How To Upgrade An Investment Property For Less Than $2000

My husband and I were in Mississippi last April through May 2020. During that time, we had the opportunity to fix up a rental condo in Biloxi. The unit has been primarily used as a vacation rental investment property, as many of them are in that area. It’s location was directly across the street from a long stretch of beach and close to attractions, shopping and restaurants.

A big new attraction is set to open this year, the Biloxi Aquarium, that will undoubtedly drive more tourism to the area. The owners of the property wanted to be able to boost their rental income and take full advantage of the new tourist traffic but they also realized the current state of their rental was a bit, well, dreary. They had this rental unit for over ten years and it needed some updating.

I had a limited budget with which to work with so I started by staying at the unit while working on a plan. Staying there, helped me identify the small inconveniences and issues. It’s those small often overlooked issues that will frame a tenants overall opinion of their stay.

It is no exaggeration to say that reviews of your unit are worth gold to a vacation rental owner. Each review has a direct impact on whether or not a vacationer chooses to reserve the unit or pass it by for another similar unit with better reviews. Reviews are the lifeblood of the success or failure of a short term investment property.

As such, making sure that each vacationer’s stay is exceptional will pay huge rewards quickly. Part of doing that is anticipating their needs before-hand. Which is why, I choose to stay at the unit and experience it for myself first hand.

I started at the start May 2020, during that time, many states were in lockdown do to COVID. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case in Mississippi. The beaches were open as were the malls. Within two weeks, the restaurants were permitted to open and pools as well. So everything was basically back to normal very quickly. Not the case in Michigan, were I’m from. Needless to say, it was refreshing!

The beaches were crowded every weekend starting as early as Thursday through Sunday night with vacationers escaping the lockdowns and looking for a sense of normalcy.

The Condo

The development where the condo was located consisted of three styles of condos.

  • Studios
  • One bed condos, single story studios.
  • Two bed, two story condos

The unit was a two bed, 975 SF, two-story unit. It featured a large kitchen that opened up to a casual family room area. There was a sliding glass door that led out to a small patio area. Although this unit was well within walking distance to the beach, it did not face the beach and there was no view of it either. So it was more important than ever to include some visually appealing features that offer a little extra comfort and conveniences.

Walking into the unit you came upon a door to the right that led to a half bath and walking a little further was the entrance to the kitchen area. Just after that was the family room area which is open to the kitchen and separated only by a countertop area and bar stools on the other side. To the left of the foyer area is a set of stairs leading up to the two bedrooms, full bath and laundry closet in the hallway.

The Kitchen

The kitchen had a nice size window letting in plenty of light. It’s long L-shape layout offered plenty of countertop space. A big plus!

The kitchen was fairly well equipped with dishwasher, large sink, under mount cabinet lighting, toaster, microwave and refrigerator. There were plenty of cabinets supplied with glasses, dishes, and cookware. There was also a coffee maker but no coffee filters were provided. Try to anticipate your guests needs, coffee filters are cheap and you can purchase large quantities to keep in the unit. Make sure to also provide salt and pepper, paper towel, napkins and toilet paper. In the sink area of the kitchen, make sure there’s a clean sponge and dishwashing fluid and one or two dishwasher tabs.

Family Room

The floor in the family room area was hard polished concrete with a brown stain in it. Not very attractive. Although there was an area rug there, it was too small and did not offer up much in terms of padding under foot. The shaggy hairs also made it difficult to clean. I would often pinch my barefoot when walking on it with little prickly seeds that were embedded in the fibers. Very common in some beach areas.

The cold dark floor with the dark grey shag rug and dark blue sofa made the room look more like a dark dungeon rather than a light and bright living space.

The back wall was a double sliding glass door that lead out to a small concrete patio. The patio was painted but a portion closest to the door didn’t get enough sun. As such, there was a lot of green mold growing in that area.

Two sides of the patio had nice vinyl panelling for privacy. Since there really wasn’t much to look at directly in front of you, There was a small patio set that was in fairly good condition. I suggested to the owner that he invest in a third panel that would close off the area and allow for more privacy. I also suggest he add new mulch on both sides of the patio area and some potted plants for a little added color.

The sliding glass door had the all too common vertical blinds. I hate those things as they often break and fall off. After a couple of years, the pulling mechanism on them gets old and become more difficult to open and close. Since these blinds were old and already missing some panels, I recommended the owner consider replacing the doors with interior blinds. These no hassle doors have blinds between two glass pains that never stain, fall off, or break. They last a very long time. There are no cords either that could potentially be a choking hazard to small children. In my opinion, they are well worth the investment.

