If you are among the 20 percent of the population that is about to move and you own a house here that you'd like to come back to some day, now is the time to lay the groundwork for renting it out.

The complete process, which takes about three months, goes something like this:

Prepare the house: Ideally you should leave your house in the same condition you expect to find it when you return. Touch-up or completely paint marred walls and woodwork. Clean carpet and floors.

If you're handy with tools, any work you do now will eliminate the expense of professional repair later. Replace that cracked window and torn screen. Nail down loose shingles.

Keep plumbing problems to a minimum by doing a little preventive maintenance. Replace all faucet washers, recaulk tubs and check toilet flush mechanisms.

Have air conditioning and furnace systems checked and consider signing a contract to have it done annually while you're gone. Install smoke detectors.

Your house should be in such good repair that you'll hate to leave.

Organize the yard: Understandably, most tenants will not share your affection for the year-old camellia or handhewn grape arbor. Prepare your yard for minimum care by trimming shrubs and eliminating any tree limbs that may blow down in your absence.

If you can spare it, plan to leave your lawn mower behind as a subtle hint that grass needs cutting occasionally. Your neighbors will appreciate it.

Determine the rent: Compare your house with other neighborhood rentals and price yours accordingly.

If you're new to the renting game, enlist the aid of a Realtor who handles rentals. Many subscribe to the computerized Multiple Listing Service that provides an overview of rental prices according to location, house size and other amenities.

If you're fortunate, the desired rent may cover any management fees, your mortgage payments and minor repairs. If not, consider the balance an allotment toward an investment.

Keep asking rental price realistic. A vacant house is costly.

Arrange the management: Secure an agent to drive by occasionally, handle minor repairs and contract out major ones while you're gone. If you're lucky to have a willing friend or relative, fine. If not, have an agent manage your property for a percentage of the monthly rent.

A conscientious rental agent will save you money in the long run by taking care of small repairs before they become expensive problems. This agent will also take care of unpleasant tasks such as collecting overdue rent and settling damage grievances. The expense is worth the peace of mind.

Seek the tenants: If you're home most of the day and have the time and patience to answer many questions, advertise the house yourself. A newspaper ad should include location, occupancy date, rent, size of house, any extras and, of course, your telephone number.

If you've decided to use a rental agent, your house will be widely advertised through multiple listing.A rental agent will use newspaper advertisements and can answer questions prospective tenants have.

The fee for this rental service will be a large percentage of your first month's rent but, again, it may be worth it for the convenience it affords you.

Show the house: Showing your house to strangers is bothersome, but is a necessary evil. Hopefully, with preliminary screening, you or a rental agent will keep traffic to a minimum.

Needless to say, a clutter-free house looks larger; made beds and an empty kitchen sink add to the effect.

Sign the lease: A lease stipulates an agreed length of occupancy, the amount and method of rent payment and intricacies of liability, repairs and covenants. It will include a provision for a security deposit, which is usually one month's rent. It may also have a military clause that allows early termination of the lease when you or your tenant are ordered to relocate. e

The lease is a binding contract and should be understood by all who sign.

Hold the walk-through: At the lease-signing, a walk-through of the house is in order. Both landlord (and/or agent) and tenant can note discrepancies for which the tenant cannot be charged. This includes scorched countertops, chipped porcelain and scarred floors.

List any idiosyncrasies your house might have, such as the squeaky gas meter wheel and the window that's been painted shut for the last six years.

Indicate locations of circuit breaker panel and water shutoff valves.

Stroll through the yard and acquaint new tenants with that year-old camellia and hand-hewn grape arbor. Mention any other bushes or perennials that might need special care. If you want the lawn fertilized regularly, offer to pay for the materials.

Introduce them to your next door neighbor. It'll make your tenant's move easier.