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10 Must-Do Rental Property Upgrades in San Diego

Fixing up a rental property is the simplest and quickest way of drawing in new tenants and earning more income through increased rental prices. If you are a landlord in a fiercely competitive rental market in San Diego, you should opt to renovate your investment property with the purpose of maximizing your profit. Oftentimes, even the smallest trendy improvements can make a huge difference and attract high-quality tenants. Other times, making high-end renovations will bring you the most value in the long run. With all of this in mind, consider making profitable upgrades such as replacing flooring, painting, adding in-demand amenities, updating kitchen appliances, landscaping, new light fixtures, energy-efficient windows, improving curb appeal, etc.

Expert Rental Renovation Tips That Will Help You Increase Profit & Property’s Value

If you own a long-term or a short-term rental property in San Diego and are looking for tips and tricks on how to increase the value of your investment, how to gain maximum ROI, or how to make your property stand out among tough competitors, you have come to the right place.

Below, we have gathered a selection of effective solutions including popular features and renter-friendly upgrades that will bring more cash to your pockets. We will also offer guidance on determining which renovations are the most profitable so that you don’t overspend in the process. Check out the benefits and follow our tips to turn your San Diego rental into one of the most desirable on the market.

Swell Property: Helping San Diego Landlords Achieve Long-Term Rental Success

What Are Tenants Looking for in a Property?

The most profitable rental renovations encompass projects that deliver comfort, convenience, and functionality to potential residents. In a nutshell, renters in San Diego are pursuing properties with increased convenience. Some of the features that top their lists are open floor plan, spacious and functional kitchen, renovated bathroom, energy efficiency, ensuite laundry, updated appliances, adequate storage space, outdoor living space, etc.

Bathroom Remodel

An updated bathroom is something many occupants are searching for, so making even the smallest improvements can make a truly big impact. Consider a makeover that will turn your bathroom into a safe place of relaxation and serenity where occupants can pamper themselves. Whether your budget is small or big, you can proudly feature photos of your updated bathroom in your listings to get instant attention.

Rental bathroom renovation ideas:

  • Install new vanities
  • Replace the mirrors
  • Upgrade bathroom accessories (shower heads, faucets, towel racks)
  • Add a backsplash
  • Paint the walls (crisp neutral colors)
  • Substitute outdated lighting
  • Accessorize (plants, candles, stylish soap dispensers)
  • Create extra storage space

Renter-Friendly Kitchen Renovation

Knowing that the kitchen is the heart of every home, it is no wonder it has significant importance among the renters. This is the place where they will eat, entertain, and get together with friends and family, which is why a spacious, beautiful, and cozy kitchen is a huge selling point. Ultimately, landlords who decide to update their investment property’s kitchen can swiftly distinguish themselves from the competition.

There are lots of ways to give your kitchen a facelift and enhance its overall look:

  • Repaint or replace kitchen cabinets
  • Apply a new backsplash (subway, glass, ornate)
  • Add a kitchen island as a focal point for socializing
  • Replace the countertops with durable materials (concrete, laminate, natural stone)
  • Energy-efficient appliances
  • New paint (neutral colors with semi-gloss finish for easier clean-off)
  • Changing hardware and fixtures

Energy-Efficient Upgrades

Today, more than ever, people are conscious of the impact on the environment and want a home that is more sustainable. Consider switching to energy-efficient solutions as they will entice a fast-growing population of eco-conscious tenants. By improving energy efficiency, the occupants will be able to save on their utility bills, while contributing to the environment. After you have made the improvements, make sure to advertise those features.

Today, you can improve energy conservation in many ways:

  • Smart thermostats with digital connectivity
  • Improving insulation
  • Upgrading your AC unit
  • Adding ceiling fans
  • Professional air sealing
  • Power efficient HVAC systems
  • Solar panels
  • Roof repair/replacement
  • Blackout window treatments
  • Appliances upgrades

Switching to heat pump water heaters

Exterior Renovations

The exterior of the property, also known as “curb appeal”, is the first thing people see, so make sure you leave a good first impression. This crucial feature can make or break potential tenants’ interest, since it sets the tone for the whole property, and people are more likely to lease properties with a well-maintained exterior.

For this reason, investing in exterior upgrades is a wise strategy that will attract high-quality renters and facilitate their retention. The majority of people prefer an inviting but low-maintenance exterior that doesn’t require much attention.

Here are a few tips on how to make your property’s exterior visually appealing:

  • Front door replacement or revamping (new hardware, fresh paint, decorative elements)
  • Installing new window shutters or blinds (cedar, pine, reclaimed wood)
  • Exterior paint (modern, inviting color that complements the surroundings)
  • A well-designed, low-maintenance landscape(perennials, ornamental grasses, evergreen shrubs)
  • Strategic outdoor lighting (solar path lights, wall lanterns, scones, accent lighting)
  • Create an outdoor living space (chairs, tables, outdoor living rooms, entertainment areas)
  • Accessories (house numbers, mailboxes, door knockers, planters, sculptures, bird baths)
  • Walkway and driveway upgrades (cobblestone, pavers, concrete stamping)

Security Upgrades

Security is one of the most sought-after features among the renter population. Tenants want to live in a safe and secure place, so investing in renovations that help improve security will appeal to most applicants.

Add more security to your rental space by installing:

  • Security cameras and video doorbells (motion alarms, video calls with visitors, remote access)
  • Smart door locks (convenient keyless entry, remotely accessed)
  • New front door (if old door has cracks, mold, or rot)
  • New locks & rekeying the property
  • Outdoor lighting


A survey on flooring trends shows that the majority of renters are wary of carpets, as they are not easy to clean and can quickly trap smells. Modern-day tenants prefer low-maintenance, durable, and comfortable flooring options.

