Making Your Rental Look Expensive (DIY)

After countless showings and speaking with way too many Craigslist weirdos, you’ve finally found your dream rental apartment or house. It’s in the perfect location with a non-street parking space and even though the interior is clean, it’s looking a little dated. But just because you didn’t buy it doesn’t mean you can’t own it. Right? A rental is still your home, albeit a temporary one, and it deserves some love. Besides, if the stats are anything to go by, you’ll most likely be renting for a while. Despite millennials associating home-ownership with the American dream, USA Today reports only 9% plan to buy a home within a year, thanks in part to rising rent costs and student loans.

So what simple upgrades can you make to a rental that won’t cost you—ones your landlord will approve? I quizzed a few of the staffers at Real Property Management on the simple changes you can make on a dime. It’s time to start turning your makeshift space into the place you love.



Think of your rental like an artist’s blank canvas. You need a fresh foundation to build upon and layer around to create your magic castle. So, before you move everything in, most agree there’s one thing you need to do first: Paint it. Even if your landlord re-painted before you moved in, sometimes the color just isn’t quite right for you. Paint is so trans-formative and relatively cheap too. Put your money in a good quality paint and not in the painter, roll up your sleeves and pick up a brush. Painting can be tough work, but the gratification you feel at seeing the final result makes it totally worth it.


If there’s one part of the house that usually requires urgent attention, it’s the kitchen. As the most frequented room in the house, it should be pretty and practical, but it also needs to be fresh. No one wants to cook in a dirty kitchen. If you’re short on cash but want to make it look expensive, paint the cabinets, if your landlord will allow it. Painting cabinets a neutral color like white, gray, or charcoal will make a huge difference. If your cabinets are beyond painting, inquire about replacing them altogether. Most rental kitchens I’ve seen have overlay panel doors set on European hinges, these are easy to remove and replace. A simple walnut panel can change the whole look.

But if you’re ready to take it one step further, invest in IKEA’s low-cost Birch Butcherblock to replace cheap laminate counter-tops, the results are stunning. If that’s not possible, hang new pendant lighting. This will act as the focal point to the space and pull your eye from less desirable areas.


They are absolute necessities in any room (and we complain when there aren’t enough), but the truth is, light switches, plugs, and radiators can be eyesores. So how do you camouflage oddly placed light switches, plugs, and ugly radiators? While there’s no getting around radiators, you can usually paint them black or white. Again, paint can 100% transform a space. Make sure light switches and plugs are the same color as your wall so they disappear. If this doesn’t work, be creative, using art is the best solution. Simple radiator enclosures can be fabricated out of walnut, everyone agrees a little wood goes a long way…


One of the most common faux pas in a rental property is lighting. They’re usually old and mismatched, in a bad way, which can make the whole space look dated and tired. Thankfully, lighting is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to upgrade your home and bring it into the 21st century. IKEA is a great start for affordable, stylish options. Before you begin establishing a hierarchy of lighting is key. Floor and table lamps bring the light levels down to a humane scale.

If you’re willing to part with a little more cash Allied Maker lighting, has some great collections. The best thing about a lighting investment is you can take it with you when you leave.



Bathrooms can be tricky, especially if you have ugly tiles, but don’t let that deter you from turning it into a space you love. After all, this is the place where we beautify, cleanse, and nurture our bodies every day so it should look the part too. It’s also another room, like the kitchen, that needs to be clean. For simple, low-cost upgrades, fresh crisp linens, a ceramic case with flowers, or something green, will always bring life to an old space.

If you have a long-term lease consider investing in bathroom re-glazing. You can coat any old mildew or time-worn tile on the floor, on the walls, and even the bath tub, with a fresh crisp white glaze. It looks brand-new and likely costs around $500 to $800, but it’s worth the investment if you plan to stay. When I was renting I always replaced the shower-head.

When you are dealing with a dated tile pattern or color, create a neutral background using a shower curtain and area rug. Your money is better served by not touching the plumbing. Replacing the vanity is always a quick option though if it’s freestanding.IKEA has very cost-effective options.



Some rental properties don’t allow you to add as much artwork to the walls as you’d like. If that’s the case, move. Art censorship is non-negotiable. But seriously, if you’re really set on the place, then you should hang to your heart’s content. These days the nail for art hangers are smaller than a pin. Sometimes you just have to break the rules. It’s easy enough to fill that hole.



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