By Jenny White

How to furnish and decorate a rental property

Furnishing and decorating a rental property requires an eye for budget, longevity and the needs of your potential tenants. Here are 10 steps to consider.

Once you’ve invested in a rental property, you’ll then face the challenge of decorating and possibly furnishing it. Both can be a significant expense but, done properly, they could boost its rental value, attract the right tenants, and encourage them to stay long term. An added benefit is that an attractively decorated and furnished property encourages tenants to look after it. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for getting it right.

1. Consider what your tenant might like

“You can speak to your local agents to understand what kind of people are attracted to your area and this type of property,” says Sonia Pash, founder of TEMZA, a London-based interior design studio with an in-house building company. “Think of age, job, family size, their lifestyle. This exercise will help you understand what style and features might be attractive to the market, and how much money to spend on your property.”

2. Budget wisely

Once you understand who your potential tenant is, you need to plan your spending.

“Establish a realistic budget that makes financial sense,” says Pash. “You need to understand whether you are actually gaining additional revenue from the redecorating, furnishing or styling. You need to be very pragmatic and ask yourself: if I repaint this property, how much more rent per week can I get? Will a furnished apartment be let more quickly? What will minimise the void period?”

When choosing where to focus your spending, international interior designer Joanna Wood, who is a landlord herself, recommends focusing on creating a really good bathroom and kitchen; she says these can make or break a tenant’s decision to rent your property.

3. Keep it timeless and simple

Wood also advises against following trends. “Stick to classic contemporary. Keep it simple – don’t be overly fancy or accessorise or fluff anything. That sofa doesn’t need 10 cushions; two will look great. Also, remember that cheap can be expensive in the long run, so it’s better to have fewer pieces and stick with quality.”

Claudia Hearne is director of Hearne House, a family business that specialises in bespoke property refurbishments in the residential sector in London. While utilising furniture you already own can be a tempting cost-saving option, she warns against furnishing your property with pieces that are outdated or tatty. “It will end up looking worse than if it were unfurnished,” she says. “That said, do not over-spec the property – a rental property is different to a private home, and valuable pieces of furniture or irreplaceable items should be saved for your own use.”

The simpler the decor, the easier and more cost-effective it will be to redecorate between tenancies. “This will minimise the void period when no rent would be received and council tax and utilities would have to be paid,” says John Martin, who runs sales, lettings and property management company John Martin Estates with Rhian Aubrey-Martin.

4. Choose a neutral colour scheme

Wood recommends neutral tones for the floors and walls; she favours greys, beiges, aqua and sage green. “I wouldn’t choose colours such as pink and scarlet – and remember, people will have their own accessories and cushions to add the pop of colour they personally want,” she says.

Allowing tenants to make their mark can help them feel more at home, encouraging them to stay longer – but Martin notes that landlords should cater for picture and mirror hanging via a suitable clause in the tenancy agreement, to minimise undue damage to walls.

5. Keep it clean

“Think hospital clinical levels of clean,” says Wood. “I really find that this matters to tenants.” Try to make it feel as though they are the first tenants to move into the property. Pash adds that this should extend to repainting, changing the silicon in the bathroom, and perhaps even replacing the carpet and kitchen facades.

6. Take care with the lighting

Getting the lighting right can help make your property feel like home. “Make sure light fittings are warm white instead of cool white, which can feel clinical and cold,” says Hearne. “A feature pendant light in a prominent position is an inexpensive way to make a room look stylish and add appeal to a property.”

7. Add storage space

“Always try and think about how people will live: where can the ironing board and vacuum cleaner go? Is there enough space for crockery – and shoes?” says Wood. If storage is lacking, Pash recommends considering built-in solutions and modular storage.

Giselle Mannering, head of interior design and trade at luxury interiors retailer and interior designers OKA, adds that you can simultaneously improve the aesthetics while making a living space more practical – for example, by adding attractive boxes, sideboards and other solutions to an under-utilised hallway.

8. Make it hardwearing

“Furnishing a buy-to-let property is all about creating a desirable home that is at once attractive yet durable,” says Stephens. “Cheap furnishings are a no-no – they don’t look good and they don’t last, so you end up having to replace them far more often than more solid pieces. You end up spending as much, but with twice the hassle.”

Elinor Pitt, co-founder of made-to-measure curtains and blinds company Stitched, adds that you should pick colours carefully. “For example, mid-tone curtains are easier to maintain and less likely to show dirt and stains – the same goes for carpets.”

Landlords should think carefully about flooring. Martin notes that many tenants now prefer wood flooring throughout, or only have carpet in bedrooms. Beds with inbuilt storage are also popular and they tend to be sturdier than just a bed frame, notes Hearne.

9. Make it easy to freshen up

Choose water-resistant eggshell or acrylic paint for the kitchen and the bathroom, as these are durable and can be easily washed.

“If you have more than one rental property, it is worth choosing the same colour for each property so that it’s easy to keep a record of what has been used, and you can keep a couple of spare tins handy to touch up any marks or damage,” says Hearne.

“Stick to tiles in bathrooms as they are water resistant and easy to clean – opt for bigger tiles to lessen the amount of grout lines that will require regular maintenance. In terms of furniture, choose sofas with removable covers so they can be deeply cleaned between tenants, or opt for leather, which can be wiped clean easily.”

10. Make it legal

Finally, make sure your furnishings are safe and legal. “In terms of furnishing, landlords must always be aware of The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended) which apply to domestic upholstered furniture, furnishings and other products containing upholstery and fillings (which must carry the appropriate display labels),” says Martin.