What do a patio, a successful business and a skyscraper have in common? A plan. All three needed to start here — either as a set of plans, a business plan or engineering plans, but a plan was involved. In today’s real estate market many owners fail to make plans when units go vacant, simply scrambling to get the unit back on the market, but this is unnecessary. With a proper course of action, an apartment owner can efficiently and effectively do a cost effective renovation and possibly increase the rent of the unit. The five basic things an owner can do to improve the appearance of an apartment are paint, flooring, new fixtures, hardware and lighting.

When you first walk into a unit, you will notice if the place has been painted. Guess what, so will potential tenants. Paint is one of the most cost effective ways to improve an apartment. People notice painted units and many apartments on today’s rental market have been newly painted. An owner should use a simple base white for all walls. Just remember to use the right type of paint in kitchens and bathrooms — ideally something mold resistant.

Nice flooring will catch the eye of any renter and nowadays an owner does not have to pay a fortune for high quality flooring. Older properties sometimes have hardwood flooring underneath carpet, which can be refinished for a few thousand dollars depending on the damage to the hardwood. Nevertheless, if a unit lacks hardwood and the existing flooring cannot be cleaned or saved, there are many options available today. Any home improvement center will have hardwood, tile or laminate that can be installed.

There are also new products that are made of laminates with adhesive backs that simply stick on multiple types of existing flooring and cost approximately $1 per square foot. The benefit to this type of flooring is that an owner can put it down themselves and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in installation fees.

People notice new fixtures and many of them are not expensive to purchase or install. In today’s competitive home improvement market, an owner can purchase both a high quality bathroom sink and toilet for under $300 each. Along with new laminate flooring for $50 in a 50-square-foot bathroom, a new lighting fixture for $75 and reglazing the tub for $200. A bathroom can thus be dramatically transformed for under $650.

Some owners replace kitchen cabinets, while others simply replace the front doors, but few actually just change the hardware on the cabinets. First, let me say that some kitchen cabinets should be replaced. However, if kitchen cabinets are in good condition, function correctly and match the kitchen, why replace them when all that is needed to “spruce” up the appearance is new hardware? Cabinet doorknobs are approximately $1 apiece, but can add a needed accent to a vanilla kitchen. Also, new hardware on bedroom doors is a nice touch.

I have gotten in disputes with friends over this last subject because it is one of personal taste: lighting. There is no doubt that the right lighting makes a place a feel warm and inviting, while the wrong lighting makes it feel, well, awful. But lighting fixtures run the gamut from boring to eclectic. When replacing lighting in an apartment, go for something functional and neutral. If placing ceiling fans in bedrooms, pick white. Lighting in kitchens should also be simple. A qualified renter may pass on your unit if you have a hideous light in the living room, which only you like. Do not let your own taste get in the way of renting a unit that you do not live in.

With a clear plan, turning over a unit can go from a stressful experience to a pleasant practice. An owner should remember that they are in competition with other units on the marketplace, but most people just want to live in a nice, clean apartment. Following the five basic improvements of paint, flooring, new fixtures, hardware and lighting are a good first step in turning over any apartment.

Mike Heayn is a Commercial Loan Consultant, specializing in Multi-Family Lending. He can be reached at (310) 428-1342 or e-mailed at maheayn@yahoo.com.

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