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Simple suggestions on preparing your house for rental

The idea of turning your home over to perfect strangers can sometimes be unsettling. But when a job transfer or sabbatical calls for an out-of-state move and you want to keep your home, there is usually no alternative.

Proper planning in specific areas, however, can ease your concern. It takes about three months to prepare a house for rental.

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Getting the house ready. Ideally, you should leave your house in the same condition you expect when you return. Touch up or completely repaint marred walls and woodwork. Clean the carpet and floors.

If you are handy with tools, any work you do now will eliminate the expense of professional repair later. Replace that cracked window or torn screen. Nail down any loose shingles. Keep later plumbing problems to a minimum by doing a little preventive maintenance. Replace all faucet washers, recaulk the tub, and check the toilet-flush mechanisms.

Your house should be in such good repair that you will not want to leave.

Organize the yard. Understandably, most tenants will not share your affection for the year-old camellia or your hand-hewn grape arbor. Prepare your yard for minimum care by trimming the shrubs and eliminating any tree limbs that may blow down in your absence.

If you can spare it, plan to leave the lawn mower behind as a subtle hint that the grass needs cutting occasionally. Your neighbors will appreciate it.

Determine rent. Consider your home's location, its size, and any extras, such as appliances and draperies, when determining how much rent to charge. Compare your home with other neighborhood rentals and read the classified ads to get a perspective on other rental prices. You can also enlist the aid of a real estate broker who handles rentals in your area.

Your rental fee should cover any management fee, your mortgage payments, and minor repairs. If it does not, consider the difference an investment in the rising value of your home.

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Keep the asking rental price realistic. A vacant house is costly.

Arrange management. Make plans to have someone drive by occasionally and take care of repairs. If you're fortunate enough to have a willing friend or relative , fine. If not, have a professional real estate broker manage the property for a percentage of the monthly rent.

A conscientious rental agent will save you money in the long run by taking care of small repairs before they become expensive problems. The agent will also take care of unpleasant tasks, such as collecting overdue rent and settling damage grievances. The expense is worth the peace of mind.

Seek tenants. If you are home most of the day and have the time and patience to answer many questions, advertise the house yourself. A newspaper ad should include the location, size of the house, rental price, date of availability, and , of course, your phone number. Add any other pertinent information that might aid the potential renter in making a decision.

If you have decided to use a rental agent, your house will probably be advertised through the local real estate board's multiple-listing service. A rental agent will also use newspaper advertising and answer questions from prospective tenants.

The fee for the rental service will be a large percentage of your first month's rent, but again the convenience may be worth it to you.

Showing your home to strangers can be bothersome. With preliminary screening, however, you or your rental agent will keep traffic to a minimum.

Sign a lease. A lease stipulates the agreed length of occupancy, amount and method of rent payment, and the intricacies of liability, repairs, and covenants. It will include provision for a security deposit, which is usually one month's rent. If you or your new tenants are in the military, you may want to include a military clause to allow early termination of the lease upon receipt of orders by either you or your tenants.

Remember, the lease is a binding contract and should be understood by all who sign it.

At the lease-signing, a walk through the house is in order. Both you (or your agent) and your tenants can note any discrepancies for which they cannot be charged. This includes scorched countertops, chipped porcelain, and scarred floors.

List any idiosyncrasies your house might have: the squeaky gas-meter wheel and the window that's been painted shut. Indicate the location of the circuit-breaker panel and the main water-shutoff valve.

Stroll through the yard and acquaint the new tenants with your year-old camellia and hand-hewn grape arbor. Mention any other shrubs or perennials needing special care. If you want the lawn fertilized regularly, offer to pay for the materials, or hire someone to do the job.

Finally, introduce the new tenants to your next-door neighbor. It will make your tenants feel welcome and more likely to treat your house as a home.

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