Renter’s Guide to Renovations: Are These 7 Common Upgrades Worth Doing?

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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.

New hardware for your cabinets can bring a whole new feel to your kitchen. Image credit: lowes.com

New hardware can instantly change the feel of a kitchen. Image credit: lowes.com

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.

RELATED: When Renovation Goes Wrong: 4 Homeowners Share Their Real-Life Fails

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When to bug your landlord: You’ll have to live with that ugly or outdated cabinetry, but if your appliances don’t work or frequently break down—costing your landlord expensive fix-it bills—you could argue for an upgrade.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.

RELATED: 7 Home Upgrades That Can Save Money in the Future

  • Em

    From someone who’s been working on a rental (some on my own, and some with my landlord’s help) for over a year now – if you can’t replace kitchen cabinet doors, ask your landlord if you can paint them. If the landlord is already okay with painting walls and the cabinets are very dated, a neutral coat of paint can really freshen up the kitchen and make it feel renovated.

    On drapes/curtains – if you can sew even a little (just straight lines) and have access to a sewing machine, you can make your own basic curtains pretty easily. Jo-Ann Fabrics always has at least one 40% or 50% off coupon available online, which can really save you money on a cut of fabric, and I’ve had good luck finding cheap tension rods on Amazon. My curtains are a mix of Ikea (it’s really hard to beat $5 floor length sheers) and homemade (fun colors/patterns), and it makes a huge difference in making my rental feel like a home.

  • Jessica

    This was helpful, but I disagree with the “buy more expensive paint” part of this article. Consumer Reports recently tested many brands of paints and actually found that Behr (sold at Home Depot and around $30/gallon) is the most cost effective and listed it as a best buy. I would never spend $100 on a gallon of paint, especially not just because some interior designer says it’s the way to go…

    • TartanSixNine

      I can vouch that Behr Pure Premium is a great paint. It is more expensive than most at first glance…until you realize you don’t need to buy primer, and you need to buy less of it than others since it covers so well (usually two coats of this stuff will do it).

  • landlord_in_MA

    Re #7, that depends on where you live. I own 4 rental units in Massachusetts, and by law landlords are required to provide window coverings. 99% of the time, it will be plain white, cheap vertical blinds, but there has to be something on the windows when it’s rented. Of course after you move in, you can change them to whatever you want or hang curtains.

  • MandyM

    our management company just replaced all the old metal vertical
    blinds with new plastic ones. So much better and we didn’t even have to beg!

  • TC

    My fiancé and I live in a pretty large alcove studio in Brooklyn, and we are considering adding sliding doors. Do you have any advice for that and potential costs?