Cleaning. Not the sexiest topic is it? But unless you're prepared to roll up your sleeves and get down to some serious scrubbing from time to time, you should probably rethink any plans to invest in a buy-to-let.
As I explained last week, many tenants can't be trusted to leave a property spotless. And though you can hire professional cleaners to spruce up the place between lets, if you want it really to sparkle, you'll need to be hands-on.
I've used several firms that claim to specialise in end-of-tenancy cleaning "packages" but none of them has delivered the really deep clean that they promised. They miss stuff, like the insides of washing machines, filthy door handles, cobwebs on ceilings and limescale on taps.
I once hired a specialist cleaning firm (recommended by an experienced letting agent), which "forgot" to clean the entire top floor of the house. Another company sent a lacklustre crew who left burnt-on grease all over the oven, the streaks on the shower screen and dusty skirting boards. And they didn't even bother to give the kitchen floor a much-needed wash.
For a two-bedroom flat in London, a cleaning company is likely to charge £130-£150 for a standard clean that doesn't include shampooing the carpets. For that price most of them won't clean the outside of windows either - we are talking easily accessible ones here - and they never wipe down walls. You'll have to pay extra for the cleaning products, too, unless you provide them with a stack of your own.
These days I prefer to hire local cleaners and closely supervise the job myself. For a two-bedroom flat I'll pay a couple of local cleaners about £10 an hour each for four hours' work, so it only costs me £80 and I end up with a much better job because I tell them exactly what I want them to do - though admittedly I occasionally have to show them how to do it.
In addition, I pay a local window cleaner £20 to £30 to wash the windows inside and out. Many landlords never bother with the outside of windows but I think it's money well spent as clean windows really brighten up the inside.
Doesn't matter how clean the place is though, if the walls are grubby it won't look so good. Some cleaning companies offer a "specialist" wall-cleaning service, for which they charge extra, usually about £15 per room, but if your walls are painted all you need is a bottle of Cif, a damp cloth and a bit of elbow grease (yours or the cleaner's) to get them looking nice and fresh.
While we're on the subject of walls, next time you decorate make sure you use a hard-wearing paint like Dulux Endurance and you'll find they're a lot easier to keep clean. I'd recommend using a neutral, off-the-shelf colour (no need to get into fancy mixes), sticking to one colour throughout the whole of the property.
You will need to make sure you have plenty of your neutral paint left over, so that if the walls do get badly scuffed you can spot-paint damaged areas.
I'm no clean freak: in my own house there are cobwebs so old the rooms would look empty without them, but if you're letting a property I really think it's important that it is spotless when new tenants move in. They'll take better care of it if they find it in excellent condition - and if they don't you can charge them for a professional clean when they move out.
As my nan used to stay, where there's muck there's brass, so if you want to make money out of property, you'd better be prepared to get your hands dirty. Literally.