Choosing to rent a home before taking the plunge to buy can be wise: Not only does it allow you to test out a new area before committing, it can also be a savvy financial move. Sure, there are tax breaks and other fiscal benefits to owning, but on a month-to-month basis, the plain truth is that renting is cheaper — anywhere from 33 percent to 93 percent cheaper. That can give you some leeway as you save up for a down payment on the home you really want.
But just because you’re not currently king of your castle doesn’t mean you have to put up with bland walls or outdated fixtures. You can spruce up your rental; you just have to make sure you’re not putting too much sweat equity (and real equity) into something that’s, well, not yours — and could cost you more to undo. Once you’ve figured out how far you can go with your landlord, consider how to breathe new design life into your rental.
DECK THE WALLS
Think color! Rentals are typically pretty plain because they are designed to appeal to the masses, who apparently favor white or beige walls. But you can make a rental your own for a relatively small investment by going all in on color wherever you’re allowed. Paint comes to mind, of course, but if you can’t actually paint the walls, find big, colorful paintings to cover up the boring builder beige.
Another option is removable wallpaper (yes, that’s a thing). Consider using temporary wallpaper on an accent wall to add a pop of personality — here are 20 great wallpaper designs to get you started.
DON’T TURN A BLIND EYE TO THE WINDOWS
Tacky plastic blinds scream “rental,” but fortunately they are simple to cover up. Consider putting up Roman shades or curtains. If you’re even marginally handy, they are relatively easy to sew from an affordable piece of fabric. (Pinterest to the rescue with simple curtain ideas!)
INTERRUPT THE WALL-TO-WALL
You have beige on the walls, and you probably have beige on the floor, typically in the form of wall-to-wall carpeting. (And just because the landlord calls it “desert sand” doesn’t make it any less bland.) While it’s unlikely you’ll want to go to the expense of upgrading your flooring, there’s nothing that says you can’t put an interesting area rug over the carpet to break up the look. The bonus is that you can take the rug with you to your “forever” home — you know, the one with the hardwood floors where your rug will actually serve a purpose. Most big box stores will have great deals on a large selection of rugs, or check out Overstock.com.
UPDATE THE LIGHTING
Another standard feature of many rentals is outdated (and unflattering) overhead lighting. Your landlord might allow you to update the fixtures with some canisters or pendants (keep the old ones safe so you can reinstall them when you leave). If not, you can circumvent the lighting issue with lamps placed strategically around your space. Affordable light fixtures are as close as your neighborhood superstore.
UPDATE YOUR CABINET HARDWARE
The existing knobs on kitchen and bathroom cabinets are typically eyesores. The good news is that finding fun new ones might be the easiest and cheapest, yet most impactful, swap of all. Basic designs can be had for $2 or less. If your landlord truly is in love with those brass knobs, you can easily replace them when you leave — and take your cool stuff to your new place.
MAKE IT SPARKLE
This costs almost nothing but a little elbow grease: Giving your place a top-to-bottom scrub, (don’t forget to clean the carpets!) can go a long way toward making your place look like a million bucks.
Finding new fixtures might be the easiest and cheapest, yet most impactful, swap of all.