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


1. Renovating the Bathroom

Worth it? No. A complete reno can cost thousands, even for a small bathroom. That’s because anytime plumbing is involved, the price tag is going to go way up; the average midrange bathroom remodel is estimated at more than $17,000. And even if you don’t pay that much for materials, it’s the installation work that will get you.

bathroom reno

Regrouting tile is an inexpensive way to freshen up your bathroom.

What our pros suggest: “The simplest thing you can do is update the smaller fixtures: towel bars, toilet paper holders, mirrors, medicine cabinets,” Saks advises. Also, don’t underestimate the impact of clean tiles. I discovered that Tilex works like a charm on grimy tiles, especially if you let it sit for a few hours before scrubbing.

Another expert tip? Regrouting. “[It] makes a rental bathroom feel fresh,” Saks says. You can do it yourself, but it’s also relatively affordable to hire a handyman. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $200 to $300, depending on how pervasive the dirt is.

When to bug your landlord: If there’s a safety risk—i.e., mold in the walls or even in your tiles—you should bring the matter up with the owner. “A landlord is obligated to fix leaks and electrical issues or remedy mold issues,” McHale says. “These are all situations that can create hazardous conditions for a tenant and, frankly, the building. So making these fixes is both required and a good idea.”

RELATED: Renovation Nation: Why Everyone Is Upgrading Their Homes

Saks is a huge fan of painting: “It can make a space feel bigger and brighter. And if painting a room is too big of a commitment, start with one focal wall.”

2. Investing in a Fresh Coat of Paint

Worth it? Yes. Saks is a huge fan of painting: “It can make a space feel bigger and brighter. And if painting a room is too big of a commitment, start with one focal wall.”

What our pros suggest: If you’re planning to DIY, expect to pay a couple hundred dollars for paint and supplies. A gallon of paint costs $20 on the low end and $100 on the high end—and should cover about 200 square feet.

And the experts agree: Don’t skimp on quality. Saks always uses Benjamin Moore: “It’s a slight upgrade from whatever Home Depot sells, and most painters vouch for it. They also do an eco-friendly line called Natura, with low vapors for anyone into green design.”

When to bug your landlord: Repainting is customary and usually done before a tenant moves in, says McHale. But in most cities it’s not mandatory, with the exception of a few places like New York, which requires landlords to repaint every three years.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they don’t offer—owners may even be willing to foot the bill and let you hire the painters. Just be sure to find out if you’ll need to paint it back to white or its original color when you move out.

RELATED: An Expert Shares His Top Design Secrets for Decorating Your Home

  • 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?

  • kgal1298

    So if my windows can’t be locked I can bitch about it? Seriously are landlord has refused to change any windows on the building in 30 years and most of them are so painted over they can’t even close.