Unit colors

I understand where you unfurnished landlords are coming from, with all that white paint.

Yes, it is different in that my tenants don’t bring in their own furniture.

But I still think you are losing with being stuck on that lowest common denominator paint. Upscale your paint and you may upscale your tenants. We had a tenant who so loved her glazed golden bedroom walls that she wouldn’t leave. She was in our unfurnished rental for 10 years, and no, there was no need to repaint that glazed hand-applied paint during her stay.

Go visit a model home or two; big bucks decorators pick out those color schemes. They use them because warm color sells houses! Also check out the website Houzz for color tips.

I don’t know what kind of motels you are staying in, Javipa, but dirty white has not been in style for some time. Do they still have bedspreads in those motels too? Try a motel that has duvets and some style.

We like to use cowboy red, sage green, buff (a yellow/tan). We don’t like flat paint either. I like to use paint glaze and it also makes the walls more washable and more durable.

Here is a tip for re-painting one of your white rooms. Take some old yellow, tan or gold paint. Dilute it 3 to 1 with water. Now rub it on the wall using an old t-shirt. There is no need to mask off edges, no need to be perfect. Start in a closet or low area until you get your technique right. Do this very quickly, don’t rub too much. This gives a muted, vintage warm look with some areas darker than others. This is incredibly fast, cheap and easy. Takes way less time than regular painting. If you mess up, well, you can just paint over it.

Here’s another idea–paint a kitchen wall or half wall BLACK. Use chalkboard paint and put a box of chalk next to it. Write “Welcome! Use this board for your grocery or telephone lists!” People absolutely love writing on that wall.

Every house can benefit from a color punch of black. Every house can benefit from a color punch of red.

I too use the tan/white combination, we call it cream/white. Walls eggshell or semi-gloss cream, woodwork and doors semi-or high gloss white. We always use semi-gloss white on ceilings to reflect light into the room.

You landlords…I challenge you to upgrade with some color and see if you don’t get a higher class of tenant. Isn’t that what it’s all about? A warning–if you are not good with color copy from Houzz or from a model home. Bad color can be worse than landlord white.


Furnished, if what you’re doing works like you say, then you should stick with it. You know your market and farm better than anyone else does.

I hesitate to use the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ to describe what anyone else should do, because there’s ‘always’ the exception it seems.

That said, I’m also an advocate for doing things differently from the competition. However, my version of ‘different’ is not the color scheme. It’s the cleanliness, functionality and presentation of a given unit. I pay close attention to detail. I try to create the illusion that the unit has never been lived in before (that’s the goal, but not necessarily the reality).

Meantime, I’m thinking that price point has a lot to do with different ‘trim levels’ and accent decorating for a given unit. On a high-end home, we can expect to offer something more than ‘dirty white,’ flat paint throughout the interior. But going for a bold accent color is never on the table. It’s gonna be some neutral, complimenting color if anything. I do like using white for the interior trim and doors, as the accent color on more expensive homes for sale or rent.

Few people renting a high-end home are content with it ‘looking’ like a rental (as you pointed out in an earlier post), so I can certainly agree that alternative paint schemes can mask the ‘rental’ appearance of a rental.

Meanwhile, it may be consistency that motivates me to use one color and paint for all my rentals. It’s brain dead easy to address maintenance, or send someone to paint a unit, when they don’t have to worry about color details.

Very thoughtful posts.

Someday I’ll experiment with your chalkboard idea. Maybe the inside of a closet door would be a good starting place. I don’t know.

That’s another reason I paint the whole room or hall semigloss white. It reflects light. I had a brown hallway that was so poorly lit I thought I’d have to install another light fixture. I repainted the walls and ceiling with semi-gloss white and it really brightened up the hall and I didn’t need to install another light fixture. It’s another opportunity to save on lower wattage lightbulbs. I remember the power company sending an energy saving flyer in the mail that said painting with semi-gloss white can save something like 30% off your lighting bill.

