Getting Properties Cleaned Up and Rented Out Faster: A Tale of Two Rentals
As a newer investor, I am clearly a small fish in a big pond. This was even further highlighted when COVID-19 hit and my first rental property became tenantless, just as I was closing on my second rental property.
Yep! So here I was with not one, but two empty properties, both needing a bit of a clean-up, in the middle of the pandemic where everyone has been asked to stay home and shelter-in. That's right. All the books and mentors warn you to be prepared for anything but not one of them ever mentioned that the curveball could possibly be an actual global pandemic!
Either way, it definitely caused me some stress early on when I wondered:
Will contractors be able to work?
Will contractors now be booked up on other projects or afraid to come out of their home?
Will any new tenants be looking to move?
Will new tenants have the money right now to move?
Will I get a tenant in time to cover the first month's mortgage or not?
Will my properties sit empty and thus be sitting ducks for vandalism if I cannot find a tenant quickly?
Will I even be able to get up to my property if they lock the city down?
All of these thoughts ran through my mind to the point where the stress was causing me to lose sleep and break out. So I realized I needed to make a mindset shift, and I needed to do it quick.
I then made the conscious decision to just take it one step at a time and only focus on what I could control, which definitely was easier said than done. I made that commitment to myself because anxiety just doesn't feel good. That refocusing of my mind, paired with the fact that I do have some emergency savings in place to help me through a few months at least, helped me to sleep a little better at night.
The funny thing is that once I began making a conscious effort to set that stress aside, what was my greatest worry actually became an advantage in may ways! Having two properties empty opened up a few opportunities and benefits that I wouldn't have had otherwise:
1) Reduced paint waste. I chose the same color scheme for both places so that it would reduce paint waste. When we had a few extra gallons of a certain type of paint they were then carried over to the next place to continue the work. When it came down to the end of the job, when we were low on certain colors paints, we were able to use the left over of other colors creatively rather than running out to get more. While it seems minor, paint waste can add up quick.
Same color schemes in both rentals
For example, the back porch at the second property was not in the original budget at all. In fact, we intended to rip it down entirely because it had been converted into this hideous, not-to-code bathroom. But after speaking with the contractor, he said it would actually be cheaper to keep it.
When he opened it back up he even found the screens still intact, which was great so we turned it back into the screened in porch it once was. However, it was kind of ugly. And by kinda, I mean really ugly. The siding was painted different colors, the wood was rough and of varying shades and the floor was splotchy because there was a glue that had been used to tack down astro turf. Overall, it needed to be pulled together to even become presentable.
Luckily, my painter remembered there was extra paint from the other house so we used it to clean up the screened in porch a bit. We had extra grey so that went to the flooring. The white we used on the siding of the house and the wooden frames to even it all out. We still used a pop of color on both the doors because we had extra of that color of paint, so why not?. And suddenly, voila! We now have extra outdoor space, which looks much more inviting. Plus now that it is screened in again, it actually adds value to the rental! It saved us money to do it this way too! That's a total win/win!
Awkward bathroom outside the kitchen when we first looked at the property
Uneven paint job on the siding
Once the bathroom was done being demod there was then exposed 2x4 wood, messy, unevenly painted pavement. It was a hodgepodge.
We cleaned it up with extra paint from the other job, just to even it up.
We used a pop of color on the back doors to stay consistent with the front doors and add an element of style.
2) We were able to swap out appliances so they match in both rentals.
My first rental's refrigerator kicked the can literally at the same time I closed on the second place. Because my first kitchen had a white stove and refrigerator and white worked with the small cottage-y vibe, I figured we'd keep the white appliances there.
And because I already was planning to replace the appliances in the newer rental because in higher end properties stainless steel is usually expected, I simply took the white refrigerator from the second property and carried it over to my first rental.
This swap solved two problems 1) that I would have needed to buy another white refrigerator at my first property to replace the broken one and 2) that I would have had to find a way to dispose of the refrigerator at the newer property in order to make way for the new appliances coming in. So it all worked out. The first, cottage-y property got its set of matching white appliances while the second property is now getting stainless steel appliances coming in. Another win/win!
3) Saving money on dumpster.
