The best ways to handle common property rehab jobs

HomeReal Estate

  • Author Alan Cowgill
  • Published February 28, 2011
  • Word count 1,763

As you know my main strategy with real estate changed from a buy and hold mentality to more of a buy, fix, and flip. When I get a house, there are certain things that I like to do in the rehab phase to help spruce things up and hopefully get it sold quickly. Flipping houses for profit is all about a balancing act of speed and quality.

I used to buy carpet as cheap as I could, $20 a roll. I had to transport the carpet to the property and then I’d hire guys to install it. For a time, I purchased my own carpet-laying equipment for the installers because I was hiring people who didn’t even have their own equipment. It was a mess. I'd get a carpet in and you’d go over to the property. The guy was saying, “I got to get paid right away.” I’d cut them a check and then I walk out in the garage and there’s all the remnants of my carpet. I thought they had cleaned it and took it away, which is what my carpet folks do today. They would hide it in the past. Occasionally the carpet got stolen. The roll would be laying there and I’d be trying to hire someone separately to lay it. By the time they got there the carpet was gone. I couldn't believe it and after a while I'd had enough of it.

Now I have found a place that just goes in with their carpet layers. They get the job done and they're out. It's at a reasonable price. Not the cheapest but reasonable. I found that when I was trying to save money at first, it became more expensive in the long run. Chasing down problems was eating up my time. My time was money and so is yours. I also learned to use simple colors. We use a brown and a tan. We stopped using tan because it showed dirt. Carpet is an important aspect of your rental property. Make sure you do it right.

We put blinds up in the downstairs front of the house. One of the first things people do is start moving things in. Often they don't have window covers. Blinds are cheap. You can buy them at Lowes for $4 a piece. I like the curb appeal that blinds bring. If they are up and they are all nice and uniform it looks nice. We close them to create a nice look. It also gives them a nice look when they walk through the house. You have new carpet and new blinds. This looks good to them. Blinds can get expensive, but in certain properties, it is worth the investment. I have learned a lot about where to put them and why.

If we have a large picture window, we go with vertical blinds. This looks good from both the interior and the exterior. Sometimes you might want to consider mini blinds. You have to have rules with these because your contractors will be clueless on them.

The contractors are going to hang the mini blinds for you. I suggest that they be closed. I have that rule. I want them closed all the way around the house because of security. I want a safe gap in the front windows. I spend whatever I spend to put them in and then when people come in to see the house, they see these nice mini blinds. They can also see them from the outside. If they are up before your contractors are done, the contractors might open them up to get a little light.

Another issue with mini blinds is that when we go back and do a site inspection, we will see that they have been pulled up or messed with in some way. We don't know who has done it. It might be the kids and it might be the adults. But we have to fix them every once in a while to make the house look presentable.

I don't normally put mini blinds upstairs in a back window. It doesn't fit with my style of curb appeal. I want the blinds up front. But if the back yard is a wreck, I will put mini blinds up and close them, this way a potential customer won't see how horrible the back looks from inside. I might also use blinds to hide a problem with a window.

One little thing here, I don't close the blinds all the way down in the front of the house. I close them to a point where no one can see inside the house. I am doing this for two reasons. First, I don't want to shut out a potential buyer from seeing the place at all. Second, I am trying to give the house a very nice look. So the windows in the front of the house have the blinds pulled to a certain level. Remember, we are focusing on curb appeal.

You don't want to leave your back windows open, anyone can walk by and see that you have new sinks, countertops, stoves, ovens and fans. They might want to walk in and do God knows what. You definitely want to keep the back of your houses more closed up. I have had water heaters stolen and I learned my lesson about back doors from it.

Like everything we do, we have a system with painting. We have experience to back the system we have for painting. There are certain colors we do for a reason. In most rooms, we use Dover White paint. This is a white with a little bit of yellow to it. We use flat paint on all walls except kitchen and baths. We use a white on the kitchen and baths because we want them to have that glowing white look.

You use flat paint on walls because if somebody wants to come in and change the color, it's easier. We used flat and that means that they don't have to prime the walls before they repaint it. Semi-gloss paint is what a lot of rehabbers use. It's washable, that is an advantage to using it. But we don't use it because if it's washable it has a heavy sheen and it's harder to coat. Our goal with using flat paint is to make it easier for somebody wanting to come in a change the color to a neutral color or something like that. This way they don't have to prime it. It's also easier to touch that kind of paint up too. That makes it perfect for rentals. Anyone who has ever been in the rental business will know that you will have to do a lot of touch up painting. If you're trying to touch up a semi-gloss house, you're going to end up with spotted speckles with different sheens.

By the way, just a side note, our contractor Larry hates wallpaper. So that makes it something we don't deal with a lot.

When painting a house, a number of things have to be taken into consideration. Do you prime them first? What do you use to prime them? Do you come back and do the ceilings? We go to Lowe's or Sherwin Williams. There is a product called Zap or an oil based sealer that we're looking for. There's another product on the market called Kilz. We don't use it because it has sheen. This means that when you paint over it, you have to do a few coats to lose that sheen. Our contractors used to stock up on Zap. They'd buy 100 gallons and store it. They need it to prime the walls of the house. They are spraying ceilings and spraying walls. They want an oil-based prime because once they put the flat primer on that wall, they can paint over it. It's not going to end up lifting wall paper off the wall either.

I am a real stickler on nice looking bathrooms. For a very small amount of money, I put a shower rod up and a curtain on it. I like to hide the ugly in the tub. As you probably know, some bathtubs are just not what you want to be displaying. We clean them up a lot, but if it's an old tub, cleaning will only help so much.

We also put tape on the toilets so that people's kids won't use the toilet and leave some surprises for us or, worse, our prospects. You don't want to learn that the hard way. Please remember to tape up the toilets. It can be a real mistake to let someone leave a surprise in there for you.

Our bathrooms are painted white so that they shine. I have used the shine to attract people in the past and found that it works. If it works, I go with it. People like nice bathrooms. Maybe it's women who like them more than men. Guys come from the locker room environment and so the cleanliness of bathrooms probably doesn't have the same importance to them as it does to women.

We leave the door cracked and, of course, unlocked on the bathroom. If we shut the door, they aren't as likely to walk in and check it out. When they do check out a bathroom, make sure they check out something that looks nice. We always like to dress the kitchen up a little bit. I love to make that kitchen look bright. We put in extra lights and we paint it white.

While the electrician is replacing fixtures, we work to make sure the other contractors have light. It gets dark earlier come wintertime. These guys do hard and potentially dangerous work. If they are working in the dark, bad things can happen.

We coordinate with everyone when we might have power and water in certain areas. The inner communication with contractors takes work and communication off of our back. This puts it on their back. It makes life a lot easier. If contractors aren't communicating, it will slow the process and in some cases make the project more dangerous. When the contractors do a walk through, everybody needs to come up with a schedule and coordinate it during the contractor meeting.

A lot of hard work is being done. We are trying to make it bright and attractive to prospects walking through. Communication among contractors is one of the keys to making this happen.

E. Alan Cowgill is the owner of Colby Properties, LLC. and President of Integrity Home Buyers, Inc. Since 1995, Alan has bought and/or sold hundreds of single family and small multi-family investment properties. His home study system, 'Private Lending Made Easy', shows others how to find private lenders for their very own real estate business.

His website is

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