Before you advertise your rental, you need to take a long hard look at the rental house and see if anyone would really want to live there.  I know that you may have lived there at one time or another, but that doesn’t mean someone else is going to love it as much as you do.  

Residents are like anyone else – they make real estate decisions emotionally and then justify those decisions logically.  Therefore it will pay you to appeal to the emotions of your prospective resident.

In most cases, I have found that there is a minimum acceptable condition for any property.  If it looks bad, if it smells bad, if it feels bad, then you won’t get any takers.  Or if you do get a taker, you don’t want that person to be your tenant.

First impressions are lasting impressions, so pay close attention to how your house “greets” visitors from the moment they walk in the door.  The skylights and expensive windows in the back room won’t mean a thing if the paint on the front door is peeling and the house still smells like the previous resident’s six cats.   But there are limits on what you should do (and spend) to get a house ready to rent.

The number one project I recommend to prepare a house to show is a fresh coat of interior paint. It’s cheap and it smells great. At least it USED to smell great.

Psychologically, the human brain equates fresh paint smell to CLEAN.  In recent years, the industry was required to create paint with LOW or NO volatile organic compounds.  In other words, they invented a brand of paint with no odor.  I couldn’t believe it!  If I could just buy the scent of new paint, I probably would.  In the auto business, it’s akin to the time tested powerful “new car smell.”

I try to avoid the “LOW-VOC” paint because it lacks any fresh smell, but the government has decided that I should not be able to buy that smell, as it might fool idiots. 

Now I hear they even have odor additives for fresh paint that you stir into the gallon before you apply it. They claim it will ast 2 to 4 months AFTER you paint the surface, and they further claim it will help eliminate unpleasant odors like smoke and pet odors.  I have not yet tried this product.  If you have, please tell me if it works or not.

So, these days, about the best we can hope for is a PAINT ODOR ADDITIVE, and the big box stores like HOME DEPOT and AMAZON have them for sale for about $20-$25 for enough to treat 10 one gallon cans of paint:

From the manufacturer:

First impressions can be lasting and smell is the most notable of the senses. By adding Paint Sensations to your paint, you can remove odors and add lasting freshness to the air every time you paint. Paint Sensations is a paint additive that turns paint into a long lasting air freshener and odor eliminator.

  • Adds freshness to room
  • Helps to eliminate pet, smoke and cooking odors
  • Use in latex or oil based paint
  • Scent lasts 2 to 4 months
  • Will not affect color or performance of paint
  • Simple and easy to use: add – mix – paint
  • Available in a variety of scents
  • Treats 10 gal. of paint

Paint SCENTsations is a scent additive for paint. It allows you to add a refreshing fragrance to any painting project. Walls and ceilings are the largest surface area in your home and now they can smell as good as they look. Simply pour 1 ounce per 1 gallon of paint. Shake or stir thoroughly, then apply as directed by manufacturer. Paint Scentsations produces a pleasant subtle scent that lasts for approximately 3 months depending on environmental conditions. For best results use Paint Scentsations in primer and top coat. Paint Scentsations can be used in any latex or oil-based paints and will not affect the paint’s color, sheen, durability or application. A fresh light fruity top note of grapefruit lime and peach. Clean white florals of jasmine and lily surround this accord.


To make it even easier on myself, I try to paint every property using the same colors.  On the exterior, almost all of my rental properties are sunshine yellow with dark green shutters and white trim.  

Inside, I paint all walls a very light gray with bright white trim.  That way, I can tell the painter to use the same paint each time, and it’s easier and less expensive to do touch-ups.  Antique white works just as well – but stick to the same manufacturer. And skip the contractor grade or super-cheap grade.  Move up to mid grade and you will get better results.

Another important, but inexpensive step is steam cleaning the carpets. It usually costs less than $200, but it goes a long way toward making the house look and smell clean and fresh.  I used to dye carpets to cover stains, but most carpet today is nylon based and will NOT accept a dye. Even so, carpet repels stains better than it used to.

If all else fails, you may have to bite the bullet and replace the carpets.  But I really try to avoid this.  You not only have to pay for the carpet itself, but all that expensive labor for installation as well.

The industry standard for carpet in rental properties is “18 ounce carpet with a half inch pad.” Less is undesirable, more is likely unnecessary.

Finally, I think it’s a good idea to hire a professional cleaning service to come in before any showings.  To show a home before it’s 100% rent-ready is usually a mistake.  It typically costs less than $250 to have the place scrubbed and the windows cleaned, but it really makes a difference in the appearance of the home and saves you a lot of time and effort.  

You will be surprised how much better job a professional crew can do, and it won’t take up your entire weekend.  This service is called “turn-key cleaning” in the apartment business, and will probably get you a lower price if you ask for it by that name.

If you can’t find turnkey cleaners anywhere else, call local real estate offices and ask who they use. Look on craigslist.  You can also find them at INVESTOR CLUB meetings.

Don’t fool yourself into believing you will find a good resident by offering to lower the rent in exchange for letting them do any of these projects.  The work won’t get done, (at least not in a professional or timely manner) and you’ll end up with a slob for a resident.  Later, they will complain that the place was a mess when they rented it and want to argue with you about the refund of the security deposit (more about that later).