Appearance is everything. Potential tenants judge your place based on looks first and foremost. This is why we believe that having some high quality pictures is a huge benefit to our listings, and also why we typically put some small touches in our places to make them look newer, cleaner, nicer, which not only increases our tenant pool, but also leaves our places vacant less, and gets us more rent in the long run. We also aren’t talking multiple thousands of dollars, or a few months invested in this. We have less than $500 and a weekend worth of work invested. Check out below how we did it.
Purchasing the Rental
When we purchased our second duplex for $49,000, it was fully occupied at $350 a month for each side. For the mathematicians out there, that works out $700 total which put us at 1.4%, easily surpassing the “1% rule”. Even though those numbers are okay, we knew going into it that we could increase the ROI pretty easily. But, with the half-assed effort that the previous owner put into them, we soon realized he was lucky to have tenants at all, much less people paying $350 to stay in these places.
The shitty owner must’ve rubbed off on the property manager, because they let an old tenant sign a new lease the week prior to our closing in April, so they are still hanging at the old rent amount of $350…at least until April. The other tenant’s lease ended in November, so we let them know that we were increasing their rent $50 to $400. Instead of renewing, the tenant found another place, and was out on Dec 1. Which we expected to happen, because she was already having trouble with paying the rent on time.
With one unit empty, Emily and I got to do what we love to do to our rentals: make a few simple upgrades and raise the rent. (If you are interested in a step by step process for the renovation, along with a list of the supplies & costs, it’s at the bottom.) Typically we do all the work: flooring, painting, changing out countertops, swapping in newer appliances. You name it, we do it.
This time, however, we just weren’t feeling it for some reason. So, we found a happy medium, we paid a friend of mine from high school to paint the entire interior for $300. We are more than happy to help support people’s side-hustles, and we desperately needed the interior painted from this ugly, weird, purple-brownish color. Top tip: buy 5 gallon buckets of paint and keep all your rentals the same color. It’ll save you a ton of headache in the future when you have to touch up, paint a new place, etc. With the walls sorted, we just had to get the cabinets up to speed along with the bathroom floors.
Luckily, we’ve done this kind of thing before, so we knew exactly what to do, and how to do it. I spent about an hour after work getting all the cabinet doors down, taking the hardware off of them, and getting them prepped for paint. The next day, we divided and conquered. I painted the cabinet faces, while Emily knocked out the cabinet doors. A couple of light coats, and we were ready for the sealer. Armed with some new hinges and door pulls, we were ready to reassemble.
After we finished the kitchen, our focus turned to the bathroom. We used the same paint and cabinet hardware in the bathroom, again making the process simpler for us. The flooring in the bathroom on the other hand was very dated. Luckily we had some vinyl plank flooring, that we bought from Habitat for Humanity at a huge discount, left over from a previous renovation. After a few hours of measuring and cutting, the bathroom floor was done. All we needed to do was tack down some quarter round trim to keep everything in place.
Before & After Pictures
The area that we purchased this duplex in is appreciating very quickly due to some tear-downs and new houses being built for ~$240k more than we paid for this place. With that being said, we are definitely benefitting from the neighborhood becoming nicer. According to the developer, they’ve got 140+ new builds going in, affordable places to rent or own are becoming harder and harder to find, so when there is one, the competition is much higher.
We were just wrapping up this place and one of our good friends reached out to me and asked me if we had anything available. His parents were moving up from Birmingham, AL to be closer to their new grandchild, and his father had already accepted a job in the area. They were going to be selling their house in Birmingham before they purchased a place here, so they needed a place to stay temporarily. It worked out for both of us because it turns out early January isn’t a hot time for the rental market, anyway. So, while they get a clean, simple, cheap place to rent temporarily, we get a short-term tenant to get us a little closer to the warmer months, when more people are looking for rentals.
For month to month, we are only charging $550 a month as a favor to our friends, but still $200 over what the previous tenant was paying. We know they will be moving soon, and at that point we will list it for $500-$600 a month, depending on what’s available when we go to list, and what they are listed at. On the low-end, we will be netting $150 a month more, or $1,800 a year. On the high-end we are looking at $250 more a month, or $3,000 a year. All for under $500.
