A house should be clean, empty (unless you are offering it “furnished” which is uncommon) and free from any major repairs at the time the tenant moves in. Be sure everything is up to code, to the best of your knowledge. Have a professional carpet cleaner clean the carpets before showing the property.
I recently posted this question (how much should you improve your property before putting renters in) in the Edward Casey Blog, and here are some of the answers I got:
“On deciding how nice to make a rental in preparing it for rent, I have two primary areas I consider: What kind of return will I get from the improvements I’m considering and how much time and aggravation will it save me (if I do the improvements)?” -Jeffrey Long
“I try to have competitive advantages that aren’t easily destroyed. Vacancy is the devil, and if little things like garbage disposal will create less problems and give me an advantage, for not that much money, to me it’s a no brainer.” -Joe Delia
“We strive to offer a clean and better looking unit compared to the competition and we rent them competitively as well. Everything is done with a cost/benefit approach and to minimize repair and service calls.” -George Paiva
“It’s also important to understand the demographic that you’re marketing your property to. Just because YOU wouldn’t want to live in a lower quality residence, doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of people in that market who would be more than happy to. Your standards may not (and probably doesn’t) reflect the exact standards of the customers in your market.” -Seth Williams
Remember, the home does not need to be as fancy as you would want it to be if you were living there. Look around at other rentals in your area (via driving around or pictures online) and try to see what the typical quality is. Tenants will generally never take as good of care of your house as you do – so don’t spend too much time or money making unnecessary upgrades that will only be ignored or broken.
If you have questions about a certain upgrade, do what I did and post the question on the Edward Casey and ask. You may be surprised by the answers you receive.