Dumpsters are more expensive than people realize. And if you remember before, I still had waste from the previous tenant in my first rental. So while we had a dumpster at the second rental to clear out all the old carpeting and what not, I simply added to it with the junk from my first rental. That saved some cash for sure. I also asked the painter if he wanted anything from first rental. He happily carried off some cinderblocks and lawn mowers for himself thus reducing the need to throw even more out.
Doubling up on the dump truck to save money
4) Providing employment to excellent tradesmen at the same time.
During this pandemic, they passed a law that only one tradesman could be working inside a property at once. This, of course, meant slowing down the pace of the project. In real estate investing, time is money. So having two projects going on at once actually ended up working towards my benefit because it meant that I could keep the tradesmen both working consistently while moving both projects moving along swiftly. This also removed the risk of potentially having one tradesman pick up a different job while he is waiting to start mine, thus delaying my own projects further.
So having two projects was super helpful. How I managed it was that I had the painter start on the project I wanted to get rented out first so that we could ultimately take pictures quicker. While he was doing the inside, I had the property manager doing repairs on the outside (rebuilding railings for steps, point tucking some of the brick around the basement, etc.). After it was picture ready, we snapped the shots, got it on the market, and while showing it we were able to go in and do some final repairs that weren't aesthetically based like repair a leaky pipe, service the boiler, etc.
While all this was happening at my first rental, the contractor was over at the other rental ripping up the carpets, doing the plumbing, removing the awnings and doing everything to prep it for the finishes. So that when the painter was done with the first property he could then come on over and quickly wrap up the second one because all the other work was finished.
I share all this to say that if I was flipping just one property right now, I think it would have taken a lot longer because it's hard to find enough specialized tradesmen to keep a project going consistently because right now they can only work one person at a time on a project. This means you may have to wait until a specialized tradesman is available and their schedule can match up with yours. If the schedules don't line up exactly, I would have had to wait a week or two in between each tradesman so I could get them in there to do the work. That would have led to possibly carrying one of the properties a lot longer than I wanted to.
Finished product: Living room of first rental
Finished product: Kitchen of first rental
Finished product: Bedroom of first rental
5) Having two different options for potential renters.
This became another unexpected benefit. Because both of my rentals are slightly different. One is a 2 bedroom/ 1 bathroom single family house and the other a 3 bedroom/1bathroom single family home. Having two rentals on the market at the same time provided an alternative option for tenants as they were looking. If someone saw the two bedroom and said, "I think I'm actually looking for something a bit larger," I immediately showed told them about the other one coming on the market soon. Similarly if the 3 bedroom was a bit out of their price range, I'd show them the 2 bedroom which was a bit cheaper to rent out. I'm sure this will become even more beneficial as I expand my portfolio to have a wider variety of options. But that was a very nice, unexpected benefit of having two properties up for rent the exact same month.
Rental Property #1
Rental Property #2
6) Reducing unnecessary trips up to Kingston.
Because I live in Brooklyn and I'm investing in another city, Kingston (which is about 90 miles away), going up there to handle something is at least a half day situation at best. While I enjoy getting out of the city, and have committed to spending more time up in Kingston, time is money and so is gas and tolls. If I can reduce the amount of my trips by doing more while I'm up there at once, that ultimately saves me money, wear and tear on my car and, of course, stress.
Having two projects going on at once meant I go to one, check up on it, handle whatever I need to handle there, then I go over to the other property (conveniently two blocks away) and do the same. What is the saying? I was able to kill two birds with one stone? You know already that I love efficiency and saving money).
Driving up to check on the renovations
I share all this to say that while I didn't want to have to tackle both renovations at the same time (I had planned on them being staggered and having closed on the other property a lot earlier), it has turned into a blessing and money-saver in a lot of ways.
It makes me less hesitant in the future to consider having multiple projects going at once, which was great because that was one of my fears. I realize now that people who scale their real estate investment business are benefiting from this overlap all the time. So it makes me less apprehensive if I get into this situation in the future, accidentally again, which is great. I think it also showed me I can definitely project manage multiple renos, and that I really enjoy doing it. I look forward to tackling more projects in the future.