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Rent Coach: Tips for getting an apartment ready to rent

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Q. Two years ago my mother-in-law passed away and my wife and I inherited her condo on the Upper West Side. 

That first year we had to move out all of her possessions and we ended up doing some light remodeling before re-renting it. The tenant we found, who has been there a couple of years, just let us know that she intends to move out when the lease expires next month.

What do we need to do to the apartment to get it ready to re-rent?

A. It is good to begin thinking well in advance of a vacancy what work will need to be done in the apartment.  That way, you can minimize your vacancy loss factor (ie the money you lose when your apartment is unrented) by preparing the apartment quickly to put it back on the market.

Now that your current tenant has given notice, schedule a walk-through two weeks in advance of their departure.  If you're using a broker, ask them to photograph the apartment immediately and to begin marketing it before the tenant moves out. 

Let your tenant know that you would appreciate it if she would make a list of anything that may require your attention. Remind her that any damage or repairs that she may need to address should be done in advance of her departure so that you can return her full security deposit to her.

When you inspect the apartment, there are a number of conditions you will want to look out for:

  • Is there any evidence of water damage on the floors, walls or ceilings?
  • Are there smells that could be evidence of mildew or indoor smoking?
  •  Do any of the kitchen or bathroom fixtures leak?  Make sure to test each and every one and ask the tenant for her insight.
  • Do all of the electrical outlets work?  You might wish to buy a small tester that can be plugged into each outlet.  They cost around $10.
  • Are all of the cabinets on their hinges and does any of the hardware need tightening?
  • Are the drapes and blinds (if they belong to you) in working order?
  • Are there any holes in the wall or significant markings?
  • If there is carpet, does it need to be cleaned?  You will almost certainly want to do so between tenancies.
  • Does the apartment need to be painted?  You will likely wish do so every few years.  Hire someone who is willing to take their time and do the job right rather than painting over everything (including fixtures) to get it done quickly.
  •  Are the appliances in working order?  Are they reasonably up-to-date?  Modern, Energy Star rated appliances save on utility bills and can help you attract tenants.
  • Do the hardwood floors need to be screened or refinished?
  • Are the doors and windows in working order?
  • Are the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors working properly?

Keep good notes so that you can make plans to address any issues beginning the day after your tenant moves out.  Hire contractors (if any) in advance of your renter's departure and schedule them for the first day after she leaves. 

Buy any necessary supplies now--including appliances or fixtures you may replace--to avoid further delays. 

Hire a cleaning service to thoroughly clean the apartment immediately after the tenant moves out, and on that first day of vacancy, review your checklist and notes again to make sure nothing new is apparent.  Take additional notes so that you can use them to determine if you will need to make any deductions from your prior tenant’s security deposit.

It would be ideal to get all of the work done in three to five days.  With the average condo on the Upper West Side costing upwards of $3,000 per month, each day of vacancy that you avoid will save you at least $100.  That can add up quickly.

One last piece of advice: Consider amending your lease to require the tenant to give you sixty days notice before the lease ends so that you have a bit more time to advertise the listing.  It will likely take thirty days to find a replacement tenant and receive the condo board’s waiver of their right of first refusal so that the new tenant can move-in.


Mike Akerly is a New York City real estate attorney, landlord, and real estate broker. He is also the publisher of the Greenwich Village blog VillageConfidential.   

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