This summer, I undertook some pretty major renovations on two properties I own. One of these was partially planned, and the other one wasn’t. Although I’ve renovated in the past, it was good to brush off the cobwebs and add to my knowledge. Here are five tips I’ve learned from my experiences this summer.
- Listen to the podcast “#50: Five Tips to Improve Your Investment Property Home Renovations” on the Colorado Springs Real Estate Investing Podcast
- Watch the YouTube video (at the bottom.)
- Read the blog post. Note, the blog is an executive summary. Get the in-depth breakdown from the podcast or video.
1. Prepare for Surprises
This is a before and after shot of the same bathroom. You can see the old bathtub had scalloped edges, which I assume were in style at the time it was installed, as well as some tile that was showing its age. I decided to replace both the tub and the tile to give the bathroom a complete update.
When you go behind the walls in any renovation, you’re going to find a surprise. Once the contractor removed the old tiles and tub, they discovered there was no backer board on which the old tiles were installed. Backer board prevents moisture from seeping through, and without it, the contractor had to replace everything that was affected by years of water damage.
It’s important to peel back all of the layers, especially in older homes. Things may have been done correctly back then, but times change and it’s necessary to make repairs in line with today’s standards. If something was done incorrectly or there’s a leak in one place, chances are you’ll find more in other parts of the house. Take the time to step back, look at everything, and do things the right way.
2. There Are Big Differences Between a Yard Mow and Cleanup, and Overhaul
These are two pictures of the same yard; it used to look like a jungle and now it looks much nicer. In tackling the project of turning the jungle into a functional yard, I learned the difference between mowing and cleanup versus a complete overhaul.
Mowing and cleanup are pretty reasonable in terms of price and effort, but an overhaul is different. This property is 120 years old which means there is 120 years’ worth of debris hidden beneath the surface. To replace the yard with packed rocks, we needed to remove the debris and level the ground first. Leveling the ground consisted of rototilling and digging up the yard which unearthed lots of old brick, trash, wires, and all sorts of other things that had been buried for years. Once the landscaper scooped all of the debris, I was left with three giant piles of dirt.
It turns out that not all trash is created equally, and there are different disposal rules for different types. Once it’s all mixed together, it becomes even more complicated. It was very difficult to find anyone willing to take on the task of removing the dirt piles, both because of the equipment required and needing space to put it in.
At first, I paid someone to take out all three piles, but I never heard from them again after they removed the first pile. I then found someone who said they would take care of the rest; they ended up only taking the interior pile but at least gave me direction on steps to take for the last pile. Finally, I found someone who did infill for land they own which meant they could take the last pile and put it in their own land with no issues of trash or disposal.
This whole ordeal turned into a saga I didn’t anticipate, and I never knew piles of dirt could get under my skin so much. There may have been a better way to approach this, but once I got too far down the path of doing it this way, I had to see it through. In the future, I would just do a cleanup instead of an overhaul.
3. Some Paint and New Flooring Can Do Wonders
This photo of the same home emphasizes what a difference new paint and flooring can make. Originally, the wall was blood red, and I found all sorts of strange things on it. Once I painted the walls and added laminate floors, it had a completely different look and feel. Even though nothing of substance changed, the home had an entirely new aesthetic.
If you’re on a budget but still need to update your home, consider prioritizing these projects.
4. Take into Account the Cost of Labor When Picking out Materials
The backsplash in this picture is a beautiful white hexagon pattern with dark gray grout. At first, I thought I was smart for finding such a sleek, modern tile that was relatively cheap at $2 a sheet. It seemed like it would make the perfect backsplash. I failed to consider that while it was a good deal on the materials side of things, there’s a cost for labor, too.
The tile is extremely small and intricate, which meant the contractor had to saw each and every one of those pieces to fit. This tacked on quite a bit extra to the kitchen budget, because it took three days longer than expected to complete. I failed to consider labor and materials as a package.
Next time, I’ll pick out some subway tile and be done with it.
5. Get a 3D Tour of the Property
This last tip is for those who are self-managed—get a 3D tour of the property. After a couple of turnovers this year, I decided to bite the bullet and get professional photos for my properties. For a small upcharge of less than $100, the photographer offered to add on the 3D tour feature.
This feature allows tenants to walk through the home virtually to see how it’s laid out. There’s even a measurement tool so they can see exactly how big the rooms are.
In these times, you don’t want a lot of people in your properties if they’re not really interested, and this feature allows them to figure out their level of interest without leaving their home. It also cut down on basic questions I’m often asked over and over because the answers became self-evident through the tour.
I’ll probably do this for every turnover from now on, and tell people to check out the 3D tour before scheduling a visit to the property.
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I hope these tips will save you some future headaches when doing your own renovations. If you have any questions about these tips, feel free to reach out.
For information on how to get started investing in Colorado Springs, check out our free 2021 Colorado Springs Real Estate Investing Guide.
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