Investing in a tenant-grabbing property

publication date: Jun 10, 2010
author/source: Guest article by Sarah Walker, Freelance Property Writer & former presenter of BBC1’s ‘To Buy Or Not To Buy’

Investing in a tenant-grabbing property

So you’ve made the excellent decision that the way forward to financial freedom is by investing in property and have started to build your portfolio with gusto ..... or at least you’ve thought about it.  It’s a great idea, but how do you actually make sure you’re going to be at the top of the pile when quality tenants are hunting for a pad?

First of all, you don’t pick a rental property because you like the look of it.  Well you might do, because it has to have some initial appeal, but you’re not asking for it to tug at the heart strings – you pick it because you’ve done your homework and you know that the figures stack up and it’s going to work as a business and provide you with a lovely passive income as well as achieving long-term growth in value.  Same with the inside: you’re not decorating it for you, you’re catering to whatever sector of the property market is most likely to rent your little investment, so keep that uppermost in your mind – who is your client likely to be?

Okay, so let’s start out with the blindingly obvious: you want the basics to be neutral and hard wearing, but before you all rush off to stock up on laminate and magnolia, that’s not what I mean. Well, not in every case, anyway.  If you’re not very careful, the lam ‘n’ mag approach can look safe, bland and often cheap, and that’s not going to bring potential tenants running in with the best rent.  You can be a little more creative than that and, what’s more, in today’s climate, you need to be more creative.

The average age of the first time buyer is now rumoured to be 35, against 26 ten years ago.  That’s a lot of young professionals who can’t quite afford to buy their own place, but who do look for a decent standard of living.  Post-‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ and in this Big Brother-obsessed climate, shared housing is presenting itself as one of the most attractive options for people who want a property they’re proud to come home to, with decent reception space and a good standard of living.  Today’s desirable young tenants expect wireless broadband, satellite television access and a cleaner, and they want the property to feel like home.

Yes, there are a lot of rental properties out there, there are still an astonishing number of landlords who are not making any effort at all and the demand for quality accommodation far outweighs supply, so provided you make your property stand out as being in excellent condition, clean as a whistle and with a feel-good factor the moment you walk in, you should have no problems tenanting it. 

As with all properties, you need to keep the amount you’re spending proportionate to both the value of the property and the revenue it’s generating for you.  If you’re only clearing £100 a month profit from your investment, then there’s no point in spending a small fortune on fittings and décor.  Do remember, though, that if you’re aiming to attract tenants who are not only prepared to pay a decent amount of rent, but who will also look after the property and treat it well, then you need to offer them a certain finish and standard of living.  It’s a fine line between looking good, and spending a small fortune.

Have a look through some really good quality kitchen and bathroom magazines, see what’s in vogue at the moment, then go back to one of the more reasonable chains and find a similar one for a third of the price.  And invest in the things which are going to get the most wear, like kitchen cupboards.  How many times have you seen properties with cupboard doors hanging at a jaunty angle and not closing properly?  Make sure the doors have decent hinges and are hard-wearing, because they’re going to get a lot of use, and put stone-effect finish tiles underfoot, which should last longer than any other kind of flooring while being easy to clean and not necessarily expensive.

In the bathroom we’re talking white suite, tiled walls and floors and a sexy chrome heated towel rail.  Your bathroom needs to look modern, airy, clean and easy to keep that way.  To avoid it looking too clinical, use soft limestone rather than white tiles but do try to fight the urge to paint the walls mushroom.  I’ve seen way too many of those recently and can’t figure out for the life of me why you would want the smallest room in the house to feel like a damp cave.

As for the flooring in the rest of the house, natural coverings such as sisal, coir and seagrass are hard-wearing, neutral and again, fairly popular.  If you’re looking for a cheaper option, don’t be afraid of carpet, which has enjoyed a renaissance over the past couple of years – just make sure it’s a good, dense weave.  And if you absolutely feel laminate is the way forward, go for a mid-tone and stay away from beech or ash, which are so passé (and as far as I’m concerned were never ‘maintenant’), but pushing the budget and going for real wood flooring is nearly always a good investment and oh-so much nicer on the eye!

Now a revelation: the walls don’t have to be cream, really.  White is extremely popular at the moment, so feel free to slap it around.  Check the orientation of the house and on the side that doesn’t tend to get the sun, try to stay away from cool colours, anything blue-based.  And here comes a technical moment: not all blues are cold, there are warmer blues which have a slightly yellowy undertone.  If in doubt, hit the mix-your-own colour charts from those nice people at Dulux, who have been kind enough to categorise pretty much every colour under the rainbow into tones, moods and effects.  Trust me, they’re fairly foolproof.  And you do want your property to stand out from the last five cream and laminate shells your prospective tenants have just seen, so a dash of colour will make it that little bit different.  Now I said a dash, a hint, a touch, keep it light .... my golden rule is if a colour is named after a fruit, it’s not going anywhere near my wall.  Not a bad rule to stick by.

And once your basics are in, then just make it feel like A Nice Place To Be.  The property may be vacant, but it shouldn’t feel abandoned, so if it’s unfurnished fling open the windows every once in a while to keep it fresh and do make sure it’s spotlessly clean.  If it’s furnished, have some eye-catching lamps dotted around and a few bright accessories just to bring the place to life.  Nip down to your local florist and avail yourself of some very good imitation flowers – just a couple – and a nice modern vase, and plonk that on the table, and in the colder months, keep the heating on low and make sure the mail isn’t piling up behind the door.  In short, if treat your rental property well and take care of your investment, it’ll take care of you.

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