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How to Get a Home Move-In Ready: DIY vs Contractor vs Property Management

By: Steve Hembree
September 27, 2017  | ,
Do you have a rental property that you want to have move-in ready for your next renter? Or maybe you’re moving into a recently purchased house? Perhaps you’re selling a house, and you want it move-in ready. Any way you slice it, there’s work to be done, and it best be done quickly and done right the first time.

Do you attempt a DIY (Do It Yourself) project, or hire a contractor? If you’re with a quality property management company, they may have contractors, as Management One does, who can do the rehab for you, and have the property move-in ready quickly. Let’s look at the known aspects of this, as well as the not-so-well-known aspects.

A companion piece can also be found here: DIY Home Repairs vs Using Property Management Vendors

Split image with a homeowner's kitchen sink spraying water compared with a a kitchen sink being serviced by a plumber

What is a Move-in Ready Home?

What does that mean? I have seen over time so many examples of what people think it means to have a house move-in ready, and it is almost never the same thing from one case to another. There are similarities between one home (and the eyes that check it over) and the next, however, the concept and expectations of the phrase “ready to move into” varies. In short, one person’s “sparkling clean” is rarely the next person’s version.

Yes, the floors are usually pretty clean, at first glance, but once you start really looking, into the corners, or at the grout, the baseboards, that’s where the differences start.

The appliances are usually pretty clean but lift the stovetop deck to access the stove’s under-burner area, and there is a strong likelihood that you will find crud here.

A House that is Move-in Ready Means…

  • Everything is clean.
  • Everything works.
  • Anything that needs paint has been painted.
  • Items that need replacing have been replaced.
  • The house can now be somebody’s home.

It Does Not Mean…

  • Just wiping down walls that need paint because the paint is expensive. Do you know what is expensive? A short-term resident is expensive. A dis-satisfied renter is expensive.
    Bear in mind that once a renter begins picking apart a rehabbed home, they won’t stop, and every minor thing will become a major thing, if only in their minds.
  • Disregarding that stove that leaks gas, because, you know, it hasn’t exploded yet, so why to spend money on a stove, that’s expensive. NO, being sued into oblivion is expensive.
  • Leaving behind a filthy carpet, perhaps with holes in it because, you know, that’s expensive. No, having a home sit on the market for too long, now that is expensive. What is too long? 14 days from vacant borders on too long and a month ought to have a property owner nearly hyperventilating.

I've Been There

When my mother passed away, I had to rehab her house. This was not as a rental (although I did consider it) but for sale. The broker I hired told me time and again, hire someone to do the work. “It will cost money, but the work will be done right, and it will be done quickly.” He had me (shaking my head) at “Cost Money.”

I did the rehab myself, all the painting, repairs, everything except replacing the carpet. It took me two months to get the work done. It took longer than that to sell the house. If this were a rental rehab, I would have cost the estate maybe two months of rent, and then some.

Looking at the Real Cost of Having a Rental House Move-in Ready

Let’s take an average house size of 1700 square feet.


There be a kitchen, about 200 square feet, and probably two bathrooms, maybe 150 square feet between them, that’s 350 square feet of hard flooring. By the way, if you put carpet in any bathroom, you’re doing yourself a disservice. One toilet overflow and you have a potential for mold growth, not to mention a foul-smelling area, and guaranteed expenses replacing it in the future.

Hard Flooring

Hard flooring can be vinyl or tile, be it ceramic or porcelain, all of which minimizes the potential for water damage. Have you ever laid any of these? If not, hire a pro. And never, ever lay one floor over another, such as new vinyl over old, or tile over vinyl. Take the time and expense to do it right!

Expect a total cost of vinyl flooring @350 square feet to come in at about $18 a square yard, or $700 in vinyl. Expect the cost to be between $5 and $6 a square foot in tile or roughly just under three times the cost of vinyl. What do you get for that three times cost? A floor that will last, and look good for many years longer than any other.

Carpeting and Hybrid

Leftover is the carpet if that is your choice of floor covering. If it can be cleaned, you’re looking at a cost of about $50 a room. If a DIY project, good luck with that. Renting a Rug Doctor machine will set you back about $30 a day, and depending on how much work is involved, you could easily be two days going over, and over, the flooring. What is your time worth to you?
Oh, and the professionals, do they arrive bearing Rug Doctors? No, they don’t.

