Rental properties can be a little rough around the edges. Most renovations you can do don’t really pay off. I read a great article at The Financial Blogger about how most renovations don’t increase the value of your home. You have to be even more careful with rentals. After all if you spend money on your personal house you get to enjoy it. It just isn’t so in your rental property. How do you change a kitchen in a rental property? When should you change it?
When to change a kitchen
There are two reasons to change a kitchen in a rental property.
1 – The kitchen is at the end of it’s natural life.
This kitchen has been around for 15 to 20 years. You aren’t changing this kitchen because it’s ugly or because you feel generous. You have to change it because you just can’t fix it. There are laws about maintenance and you have to follow them.
I once was called in to do a rental consultation on a property. There were missing doors and drawers. Not surprisingly the property also boasted a 25% vacancy rate and a very high eviction rate. People are not going to rent your house if it doesn’t have a kitchen with doors and drawers. The Stripper with Dirty Feet doesn’t care and she’ll feel right at home. You might want to aim higher than that with your tenant profile.
So basically in this case you have to bite the bullet and change these kitchens.
2 – Wise Investment
You have a decent property that lacks a WOW rental appeal. This improvement will make your property stand out as a superior place to live which will Attract Better Tenants. The quality of your tenants will increase, competition to rent your property will increase and the triple topper your rent will increase.
The first company I worked for always expected me to justify all capital expenditures. I would have to figure out how much I could raise the rent for every improvement. I would also have to figure out how long it would take to make the money back. I would also have to figure out how much the value of the property would increase due to the increased income.
Kitchen improvement - $2000
Projected Rent Increase - $200
Pay Back Timeline - 10 months
Increase In Property Value - $20,000 using a 10% Cap Rate
Another reason why you might change a kitchen is not because it will get you more money but because of the intangible benefit of improving the quality of your tenants or renting the property faster. Both these metrics are very difficult to measure but very relevant to the rental property owner.
Rental Property Considerations
There is a disconnect between the type of kitchen you’ll buy for your house and the kitchen you’ll want for your rental as well as the amount of money you’ll want to spend and the way you order and install the kitchen.
The conventional way to order a kitchen is to go to the kitchen place, they send out a guy to measure the kitchen, you order the kitchen and a month or two or more later the installer will bring your kitchen to your house, rip out the old kitchen and install the new one.
I’m not sure why it takes so long. They call it a custom kitchen but it just isn’t so. Cabinets these days come in standard sizes. The boxes are all particle board with different melamine colours and the doors may or may not be wood. If your kitchen is an odd size they put in spacers so that it looks like it’s the right size. Still that’s the way it is. Most counter tops are also done in this way. I’m not sure why again. I think they like to make their customers believe that they are doing something elaborate and of course your custom kitchen is being made just for you. I can assure you it’s not true. Today’s kitchens are more like puzzles, you pick the pieces that fit in a warehouse and add a few also prefab “custom” pieces and make it fit the house.
Your problem if you are doing a kitchen in a rental is to cut the crap and get the new kitchen installed and in your place ASAP so that you can rent it out ASAP so you can start collecting your rent again. So here’s how to do this.
1 – Measure your kitchen requirements.
Go to your property and measure from wall to wall where the kitchen is. It you have two walls repeat twice. Then measure any windows on the wall. Measure how big they are and how far they are from each wall on either side. Then measure your appliances. Standard sizes are as follows 30 inches for a stove, 30 inches for a fridge, 24 inches for a dishwasher. You’ll also want to measure how tall the fridge is.
2 – Get an inexpensive kitchen with stock cabinets
All the big box stores have cabinets that you can assemble yourself and then install. Lowes has preassembled cabinets but I’m not sure the price increase justifies not assembling them yourself or having your carpenter do it. What you need to do here is to get the list of the cabinets they have in stock as well as the sizes.
When I was pricing kitchens for installation in the townhouse complex the cheapest spot to get these cabinets was IKEA. You can get a kitchen design tool there too. We used to save about $400 bucks per kitchen by shopping at IKEA instead of Home Depot or Lowes or Rona. The IKEA design tool will not work for other suppliers because IKEA does have some odd sized cabinets. I can assure you that unless you’ve been recently lobotomized you will hate shopping at IKEA for a kitchen. Set aside an entire afternoon. Still $400 in savings is nothing to sneeze at. Their kitchen helpers and customer service is LOUSY. As long as your expectations are astonishingly low you’ll be OK. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Don’t expect anything fast to happen. You will save some dough and their stuff is great quality for the price.
3 - Design your kitchen
Conventions for installing a kitchen are that sinks are centered below windows in a 36 inch sink cabinet. The cabinet that goes above the sink and above the stove and above the fridge are all shorter than the ones above the countertop. If you have a dishwasher it goes beside the sink. This is because the water is readily accessible there and it minimizes the cost of installation. Try to make your kitchen symmetrical so that both sides match. Any corner cabinets are standard sizes so put them into your design second. Then fill in the spaces with cabinets that will fit.
4 – Assemble Your Kitchen
Hopefully you have someone helping you with this part. Every box will have a set of instructions which you should read and follow. Once you get a hang of it by doing 2 or 3 cabinets it’s simple. Put all the cabinets together. Then put them in the kitchen where they belong. Hopefully they fit. I really like the IKEA system for the top cabinets too. You hang a metal strip level along the wall and then hang the cabinets off that. This beats holding a cabinet up to the wall while trying to screw it into a stud hands down.
5 – Countertops
Now you’ll need a countertop. If you go to Home Depot or Rona or Lowes they’ll order one for you and in about six weeks it will come in and you can pick it up. Lets assume that you want your countertop faster. You might want to go get the exact same quality of countertop from Scarborough Countertops. They’ll cut a rather large selection of laminate countertops to the exact size you need. They have end pieces and wall pieces and island countertop and even bar stock. Call them - they are not on the internet 416-299-7144. They can fax you an order sheet with all the bells and whistles on it. You can go there and get a bunch of samples. Ask which ones they have in stock all the time and they’ll give you all the options. Awesome.
6 – Colours
One of the buildings I worked in had original dark wood 70’s kitchens. some of the kitchens had been painted white. It wasn’t scientific or anything but the white kitchens helped the apartments rent faster. At one point we had no white kitchens left to rent and about 20 dark kitchens. That’s when we convinced the owner to paint more kitchens white. So don’t get fancy go white. It’s cheaper and it works well.
7 – Countertop Colour
Countertops should never be a solid colour because solid colour countertops don’t wear well. People will cut on the counter and it scratches the surface. Patterns hide these cuts very well. So pick a pattern and your countertop will look good for much longer. I like a couple different laminates, I like Fallen leaves and I like Almond Papyrus. These look very nice with your basic white kitchen.
8 – Handles
Do pick decent handles. There are quite economical metal handles for sale that look quite nice. IKEA has some and you can look for 10 packs at any renovation store. Don’t go for the crappy plastic handles. They suck and will make any kitchen look cheap.
To recap if you decide to renovate there are some good reasons for doing so and by using these hints and shopping the right stores you should be able to turn over your apartment in a month. This guarantees that any vacancy will be minimized and your new kitchen will be in your rental and your apartment will be making you money. You can hire someone to install one of these kitchens for you.