Preparing your home for rental

Private Property South Africa
Bridget McNulty

Investment properties, whether they are beach houses or inner-city apartments, all need to be prepared for rental.

Find out how Tonya Lehtinen, the Space Whisperer, tackled a cluttered beach house and prepared it for rental.

Renting out your home or property can be a nerve-wracking experience if you don’t know all the ins and outs. That’s why we asked Tonya Lehtinen to share some insider secrets on how to make the renting process a breeze from start to finish. She recently worked on Sorbet, a beautiful beach-house property in Simonstown that needed her magic touch to make it rental-ready.

“Colleen, the owner, has a passion for vintage fabrics, kitchenware and other vintage items,” explained Tonya. “She loves beautiful things and likes to be surrounded by lots of personal memorabilia. Her cottage was jam-packed with lovely things that suited her, but it wasn’t suitable for guests.” The problems Tonya identified were simple, the solutions significant.

For starters, it was very difficult to clean with so many items on display – one of the most important first steps if you’re going to rent your property is to do a thorough spring-clean. When guests come to a holiday property, especially a beach house, they want to be able to spread themselves out when relaxing, and there wasn’t enough space here. the cupboards (and kitchen cupboards in particular) were so crammed full of stuff that it was difficult to find anything, and the surface space in the kitchen wasn’t sufficient for a houseful of guests – especially if one of them was a foodie! The bedrooms were also very cluttered, with one of the children’s rooms literally overflowing and the bed piled high with toys and clothes.

Kitchen storage was simplified, and a tea-and-coffee station was created close to the fridge, with teapots within easy reach – not stuck away in cupboards.

Tonya’s verdict? “If i could sum up the problem, i would say that sorbet had too much info to relax.” Not one to be daunted, she sat down with Colleen and created a vision of what they wanted the house to look like. “The best way to start working on a property is to be clear about what your end goal is,” Tonya advises. “Is it minimalist or homely, cosy or luxurious? it’s much easier to decide on the next step once you know what the final goal is.” Tonya and Colleen worked together at clearing the house – a truckload of personal items and precious things was taken home, a lot was donated to charity and a few items even landed on the tip. “I encouraged Colleen to take a good look at the things she was taking into storage and use this opportunity to de-clutter permanently.” In most cases, indoor and out, less is more. While you want your property to look friendly and not as sterile as a hotel room, it’s best not to leave any personal items in a rental property. “Expensive items can be replaced by insurance or covered by a breakage deposit,” says Tonya, “but things that are irreplaceable don’t have rand value and should just not be left out.” That said, items of interest such as books, quirky objects, games, hats, baskets, picnic blankets and baskets are fantastic, as they let the renter feel at home. the goal is to make your place feel homely but not lived in (bottles of half-used cosmetics are a no-no). When it comes to cupboard space, tonya recommended clearing out the cupboards entirely and not having certain cupboards filled with personal items and locked. “I think if you are serious about rentals, you shouldn’t have locked personal cupboards,” she says. “It always reminds guests that they are in your space. i suggest lockable metal or plastic trunks put in the cellar, the garage or the attic.”

Once Sorbet’s major spring-clean was complete, it was time to turn to the outside of the house, and spruce up the exterior. Doing any necessary painting and mending, as well as neatening the garden, can make a huge difference to the first impression your property gives. There are a number of things to consider when it comes to the great outdoors: maintenance of the roof, whether the paint job looks fresh or needs an update, what the paving looks like, if the garden needs trimming, the upkeep of the boma, whether there is shaded parking and whether there is sufficient signage to find the property.

After tonya waved her magic wand, Sorbet looked like a new property – one that anyone would be thrilled to rent. The vintage charm and style remain, but without any of the clutter.

Renting out your property

Ready to transform your rental property with Tonya’s help? Here’s what you need to do. First, it’s important to define exactly what kind of rental property you have. There are three main types of properties for rental:

  • Those that have been bought and fitted specifically for rental. these may offer a getaway for the owner when they’re not being used.
  • Second homes that aren’t used enough, so that the idea of renting becomes an option.
  • Properties that need to be rented so that the rent covers the maintenance costs, thereby enabling the owner to keep the property and not sell.