Supplies and Steps
I should mention, that most of these things we already had from previous projects and didn’t have to go out and get anything special for this one except the cabinet hardware. We already had all the paint and painting supplies lying around, along with the flooring, but we included those in our breakdown for the sake of full disclosure. Anyway, here’s a rundown of all our costs and the supplies we used*:
- Painter: $300 He painted the entire interior except the cabinets, and did a great job. We will definitely use him again in the future.
- Light Blue Behr Interior Paint & Primer: $44.68 (bought one 5 gallon bucket discounted to $35.75 because it was pre-mixed and the wrong color, then bought another bucket that matched for $143, so averaged out to $89.37 for 10 gallons, and we used less than 1/2 of one bucket.)
- General Finishes Queenstown Grey Paint: $29.95/qt. and 1 qt. covered all our cabinets.
- Rust-Oleum Polyurethane: $5.32 (1 qt is $15.97 and we used 1/3 a qt)
- Paint Deglosser: no clue. A few splashes on an old rag, and we were set.
- Paint Brushes & Paint Rollers: $9.99 for the brushes, and $11.59 for the rollers, both of which can and will be used for future projects.
- Satin Nickel Cabinet Hinges: $19.86 for 20 sets (40 hinges). Be sure to double and triple check your hinges, some cabinets are flat backed, while others have a lip, and both will use different hinges.
- Satin Nickel Cabinet and Drawer Handles: $24.80 for 20 pulls
- Vinyl Plank Flooring: $22.50 total. Purchased from Habitat for Humanity for $15 a box, and we used 1.5 boxes.
- Vinyl Quarter Round Floor Trim: $14.14 Purchased from Home Depot for $7.07 for 12 ft. I wasted a few pieces with shitty cuts, so I had to use two. But I still had some left over.
Here’s how to do it:
- Take the cabinet doors off, remove the drawers, and remove the hardware.
- Place the doors on a paint safe surface. (we have some old plastic sheets)
- Use the deglosser and go over the cabinet faces as well as the back and fronts of the doors, and the fronts of the drawers, to get them ready for paint. (make sure the area is well ventilated, and you are wearing gloves)
- Start painting. Use the rollers first to get large areas, and then go back and touch up with the brush.
- Wait for those to dry, and go over with a second coat.
- Make sure there are no areas that need touching up, if so, go ahead and do that now.
- While the touch-ups are drying, you can go ahead and flip the doors that are finished and dry so you can paint the other sides. I suggest starting with the backs and then moving on to the front of the cabinet doors.
- Paint the other side with 2x coats and repeat the process for touch-ups.
- Now you are ready for the top coat. Usually, only one coat is necessary for the top coat, we don’t want ours to look too glossy or shiny.
- Once you have done the top coat on the fronts and backs, we are ready to hang the doors, if you are using new hardware, now is the time to get those out and ready.
- We like to put the hinges on the doors first, and then hang them on the cabinets, but you can pick your poison.
- Once you’ve got the hinges on the doors, we suggest hanging the top cabinet doors first while you are fresh and less frustrated. The bottoms are typically easier, so we save those for last.
- Once the doors are hung, you can put the door pulls on, and you’re on the home stretch.
- The hinges should’ve come with little felt or plastic bumpers that you can put at the top and bottom corner of the cabinet doors and on the top two corners of the drawers.
And that’s it for the cabinets!
The vinyl plank installation will depend on your current flooring, and the type of planks you purchase. We were lucky enough that we could install ours right over the previous flooring and keep it held down with quarter round floor molding, and a few well placed shots from the nail gun.
And that concludes our easy, cheap, and fast weekend DIY rental renovation. This is one reason why we love real estate. We could spend a whole weekend researching the market, and trying to short stocks, buying options, or timing the market, and more likely than not, we are going to fail. But, spending a weekend with my wife, doing some easy DIY projects that could make us $3,000 more a year, sounds like a slam dunk for us. To continue the comparison, to make $3,000 more a year from index funds, we’d need to invest ~$75,000 in the market instead of the $483 we invested here.
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Some real estate investors hate vacancies. Not us, it’s an opportunity to get our own tenant in there (previous tenant was inherited) and we get the chance to do a simple value add. With less than $200 of supplies in new paint, cabinet hardware, and some flooring in the bathroom, we are going to be netting at least $150 more a month for the foreseeable future.