Due to the nature of my employment, we don't stay around in one place too long. And with the current nature of the economy and our other investments, it does not make sense for us to buy a new house every time we move. Not to mention it would be a huge headache to buy, finance, and sell every three or four years. We could keep the house and rent it out, but that brings up a whole slew of other problems. Having a successful lucrative rental also requires certain market conditions to even make it worth it. We have another huge issue keeping us from buying: we don't know where in the world we will finally settle down. So the common practice among my peers of buying your retirement home early and renting it out won't work. We have some ideas and we know where we don't want, but we haven't decided where we do want. What do they say about proving a negative?
I'm a DIY guy. When something breaks, I don't call someone. I fix it myself unless it is beyond my skill set. I always have plans on what I want to do in a house and it really sucks to be in a rental where I can't do anything without permission first. It is the major drawback to renting. In a previous house, the dishwasher was in horrible condition. We got the impression from the property manager that the owner was not interested in spending money replacing something that still worked (even if barely). We were not going to live in a house with an unworkable dishwasher for multiple years, so I went out and bought a new one and installed it. When the property manager came in and saw it, she freaked out! “He didn't agree to pay for that!” she cried.
I calmly tried to explain that I didn't care if he paid us back. I didn't buy it expecting to be paid back. If he chose to, awesome, but I was going to do it anyway. It was quite amusing. She couldn't wrap her head around the fact that someone would put money into a house he didn't own and expect nothing in return. From my perspective, even though I'm only there for a few years, it is still my home where my kids were going to grow up and where I would escape to after work. What man wants an inoperable dishwasher in his castle?? Not this one. In the end, the landlord ended up paying us back for the unit and our property manager trusted us implicitly from there on out.
I firmly believe that when you rent a place, you should leave it in better shape than you found it. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it ensures that you get good referrals when you move on and can always stay in higher end places. It also motivates the landlord to not raise your rent, because he doesn't want to lose such great tenants. It is worth a couple of hundred a month for the piece of mind that things will be taken care of and will be kept in good condition. If the biggest fear for landlords are horrible tenants, then the best way to allay those fears and make fast friends is to be an awesome tenant.
So how do I get my DIY fix in a home I don't own? My first rule is to not do anything that wouldn't have wide appeal. Only do things that are easily reversible. If the landlord doesn't like it, you can take it down or switch it back no problem. There is a project I will detail later on for a bay window bench. It is made to fit in that room, but can be removed easily if required. I also tend to make pieces that accent a room, but aren't a permanent part of the room. Use furniture, colors, and design to decorate a room when you can't use paint or wallpaper. If done properly, no one will even notice the room is painted the generic egg shell every landlord seems to use. Pillows, window treatments, shelves, and rugs can all be used to great advantage. And if you do get permission to paint, don't use wild colors that you will have to paint over before you leave. Use earth tones and other mild colors. You may get away with leaving it when you go.
Renting doesn't mean you can't have a “home”, only that you have to invest a little more thought into how you decorate the house to make it a home. Earn your landlord's trust and make wise design decisions and any rental can feel just as personalized as a house you own.
And a note to landlords everywhere: no more carpet!!! And if you insist on carpet, be prepared to re-carpet every 5-7 years. The worst is a landlord too cheap to install good carpet or replace bad carpet damaged by previous tenants or just from normal wear and tear. Part of owning a rental is putting money into it for upkeep. If you want good tenants, show you care about your property, because most tenants will only treat it as well as you do. And if we come knocking, fight for us; you will be glad you did!!