If you’re a buy-to-let or new landlord decorating your first rental property, it can be easy to slide into your well-worn habit of decorating it like you’re going to live in it. But it’s crucial – however long you’ve been landlording, to keep reminding yourself that your rental property is a business and your approach to decorating should reflect that.
Decorating a buy to let property
The most business-like approach to decorating your rental property is to be mindful of the demographic of renters you’ll be targeting and adjust your budget accordingly. If they’re 30-something professional couples and you can expect to charge a fair whack for your place, your approach will be different to, say, a student rental.
Two general guidelines:
1. Go neutral
Magnolia/white/off-white is the mainstream landlord’s choice. But hold up! We advise to go even more muted below… Whichever colour you choose, do save your rental property from the quirks of your individual style. Step away from the Farrow and Ball! Save it for your own home and let your tenants put their own stylistic stamp on their home. Less is definitely more.
2. Go durable
Whatever you’re buying – whether it’s paint, timber for skirting boards or white goods, choose items that are hard-wearing and durable enough to last at least a whole tenancy (if not more). Accidents do happen, so it’s good to have a budget in mind for replacements/ repaints after every tenancy.
Read on for a landlord’s guide to getting the very most out of your rental property by decorating with an eye on your return on investment (ROI). We’ll provide ideas, inspiration and some helpful hacks to save you time and money.
Renovation tips for landlords
1. Don’t go off the wall with colour
A paint refresh in-between tenancies has a massive impact on how neat and clean your property feels. Our top tip is to forego the whites, off-whites and magnolias for more mid-toned browns and greys. These are practical and durable because they don’t show scuffs or marks as much, so they may even help you avoid paying for wall repaints between each tenancy. Plus, they’re neutral and inoffensive, so they go with any other colour scheme.
How often should a landlord decorate?
Make it as easy as possible to repaint whenever you need to – or to hire someone to do it if you’re in another part of the country. If you follow our advice on wall colour, you may be able to get away with adding a couple of new coats between every other tenancy.
A good tip for landlords with several rental properties is to use the same colour and paint brand in every property. This way you can keep a couple of tins for whenever a touch-up is needed and no paint will ever go to waste.
2. Stay away from wallpaper
There’s a good reason why the majority of landlords paint rather than wallpaper their properties! When wallpaper gets marked or damaged, it’s extremely difficult to replace without re-papering the whole wall. It’s way cheaper and simpler to touch-up a painted wall.
3. Be smart and save money on painting and decorating gear
Look out for spring and summer sales at the big DIY stores. They often run discounts like 2-for-1 promotions on painting and decorating brands at certain times of the year, when they know the whole of the UK will decide to dig out the dust sheets, put on their overalls and refresh their décor. Stock up on essentials like paint and rollers at these times, so you’re ready for a change of tenancy, whenever it should occur.
4. Don’t skirt around your skirting boards
Walls and ceilings are fairly easy to refresh between tenancies. Skirting boards, architraves, doors and door frames often take a bit of a beating in rental properties – and they may have turned yellow over time if they’re painted with white gloss – so they often need to be refreshed too.
5. Choose your paint wisely
White gloss is so very British, but is it the best you can do? Well, it’s certainly easier to keep clean by just wiping it down. Your choice when it comes to white gloss (or matt) for woodwork is the traditional oil-based paint, which stinks to high heaven but gets the job done much quicker.
If you’re not a fan of the fumes, you can opt for a water-based paint. It’s more eco-friendly, it doesn’t turn yellow over time and it’s actually more resistant to developing cracks than oil-based, being more flexible. You won’t have to use solvents to clean your brushes either.
However, the massive downside to water-based paints for your skirting boards and doors is that it takes longer to cure. In fact, it takes several weeks to fully harden. In a quick turnaround between tenants this could be a problem.
6. Think about non-paint finishes
If you’re renovating your rental property and replacing your skirting boards, architraves and doors, you may want to think about skipping the paint altogether for natural pine skirting boards. It’s a more sophisticated look and you can finish them with a stain and varnish – which makes them better camouflage for marks, scrapes, and wear and tear.
7. Prep, prep, prep
The most important thing with painting any property is to come away with a neat and clean finish. Preparing the walls is therefore super-important before you begin to paint. Here are the steps:
1. Use sugar soap to wash away dirt and grime.
2. Fill in holes and small hairline cracks.
3. You often find after applying one coat of paint that you see a lot more holes and cracks – they just stand out better against the neater-looking wall, so many painters and decorators only start filling and sanding after the first coat of paint.