In all cases, the purpose of a rental property is to generate income. Luckily, with some smart preparation, it’s possible to generate more income without spending too much on upgrading the property. Once you’ve evaluated what type of returns you may be able to achieve on your property, the next step is to have an assessment to see what would need to be changed to earn those rates. The rating you are aiming for will determine how dramatic those changes need to be, but remember that everything doesn’t need to be done at once. upgrading can be done over time, and a portion of the income generated can be put into the improvements until your goals are reached. It’s a good idea to prepare your property in the July holidays so that it can be ready for the holiday season, as early as September.

The basic assessment Tonya does addresses everything from the road leading to the property to the number of glasses in the cupboard, as well as safety and security measures. There are a few key preparation tips that everyone should be aware of, though.

Preparation tips

Before you start sprucing up your property, remember that it’s not just so that it looks welcoming when the guests arrive. If you give your property the extra edge, you’ll be able to charge more for rent. And if you prepare ahead, you can end up saving money in the long run. It’s a good idea to be prepared for the odd disrespectful house guest and preplan to ensure that worst doesn’t happen!

  • The first element is to make sure that when guests arrive, they find all the basics they need for a comfortable stay. the location will have an influence on this – if your property is remote or hard to access, you’ll need to supply more of the basic requirements as shopping won’t be an option. our basic checklist covers the items you need to keep on hand.
  • Make sure there’s enough linen, towels, kitchenware, mats and hangers for the number of guests. There should generally be a minimum of two sets of linen so that your cleaning team can remove one set and replace it immediately. However, it is a good idea to have an extra set in case a guest is sick or a child wets the bed. Besides saving on wear and tear, this cuts down the chances of a last-minute emergency. The general rule is to have one set on the bed, one in a cupboard and one at the cleaners.
  • Bed linen and towels need to be changed twice a week for long-staying guests. it’s best to stick to white linen and towels as they can be easily bleached and refreshed. Down duvets and pillows add a touch of luxury but make sure you have hypoallergenic options, too.
  • Ensure there’s enough seating, lighting, proper beds, sun loungers (we do live in Africa!), heaters/fans/air conditioning, fridge space.
  • Do a maintenance check on your geyser, fireplace, gas stove and all your lights, and make sure there’s enough (and the correct type of ) fuel, wood and light bulbs so that your guests don’t run out.
  • Once you’ve done a maintenance check, do a hygiene check. The outside garbage areas and bins must be clean and disinfected. Double-check all the often-neglected areas: basin plugs, drains, inside the fridge, under the kitchen sink. Bicarbonate of soda is a miracle cleaner for many of these places: it removes odours from fridges and dustbins, can clean out drains when followed by boiling water, and can be used to lift stains on kitchen surfaces if you wipe it on with a damp cloth.
  • Write a manual for your property. Include everything from how to operate the dishwasher and washing machine to where to find relevant cleaning materials and what to do in case of emergency. Assume your renters know nothing, and divide the manual into a to Z, which will make it easier for guests to access information in a hurry.
  • Finally, get your insurance sorted and breakages agreements drawn up. And most importantly, get breakages deposits paid and agreements signed!

Easy upgrades

Here’s how to give your property a lift without overspending your budget:

  • If you’re renting out a holiday home, you’ll want to make sure there’s enough hanging space for towels. Beach towels need at least a spike in a tree, a line outside or some cute hooks. Indoors, you can use a towel horse or a ladder in the bathroom. For pure luxury, heated towel rails make a huge difference, especially for places that are popular in winter.
  • Instead of just stacking your excess towels and linen in a cupboard, give them an attractive edge. Beach towels rolled up in a big basket near the door leading to the pool or beach can become a design element. Towels rolled up on a shelf and tied with colourfast string or ribbon can be a great way to incorporate branding into the property if you wish.
  • When it comes to giving upholstery a fresh look, the best plan is to get covers made. Covers are much easier to wash or replace, and will keep your couch looking new for much longer. Another easy way to lift a tired couch is to buy really good quality cushions with proper down inners.
  • There is nothing more off-putting than old cleaning equipment. Make sure you update your brooms, pans and loo brushes frequently. It’s also a good idea to keep a close eye on rugs and mats, tea towels and bins, and to replace them as soon as they start looking worn.
  • Invest in big, thick candles and set them in sand in wind-protected glass containers. They last longer and are less likely to cause a fire.

Contact Tonya Lehtinen on 072 338 0690, or email

Return on investment

Since the home staging excercise, Sorbet is now getting at least four times as many film-shoot bookings, and holiday- rental occupancy has increased by 70 to 80%.

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