Everyone likes to live somewhere a little bit chic, and a stylish, well-kept property should attract a house-proud class of tenant and a higher rental value.
But in the balancing act of buy-to-let, sometimes the budget just isn’t there for the marble countertops and hand-finished teak flooring. Nevertheless, there are lots of ways to make your flat look appealing without cutting too deeply into your profits.
Leather-upholstered furniture is low-maintenance and durable, not to mention good-looking and comfortable. But inevitably the real thing comes with a hefty price tag.
Faux-leather can be a great alternative, and is much cheaper. It doesn’t age as handsomely as real animal leather, and it doesn’t have that lovely smell, but it does have some advantages over its natural cousin beyond the simple difference in price. It’s durable, doesn’t stain easily, and is much easier to clean and maintain. And modern synthetic leathers have come a long way since the clammy PVC sofas you remember from the dentist’s waiting room. They can look and feel very much like the genuine article, and can also be a good option for those who don’t like to use animal products.
Hardwood flooring is a bit of a status symbol. Chances are it’ll last longer than you will, and top-quality boards can be sanded and refinished many times over. But the cost can be prohibitive, and that’s before you factor in the highly-skilled installation work.
The next step down is engineered wood, which is a composite product where layered plywood is topped with a thin layer of whatever hardwood you’re looking to use. This can vary considerably in thickness, and more expensive versions can be sanded and re-finished several times in the same way as a solid hardwood floor. In terms of cost, engineered wood varies a lot, with some products costing the same as their solid hardwood counterparts. However, installation is usually not quite so costly.
Further down the cost ladder, you have laminate. People can get a bit snobby about laminate flooring, but modern laminates can look really good, are inexpensive to install, and cost less than half what you’d pay for engineered wood. What’s more, many manufacturers assuage concerns about durability by giving guarantees of up to 25 years. Ultimately you’re getting good looks and decent longevity with an attractive cost saving.
Tiling looks lovely and provides an endless choice of appearances, but getting a bathroom tiled is a lengthy and expensive job. What’s more, without diligent cleaning, the grouting will quickly turn ugly, and that’s before someone accidentally cracks a tile and you have to go about replacing it.
An alternative to tiling is waterproof panelling. These panels are cheap, smart, and can be placed over existing tiled walls. The panels are low-maintenance and the installation is so simple that you could even do it yourself, though if you go down this route you’ll need to be very careful to seal them properly.
Granite countertops look beautiful, are low-maintenance, and cost an arm and a leg. If your budget just won’t stretch that far, then you’ve got some more economical options, though none of them will give you the durability of granite, concrete or premium solid surface materials.
Wooden, or ‘butcher’s block’ kitchen counters can look very stylish, and cost much less than granite, though they have their drawbacks. Wood stains, burns and scratches easily, and needs a bit of regular maintenance, all of which might not make it the best choice for a rental property. Likewise, tiles are practical and easy to wipe down, but the 1970s vibe might be a bit of a Marmite thing for prospective tenants. A safe option is laminate, which is cheap, comparatively durable, usually heat-resistant, and comes in an almost limitless range of colours and appearances. A granite effect laminate worktop might not look quite as chic or last as long as its genuine counterpart, but at a tenth of the price, it doesn’t need to.
When it comes down to it, there’s always a balance to be struck between making your property look as good as possible, and getting a return on your investment, and there will be times when getting the right look for less might be the practical solution.