Rental properties can round out your investment portfolio and provide an ongoing income month after month. However, if you don’t take proper precautions to protect that rental property, the maintenance and repair costs can eat you alive. If you offer vacation rentals or you have a place that is vacant for the time being, properly winterizing is of utmost importance. You want to prevent burst pipes and soaring heating costs.
The average rental property costs about 1% of its value to maintain each year. If you own a home worth $200,000, then expect about $2,000 per year in maintenance. However, a lot of factors impact the overall price of keeping a property up to par, and how well you prep the home for different seasons can move the needle up and down. Areas with harsher winters require a bit more preparation and care.
1. Inform Tenants
If your real estate investment has tenants, let them know ahead of time that you’ll be performing some winterizing activities on your rental properties and when. Most states require you to inform renters ahead of time whenever you plan work anyway.
You could also get them involved to save you time and money by offering a slight break on their rent. For example, almost anyone can check for drafts and re-caulk windows. Create a list of winterizing activities they can choose from and give it to them early. If they don’t complete the tasks, you’ll still have time to do so.
2. Inspect the Furnace
Hire a professional HVAC technician to check the furnace for issues in your rental property. Not only will it run at peak performance, but you’ll also avoid dangerous situations with carbon monoxide leaks.
If the system is hopelessly outdated and you fear it might give out in the dead of winter, replace it. You’ll likely pay less than if you’re faced with an emergency. Even if your property is empty, you’ll need to keep the heat going to avoid burst pipes and other issues.
3. Weatherproof the Exterior
Your home’s exterior takes the hardest beating during winter. Check the outside of your rental and make any necessary preparations for the season. You may need to seal around windows, put concrete in the cracks of your hardscaping, and check the roof for damaged shingles or potential places where ice dams might occur.
If you’re dealing with a multifamily building, look for a service that checks your exterior before the snow starts falling. Something as seemingly minor as a sealant problem can cause significant issues as the snow melts and refreezes against the roof, and it’s harder to detect in larger properties.
4. Prepare Pipes
Burst pipes in the winter are every real estate investor’s nightmare. Not only do you have to repair them, but the damage to the home’s interior is often significant. The average insurance claim for burst pipes is $15,000. Avoid that scenario by sealing them and ensuring you have proper insulation. If your unit is empty, turn off the main water to the home and clear the lines. Even if your real estate investment remains vacant for the winter, you should keep the heat on a lower setting to avoid issues with burst pipes.
5. Cut Trees and Shrubs
Check out the trees and shrubs around your rental unit. In the winter, ice can accumulate on dead branches and cause them to come down. This can result in damage to your roof, broken windows, and scared tenants.
Spend time in the fall cutting shrubbery back and getting rid of any dead branches to avoid costly repairs. If you have particularly tall trees, you may need to hire an arborist to handle higher branches. They can also provide advice on the best way to cut them back without killing them.
6. Ramp Up Security
In the winter, the darkness lingers — and criminals sometimes use this to their advantage to break into properties. A vacant property may be an attractive target for someone wanting to steal big items such as copper from heating/cooling units.
Now is a good time to install cameras and big motion-activated lights to deter criminal activity. Adding an alarm system is also an attractive feature for future tenants, no matter how nice the neighborhood is.
If you use the property for vacation rentals or book people via platforms like Vrbo or Airbnb, then a security system can also give you a way to view the property remotely. You can ensure everything is in order before releasing the deposit back to the lessee.
Save Money by Winterizing Rental Properties
A little time and effort on winterizing your rental properties before cold weather hits will save real estate investors money in the long run. It’s almost always cheaper to take proactive measures than to have a sudden, unexpected repair bill because of burst pipes or a furnace that gave out on the coldest day of winter.
Keep tenants happy and your pocketbook intact by paying attention to the little details that protect your home from freezing temperatures.
This article has been contributed by Holly Welles.