At Wetzel Realty, we love matching international clients who are new to the Upstate with homes that are a good fit for them, whether they are purchasing or renting. Since most expats come on contracts of just a few years, they typically choose to lease houses rather than buy.
The international clients we work with at Wetzel are outstanding tenants, keeping very clean homes, paying their rent on time, and communicating efficiently about any problems. But two to three years (on average) of living in a house can hardly go without evidence.
When a tenant’s assignment comes to an end, a Wetzel Realty representative attends the end walkthrough along with the tenant and property representative to assess the leased home’s condition.
We’ve noticed a few topics that have been coming up at end walkthroughs, leading to disagreement with landlords and, in some cases, reduced refunds of security deposits.
Disputes can arise over whether these concerns are just normal wear-and-tear, to be expected from daily life in a house, or damage, caused by accidents or negligence. For example, carpet that is worn from being walked on for a few years is normal wear-and-tear. But a red stain on the carpet from a bottle of spilled nail polish is damage.
Negotiating questions of damage vs. wear-and-tear
The best way for tenants to protect themselves in damage disputes is to show the photos they took on their entry walkthroughs. We encourage tenants to take a lot of photos when they first move in, and to keep the photos somewhere they can easily access and pull up at the end walkthrough. Sometimes a property management company will send a different representative three years later than the one who saw it initially, but tenants are able to negotiate effectively if they can show pictures proving the original condition of the house and yard.
South Carolina law allows the property representative 30 days to return the security deposit, with deductions for damages if they have invoices or quotes for needed repairs. Best case scenario, though, is to negotiate any issues at the end walkthrough and get the refund check in hand.
Tenants need to be aware of several points throughout their lease and especially as they prepare to move out and go back to their home countries.
1. The yard (garden)
Kids love trampolines, but the grass underneath suffers. If you have a circle of brown in your sea of green, your landlord will call it damage, and rightly so: your yard is not in the condition it was given you. Planting grass seed a week before the end walkthrough is not sufficient. Instead, you could either move the trampoline regularly around the yard or plant new grass a few months before departure, to ensure it has grown in before the end walkthrough.
Tenants are responsible for shrubs, mulch and anything else they can reach from the ground (trees that need trimming using a ladder are the landlord’s responsibility). The rule of thumb is the same as for the house: when you leave, the yard needs to look essentially the same as it did when you moved in. If you can’t remember, refer back to the pictures you took when you moved in.
If you move out before your end date (middle of the month, for example), make sure the yard is cared for and grass mowed until the end date.
2. Walls and nail holes
Landlords typically are OK with tenants leaving two or three small nails or picture anchors per room, although some prefer that tenants pull these out and just leave the holes. But it’s usually best to avoid patching or touchup painting: even if you use the same paint color, the touchup will likely show, because the rest of the paint has faded with time. Bigger holes (bolts for mounted TVs or other heavy items, for example) may need repair; consult your landlord. For scuff marks on walls and trim, “magic erasers” can work wonders.
Make sure utilities are paid till your actual end date, even if you hand over keys and move out earlier.
4. Lightbulbs and air filters
Check all lightbulbs and air filters and replace as needed before the end walkthrough.
Wetzel advocates for the tenant and his/her company with the goal of seeing the security deposit refunded as soon as possible. To do so, Wetzel helps determine if any items in question are damages caused by the tenant or simply normal wear and tear.
The Wetzel Realty rep is the eyes and ears of the tenant’s Human Resources department and will report back to HR whether any money will be withheld from the security deposit.
Wetzel also evaluates whether landlords or property management companies have been good to work with and whether to encourage future tenants to consider renting from them.
What Wetzel does not do is act as a collection agency, an expert at cost estimates for repairs, a contractor for repairs or yard work, or an advocate for associates when rules have been broken.
And a word to landlords
As you survey an empty house that you’ve leased out for the past three years, remember the big picture: you’ve collected a chunk of ren
t money every month for several years, and it’s probably been paid promptly. Most likely, your tenants have kept the place clean. A few dings and scratches are to be expected, and there is always going to be some cost when you turn over a property in order to keep it up in the condition you want.
If there’s been true damage–a broken window or pet scratches on a door, for example–most tenants will own up to it and be willing to pay a fair repair cost. But don’t nickel-and-dime your tenants at the end, especially if you hope to fill the house with new tenants who work for the same company. Getting greedy and demanding deductions for small problems may limit your future opportunities to rent.