When I bought my new fourplex, I knew there was a lot of work that I was going to need to do to it, especially if I was going to try to get market rents for the units.  The building inspection revealed nothing really major, as far as the structural components are concerned, but the inspection revealed a lot of deferred maintenance inside the units.  I started making my checklist the day of the building inspection, and I’ve been adding to it and refining it since then.

There are four apartments total.  Three are 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath townhouse-style units, and one is a 2 bedroom 1 bath carriage-style unit over the garages.  Here’s the basic list of things that need to be done to the property:

To-Do List

Exterior

  1. Paint entire exterior
  2. Replace all windows with vinyl dual-pane and new screens, including sliding glass doors on townhouse-style units
  3. Replace part of exterior wood panel that has dry rot in flower bed area
  4. Replace 3 front doors
  5. Replace garage doors with nicer roll-up doors and install garage door openers and external keypads
  6. Replace exterior lights in garage area with recessed LED cans
  7. Replace exterior sconce lights where needed to make them all uniform
  8. Add rain gutters to back of one of the buildings where the roof runoff is weathering the stucco
  9. Fix decking outside of Apt. A, especially drainage near the door threshold which has caused prior leakage (also, secure loose handrails in deck area with additional screws)
  10. Fix missing fencing in back of Apt. B
  11. Fix missing vent covers on the outside of the garages
  12. See if there is a way to better hide TV cables on outside of building, or at least tighten them up and paint to match
  13. Replace caps on the one or two roof vents where missing
  14. Remove all security screen doors and throw away
  15. Tent the building for termites
  16. Put electronic code lock on laundry room door to prevent theft/vandalism in laundry area
  17. Remove grass/weed patch and replace with artificial turf
  18. Consider doing something to soften up landscaping (and possibly remove scraggly cypress trees, but this is a lower priority)

Interior

  1. Paint interiors of all units
  2. Scrape acoustic ceilings and texture
  3. Touch up / replace drywall in shower area to remove areas where water over-spray has occurred
  4. Replace missing wall registers (heater vents)
  5. Replace all electrical outlets and switches with Decora style
  6. Replace interior railing at the top of the stairs in the townhouse-style units (1 is completely missing and 2 are wood, loose, and not up to code)
  7. Replace interior doors with 6-panel doors where needed to make them uniform (some of the original doors are broken anyway)
  8. Replace all interior doorknobs and dummy knobs for uniformity
  9. Install new eco-friendly toilets (7 total, I pay the water bill for the whole building, so the water savings will be worth it)
  10. Replace front door locksets (I will probably buy 5-7 locksets and rotate them when tenants move out)
  11. Replace vanity cabinets in all bathrooms (they are all in pretty bad shape)
  12. Replace countertops/sinks with fairly inexpensive granite and premounted sinks
  13. Replace bathroom faucets
  14. Replace range hood in B (to replace broken under-cabinet microwave)
  15. Replace bathroom light fixtures (3 small, 4 large)
  16. Install ceiling fans in bedrooms (probably—depends on cost to add junction boxes in ceilings)
  17. Move plumbing in a couple of locations to accommodate cabinets
  18. Replace broken wall air-conditioners where needed (3 units, I think).  If I can do ceiling fans in the bedrooms, then I will only need one wall A/C in each unit and can remove the secondary broken ones that are currently improperly installed in windows
  19. Replace corroded wall mirrors in bathrooms (basic cheap replacement mirrors)
  20. Replace rusted / broken towel bars and toilet paper holders where necessary
  21. Replace rusted/broken medicine cabinets only if necessary
  22. Replace window blinds throughout entire building (not a single set appears to be salvageable so far)
  23. Remove old carpeting and replace with either laminate or wood-look vinyl
  24. After carpet removed, examine plywood subfloor and repair/replace/eliminate squeaks as needed
  25. Replace baseboards in area where carpet is being removed and smooth flooring is going in (baseboards need to cover the gap)
  26. Examine wood/laminate/tile flooring elsewhere and see if any of it needs repair/replacement.  Laminate stair caps will need replacement in at least one unit.
  27. Apt D will need new kitchen cabinets and countertops, Apt. A will need kitchen countertops.  I need to get a better look at Apt. C’s cabinets and countertops when they move out.  Apt. B has newer, really nice kitchen cabinets and a nice tile countertop that will stay as is.
  28. All units will need a new stove/oven/range, since apparently the existing ones belong to the tenants
  29. Call HVAC technician to look at possible malfunctioning heaters (maybe 2 of them, although one was being used as shoe storage and so couldn’t be tested)
  30. Apt B specific items: replace downstairs bathroom fan, replace closet doors in second bedroom upstairs, install shower access panel and patch hole cut in drywall which was used to access shower, replace door jamb
  31. Apt A specific items: replace garbage disposal, kitchen faucet, range hood, possibly replace kitchen light fixture, replace cracked closet light fixture, regrout shower, remove weird tile backsplash and patch drywall, replace missing door molding in one bedroom, replace faulty GFCI outlet
  32. Apt C and D specific items: not sure yet.  I did not do a walk-through in these units myself, so I will need to see when they are vacant.

Holy Crap, What Have I Done?

Looking back over those lists, I have to admit, is giving me a little bit of a panic attack.  How the hell am I supposed to get all these things done quickly and not spend a million dollars doing it?  I really am trying to do only the things that I think will pay off long term.  The hard part is that some of these fixes are absolutely mandatory all by themselves, and some of them become mandatory because they tie into something else.

