelving you can offer, the more attractive your space becomes. Well-planned, quality cabinetry is attractive to everyone but especially with renters who might be looking to downsize and can take a smaller space if it has brilliant storage options.
Bonus features equal bonus dollars
Even things like modern tankless hot-water heaters that heat water on the fly can be as attractive to a renter as it is to your energy bill. There isn’t a lifetime renter like myself who hasn’t got hot-water-tank-empty tales of woe to tell. I’d pay an extra $50 a month just to know a place offered me a constant water-heating piece of mind.
When you pay attention to details in the design of your suite, there’ll always be a tenant who’s willing to pay for that attentiveness. Dishwasher? Worth $50 a month. Extra natural light? $50 a month.
Seriously. That’s how we think. I pay $2 a load for laundry in this building. Even at just 2 loads a week, I can justify $50 a month for that, and that’s $600 a year a landlord is earning off providing in-suite laundry. This is how a mortage-helper-landlord needs to think.
Long-term is piece of mind for you & your renter
If you cut corners, you might attract people who are just getting by and don’t care about where they live, or students who plan to leave in 10 months.
If you offer more, you’re attracting someone looking to rent a home. What if you rent to someone who becomes a tenant you trust, who stays for years? Who’s as conscientious about your investment as you are? Because those renters are out there. I’m one of them.
When the right tenant stays long-term, it means not losing a month or two of rent yearly. It means not wasting your time on upgrades annually because your student renters bailed. It means not having to get the carpets cleaned, or floor polished between tenants, or losing your time in showing the apartment, dealing with no-shows, and conducting credit checks.
A stable tenant for the long road saves you money and makes it less likely you’ll incur extra maintenance costs, because they’re already established and has developed a tolerance for the home as it is. It can save you thousands, long-term. Isn’t that the point?
You want a tenant who respects your property, feels privileged to call it their own, is proud of the space, wants to keep it beautiful, and has the potential to stick around, so your future is steady too.
Every now and then, a perfect landlord and a perfect tenant come into sync. With a well-maintained home built to code, there’s no reason a tenant can’t move in and be a low-maintenance, low-hassle renter, and the experience be a positive one for you both.