I’ve always placed great value on turning a house—or apartment—into a home, whether I’ve rented (mostly) or owned (once).
But here’s the rub: As a renter, you can’t exactly knock down walls and tear up floors at will, which means “as is” takes on a whole new meaning.
In my recent search for the perfect New York City rental, I looked at more than 40 prospective pads—and there were some doozies. One had six-foot ceilings but floors so slanted that the appliances seemed to lean away from the walls.
When I finally found The One—a spacious, sun-filled studio on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn, with a deck, no less!—I could not sign on the dotted line fast enough.
Six weeks later, when I walked into the vacant apartment, it wasn’t quite what I remembered. The walls were dirty, the uneven wood planks made my floors look like patchwork, and the tiny bathroom felt even smaller because the door almost slammed into the sink whenever I opened it.
I had to roll up my sleeves to turn this into my new home. Some fixes were quite easy (a deep clean does wonders!), while others were more complicated. That bathroom door, for example, had to be rehanged to swing outward.
Since I hadn’t paid a broker’s fee, I set aside that money for improvements—although I quickly discovered there’s no limit to how much you could potentially spend on fixing up an apartment, especially one in a 100-year-old building. Which got me thinking: If you’re renting, how do you know when to spend the time and money to improve a home you don’t own?
To help me figure out what fixes were worth it, I turned to two pros: Will Saks, an interior designer with Homepolish, a service that matches clients with interior designers based on style and budget, and Greg McHale, a veteran real estate broker. Read on for their advice on what is—and isn’t—worth the elbow grease and extra dollars.
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