Opposite the couches was a feature wall created with grey/beige wood. Overall it was attractive to look at apart from the exposed wires than ran across it from the large wall mounted flat screen tv just above it.

There are several options available to help you hide these wires which make it safer for your guests with children and nicer to look at.

There were two mismatched couches. One was a royal blue fabric couch that sat two people comfortably. The other was a warm beige colored leather couch covered with a sofa cover. I strongly suggest you get only matching pieces sofas are fabric, not leather. The reason being that most fabric sofas today are stain resistant. Leather can stain and tear, making it expensive to repair. Alongside the couches were two mismatched side tables and small lamps.

The walls were painted well and had a nice color I decided I could work with. However, there were large wall areas that were mostly bare or had only a small frame on them. Since the family room would be the main gathering point for guests, adding large pieces of artwork in that area would set the tone of the room and make it more inviting. I decided that would be my main focus.

Beds & Baths

The bare stairs leading to the second floor, clearly needed attention. There were unsightly cracks in several of the risers and the paint on the stairs and the railing was chipped. Also, the color on the stairs was not in keeping with the rest of the flooring.

The first bedroom was clearly the master. It was the larger of the two. Each bedroom had access the to the shared bathroom from inside. The full was not accessible from the hallway. The master bedroom had mirrored closet doors, ceiling fan, two mismatched side tables but only one small bedside lamp. The floors were laminate and comfortable to walk on. There was also a long five foot window just above the bed. The head board was in good condition, although not attached to the bed frame as it should be.

Both bedrooms had good size closets but few hangers, ceiling fans and wall mounted TV’s. The second, smaller bedroom had one side table with a drawer that was old and looked like it was grabbed from a garage sale.

The shared bath was a real surprise. There was a nice size double vanity with to large glass bowls, contemporary dark bronze sink fixtures and a semi-transparent countertop with undermount lighting that would cause the countertop to glow when lit.

The walls were painted a golden bronze color that worked well with the tiled bathtub area and tiled flooring. At first, I thought I would have to repaint this room but it quickly grew on me and I decided to work with what was already there. Previous guest comments had positive things to say about the full bath as it afforded a little extra luxury that you won’t often find for the price.

The Plan

In just a couple of days, I made some discoveries, identified some inconveniences and what areas that would make the biggest difference within the visitor experience.Making these changes, will lead to better photos, better reviews and more bookings.

Since replacing the sofas was out of the question for the time being, I decided to see if I could “rescue” the leather sofa and try to tie both the blue and beige color together into a color scheme.

I didn’t have enough in the budget to install laminate flooring (the same as the one in the second level) and still do everything else that needed attention. So instead I decided to look for a large enough area rug that would take up most of the living room bare floor space. I did recommend to the owner that he set aside some funds to install flooring in the next 12 months.

There were some other small items that needed to be addressed. You’ll see them listed below.

Here’s my plan:

  • Repair the stairs were needed and give them and the railing a fresh coat of paint.
  • Get both sofas professionally cleaned.
  • Purchase a large area rug for the family room with the blue/beige color scheme together.
  • Install large enough artwork that will take up much of the large bare walls in the living room area and further tie the neutral color scheme together as much as possible.
  • Hide the wires running down and across the feature wall in Living Room.
  • Add color coordinating sofa throw pillows.
  • Replace the mismatched side tables in the family room.
  • Replace mismatched reading lamps.
  • Add an attractive hanger in the foyer for towels and bags.
  • Add two matching side tables and lamps to each bedroom.
  • Power wash the patio.
  • Hide TV wires in both bedrooms.
  • Replace toilet seats with better fitting size.
  • Add a welcome mat outside the front door.
  • New caulk around bathtub.
  • Add door hangers in main upstairs shared bath.
  • Tighten stool legs.
  • New photos for marketing.
  • Front Door Matt

The Transformation

Well, when all was said and done, the biggest transformation was in the living room area. We changed it from a dark cold space to a warm and inviting area to sit for an entire family. Getting both sofas professionally cleaned helped somewhat, especially with the leather sofa. However, I still pushed to replace it.

You see, the leather sofa was covered with a sofa cover that constantly slid all over the place. Personally, I can’t stand them. Once I removed the cover, I saw there were some big yellow stains on the cushions. The cleaner told me that sun blockers on our skin will often stain leather couches. So, if you’re in a beach like area, better to stay away from leather furniture.

