Renovation tips for buy-to-let properties

A landlord who came to our shop on Church Street in Dunstable has bought his first buy-to-let property — a tatty two-bedroom flat Houghton Regis and he’s wondering whether it’s worth doing the place up before trying to find a tenant. I say yes, the estate agent says no. He thinks he won’t get any more rent even if he replaces the awful kitchen and bathroom.

One of the most compelling reasons to smarten up a property is that it makes it easy to let, and you’ll have fewer voids — the landlord’s nightmare. Plus, assuming you make a good job of it, it will be easier to manage and your tenants will appreciate your effort — most of the time. That said, it’s important not to get carried away. Think about what sort of tenant it’s going to attract and equip the property accordingly.

And be realistic. Don’t think that because you’ve fitted out a property with the best kitchen you’re going to attract a top rental value if it’s on a dual carriageway. Find out the asking prices for properties in your area and plan your renovation with this in mind.

In every case, you need to make the property as robust as possible. In kitchens, avoid wooden worktops as they’re bound to go mouldy. A property we saw recently had one from Ikea. It was fine when the Landlord lived there and oiled it when he remembered, but when he let the property it quickly rotted.

Carpet is always a problem. It quickly gets grubby and costs a fortune to clean. Never put carpet in a bathroom. Lino is cheap and warm. Tiles are cold and more expensive but look better, and last longer. Hardwood or laminate floors will be noisy for the neighbours, but are a better option than carpet, so lay rugs over them. They can look good as an interior decorating accessory and if they get too grubby you just replace them.

Stripped wooden floorboards might look great but they’re draughty — bad news if your property already has a poor energy rating.

Avoid laminate in hallways, kitchens and bathrooms because it rots when damp. Always put loose covers on furniture — in between lets you can take them off and wash them.

Bathrooms are heavily used. You need them to stay clean and fresh. Mould on tile grout and on sealant around baths and showers is a big problem in rental properties. Be prepared to refresh between lets so I recommend using large, dark tiles — trendy matt gray looks good against a white bath — with a dark grout. Cheap, flimsy taps are a false economy — they need to be sturdy. The extra cost will only be a fraction of what you’ll have to pay a plumber when the cheap ones break.

So when you buy, renovate first to get a good let and save on repairs later.