However, to replace the carpet, expect a cost of about $1.80 to $3.00 a square foot or more, installed. That’s $16.20 to $27 per yard. The remaining 1350 square feet of this 1700 sq ft house will cost at least $2424, with removal, new padding, new carpet, and installation. Or you could change things up, keep the carpet in the bedrooms, and install laminate everywhere else but the baths and kitchen. That whole water thing again.

A 1700 sq ft house is likely a three bedroom so you can take about 488 square feet and carpet that for a little over $875. That leaves you 862 square feet to put laminate into. That is just under $5000 with the removal of the old flooring, and professional installation of an excellent quality (12mm) laminate flooring. Sure, you could buy a cheaper laminate, but it will probably cost you more in the long run.


A lot of people think they are good painters. They aren’t. I have even seen “professionals” goof up paint. It actually is harder than it looks. And have you priced paint? I remember when it was dirt cheap, but these days a gallon of semi-gloss can set you back $22 to $32 a gallon, and more.

Now you need the rollers, the brushes, the tarps, the painter’s tape, etc. Add this cost, then decide if you’re a good enough painter to justify the cost.

Odds are you’re like me, good enough that I’m pleased with the work, but never want to do that again. So once again, I ask, what is your time worth?

A skilled professional will charge you under $30 a wall, that’s time and materials. That 1700 sq ft house? Expect a professional to charge you less than $1350 to completely paint it, minus cabinets and ceilings.


The lesser items, the miscellaneous stuff.

  • Door stoppers
  • Closet rollers
  • Floor guides
  • Re-screening screens or replacing them
  • Toilet wax rings and flanges, re-building commodes.
  • Stripping caulk and re-caulking kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Properly installing towel bars.
  • Replacing light bulbs.

What is your plan for this? I do recommend planning this out to the letter, and crossing the items off your list as you go. Otherwise, it is guaranteed you’ll forget things. Did you know there are more than 3,000 items that make up a home?


Cleaning is the single largest tripping point, and the single most often cited item in preventing a rental from being move-in ready. As I said above, one person’s sparkling clean is another person’s “it’s okay,” or even, “are you kidding me?”, as in, not clean. In other words, it’s all relative.

That 1700 square foot house? Plan to spend about $500 to have it professionally cleaned. That does not in any way absolve you from having to check the cleaning, far from it. If the cleaning isn’t right, and complete, it isn’t move-in ready.

Story Time : Learning by Example

Here I need to tell you a couple of stories.

Story 1

Renter moved out, left the keys with a nationally franchised cleaning service that rhymes with Golly Shades. The renter left it all up to them for an average clean, it was pretty good, but was the home as clean as when the renter moved in? No, it wasn’t. The cleaning service had one definition of clean, but that was not a deep cleaning. Light bulbs and fixtures were dirty. Bath ceiling vent fans were dirty. Window runs were dirty. the renter did not follow up, and the cleaners did what they would basically do on their weekly service.
Cleaners rarely lookup. Ours do because we do.

Story 2

My daughter moved into a really nice rental house. The owner lives in Hawaii, and makes a deal with each successive renter: “Clean the house when you move out.” She called me up and asked me to come over to look for any obvious problems. I found just a couple of bulbs out, while the cleaning seemed pretty good. At first. The deeper I got into the house from the front door, the worse the cleaning got. Entry, great, living/dining, really good, kitchen, okay, hall, okay, bedrooms 1, 2, and 3, meh, bath 1, nope. Bath 2, really? Obviously, the prior folks ran out of steam, or time, or both.

Blinds, have you ever cleaned a whole house full to perfect? Windows, screens, have you ever cleaned those to perfectly clean? Even at your everyday house, it is a lot of work.

Wrapping it up…

Unless you’re a contractor who has done rehabs, and/or has a crew you can bring in, you just may find the prospect of doing a DIY rehab overwhelming. Getting a house move-in ready is a large challenge, and way more often than not I find DIY’ers struggling.

An average rehab is done by a professional in about 5 to 10 days. A DIY rehab often takes over a month, and I have seen two-month-long rehabs happen. That’s lost rents, lost opportunities to rent, and often the work will not be done very well. This leaves the new renter dubious about the quality of the rental, and for good reason: if the details were not attended to, the trivial things, what of the important things?

Most property management companies have rehab folks who do a bang-up job. At Management One, we work hard to hire great contractors, are committed to fixed pricing, get jobs done timely, and correctly. If you don’t want the headache of completing a rehab of your rental property then call us today.

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