5. Swapping Out Hardware
Worth it? Yes. “This is a super simple change out—all you need is a screwdriver—and like lighting, you can always take the hardware with you to your next place,” explains Saks. He suggests Schoolhouse Electric for great vintage-inspired outlet wall plates in cool finishes. One note about doorknobs: “If you change one, I’d say change them all for consistency,” he says.
What our pros suggest: There’s always the opportunity to spend more, but generally speaking, light switches, outlet covers and wall plates are an extremely affordable fix. At Home Depot, a new switch and wall plate together can cost around $3 (less than $2.50 for a switch, $.79 for a plate), and a set of 10 outlets costs around $20. Doorknobs are somewhat pricier: A classic rosette brass-and-white porcelain door set, for example, is about $30 on Amazon.com.
When to bug your landlord: Almost never. Unless there’s a piece of hardware missing altogether, expect to foot the bill.
6. Remodeling the Kitchen
Worth it? No. “Kitchens are some of the most expensive renovations,” Saks says. I can attest to that: A quick check on Sweeten.com, a site for home renovators that pairs projects with contractors, suggested a starting budget of $7,500 for my 50-square-foot kitchen!
What our pros suggest: As mentioned earlier, painting and swapping out hardware are economical solutions with big impact—replacement handles for your cabinets, for instance, can provide a whole new feel for your kitchen.
Have a little more wiggle room in the budget? Consider replacing your cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Most apartment kitchens are prefabricated, which means it should be easy to find a lot of options that fit your cabinets’ dimensions, says Saks.
A bonus tip from McHale: “If your landlord will allow it, get a dishwasher [if your place doesn't have one]. I did it a few years back, and it was the best $400 I’ve ever spent.” Just be aware that the feasibility of this depends on your kitchen layout.
When to bug your landlord: You’ll have to live with that ugly or outdated cabinetry, but if your appliances don’t work or frequently break down—costing your landlord expensive fix-it bills—you could argue for an upgrade.
7. Installing Custom Window Treatments
Worth it? Maybe. It depends on how much function you’re looking for from your blinds, drapes or shades. Custom treatments can offer features you can’t get from standard treatments. For example, I opted for top-down, bottom-up blinds that let natural light in at the top, while allowing for privacy from passersby on the bottom.
Sometimes, custom window treatments are the only option you have, especially if you live in a city with older architecture. In my apartment, the windows measure 29” x 82”, making them unusually tall.
What our pros suggest: Expect to pay at least $100 per window for custom blinds and shades—and more if you’re looking at a premium brand like Hunter Douglas. The good news is that companies like Blinds To Go often offer special promotions, and Saks personally favors JCPenney for affordable options.
Here’s another lower-end option: Buy affordable drapery and blackout panels, and have them hemmed by a tailor to your ideal length for about $10 to $20. “Premade drapery panels are much more affordable than custom ones, and they can add a nice, luxurious layer to any space,” Saks says.
When to bug your landlord: Never. As a tenant, all you’re entitled to are windows that aren’t broken and can be locked. When it comes to blinds or drapes, you’re on your own.