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When You Have Vacant Units, Which Renovations Should Take Priority?

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Posted by Pete Evering on November 18, 2021
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When You Have Vacant Units, Which Renovations Should Take Priority?

When a tenant’s lease is up, and they don’t opt to renew that lease, it can be a cause for disappointment and concern. An empty unit is not a property owner’s friend, especially in a cool rental market, and if you happen to lose multiple tenants at once, it can be extremely worrying. For as long as a rental property stays vacant, you’re losing money, and that’s no good. However, tenants moving out can also be a cause for celebration, not only because you’ll have the opportunity to restructure and adjust your rental fee to suit the market, but you’re now able to apply some renovations that may have been sorely needed, both in the context of individual units and in the context of the building at large. The thing is, which renovations are worth your time and money?

As a property owner, you’ll want to invest in improvements that will help you fill your vacant units, so you’ll have to focus on two categories: renovations that improve a unit’s appearance, and the addition of useful amenities to the unit or to the building. A clean, visually appealing, fresh-looking apartment will make for fantastic photographs and attract tenants where an outdated, yellowed, crumbled-looking apartment will not, even when accounting for the lower rent. Similarly, a building that offers some convenient amenities will be more attractive than one that is completely bare-bones. So take a look at these practical and effective renovation ideas that will surely boost your occupancy.

  1. Bathroom Remodel

An inviting, comfortable, modern bathroom is a bigger draw than you might think. Many apartment hunters are extremely particular about their bathroom, and will be less likely to apply for a lease if they feel the bathroom seems outdated, unkempt, or generally “used up.” Even simple updates will help the appeal of a unit’s bathroom. These can include replacing faucets and showerheads, mounting a towel rack, replacing a toilet seat, and installing a toilet paper holder in a spot that’s convenient and makes sense.

Take a look at your vacancy’s bathroom. There are probably a few design choices that once made sense, but now might inspire some confused head tilting. Many small apartments are outfitted with a full bathtub and shower combo, but realistically, most renters are content with a standing shower, so don’t be afraid to replace that old, stained bathtub with a freshly tiled shower. Tenants also love extra storage, which is always in short supply in small apartments, so take a survey of your bathroom’s storage options and see what can be improved. Is there room for a mirrored medicine cabinet? Is there a wall that can be outfitted with shelves? And about that toilet: perhaps it’s time for a brand new one.

  1. Refinished Kitchen

Now that your unit’s empty, let’s talk about its kitchen. Chances are high that your vacant unit’s kitchen is in dire need of some updates. Counters, cabinets, sink, and appliances are all areas prospective tenants will focus on. Are the counters old and scratched? Do those old wood cabinets close all the way, and stay closed, or are they handicapped by layers and layers of paint? Is the sink in good shape, and the right size for modern needs? Are the appliances all reasonably recent, or are they a mixed bag of different conditions and ages?

Replacing old, tired countertops with something new and resilient, like granite, will be well worth the investment; they won’t just help you fill the apartment this time, but the next time, and the next after that. The cabinets, while probably in need of replacement, can be vastly improved just by disassembling and sanding them at the joints and installing magnets to help them stay closed and secure, and it likely won’t hurt to give them a fresh coat of paint — or, even better, a clearcoat of varnish to show off their natural wood grain. As for appliances, try to update them within your budget, but at the very least make sure they work and will continue to work. This will save you some headaches down the road.

  1. Electrical

This doesn’t get talked about enough as it should: you should be outfitting your units with modern electrical fixtures, making sure there are enough of them, and otherwise ridding the units of any electrical problems that may result from improper or aging wiring. Many multifamily housing structures are several decades old, or older, built long before our lives became so governed by electricity. The result is lackluster, decaying power outlets, and wiring that sometimes can’t support many electrical appliances at once.

If your vacant unit sports outdated two-prong power outlets, you should make it a priority to update them to a modern three-prong design. Power outlets should ideally be placed at least one per wall, but more than that certainly won’t hurt. Tenants want to know they’ll have options for entertainment stand placement and workspace placement, and that they won’t be stuck with one possible room arrangement. As you uncover your outlets, check the wiring to make sure no wires are loose, frayed, or broken. At best, these issues can cause damage to appliances, and at worst, they can be a safety hazard.

  1. Converting to an Open Floorplan

While “one bedroom” looks better than “studio” on paper, in practice, it may be a different story. What would you prefer? A stuffy, claustrophobic one bedroom apartment, or a big, spacious studio? Many one bedroom apartments currently on the market, especially those in older buildings, are not much larger than a typical studio in terms of square footage. Instead of improving a tenant’s quality of life, the dividing walls of a tiny one bedroom make the space feel even smaller. That also applies to studio apartments with separate kitchens. What good is saying you have a separate bedroom or separate kitchen if it all looks and feels so small?

As you say goodbye to your old tenant, consider what it would take to knock down the wall that separates the rooms in your unit. If the wall doesn’t contain a load-bearing column that would jeopardize the building’s structural integrity if tampered with, consider knocking the whole thing down and converting that compartmentalized unit into a fully open floorplan. These days, people care more about real-world space than the status that comes with renting a multi-room apartment.

  1. New Floors

For old buildings especially, floors are one of the most likely sources of tenant dissatisfaction. Old, worn out wood floors can trap dirt and dust and cause injury to bare feet when dry, aging wood cracks and splinters. Where old carpet is concerned, there’s just no saving it; carpet will accumulate stains, dust, and malignant odors through years of use, and even a professional cleaning can only accomplish so much.

To prepare your vacant unit for some high quality tenants willing to pay a little more, replace your floors as soon as possible. New hardwood is always a good bet for replacing your ancient, splintered wood or musty carpet, since it looks modern and contributes warmth to the look of any apartment. When you’re putting in your new floor, try to avoid unseemly gaps that will become a home for dirt, and unsecured boards that will shift when stepped on.

  1. Building Wi-fi

If we’re talking about building amenities, wi-fi is certainly at the top of the list, especially for small and medium multifamily buildings. Just like prepaid utilities and electricity, free wi-fi will be a draw for many prospective tenants, especially those new to living on their own who aren’t exactly keen on building up a mountain of monthly payments.

The best thing about complimentary building wi-fi is that it doesn’t need to be perfect — it just needs to work. No one should expect top-notch streaming quality or lightning fast online gaming via complimentary building wi-fi, but they’ll sure appreciate it in a pinch, at least until they acquire their own internet service. If you can, spring for the best data plan your budget will allow, and don’t bother with the standard router provided with your internet service. Pick up a router built for simultaneous use by multiple devices, with enough antennas to project signal throughout your building. And remember, just like with anything else, it doesn’t hurt to buy secondhand!

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