I had this problem when I was remodeling my house, too.  I bought it at a short sale, and it needed a LOT of cosmetic work.  The problem was that a lot of it linked to other work.  For example, the huge original built-in entertainment center cabinets needed to be ripped out, but I knew the decades-newer Pergo flooring didn’t run underneath the cabinets, so I was going to have to replace the flooring when I did it.  If I replaced the flooring, I would only want to do that after the bathroom/closet remodel happened (a wall needed to be moved over and the bathroom reconfigured), because there’s no sense replacing all or even part of the floor if your floor plan is going to change and you might need to redo a significant part of it again.  Because all of those things were connected, I couldn’t really do just one piece of it and stop there.

I feel like the same problem is happening here.  Painting the building is mandatory.  Some of the paint is flaking off on wood areas, and if I didn’t repaint them now, the wood would likely rot away, costing me more money in the long run.  In addition, the windows are almost mandatory.  The screens are shredded or missing from all of the windows that I’ve seen, so at the very least, I would need to replace all of the screens.  Many of the window frames are loose, making them not as weatherproof as they should be.  In a couple of cases, the window is obviously not sealing out the dampness well enough, because there is evidence of wetness on the windowsill and possibly light mold growth.  I could replace the windows in just those few problem areas, and buy screens only for the rest of the windows, but that would look really dorky to have mismatching windows, and it might only buy me a few years before other windows start failing.  If I do them all at once, I get the best pricing because of the volume of work, and I avoid having to replace screens.

The garage doors are old and busted, and some of them need new springs.  None of them have openers, so the tenants pack them full of junk (and chickens) and don’t park their cars inside them.  After the remodel, I want to attract tenants who have a higher standard of living than my current tenants.  They will probably have nicer cars, and they will hopefully care enough about their cars to want to park them in a garage.  So leaving the older doors as-is, with no openers, really isn’t a good long term option.  I could keep them in the short term and replace them later, but then I have to pay to paint them now, which would be a waste of money if I’m just going to replace them soon anyway.

The vanity cabinets are okay in some of the units, but the tops are all really thrashed after decades of tenant abuse.  I can get fairly cheap cabinets from a nearby Builders Surplus store, and granite countertops with premounted sinks for fairly cheap, too.  It may sound silly to put granite countertops in an area where the average person earns only a modest income, but (1) the price of granite has come down quite a bit over the years, (2) it still looks the nicest of any of the other countertop possibilities, and (3) it’s virtually indestructible.  Laminate countertops peel up over time, and those weird marble-y patterned solid surface countertops that seem to be in every rental unit across the country can get chipped and stained.  If I pay just a little more at the outset, I think I will get my payback for the granite in the form of slightly higher rents and fewer countertop replacements over time.

How Do I Coordinate the Timing of All of These Repairs?

What’s stressing me out even more than the massive to-do list is the timing of it all. Not only do I have to do some things in a certain order, but I have to coordinate some of the repairs for when the tenants are out, so the repair people can get all of their work at the building done in a couple of days.  The plumbing, for example.  A plumber will charge less per toilet to replace all 7 toilets at once, rather than replacing 1-2 toilets at a time and making four separate trips out to the building.  Same with the drywall guys, and the garage door guys, and the painters, and flooring guys.

The order of operations is an issue, too.  Painting will pretty much have to the be the last thing done.  The windows have to be done sometime before the painting, but after all the tenants move out.  The drywall repair has to be done before the painting.  The plumbing work (installing toilets and moving angle stops and P-traps if necessary) should be done before the drywall, so the drywall guys can patch whatever needs to be cut out there.  The garage door replacement needs to happen before the painting.  The cabinets can’t be installed in some of the units until the plumber comes out to move the angle stops over, and the plumber can’t come out until all of the units are vacant, so he can do all the toilets at once.  The light fixtures can’t be installed until the painters come, and that requires that the building be vacant, so the painters can get all of their work done in one shot.

Nearly everything is hinging on getting the current tenants out of their units.  That has been a frustrating process.  One is currently vacant, another should be vacant by the end of this month, and the last two should be vacant at the end of April.  But the one who is supposed to be out at the end of this month is having a really hard time finding another place.  Technically, that’s her problem, not mine, but this is real life: if she can’t find another place to go, I will have to either wait for her to leave or evict her.  For the other two tenants, I offered them monetary incentives to leave early, and one of them said he would probably do that.  Unfortunately, just last week, he told me that he hadn’t found a place yet, so he will probably stay until the end of April.  The last tenant refuses to call me or talk to me, so I have no idea what her plan is.  I worry that I will have to evict her because I have no idea what her plans are, and I’m not sure if she understood my letter.

In any event, I’m getting very anxious because there is not much I can do until these guys move out, and in the meantime, I’m sitting on a building with 25% vacancy and getting sub-par rents on the other 3 units.  I’m having a hard time being patient, because I tend to want to just get out there and roll up my sleeves and get things done.  I’m hoping things start moving soon, because I hate having this many things on my to-do list that aren’t getting done.

What was your biggest or most daunting remodel, and were you ever worried that it wouldn’t all get done?  After reading all of the to-do list items above, do you think I’m crazy for taking on this building?  Is there anything above that you wouldn’t bother doing, or anything you think I’ve missed that I should be doing?