So you’ve found a property at the right price, in the right neighborhood, and in compliance with local rental and parking regulations. But what about the structure of the building itself, its surrounding property? My next tip addresses just that.
5. Look for simple construction, with systems accessible and materials simple to replace.
That Victorian home you’ve been ogling may feature lovely leaded glass windows, but you’ll never find a suitable replacement at the local home improvement store. A slate roof is a beautiful thing to behold, but can be terribly expensive to repair. And if the roof’s very steep, costs could go up even further.
Maintenance and repairs are critical to the success of your rental investment, but need to be done promptly and at a reasonable cost. A house which has simple, solid construction, where everything’s easy to access and uses relatively standard materials, is generally the easiest and most inexpensive to maintain.
As some building contractors will tell you, the shape of your structure provides a general measure of its complexity. Count the corners of your building. 4-corner buildings are often simplest to maintain and add on to, and it goes up from there. There’s simply more to go wrong with the structure of more elaborate buildings, more chance that something wasn’t constructed quite right. Pipes and wires may have been routed unusually to accommodate the layout, or there may be areas vulnerable to leaks where differing roof lines meet. For this reason, a home inspector is especially valuable when you’re looking to purchase a more complicated structure.
When examining a potential investment property, consider ease of access to the heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems. A panel or wall behind the shower allows quick access to plumbing in case of a problem, whereas if that shower backs up to another bathroom, you might be looking at removing a whole tiled wall.
Certain upgrades, like granite countertops or ceramic tile, are worthwhile because of their durability. Things like carpeting and paint jobs tend to be much shorter-lived in rentals, so expect that these will need to be updated and replaced over time.
Complicated landscaping may be expensive to maintain as well; I look for properties with a simple, small lawn, nice manageable planting bed, and ideally a large rock garden or patio. Less maintenance for your tenants and for you.
Updated September 30, 2007 and originally published September 7, 2007.