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First Impressions Matter: Small Design Upgrades to Increase Your ROI

Updated: Mar 19

The media rarely makes much ado about how to find good tenants, but landlords know their value. Life is much easier when you don’t have to chase down rent month after month. Such unicorns often have discriminating tastes, and first impressions matter most when showing properties.

Attracting quality tenants means paying attention to what they want. However, much of the current real estate wisdom centers around buyers, not the unique needs of those who rent. What small design upgrades will boost your ROI that don’t require much work and may have escaped your attention? 

If you own a condo, consider the following small design upgrades to increase your ROI. They won’t need major capital expenditure but can make a significant difference in how quickly you fill vacancies and how much revenue each unit generates. 

1. Paint and Finish Cabinets 

Replacing interior cabinets is a major renovation, but you don’t have to go through the work or expense to give condo kitchens a facelift. Upgrade what’s already there with a coat of paint. Removing the doors and hardware is the most involved part, and you can transform the entire home’s vibe from farmhouse to modern with the right veneer. 

Hardware isn’t exactly inexpensive, but it does transform a kitchen without sledgehammers or contractors. Adding stylish knobs and handles makes the room appear more upscale, especially when paired with an elegant faucet, another simple upgrade. 

2. Include Pet-Friendly Features 

Loneliness is a modern epidemic, and allowing pets is a rapid way to increase your tenant pool. The right features that cater to their four-legged friends create an even bigger draw. 

For example, replacing carpets around entryways with tile or stone protects your investment. Claws can scratch hardwood, and rugs quickly grow unsightly after Rover steps on them once too often with wet, muddy paws from afternoon rains. Adding locking mechanisms to interior cabinet doors deters curious puppies, kittens and toddlers, pleasing pet and human parents alike. 

3. Upgrade Security Measures 

Even though violent crime is decreasing, many people have valid fears about becoming subject to it. Besides, theft can do a number on your tenant’s budget and mental health, even if they don’t witness the robbery. 

Exterior lighting and landscaping upgrades are crucial to protecting tenant safety. Ensure all walkways are well-lit, including small solar lights to illuminate sidewalks and driveways. Use motion detectors to advise tenants of comings and goings around entryways. 

Installing security gates might not be as pricey as you think, especially if it translates to higher rents. If nothing else, one at each entryway into the development provides a heightened sense of safety. 

Cameras are commonplace in public areas. Florida allows the use of security cameras in common areas on condominium properties, and including them may protect you from liability if something happens on your grounds. 

4. Add Storage Spaces 

Storage space is among the top desired features by homebuyers, who often settle for less than they need. The problem is even worse among condo tenants, who often have to rent separate storage units for sporting equipment and toys, especially in properties that lack garages. 

Get creative. For example, building a locking cabinet wall in carports or exterior covered patios provides room for fishing rods, skis and camping gear. Choose quality materials for long-term savings. Even typically inexpensive wood veneers are pricey these days, so be forward-thinking. Remember, you can sand and refinish real wood, unlike its cheaper counterparts, saving you considerable money the longer you own the property.

5. Minimize Parking Woes 

One of the biggest gripes among condominium dwellers is insufficient parking. Sure, you may provide assigned spots and several guest spaces, but how do you enforce the rules? Tempers can flare over repeated violations, like taking someone else’s slot or leaving a broken-down van to linger in a guest area indefinitely. 

Fortunately, technology now comes to the rescue. You can use smart warning stickers to put violators on notice, confrontation-free. These come with a code that you scan to track repeated violations, letting you know when to call the tow truck. Residents appreciate a condo management team that tackles such issues proactively, taking the burden of speaking to their neighbors or reporting the incidents off of them. 

6. Include Accessibility Details 

Did you know that one in four American adults lives with a disability? Wheelchairs and white canes aren’t the only indicators of impairment, and discriminating renters appreciate a property management company that offers inclusivity and accessibility. Part of it begins with design. 

For example, renovating an entire shower can cost $10,000 or more, but adding grab bars to bathrooms runs only a few hundred while greatly improving safety for those with mobility issues. An intercom system is a must for admitting visitors, as even tenants who can walk might struggle to go the distance to the lobby, depending on your layout. Voice-activated light and temperature controls let residents adjust their environment without leaving the couch. 

7. Beautify Outdoor Living Spaces 

The pandemic illustrated the importance of outdoor living spaces. Regardless of perceptions of safety, spending more time in nature imparts impressive health benefits, something that matters to discriminating residents. They want a welcoming atmosphere where they can enjoy their morning coffee or tend to small container gardens. 

Xeriscaping is your best bet for sustainability and affordability, but it can take time to convert an entire development lawn. You may wish to preserve one or two grassy areas for pet parents, fencing them in to protect Fido and other residents. Gradually transform the rest, adding more walkways, seating areas, gardens with native plants and low-maintenance features like rock rivers to create a thriving landscape that doesn’t require constant upkeep. 

8. Provide Plenty of Connectivity 

Moving into an older condo can mean multiple trips to the hardware store for power strips. Previous generations couldn’t foresee today’s technology, and it shows in the lack of outlets. 

Adding an outlet costs a few hundred dollars but can make a huge difference in a property’s overall desirability. For example, a home office with ample outlets containing a mix of traditional 110 outlets and USB ports is a huge draw for a telecommuter with multiple computers, monitors and peripherals. 

9. Add a Little Laundry Room Luxury 

Many condos are too small to include more than a small stackable washer and dryer, if they have such appliances in individual units. Such facilities often host a larger laundry room where tenants can wash bedding and other big loads. Unfortunately, these laundry machines often lie in dingy storage areas that can feel unsafe at worst and grimy at best. 

Beautify this space instead. Install proper lighting, using LEDs to cut costs and the pulsing fluorescents that can trigger migraines. Include plenty of comfortable seating instead of hard, plastic chairs, and potentially search for a gently used elliptical or recumbent bike to add to the space so harried tenants can squeeze in some quick cardio while their sheets dry. A television is a nice touch, and security cameras are essential for peace of mind and deterring theft.

10. Install the Right Lighting to Set It All Off 

Finally, cruise through your local big box hardware store’s lighting section if it's been a while since you’ve upgraded your fixtures. Today’s innovations make creating a custom, classy look for your condos easier than ever without major renovations. 

Strip LED lights illuminate the underside of cabinetry and around entertainment centers inside individual units. Choose color-changing versions to allow tenants to select a hue that matches their mood. You can also find waterproof ones to install beneath exterior ledges and around windows to give your property an upscale glow after dark while preventing theft. 

Small Design Upgrades That Lead to Big ROI Increases 

If you manage a condominium property, you owe it to yourself to make meaningful design upgrades to improve your ROI. Small details can make a significant difference in luring discriminating tenants who minimize your headaches. 

Consider these 10 design upgrades to improve your ROI and wow prospective residents. As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to nail that crucial first impression — make it a positive one without breaking the bank.

Evelyn Long is a writer that specializes in housing market trends. She is also the founder of Renovated Magazine, where she writes essential resources for renters and homeowners. She has contributed to several other sites like National Association of Realtors and Realty Executives.


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