You can renovate your rental. Whether you’re renting an apartment or a home, we’ve got landlord-approved upgrades for you. Best of all, some of these renovations can be inexpensive, or even free.
In the last 6 years, my wife and I have renovated two rentals. Follow our guide to find out how we’ve stayed under budget for these landlord-friendly changes.
What You Need To Know Before Getting Started
It’s important to state the obvious. We don’t own the buildings we rent and renovate. In any renovation we do, we make sure that any changes meet three criteria.
First on the list, and we can’t say this enough: always check with your landlord before starting a project. It’s their property. They get to decide what is and isn’t allowed.
Second, we make sure the repairs don’t cost us a lot. There’s no reason we should spend a lot of our money to fix up someone’s place for free. When owners renovate, they’re investing in their property. They’re putting money into fixing up their space so they can increase the value. Fixing up someone else’s property doesn’t help us in the long run.
Thirdly, we remember that we will move one day. We signed a lease, but there’s no guarantee we will be able to renew our lease at the end of the year. Any change we make needs to be worth the knowledge that we may only be able to enjoy it for a year or less.
1. Get Reimbursed By Your Landlord
Some renovations can be a win-win scenario. You get a nicer home to live in, and your landlord gets investment in their property.
We know our current landlord personally. He’s an old family friend of my wife. Before moving, we talked to him about renovations. We worked out a deal with our landlord that if we do renovations, he’ll reimburse us for the cost of materials on our next rent payment.
Of course, there are rules. Any renovation we get has to be approved by him. Our landlord also has the final say on which materials we purchase. After all, he wants to make sure he’s paying a fair price.
In the last two years, there’s been one time that we disagreed on which materials to purchase. We met in the middle and our landlord covered the equivalent cost of the materials he thought was fair. We covered the remainder. Then we were able to retile the entire bathroom for a little under $200 out of our pocket.
So long as all parties are on board, this can be mutually beneficial. Since our landlord only paid for the cost of materials, he was able to save money. It was beneficial for us too because the renovations were free, or nearly free for us. All we lost was the time and energy it took to make the changes That’s fine with us though since we got to reap the immediate benefit of living in a newly renovated space. Plus, we’re both crafty individuals. We actively enjoy working around the house.
When deciding on which project to start, we suggest looking into which styles are hot right now. You want to find projects that you’ll enjoy but that will also help provide the most value for your landlord.
2. Stick To The Essentials
You don’t have to renovate the whole place. You won’t be living there forever. Instead, settle on updating the pieces that are most important to you. There’s a lot of options that are quick fixes to your biggest focus. Only change what needs to be changed.
Here are our fast tips for getting the biggest bang for your buck based on your needs:
- Entertaining guests? Focus on the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. These are the three rooms your guests are likely to see the most. Keep things simple. Build a self-standing entertainment station for the living room and add a stick-on backsplash to the kitchen and bathroom. You can modernize your apartment so quickly with these changes.
- Like to cook? Focus on the kitchen and dining room. After all, you’ll be likely to spend the most time in these two rooms. Switch out the light fixture in the dining room and create a nail-free self-supporting bar for the wall cutout. You’ll make your space feel more elegant with an at-home bar complete with bar stools.
- Focused on yourself or your relationship? That’s good. Focusing on yourself and your needs is so important according to Stanford Daily. Create your own unique space by paying attention to your bedroom and bathroom. Paint one accent wall in your room and add floating shelves to help display some of your favorite decors. Cover your bathroom counter with marble paper to give it a refreshed look.
3. Watch Your Spending
Plan well and watch your spending. It sounds obvious, but it was a simple mistake we made that almost cost us a lot.
In our current rented house, we got permission to redo some of the landscaping out front. We made the decision to rush and buy all the items at once so we could get it done over a long weekend. We had plenty of food in the fridge, but our bank account was pretty low after buying all the new plants and gardening material necessary.
A few days before we got started, a friend strongly recommended we get the land surveyed first.
We had materials arriving in a few days, but we had to book a land surveyor and pay them upfront before then. I ended up having to borrow money to pay him. It was a $28 loss, but it was a good decision because we found out our plan would have been over the property line and could have disrupted a gas line in the process.
That was our mistake. Even though we had enough money to order all the materials, we didn’t plan our time well, and it cost us money. Learn from our mistakes and plan your renovation well.
4. Look Into Items That Can Move With You
Some renovations aren’t permanent. They have moved with us from space to space. Since we change back our rentals before moving out, we often don’t have to get approval on these changes.
Our last rental was an apartment. They were a little stricter on what could and couldn’t be changed. We didn’t have a reimbursement program set up with them. Instead, their rule was that any change that was made had to be changed back before leaving. There are four common items in the house that are easy to switch out and have a big impact. Best of all, these items could all transfer with us to our next rental.
The first one on the list is light fixtures. Switching out light fixtures is incredibly easy. At our old apartment, we switched out the outdated dining room light for a new modern chandelier. It was a focus point for the room and often a conversation starter when we had guests. A week before we moved out, we switched out the light fixture again and put back the original one. We followed a guide to switch out the lights both times.
Door handles were next on the list. Believe it or not, our bathroom didn’t have a lock on it. That wasn’t going to work for us when we had family and friends over. We took a trip to Lowe’s and bought door handles with a lock for our bedroom and bathroom. We stored the original handles and screws in a drawer until we needed them again.
When we moved in, our kitchen had outdated cabinet doors. We prefer a more open look, so we just removed some of the cabinet doors. We covered the front edges of the cabinets with Washi tape that was the same color. The tape blended nicely, and we were able to display our plates and glasses. We put the cabinet doors back on before moving out.
Believe it or not, but outlet switch plates can have a big impact on a room. We bought some navy-blue covers, and they were the perfect accent on our white walls. So long as you keep and reinstall those items before leaving, you can take them with you to your next place.
5. Get Creative And Save On Material Costs
In our last apartment, we couldn’t paint unless we wanted to paint before moving out. That means we would have had to pay for paint twice. Instead, we just invested in stickers. We found inspiration online. We chose unique styles that matched the theme of the room and the color of our decorations and furniture. When removing the stickers, we recommend going slow and being very careful.
Use what you already have laying around. A few years ago, we lived in an apartment with thin walls. Instead of buying new materials, we used what we had. We moved a bulky bookshelf up against the shared wall to help block out some of the sounds. We hung up tapestries and lined the backside with throw blankets held up by binder clips. The tapestry created an accent piece on the wall and the fabric helped muffle noise. Over time, we collected egg cartons and placed them behind the bookshelf and tapestry to help absorb even more sound.
Wait for big purchase items to go on sale. Most renovation projects happen in the summer and fall. Expect renovation and hardware prices to decrease towards the end of winter.
Look into sourcing your materials from reused, and traded items. Check out sites like recycle.net to see which options they have.
Stay Smart About Your Renovations
Hopefully, this guide helps you renovate your rented space. You deserve to enjoy your home to its fullest without paying an arm and a leg.
Renovations aren’t just for homeowners. You can do them for your rental spaces as well. You just have to be smart about how you go about them. With any renovations on rented space, you want to make sure you don’t cheat yourself or your landlord out of value.
Upgrading your space doesn’t have to cost a lot. Most of our projects never cost us more than $200. Regardless of the dollars spent, our projects were always worth a year of enjoyment, even if we got to enjoy them longer.