Buy-to-let landlords have had a tricky time recently, thanks to changes in how the government treats them for tax purposes. Yet buy-to-let properties are still considered a good investment, and provided you know what you are doing, you can have an asset that appreciates in line with the housing market.
Maintaining the property
As a property owner, you have a legal duty to carry out maintenance work and to make repairs that are necessary to keep the property in a habitable condition. However, you are not liable for damage caused by your tenants, their children or their pets. You should certainly have buildings insurance and the tenants should have their own contents insurance. If the property has mains gas, you need a gas inspection certificate to comply with regulations, and you should ensure that the electrical system is in good condition.
As for decorating the property, here are few tips to help you decide what's best to do.
Plan the work for the type of tenant you want to attract
Firstly, remember it's not you who is going to be living there, so your own personal tastes in decorating should be put aside. If your market is for the working professional they will expect a higher standard of interior décor than would a student. Not that students wouldn't appreciate a high standard, but their lifestyles are very different to those out working every day. Think about what you would like to find when renting a property and apply some of those ideas.
When you're looking at your colour scheme for painting, keep it neutral so that your tenants will feel that it is an airy, large and bright property. Magnolia and creams/whites are ideal for this, but you could also use light browns and greys for a home that's being used by a family. These will show less wear but still be attractive to tenants.
It's worth using room-specific paint for kitchens and bathrooms. They may be a little more expensive but they will last far longer than a basic and cheap alternative. They are more durable and are designed to deal with cooking splashes and moisture from a shower or bath.
If you were comfortable with it, you could agree that your tenants, for example, do a feature wall. It would be at their cost and when they moved out of your property, they would need to restore it to the original colour.
Windows: shutters, curtains or blinds?
It depends on what you want in terms of window coverings, and particularly, how much work is involved in maintaining them. Curtains can often diminish the sense of space in a room, especially if they are heavily patterned. They will look attractive but will need to be cleaned from time to time.
Blinds can also look good, whether Venetian or roller, but they don't offer much benefit in terms of insulation or noise reduction.
Wooden shutters are an almost maintenance-free option. Once they are installed, they will only need to be wiped down from time to time, a simple and timesaving job for your tenants. They can be made from a number of woods, with Phoenix wood shutters an attractive option that can be painted or stained. Made from Phoenix wood, known also as Paulownia, which has a good depth of grain, these shutters are stylish and smart, help insulate rooms and allow you to control light with moveable slats, and reduce the possibility of mould on windows.
You can have them designed for any size or shape of window and they can add significantly to the attractiveness of the décor.
If you're going for carpets, avoid those that have light colours and are cheap – they won't wear well. Look for slightly darker shades (not too dark or you risk reducing the perceived size of a room) and spend a little bit more so you get hard-wearing coverings, especially in areas, such as hallways, that always get heavy use. Consider laminate flooring too – it’s easy to install, replace and clean.
Using tiles instead of paint in some areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, gives you durable wall or floor coverings that are also easy to keep clean.
Keep on top of maintenance
Tenants range from the almost perfect to the slapdash, so you need to keep an eye on what's happening to your buy-to-let property. Building a good landlord/tenant relationship means they are more likely to talk to you about any problems before they become more expensive to deal with. Responsibilities go both ways, and tenants will appreciate having a home that they will be happy to look after easily.