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


3. Replacing Light Fixtures

Worth it? Yes. “Great lighting fixtures are super easy to install and de-install, and pay off in a big way,” McHale says.


Changing light fixtures is a great way to upgrade a rental space on a budget. Image credit:

What our pros suggest: If you’re planning to hire an electrician, expect to pay about $50 to $100 an hour; my local electrician charged $120 per hour. Sites like can give you price estimates based on your location and the scope of the project.

You can also go it alone. “It’s a fairly easy task, and once learned, you’ll be amazed at how simple it is,” Saks says.

You can pay as little or as much as you want for light fixtures, but places like Ikea and Schoolhouse Electric and Supply Co. have affordable and stylish fixtures for around $50 to $200.

When to bug your landlord: As long as your lights work, you don’t have much of a case for getting your landlord to pitch in purely for the sake of aesthetics. But think of your new lighting as an investment for your future home: If you’ve got the space to store the old fixtures, you can take your new ones with you when you move.

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“FLOR carpet tiles come in a variety of colors, patterns and textures. And if one tile gets worn or stained, you can replace it, which is less expensive than replacing the whole carpet.”

4. Refinishing Floors

Worth it? No. “Refinishing floors can be expensive and messy,” Saks says. “A contractor needs to sand, which is dusty, as well as restain, which involves fumes and time to dry properly.” If you have to front the money for this project, expect to pay anywhere from $3.92 to $5.04 per square foot.

What our pros suggest: Rugs are the easiest way to hide an imperfect floor, and add a touch of design. “Even if you aren’t looking for color and pattern, a simple sisal rug will add texture to the room,” Saks says.

Another perk: Rugs absorb sound, cutting down on noise for your neighbors below. To find good deals, Saks recommends websites like Overstock and RugsUSA. He’s also a fan of FLOR carpet tiles: “They come in a variety of colors, patterns and textures, and they are great for high-traffic areas. If one tile gets worn or stained, you can replace it, which is much less expensive than replacing the whole carpet.”

When to bug your landlord: Barring a hole in the floor or some other type of disrepair that’s potentially dangerous, your landlord probably isn’t going to invest money in a cosmetic fix. “You can try, but it really depends on the market you live in,” McHale says. “If inventory is so scarce [and there’s] high demand, landlords don’t need to share that cost with you.”

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  • 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.