Carpet, Tile, Vinyl and Wood

As property managers, we spend more real cash on flooring that just about any other item.  Excluding roofs, windows and  boilers, flooring is often the one line item expenditure that pops on the annual profit/loss. Some property managers are flooring experts.  Most of us muddle forward executing a well-rounded flooring strategy that needs work.    

With flooring, there is always the necessary balance between initial costs and longevity.  Frankly, as you know, its sometimes a crap shoot based on how hard people live in a unit.  But irrespective of the covering we are generally choosing from four options: Carpet, wood, tile or vinyl.  

Excluding seasonal and tropical adjustments most people have a preference for carpet.  Preference or not, let’s look at some alternative flooring types.

Which flooring is best?  Part of the answer depends on use, weather and location.   Consider for this writing we are discussing garden apartments interiors with normal turnover.     

Carpet.  Ye old standby.  Always there, always versatile.  Tremendous selection and quality choices.  A must-use material on second and third floor living area interiors (living rooms in particular).    

Now that carpet pad is approaching the same price point as carpet, consider using eight pound (8 lb) pad.  It add longevity, bounce and is easier for installers to work (they love it compared to 6 lb). 

Wood.  There is wood (actual wood from trees machined into wood flooring) and there is  “wood finish” tile.  Which are you looking for; wood or wood finish? Wonderful to have in the leasing showroom and high traffic common areas that have daily attention.  A great product with stellar longevity but often priced beyond usefulness in garden apartments unless rents are approaching $2 a square foot. 

Tile. I am a big fan of tile.  Heavily used in the south based on warm year-round temperatures. Longevity is the real selling point.  Don’t get fancy with it as we want this type of installed flooring to “fit” ten and fifteen years out.  Earth tones and basic colors- those that cover stains.  For grout, use one with some color as white will require more maintenance over time.  Other than the occasional crack or because of abuse it is a better buy than carpet or wood.  Slightly higher costs per square foot going in but a much better return on investment over the long-term.   

Find a local professional to learn the the best choice for your location.  The vocabulary here is huge.  We say “tile” a professional says…

  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
  • Saltillo (Spanish tile)
  • Terracotta (baked earth)
  • Terrazzo (marble, granite and concrete)

Vinyl.  Laminates have their place. When installed right with the correct under-layment, it is long-lasting and easy to replace when necessary.  Good for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and entryways.   

Brick. Yes, I said brick.  It may just fit in certain circumstances so consider this as just one more potential material.  It’s more likely that  a “brick finish” will be the end result over concrete (see concrete below).

 Concrete.  In some common areas can be suitable depending on climate. There are numerous methods for making plain concrete into good looking, livable space. 

  • Textured or Stampable
  • Stenciled toppings
  • Stained, dyed or polished

 Mix n’ Match

Can you mix and match materials?  Of course.  One of the things we like to do with two-story townhomes is use a tile product on the upstairs landing.  It’s a one-time install and going forward any carpet replacement is only in bedrooms.  We never have to touch the landing again.   Yes, it’s $300 versus $75 for carpet, but it is done forever.  Makes no sense if your company buys/sells rapidly.  Makes a lot of sense if you are a long-term owner.

Consider using “25 year” product (tile, concrete) in any high traffic areas where the costs factor is justified.   There are commercial grade flex-tile products that claim to have a 20 year life (like those installed in the clothing section of  your local Wal-Mart- they should know).    

We devoted little space to carpet in the post even though it is the main-stay staple product. That’s because it is so well known.  Our focus in this writing is to get you thinking about costs effective alternatives that add variety, longevity and differentiation to your multifamily assets.

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Multifamily Insight is dedicated to assisting current and future multifamily property owners, operators and investors in executing specific tasks that allow multifamily assets to operate at their highest level of efficiency. We discuss real world issues in multifamily property management and acquisitions. This blog is intended to be informational only and does not provide legal, financial or accounting advice. Seek professional counsel.  For more information, visit:

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