This is an article from our regular real estate columnist Rachelle.

Essential to the process of attracting the best of tenants is preparing your house or apartment for rent. Great tenants have many viable alternatives to your rental so getting them to pick your place over the others is vital.

Whether I am in charge of filling a high vacancy building or filling one apartment, I always ask myself, “Why would I rent this? What is more attractive about this location?“ These are the points I will bring up to potential renters when I am showing the place.

Presentation is Key

The first point is that to successfully rent to our target tenant, cognitive dissonance needs to be eliminated. Cognitive dissonance is the awful feeling you get when you are asked to believe two conflicting ideas. In an apartment it can happen as someone tells you what a great space this is to live while showing you a dirty filthy place. That’s just one example. Our goal is a seamless presentation of your rental as a great place to live.

Avoid Showings on Garbage Day

I try to avoid showing a house on garbage day. Of course people know that garbage goes out every week, but as they walk down the street smelling everyone’s organic bin their subconscious mind is registering the entire street as messy.

Curb Appeal

Pay attention to the outside appearance. Are there unsightly weeds? Is your other tenant hanging out in front drinking beer and changing their oil? Is your railing rusty and require another coat of paint? Is there renovation garbage? Is the lawn mowed? Do you have nice bright flowers out front?

Common Areas

This is often a forgotten area. Is it clean? Is it in good condition? Is the flooring nice? Does it need paint? You don’t want to turn people off before they even reach the apartment. It has to be nice and clean and hopefully smell good. If you have a common laundry area it should also look bright and inviting. Any garbage should be removed and the machines should be clean inside and out.

The Apartment

The space must be clean and organized. I will show a place under renovation or with the old tenant still in the unit but the apartment must be clean and in good condition. Hopefully the old tenant has designer furniture and is a clean freak. A few months ago an owner convinced me to show a place with a motorcycle in the dining room andl DJ equipment in the living room. Not surprisingly, it didn’t rent. Unless you are in an extremely high demand area, if the place smells like old laundry and is not impeccably clean and look almost staged, you are just wasting your time. People renting have to picture their belongings and themselves in the space. If it’s disgusting, they aren’t going to do that. Of course, if they are being evicted from their last place they are willing to overlook just about anything.

Clean, clean, clean

I’m not sure you noticed but I’ve said clean about a hundred times already. I could probably say it another hundred times and not say it enough. Nothing will kill a potential rental as quickly as dirt of any kind. Your basement apartment doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal but it does have to be clean. I’m not a neatnik myself, but I’ve seen “the look” of disgust cross people’s face enough times to know what I’m talking about.

Dirty baths are really high up on that list…. your potential tenant is imagining taking a nice long bath in their new apartment and sees that your tub has a nice dark ring around it and a few dead bugs in the bottom. Next thing you know the showing is over in a hurry.

Good to great tenants will not rent a place that is full of other people’s filth. They don’t have to. Cleanliness is the number one complaint I get about other people’s apartments. People will compliment me on the cleanliness of the apartment because I’ve already had this talk with the owner and the place is impeccable.

Here’s my list of spots people look and landlords overlook:

  1. Reglaze the tub if it’s gross
  2. Windows
  3. Window sills are often a final resting place for insects
  4. Kitchen cabinets – inside. It’s not uncommon to find stains and dirt inside or bugs. Paint the bottom white.
  5. You’ve swept all the dirt into a nice pile… then you leave the pile and the broom just sitting there. Get rid of it.
  6. Bath tiles – These can also be reglazed if they are ugly for a lot cheaper than replacement.
  7. Bath cabinet – Under. Like kitchen cabinets paint white
  8. Closets – Every closet will be opened and checked out
  9. Appliances
  10. Appliance drawers specifically the one under the stove


There’s a reason that beige is the standard colour for apartments. Two-tone paint jobs bring into relief your trim and doors and generally make the place look nicer. If you have small baseboards you don’t want to draw attention to or it’s a basement then white throughout will make the place look bigger and brighter.

Beige is boring but it matches every colour out there and doesn’t offend anyone. Save your fancy paint design ambitions for your own house. Personally I love green. My house is a sage green colour that I find very soothing. There are people for whom living in a green house is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalk board. So choose a nice neutral light beige. I like a colour called Informal Ivory.


Your appearance also matters. Save the sweats and baseball cap for after the apartment is rented. You don’t need to be dressed up but your clothes and hair should not reflect that you’ve been cleaning spiders under the stairwell. Choosing something that would be appropriate at the office is a good guideline.

Presentation matters

In a competitive market a seamless presentation is important. Lets face it – most apartments in buildings look quite similar. The devil is in the details and when you are seeing a place every single day, you don’t notice the little things anymore. It takes a conscious effort to notice. Small simple adjustments can mean the difference between renting this month or next. It’s the difference between ok tenants and great tenants. Excuses don’t matter just get it done.

About the Author: Rachelle specializes in renting property on behalf of landlords. She also works with investors to find good investments in Toronto and surrounding areas. Her passion is bringing multi res properties back from the brink and maximizing profitability.  Check out some of her other real estate posts.

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11 years ago

Excellent article, with lots of great info.
Thank you!

11 years ago

All you can do is ask them but that has been pretty ineffective in my experience. I have seen landlords that will actually go in and clean it before showing it but I am NOT in favor of that. It’s just too risky to go and do that. In my opinion it’s crossing a boundary that shouldn’t be crossed.

Look around. If the answer to the question “Who would rent this mess?’ is another pig just like the one I have now or someone so desperate for a place they will be coming to see the showing with a fistful of cash in a rented moving truck. Just don’t waste your time. I too am a hard worker and I will try just in case I get lucky but realistically I know I am just spending money on useless advertising and wasting gas.

I don’t have any good solutions for this problem.

11 years ago

If you are lucky enough to have the apartment empty and prepared for a viewing there is not much to do but make sure the place is clean. If you have a tenant in the place at the time of showing it is tough to tell them to clean it up as they are not that interested if leaving in a month. Any suggestions on how to deal with the current tenant’s mess?

11 years ago


I beg to differ. I have rented in buildings with these kinds of promotion and trust me no one should ever have to live there. The one month free promotion in particular attracts people who are not qualified and who cannot manage their money.

As a tenant believe me there is a reason why this building has to offer free rent to make people move there. Steer clear.

The far better strategy is to offer value to your tenant. Most great tenants are quite happy to have a decent, safe, clean place to live in. Spending that one month’s rent on capital improvements such as a new kitchen and new paint etc will do far more to impress people than a free month’s rent.

I urge any landlord to go look and see buildings that are offering a free month’s rent if you have any doubts about what I’m saying.

This is why I opened an ING account
11 years ago

One final clever idea you can implement is to have bonuses for signing a lease. Assuming you can afford it, you can offer to pay one month of a renters utilities as a “signing bonus” for signing a one-year lease with you. Some buildings offer a month of free rent as an incentive to move there.

11 years ago

While I don’t own a rental property at the moment I have owned several and one key way I found from “separating the wheat from the chaff” was to ask to visit them in their current home. Only the one’s with nothing to hide accept that offer.

11 years ago


You are now my favourite commenter :)

11 years ago

Thank you Rachelle, I like your articles a lot. You are one of my favorite guest bloggers. FT keep these articles coming

11 years ago

I never thought about not showing on garbage day. Good idea.