Another reason is maintenance. I’ve had pinhole leaks and water leaks from an upper unit. I’ve now got to replace a piece of drywall. If it’s a different colour, it’s hard to blend in a deeper colour as the colours fade over time with what I may have in a can in some storeroom, which is also why I make it clear in the lease that tenants are not allowed to paint with any other colour than semi-gloss white. Also tenants hang things on the wall. When they move out, they leave a bunch of nail holes and if they fill it in with caulking or drywall compound it really stands out. It’s very hard to touch up coloured paint on a faded wall. There’s also cracks on the walls when the building shifts. Again, same issue.

Even restaurants are starting to switch over to white walls. There was this local higher end restaurant at the mall I used to go to. It was my favourite because of all the dark wood paneling everywhere. Then they decided to paint the wood white and going there lost its appeal to me, yet the restaurant is still busy. Even though I’m totally against painting wood white as opposed to drywall as I enjoy natural woodwork and find it easy to touch up with a dark stain, the point I’m trying to make is that white walls are popular with higher income earners in a lot of places.

If it’s a hobby for you to use a rag and yellow paint and it inspires you to get out of bed in the morning, do it. But, you’re just creating more work for yourself down the road. Maintenance wise, for me, it’s not worth it.

Dave, I get what you are saying, but I HATE semigloss paint on the walls. It’s hideously ugly, IMHO.

I think we all remember that we all market to different people. I manage a couple rentals for a guy that nobody cares what the paint looks like at all. His dad is a landlord and I’ve seen the paint and carpet choices he uses and am just shocked. I’ve run into tenants of his that said they moved out of his places just because they hated the colors so much (purple shag type carpet - I’ve seen this stuff). That said, he has low turnover and most of his tenants are happy. Hhe’s been successful by anyone’s definition, from what I know of his personal life.

I know that I charge more for rent than he does and can’t pull that off at all, I’ll have vacancy issues. Furnished and vacation rentals are going to be even more stringent with colors and decorating, but section 8 tenants could probably destroy galvanized steel diamond plate used as a floor covering (as an example).

For any newbies out there looking to get into this business and reading this, realize there’s not a one size fits all answer like what Estrogen Hostage said regarding marketing to different people.
If all of us posting these things are experienced and successful (which I believe we are from this thread), then you can see different things work for different types of tenants whether they be low income, high income, or short term tenants.
I do and will continue to paint semi-gloss white on my cheaper houses. The tenants I attract like that a place looks neat and clean. I don’t get comments about how ugly the white walls are. I get compliments about the work we’ve put into the place. For the price point I’m at, white works just fine.
When thinking back about the dirtbag former tenants I’ve had that left me huge messes and screwed things up, it was overwhelmingly non-section 8 tenants who paid regular rent. I’m not saying all sect 8 tenants are good nor are they all bad. I have my own political feelings about the program in general, but we’re not allowed to have that conversation here. I’ve seen several people on assistance who take pretty good care of the houses. Again - I don’t want someone reading thru here and thinking all section 8 tenants are nightmares because that’s not the case.
EH - I don’t think that’s necessarily what you were alluding to, but I did want to share some of my experiences with them.

I have no experience with them. I’ll defer to your judgement about that.

Section 8 tenants have to be screened like any prospects. However, I will be happy to generalize and say the people on this program are likely to steal and lie whenever it suits them.

I’ve had problems not only with Section 8 tenants, but the administrators of this give-away program.

In fact, I’ve had so much unnecessary hassle with either end of that camel, that I stopped renting to Section 8 tenants altogether, about 15 years ago. I simply didn’t want to immerse myself in ‘that’ system.

Meantime, I lost most of the cash flow I would have received by renting to Section 8 tenants. Of course, I take responsibility for the loss personally. I hadn’t prepared myself to deal with this level of character.

So, by taking personal responsibility for the losses, and not blaming anyone, but myself, I just stopped accepting, or pursuing applications from those that are happy to have my taxes redistributed to them.

To be honest, at first, the thought of getting money back from all the other taxpayers in the US, via Section 8, sounded like a welcome, legal retribution! Unfortunately, retribution itself comes at a cost; including dealing with the character-challenged.

So, I limit my business to the self-sufficient instead.

As an aside, I would be curious to know how many are receiving the whole rent, or just the Section 8 rent, the government “guarantees.”

I’ve posted on here before about the woman I evicted over not paying her $52 share of the rent. She was difficult to deal with and lied numerous times about attempting to contact me regarding repair issues. I have no problem kicking someone out for not paying their portion.
Currently, about half our revenue is derived from the section 8 program. The other half is from regular paying tenants and also the portion of the rent the sect 8 tenants pay on their own.

