A house without any kerb appeal will be passed over by tenants as well. Find out how to change that!
Lots of properties in Australia that lack kerb appeal. They are often the older-style, fibro houses, but they don't have to be (although these properties are a bit of a pet subject!). There are plenty of potentially charming terraces and brick homes that, through neglect, or the view that having a nice garden involves too much work, have lost their kerb appeal and need to have it revitalised.
They are often the ugly-ducklings of a street: flat-fronted, two windows with a door in the middle and nothing much of interest.
Worse still, many of them have fences on their street frontage that look like someone's done a midnight raid to the local primary school for their squat, rectangular, wire-panel fencing, and then held the panels in place back at home by shoving them down over some star pickets...
I kid you not. Our first property had this!
Add to this, the cracked concrete driveway, or the pressed blue metal one, untouched since the 1950s, overgrown garden beds with nothing much in them... or just a vast expanse of lawn with nothing to break the line of sight between the footpath and the house, and you have a house with very little kerb appeal.
You might think that this is only important to buyers, and we're talking about properties for rent. The fact is, though, that you have to consider both when you are renovating a property. Actually, you have to consider both when you are investing at all.
Many of these properties have tons of untapped potential. They have good layouts inside, higher 9ft ceilings, which is always a plus for tall tenants, and are basically solid, even if they need a little cosmetic TLC. But if they are completely uninspiring to your buyers, then you have to remember that they are just as uninspiring to potential tenants. And the tenant that has to live with it is just as likely to get depressed coming home to it every day - and will certainly have less respect for it!
That quite aside, kerb appeal enhances the value of the property in all of the three ways that I spoke about in Refurbishment & Investing: Rental return, property value and equity. An added bonus is that if the neighbours see you putting effort into the presentation of your property (and they usually know that it is tenanted, believe me!) then they are likely to put more effort into the kerb appeal of theirs, and the whole value of the street is raised!
So what can you do?
This comes back to the concept of finding the worst house, on the best street, and then making something of it.
If you already own an investment property, and you want to improve its value for rental return and capital gain, park yourself across the street in your and put yourself in the shoes of a potential buyer or tenant.
Ask yourself if there is anything lacking, how it could be enhanced, noting the good points as well, and whether you could emphasise them.
Is this a property that you'd like to look inside if you had to live in it?
Practically speaking, what should I do now?
Start by ripping out the old hurricane/school fencing, and replace it with a solid timber picket fence. Or, if you can afford the extra costs, try to go for the metal imitation pickets, which take much less maintenance over time (they don't need painting, for a start, and they don't rot!), and can actually be better in some rougher neigbourhoods, because it's difficult to pull palings off and spoil the kerb appeal of your property.
This might sound strange, but a friend of ours did a beautiful job of replacing his front fence, using a second-hand picket fence he bought and salvaged off eBay. It enhanced the look of his property immensely, but the neighbourhood had a few taggers who graffiti'd it within a few months (which is fairly easy, if annoying, to have to paint over), and then they started taking palings off. A picket fence without palings is like a person with missing teeth - it's rarely a character-enhancing look, unless you happen to be Terry Thomas... so go for attractive and sturdy metal if you can at all manage it!
All properties have their own style, and pickets might not necessarily be appropriate. I'm just using them as an example because they are fairly universal. Find out what is appropriate for the look you want, and work towards something which harmonises with the overall look of the property as you plan to finish it.
Old fibro houses often have rotten wooden stripping to cover the gaps between asbestos sheets, and keep the house weatherproof. As of mid- 2008 (as we discovered) this cannot simply be ripped off and replaced with a PVC equivalent. You need to hire professionals to do it, because removing the strips can disturb the asbestos fibres that cause mesothylioma.
If you're lucky enough to have your timber-work intact, a coat of paint in a contemporary colour scheme (think stone or slate colours with light trims) may be all you need to enhance your property's street appeal. Rotten stips, and fibro that is damaged or has holes may force you to consider cladding over the top with clapboards. Some vinyl products on the market include insulation (a big plus in the heat of the Australian summer!) and can be washed down with a hose every few years to bring them back to new. If you shop around, some clapboarding products also have a lifetime guarantee which can be sold on (giving the buyer about seven years guarantee) when you sell the property.
Consider replacing ratty old aluminium windows with new ones in an attractive style with light coloured trim, or take to your frames with a light sandpaper, some primer, and white or cream enamel paint to make the "eyes" of your property shine.
Take a look at the front garden. If it is overgrown, or contains nothing but a vast and uninspiring expanse of grass and concrete, you can enhance kerb appeal by adding some easy-care trees, plants and shrubs. These soften the fenceline, break the monotony and sharp angles at the base of the house itself, reduce heat in summer, and insulate the property from road noise if the street is busy. See my article on rental property gardens for more ideas.
Replace an old, rusty, leaky and battered letterbox with something nice and new. It doesn't have to be expensive. Cheap ones look smart and cost under $40, including box with newspaper rack on top, a post to screw it to, nice clear street numbers (always important) and a bit of cement to hold it in the ground. The postie will thank you, and so will your tenants!
Kerb appeal is enhanced when you do this, and more attractive houses in the street means more money for you as an investor.
If you consider all of these aspects, you can't help but enhance both the kerb appeal and the value of your property to tenants and buyers!