Getting your buy-to-let HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) ready for your first tenants to move in is both an exciting and stressful time. Making sure work is finished on schedule and to a high standard requires excellent project management skills and lots of patience.
But if you thought that was hard work, imagine how challenging it can be to make much-needed updates, significant repairs or replacements a couple of years down the line when your tenants are already comfortably living in your property.
Whether it’s a simple window replacement or fresh lick of paint or a bigger renovation project such as a new kitchen or bathroom, keeping your rental property in tip top condition is what helps landlords to reduce voids and tenant complaints. With tenants in situ, however, you not only need to think about getting the work done on time and to budget, but how you can minimise disruption.
So here’s some food for thought….
Is it worth it?
When considering property maintenance and refurbishment work during a tenancy, always ask yourself first if it’s something that will actually have a positive impact on the house. Will it make your tenants happier and improve their home; could you achieve higher rents; is it a job that must be done for health and safety reasons?
Think about the cost of the work too – smaller jobs may well come with a higher price tag compared to a larger refurbishment so it might be more cost-effective to combine smaller projects into one.
How big is the job?
For smaller one-day jobs like repainting bedrooms, replacing carpets or shower units, you shouldn’t overthink it. These projects can often be done very quickly while tenants are at work or in between tenancies if the work is confined to a bedroom.
The same goes for complete redecoration – do it in phases so that tenants always have some place to go.
On the other hand, if the project is likely to last more than a couple of days and result in parts of the house being inaccessible, then detailed forward planning and organisation is required.
Timing is key
You won’t be able to accommodate every tenant, but think about what types of professionals you have living in your HMO and times when most of them are likely to be away. If the house is home to mainly teachers, then the summer holidays could be an ideal time to have work done. Alternatively, the Christmas and New Year period if often quieter as tenants visit family and friends.
If you have to organise the work while tenants are at home, then it’s important to consider shift patterns as simply arranging for tradesmen to be there in the day could wake up night workers!
Summer is always a better time for bigger refurbishment projects as things dry easier, workers are less likely to be rained off and tenants can use outside space to socialise.
By law, you need to give tenants at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the property or their private space. This is fine for small tasks, but not acceptable for bigger projects.
Call a house meeting where you can explain to everyone what your plans are, the benefit to them in the long-term and the potential disruption in the short term. Usually, they’ll appreciate your commitment to improving their home.
Then ask them to suggest a time (within a period that you stipulate) that works for the majority of the housemates and remember to let them know if they need to clear away any personal belongings for example.
Having a presence during the work is also important. Pop in now and again to make sure tenants are coping OK and that the tradesmen are being respectful, especially with regards to clearing up mess and keeping the noise levels to a minimum.
Provision of amenities
While any work is being carried out, you still need to provide your tenants with basic amenities but don’t get these confused with licensing requirements as HMO officers will accept you’re doing something to improve the property and that this is not a long-term arrangement.
Ensure there are places to wash and clean. If bathrooms are being replaced, ensure the tenant has access to another en-suite or communal bathroom. If the kitchen is being re-done, you may have a utility room where you can move the microwave temporarily. If that fails, buy them a take away!
Also remember that the driveway may need to be used to store materials or a skip and this could cause parking issues.
Don’t forget safety
The first thing you need to think about when you’re doing any work, whether it’s a large refurbishment or small maintenance project, is your tenants’ safety while in the house. You need to make sure that any tradesmen you’re using have the relevant qualifications, certificates and insurances.
You must also remain compliant with Construction, Design and Management regulations (CDM).
Remember your objective
Ultimately, you are aiming to complete the work in the shortest amount of time with minimal disruption and compensation paid to tenants. You are improving the property they live in and provided you are well organised and take their needs into account, carrying out work during tenancies can have much greater long-term benefits for everyone.