When it comes time to perform a move-out inspection, it’s critical to engage your four senses, especially smells, to ensure that you don’t miss something that could end up costing you thousands down the line.
“Oh, I had a friend bring her little dog over maybe once or twice while I lived there.” That’s a direct quote from a recently moved-out tenant. Funny thing is, I went to the property the day after she moved out and all of the windows were open … in August … in Phoenix.
As I walked in, I caught the overwhelming odor of what seemed skunky, but I just could not put my finger on it. No wonder she wanted the windows open to air out the place and somehow save her security deposit.
When I asked her if she had been smoking or vaping marijuana, she adamantly denied it. “Did you ever have any pets in the property?” I asked. Refer to the first sentence of this article to see her answer.
I shut the property up and a few days later returned to start the rehab for my next tenants. Sure enough, when I opened the property that had been sealed shut for just a few days, the smell of urine overwhelmed me.
Turns out it was a combination of the urine smell and the smells from a nearby dairy that made me think it was initially marijuana. And just this week I met the carpet guys at the property and to no one’s surprise, when the carpets were pulled up, there were urine stains over every square inch of the carpet and pad. That little dog must have had some kind of bladder for just being there once or twice.
Now before you think I am anti-pet, I’m not. I have three adult Bernedoodles — Wellington, Winston, and Aspen — that bring me pure joy. And I’m not anti-tenant either, as I have multiple short-, mid-, and long-term rental properties that produce a great income and are valued assets. My challenge here lies in the fact that tenants will go to great lengths to avoid any extra expense that comes after they vacate a property.
When it comes time to perform a move-out inspection, it’s critical to engage your senses to ensure that you don’t miss something that could end up costing you thousands down the line. Here’s what I recommend:
No. 1 – SIGHT
If you have copies of photos from the initial move-in inspection, compare those with the current condition of the property. Things like holes in walls are obvious, but do you remember the paint color that was in the property at time of move-in? Or what appliances were there when the tenants took possession? (Was that room really pink with stars on the ceiling?)
If you own multiple properties or if a tenant has been in a home a long time, you may not remember exactly what was in place. I’ve seen tenants break my nicer appliances or fixtures and replace them with cheap ones, hoping I wouldn’t notice. Always, always take pictures of the property before a tenant takes possession so you don’t have to rely on memory.
No. 2 – SMELL
As my story above illustrates, the nose always knows. What I didn’t tell you is a week prior to the tenants moving out, I visited the property and it smelled great. The tenant asked specifically when I would be arriving and dolled the place up with air fresheners.
Quite literally, if it doesn’t pass the smell test, something is likely wrong at the property. To get the best results, turn off the HVAC system for a couple of days and seal the house up. Smells such as cigarette or marijuana smoke, mildew, or pet urine will become more pronounced once the air stops moving.
No. 3 – SOUND
When I walk into a vacated home, I listen for all types of sounds. Is there an unreported leak somewhere that I can hear, as in the toilet? When the HVAC system turns on, does it sound right? Maybe I should inspect the filter to see why the A/C is struggling. Same goes for dishwashers and washers and dryers. Run all the faucets in the home and listen for any issues that might be related to the plumbing.
No. 4 – TOUCH
During the move-out inspection, I like to feel for things like drywall repairs the homeowner may have completed. Open the cupboards and make sure they glide smoothly. A lot of homes now have stone countertops, and depending on the stone, it may visually hide gouges or cracks caused by homeowner behavior. I also feel with my feet as I walk the property, as unreported water leaks can lead to warped or loose floors that I may not see but can definitely feel.
I teach new landlords all the time about the importance of finding the right tenant to be their “business partner” in maintaining and caring for a property. But even the best tenants can and do create problems for us as housing providers when they move out of our properties. Little things are expected, but when it comes to professionally and effectively managing our portfolios, we have to use everything in our arsenals to protect our assets. Using your senses to sense scents (and other issues) just makes sense.
Speaking of making sense, require a security deposit big enough to cover carpet replacement, as that is usually the biggest replacement item that holds those offending odors.
About the author:
David Pickron is president of Rent Perfect, a private investigator, and fellow landlord who manages several short- and long-term rentals. Subscribe to his weekly Rent Perfect podcast to stay up to date on the latest industry news and for expert tips on how to manage your properties.