But how do you know which one to install?

In order to determine what the most suitable kind of flooring for your rental property is, you have to take into consideration things like: your budget, the type of tenant you’d like to attract, location, etc.

The most affordable flooring options that are durable, easy to maintain, and look good are luxury vinyl plank (LVP) or luxury vinyl tile (LVT). They are perfect for high-traffic areas like kitchen, bathroom, or mudroom because they are water-resistant and can withstand heavy foot traffic.

Popular flooring choices that look modern and are easy to clean are:

  • Hardwood(durable, increases the value, but has high cost)
  • Vinyl flooring (easy, low-maintenance, but does not add a lot of value)
  • Tiles (water-resistant, strong, but require regular grout maintenance)
  • Laminate(affordable, easy to maintain, but chips easily)
  • Linoleum (inexpensive & eco-friendly, but does not add value)
  • Carpet (comfortable, adds warmth, but unpopular with tenants)

Smart Home Technology

Creating a smart home is a fantastic and innovative way of adding thousands of dollars to your rental’s value. By introducing elements of the latest technology, you can quickly transform your property into a convenient and efficient environment that appeals to modern-day lessees because it improves their quality of life.

Turn your rental into a smart home setup by adding these devices:

  • Smart outlets
  • Smart thermostat
  • Voice-controlled lights
  • Voice assistants with smart speakers (Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant)
  • Smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Water sensors
  • Smart appliances (oven, washer, dryer, refrigerator)

New Appliances

Any features that add convenience and improve lifestyle are a huge bonus. To remain competitive, you should think about upgrading old appliances with new, energy-efficient, and modern technology. These upgrades provide long-term value, thus increasing client retention rate.

Bring your space up-to-date by upgrading the following:

  • Major kitchen appliances (gas range, refrigerator, dishwasher)
  • Small kitchen appliances (coffee makers, microwave oven, toaster)
  • In-unit laundry (washing machine, dryer)
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Trash compactor
  • Electric heater

Paint the Interior

Painting the interior is one of the least expensive renovations you can conduct, but it will still appeal to prospective residents. With the right shade of color, you can enhance the look and feel of every room. When fixing up a rental property, you should always keep in mind that your future tenants need a clean and functional place that is a clean slate, so they can add their own décor and touch ups and make the place feel like home.

Here’s how to successfully paint the space for rent:  

  • Paint color (neutral colors: off-white, beige, gray)
  • Select the correct finish (semi-gloss finish is easiest to clean)
  • Add backsplash (bathroom, kitchen, coffee station)
  • Accessorize the walls (shelves, art, wall hangings)

Light Fixtures

The right lighting can easily transform the feel and look of any room. You can instantly make any room feel warmer or colder. When it comes to style, sleek design will make a room look modern, while intricate details achieve a more traditional look. Installing light fixtures can be a good DIY project. However, if you have not done this before, it is best to hire an electrician.

The most sought-after features among renters include:

  • Ceiling fan (bedroom, main living area)
  • Motion-activated lights (outdoor area)
  • Bathroom LED lights
  • Outdoor lights (patio, walkways, garden)

Strategic Upgrades to Attract Current Rental Population

Having good tenants makes your rental business thrive. Good tenants pay rent on time, take good care of the property, and lease long-term. However, it is not easy to find adequate applicants. If you want to attract the preferred type of renter, you should renovate your property according to their liking.

Let’s examine some of the latest trends in San Diego’s rental market, as they will help you select the favored type of occupants.

High-income individuals are the fastest-growing group of renters. In the past decade, there has been a rapidly growing trend of high-earning people who are choosing to rent instead of owning their own housing. Since 2015, on the national level, over 1.35 million households earning $150,00 annually decided to rent, which is an increase of over 80%. At the same time, millionaire renters have tripled in the past 9 years. Millennials cover almost half of the rental market, while Gen Z generation comes in close second place.

Now that you are familiar with the demographics of the market, your next step is to think of ways to renovate your property to cater to your ideal tenant’s wants and needs. For instance, Millennials and Generation Z individuals value flexibility, functionality, convenience, and connectivity. They will expect the space to have high-speed internet, smart home set up, designated workstation, recessed lightning, open floor concept, and plenty of outlets and charging stations.  

The Benefits of Fixing Up a Rental Property

If you are still not sure whether you should tackle renter-friendly renovations or not, here we have compiled a list of benefits that might help you make the right decision. There are numerous advantages to why you should renovate investment property:

  • Gaining higher profits
  • Increasing resale value
  • Improving energy efficiency to reduce utility costs
  • Achieving client satisfaction and high occupancy
  • Tax deductions (capital improvements, such as kitchen or bathroom renovation, have to depreciate)

How a Professional Property Manager Can Help You

Contracting a property manager can be of considerable help, as they can help landlords decide which upgrades to conduct and which ones to skip. They know the rental market inside out, and they understand what tenants are currently searching for. A respectable property management company will help property owners understand which projects yield the highest profits, so it will be easy to prioritize the tasks and make the most of your rental property investment. Furthermore, property management specialists can run renovation projects, source trusted contractors, perform quality control, and ensure that the projects are completed within an estimated time and budget.

About the Author

David Miller is Real Estate Advisor at Swell Property. Whether you’re eyeing a new home, an investment property, securing the best mortgage, or aiming to enhance your property’s value, my focus is on providing personalized guidance and strategy for your success. I listen to your needs attentively, ensuring that my expertise aligns perfectly with your real estate goals. My clients’ satisfaction and referrals are the true measure of my success in San Diego’s dynamic real estate market. If you’re searching for a real estate professional who’s deeply committed to your success, I’m eager to demonstrate my expertise and win your trust. Let’s connect and start this journey together.

David Miller Real Estate Advisor

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