A lot can go wrong with a rental unit, but a landlord with the skills, knowledge, and tools to handle basic repair tasks can save lots of money.
If you aren’t interested in doing maintenance and repair work yourself, because you prefer a hands-off approach, that’s great. But you’ll need an extensive contact list of home repair pros. If you want to do this work yourself, you’ve reduced your dependency on third-party schedules and can potentially save significant amounts of money.
Note: Even if you’re in a position to do repairs yourself, you shouldn’t expect to handle all of them. Certain repair tasks, such as those related to heating and cooling systems, require professional certification, while others, such as changing a shower valve, call for specialized skills. That still leaves a fairly long list of basic repair tasks you can do yourself. Here are eight of the most common ones.
1. Basic plumbing
Faucet leaks waste water and stain sinks and tubs, and they’re usually easy to fix. In most cases, it’s simply a matter of disassembling the faucet and replacing a worn gasket or washer. For this simple job, expect to pay a plumber at least $125 for a service call. You can usually find instructions for completing the job on the manufacturer’s website. After you’ve done this task once or twice, you’ll be an expert.
Toilet and drain clogs have a way of happening at inconvenient times when plumbers aren’t available. To avoid leaving your tenants in the lurch, learn how to snake a drain, disassemble a P-trap, and properly plunge a toilet. And yes, there is a proper way to do it.
- Slip-lock pliers
- Sink auger and toilet auger (they’re not the same)
- Bell-shaped toilet plunger
Potential savings: $125 or more per leak or toilet clog
Know how to shut off the water
Plumbing leaks can cause major headaches. While you may not be able to fix every one by yourself, you should know the locations of the water shut-offs so you can turn off the water to prevent further damage until a plumber comes.
2. Electrical switch and outlet repair
Dimming or flickering lights and short circuits are systemic problems that require professional attention, but when a switch or outlet doesn’t work properly, you can often restore power to that device by tightening a loose connection or replacing the device. This is a 10- to 20-minute job. Just make sure to turn off the breaker controlling the circuit before you remove the outlet or switch cover.
- Voltage tester
- Wire splicing tool
Potential savings: $125 or more per repair
3. Appliance troubleshooting
Problems with refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and other major appliances often boil down to a simple cause, such as a blown fuse, broken drive belt, or internal obstruction. While there’s no formula that works for every situation, many appliance repairs are easier than you expect. You’ll save the cost of the repair as well as that of the service call.
If you don’t have the user’s manual, chances are good that you’ll find a YouTube video to guide you through the process. The most difficult part of appliance repair is often moving the machine into a position that allows access to the damaged component. You may need help for this.
Useful tools: See A landlord’s toolbox for appliance repair and maintenance
Potential savings: $200 to $500 per repair
Related: How long should appliances last?
4. HVAC maintenance
When a heating or cooling system breaks down, you usually have no alternative but to call a licensed repair pro. However, you can perform a number of maintenance tasks yourself to help prevent breakdowns and avoid expensive furnace repair bills. They include changing filters regularly, cleaning refrigeration coils, and lubricating fan motors. If you have a gas furnace, you should familiarize yourself with the procedure for changing a faulty thermocouple or heat sensor, which is often responsible for the failure of the pilot to stay lit.
- Crescent wrench or spanner
Potential savings: $500 or more
5. Pest control
Insects and rodents thrive in unsanitary conditions, and while tenants must share responsibility for keeping them at bay, it’s ultimately the landlord’s responsibility to eradicate them. Pest control is something of an art that takes research and the right materials. You might not be able to get rid of an ant infestation, for example, until you find out what kind of ants they are so you can use the right bait. It may take homework and persistence, but developing a knack for pest control can save you the hundreds of dollars you’ll have to spend for professional extermination and the monthly fees for upkeep.
Note: If you discover termites at your rental property, don’t try to exterminate them yourself. Termite control is a multi-step procedure that is best left to pros. You can handle bedbugs yourself, though.
- Caulk for sealing access points
Potential savings: $500 or more for extermination and $150 or more per month for upkeep
6. Basic roof and gutter repair
Although a major roof leak is a job for a roofer, a handy landlord who isn’t afraid of heights can often fix minor leaks with roofing tar and caulk and save significantly. The cost average cost to repair a leak on a shingle roof is between $500 and $700, and on slate roofs, it can run into the thousands.
The intrepid climber can also stop gutter leaks, which can damage siding, undermine foundations, and create dangerous icicles in the winter. Gutter repairs often involve little more than cleaning out debris, adjusting the hangers, and sealing joints with caulk. Preventing leaks by cleaning the gutters at least once a year should be one of the repair tasks you complete as part of routine maintenance.
- Putty knife
- Caulking gun
Potential savings: $500 to $1,000 or more per leak
7. Drywall patching and replacement
It’s often possible to repair impact damage in drywall with patching compound or joint compound, but replacement is the only option for water damage or mold. Either way, you’ll save $300 or more per repair being able to do this work yourself. Drywall repair can be messy, but it’s straightforward, and it should be part of your repertoire. You’ll be glad you know how to do it when you have to get a property ready for new renters after a long tenancy.
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Drywall saw
- A selection of drywall blades
Potential savings: $300 or more per repair
Each rental property you own gives you an opportunity to hone your painting skills, and a high-turnover property will give you lots of opportunities. Painting isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t trivial work either, and it takes time to develop an efficient routine. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll save the $300 or $400 per room that professional painters charge. For a three-bedroom apartment in an average rental market, that could be more than a month’s rent.
Useful tools: See The top skill you should perfect: painting.
Potential savings: $300 to $400 per room
To DIY or not to DIY? That is the question!
Even if you’ve developed an extensive repertoire of home repair skills, it may not be worth your while to take on certain repair tasks. Before undertaking a repair, consider what your time is worth and how that compares to the going rate for the job. You may choose to hire a pro if one is available and it’s more cost-effective to do so.