8. Watch out for rising damp
Check your ground floor rooms for rising damp whenever you’re in between tenants and before you begin any painting work.
6 signs of rising damp:
- Damaged walls towards the floor, including plaster and skirting boards
- Peeling paint and wallpaper
- Wet patches
- A white, powder-like substance on the wall (this is soluble salts that dissolve in the water)
- Tide marks
- Flooring lifting up
Rising damp is what happens when water that’s naturally in the ground underneath or outside your house, comes in through a wall or floor. It should be stopped or greatly reduced by the damp-proof course or damp-proof membrane – these are both barriers that are installed to protect your property from outside moisture. If they were poorly installed or have broken down, you will start to get rising damp.
If you discover that you have rising damp, it will only get worse and can create unacceptable living conditions like mould or rot, which may threaten any tenancy agreement. So the longer you ignore it, the bigger the problem you’ll have to eventually fix.
9. Fix rising damp before it rises any higher
Here are the basic steps to fixing rising damp between tenancies:
1. Take off the plastering on the walls, making sure you pinpoint all the affected areas
2. Treat the walls with a chemical damp-proof course
3. Re-plaster the walls
4. Give the new plaster adequate time to dry before you paint it.
5. You can’t paint fresh plaster like a normal wall. New plaster is highly absorbent so you’ve got to seal it first with a ‘mist coat’, which is a diluted mix of 50:50 water and emulsion. This acts like a primer and seals the surface, stopping your next, proper coat from drying out too fast and flaking off months later. You could also use a water-based primer which is less messy than having to mix your own.
10. Break the mould in kitchens and bathrooms
You can use water-resistant eggshell or acrylic paint in the kitchen and bathroom. It’s best to seek out specialised kitchen and bathroom paint, or – one big step better – anti-mould paint. You want to avoid mould at all costs. Not only is it highly damaging to people’s health, it could cost you your tenancy. For further help read our article How to get rid of mould.
11. Got multiple properties? Invest in a paint sprayer
This is a nice piece of kit that’s a bigger initial investment, but a very sound one if you’re managing several properties. Paint sprayers give a very even, polished look, which looks super professional.
The trick with paint sprayers is in the prep. Take pains to meticulously protect your flooring, doors, skirting boards and the like before you start, by using dust sheets and plenty of masking tape. It’s much easier to prep by masking glass and skirting boards than it is to undo the damage later on.
Should I hire a decorator for my rental property?
If you don’t have days to spend prepping and painting, you live far away from your rental properties, or your own hourly rate is much higher than a painter or decorator, it doesn’t make sense to do it yourself – so hire away.
Professional decorators can also get the job done far quicker and with a lot less fuss – and neck pain – than an amateur. They have all the tools and skills they need, they don’t have to find new products or look up how to do certain tasks or get certain finishes.
How can I find a reliable decorator?
Always ask for personal recommendations. Speak to members of your family, friends, neighbours and fellow landlords. Reliable, affordable and conscientious contractors are unicorns – and should be fed, watered and cherished! If you have more than one property then consider paying them a little above their going rate so if you have any emergencies they’ll be happy to drop everything to help you.
Finish with the floors
So, you have a newly decorated place, congratulations! Once you’ve cleaned all your brushes and rollers and cleared away all the paint and dust sheets, check the flooring for any splashes of paint. If your flooring looks drab or worn in comparison to your newly painted place, think about replacing it with a neutral-colour carpet or hard-wearing, neat laminate.
More landlord inspiration and hacks
Armed with these top tips you should be able to protect your ROI. Don’t be tempted to overspend – this is a business; your home is your creative project! For more inspiration and hacks for landlords, check out our Renovation tips for landlords.
Landlord decorating tips
1. Keep it neutral – paint, flooring etc.
2. Keep it minimal – the less furnishings, art and ornaments the better.
3. Keep it durable – choose materials that will withstand inevitable wear and tear.
How often should a landlord decorate?
It’s best to at least paint the walls with a couple of coats between tenancies – this can really make a difference to how neat and clean the place feels.
How to decorate a house to rent out
If you’re a new landlord or a buy-to-letter, it’s important to remember your rental property is a business – so make sure you decorate and budget with your target market in mind (professionals, families or students). Don’t splurge on fixtures and fittings that won’t make a difference to your asking price.