We weren’t sure if the cleaning would make enough of a difference to save the sofa but the seller was very reluctant to replace it so we gave it a try.

In the end, it did lighten it up and although I still strongly suggested we replace it, the owner was happy to keep it as is and we were at least able to retire the sofa cover.

I purchased a large 8′ x 10′ rug from Home Depot ($227) that was neutral in color, thick and very soft on the feet. This really went a long way toward transforming the entire space and it’s weave was thick enough that it would be easy to vacuum. Along with some matching cushions, better furniture placement, new side tables on either side of the leather sofa, new lighting and some great artwork pieces the room was light, bright and welcoming. Sure to give some positive vibes and good reviews from guests.

Place Yourself In Their Shoes

Think conveniences for your guests. For instance, make sure your beside tables are large enough for reading light, iPad & phone. Most people use these items in bed before turning out the lights, so don’t force them to place these expensive tools on the floor or get out of bed to look for somewhere.

Often small, overlooked items can make a difference in how your guests will rate your rental. Here are some other often overlooked items you may want to take note of:

  • Sufficient hangers in closets.
  • Drawer space in each bedroom.
  • Replace missing or dead lightbulbs.
  • Plenty of towels in the bathroom.
  • Provide plenty of hanging hooks in the bathroom. Add hanging units that slide over the top of the doors and provide 3-5 additional hooks.
  • Are the toilet seats the right size and shape? Do I really have to explain why?
  • If you have a sliding door, make sure it opens easily and closes securely.
  • Hanging hooks in the foyer/mudroom areas for bags, etc.
  • Ottoman can also provide extra seating in living room area or a place to rest their feet on.
  • Provide foldable patio chairs, table and umbrella if you have a patio or would like to provide outdoor seating.
  • Provide the basics in bathrooms such as towels, hand towels, hand soap, trash can, hair dryer, toilet rolls and tissues.
  • A guest book that includes a welcome message, wifi instructions, contact numbers, brochures, places to visit nearby, local restaurants/shopping, last day instructions, checkout times, etc.
  • Night lights near stairs, in hallways and bathrooms.

Provide the basics in the kitchen such as, hand dishwashing liquid, clean sponge, dish washer tabs, salt & pepper shaker, coffee filters, plates, cups, mugs, cutting boards, silverware, pots & pans, and a couple of bakeware items. Your kitchen should always have coffee maker, toaster, microwave, dishwasher, stove/oven, refrigerator with ice maker, cookware, oven mitt and some kitchen towels. A really big help is also providing several plastic containers with lids for your guests.

Overall Costs

  • 2 Mirrored Side Tables (used in Master Bedroom) $99.99 each
  • 2 Metal/Wood Side Tables $99.99 each
  • 2 Large Sofa Pillows – Twill Denim $24.99 ea
  • 4 Medium Accent Pillows $9.99 ea
  • 2 Large Cushions $34.99 ea
  • White Gloss 1 Pint $9.99
  • 8′ x 10′ Area Rug $227
  • 3 Panel Canvas $19.99 ea
  • Metal Wall Art $29.99
  • Light Bulbs $4.99
  • 2 Packs of Hangers $3.34/pack
  • Front Door Matt $24.99
  • Chanelle Throw $9.99
  • Painter’s Tape $5.97
  • Caulk $4.42
  • Misc. $76

The total cost of all materials and supplies for the unit came to $1,055.03. I do charge a fee but even with that added cost, the total came in just under $2000. All of which is a tax right off for the seller.

Happy Customers

The seller was very pleased with the work we had done and within his limited budget. After I walked through the unit with him and pointed out what we attended too, he said that he would never had thought of or put it all together to achieve the same results on his own. Often times, it helps to have an unbiased extra set of trained eyes to point out what is not always obvious.

The good thing was that this seller was comfortable with AirBnb and knew how to upload new photos to his listing. We also specialize in AirBnB & VRBO marketing rentals including photos, listings, video marketing and offer that as a separate package but we did give him some suggestions he readily took on board.

Needless to say, just five days after the seller posted up some new photos of the new and improved space, he immediately started to get booking requests in May while the pandemic was still in swing in many states. To date, his unit has been solidly booked all through June and July and heading into August 2020. With the new aquarium opening up in September, his prospects are looking great.

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