I have strong feelings on the politics of Section 8, sounds like others might too.
I will start a thread in random ramblings so this doesn’t get derailed.

That being said: Section 8 tenants are in my experience about the same as any other low income tenant.
I struggle to get the non-guaranteed portion without work on my end.

In my nicer houses, I can easily train a tenant to mail in a payment.
In the sketchier areas its difficult to find an applicant with a job, let alone convince them that due on the first means pay by the first rather than sometime during that month.
From my end its easier to just get that steady check from uncle sam.

I am willing to bend over backwards (which is required) to get a decent sec 8 tenant.

Here are a couple more tips to help keep you landlords from always painting and re-painting.

If you have a room, like a dining room, living room or kitchen where the walls are always getting scuffed up from chair backs, tables, couches, then take a tip from the past. Buy some sheets of 8 x 4 plain wood bead board. Slap on some semi-glossy wood stain. Cut the pieces into 32" sections and nail and glue them to the problem wall. Attach wood molding trim to the top. Now you have wainscoting that is super durable. Varnished wood doesn’t get scuffed and dirty like a white-painted wall. It also looks homey and cozy in every home style except modern.

Another tip–don’t re-paint the whole room. This really saves big bucks. Get a paint sample from your dirty wall. Or use your okay, dirty white that you all use. Now just paint over the scuff marks, the dings and dingy areas. The room will be fresh and clean. No need to paint over every darned inch.

If you have old plaster walls (here we have adobe, too) just rub on paint, don’t fill the small cracks in the plaster. The paint will migrate to the cracks and make them stand out. This gives an interesting aged look.

I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast a while back in Santa Fe. The minute I walked in I said “WHAT is that paint?!” It had depth, texture and was warm and shiny, and was unlike anything I knew. It turns out that they MADE THEIR OWN PAINT. They mixed sand and buttermilk and just rubbed it on.

Now I have some buckets of different colored earth saved in a shed. Purple and gray from Highway 285 outside Santa Fe, red in different shades from the Jemez Mountains. Buff and dirt color, and clay white from our local area.

It turns out that there are paint recipes online for you landlords who don’t want to spend all those bucks at your home improvement store, for just another round of paint.

Someday when I have a little more time I am going to make my own dirt-red wall, maybe even rub on beeswax for that ancient Tuscany look like the Italians do. They know how to paint so that it lasts years and years.


What a helpful thread! Thanks for sharing your painting and repainting tips.

I agree with Javipa. If you’re in doubt, go for white. It makes a unit look more refreshing and bright. My unit that I’m renting out is painted white. Never had any problems with the tenant regarding the said color.

Here’s another idea. Check out your local county recycling or hazardous waste facility that takes in paints, aerosols, antifreeze, stains, etc. Check to see if they sell recycled paint. Here’s how they do it at my facility; once they have enough paint brought in to them, somehow they mix a certain amount of each color and then they sell them by the 5 gallon jugs. Ours comes in three colors… white, gray (bluish gray), and tan. The paint works really good and covers nicely. The best part, the paint only costs $20 per 5 gallon bucket. I just buy a couple for each property, that way i have extra in case I need to touch up a wall or two.

Hope that helps.

I go there too and there’s some good finds and it’s free in my area. But, a word of caution. You have to be very careful as there’s a lot of bad paint there too. Some are clumpy from being left out in the cold. Some have the insides of the cans all rusty, so chunks of rust have fallen off and are contaminating the paint so you may end up with rust streaks or small bits of rusty metal on the walls. And third, you have to watch out for lead paint.

I also picked up a can of glossy clear Varathane once for my hardwood floors and it dried on the floors with white blotches because someone mixed the varnish with something else. Sanding it out was a devil. You have to be careful that people didn’t mix something detrimental in there. Inspect it. If it smells odd or looks odd, don’t use it.

Yea, they do a lot of the inspecting before they mix everything. That’s why they are able to charge $20 per 5 gallon. But you are right, it’s smart to inspect the paint before you apply it. So far, I have had no issues, and I have bought about 20 of their 5 gallon buckets.