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I've always placed great value on turning a house — or apartment — into a home, whether I've rented (mostly) or owned (once).
But here's the rub: As a renter, you can't exactly knock down walls and tear up floors at will, which means "as is" takes on a whole new meaning.
In my recent search for the perfect New York City rental, I looked at more than 40 prospective pads —and there were some doozies. One had six-foot ceilings but floors so slanted that the appliances seemed to lean away from the walls. (Bing: How to level a sloped floor)
When I finally found The One — a spacious, sun-filled studio on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn, with a deck, no less — I could not sign on the dotted line fast enough.
Six weeks later, when I walked into the vacant apartment, it wasn't quite what I remembered. The walls were dirty, the uneven wood planks made my floors look like patchwork, and the tiny bathroom felt even smaller because the door almost slammed into the sink whenever I opened it.
I had to roll up my sleeves to turn this into my new home. Some fixes were quite easy (a deep clean does wonders), while others were more complicated. That bathroom door, for example, had to be rehanged to swing outward.
Because I hadn't paid a broker's fee, I set aside that money for improvements — although I quickly discovered there's no limit to how much you could potentially spend on fixing up an apartment, especially one in a 100-year-old building. Which got me thinking: If you're renting, how do you know when to spend the time and money to improve a home you don’t own?
To help me figure out what fixes were worth it, I turned to two pros: Will Saks, an interior designer with Homepolish, a service that matches clients with interior designers based on style and budget, and Greg McHale, a veteran real estate broker. Read on for their advice on what is — and isn't — worth the elbow grease and extra dollars.
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 $15,782. And even if you don't pay that much for materials, it's the installation work that will get you.
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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.
- 'Listed': Hottest remodeling projects
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."
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."
If you're considering hiring help, West Elm will paint your 12-by-12-foot room for $379, which is a reasonable benchmark when you're gathering estimates.
- MSN Money: 14 ways to redecorate for free
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.
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.
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 such as Handybook.com 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 such as Ikea and Schoolhouse Electric and Supply Co. have affordable and stylish fixtures for around $50 to $100.
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.
My point is , They do call in a plumber for water fixtures problems and that it. how many of us has no other choice. but to live in this situation. I am grateful for that I can pay the rent ( roof over our head), put a little food on the table and get clothes to cover my ****. my weekly wages has increase for me to start saving now and hopefully move by December.
I cannot fix or do anything. but save and move.
I answered this on 7/25. The nephew took over her apt. Part of her 'deal' with them is he is supposed to 'maintain' the property. Yes, he shoveled last winter. I don't have much grass on my side but he's weed-whacked it 3 times all summer. I like working outdoors although I can't do the heavy stuff. He & I cut away some branches/weeds overflowing from the woods next to my side one day. Supposedly she's coming back for a few days - I've been hearing this for a month. I rarely see them since they work different shifts so I left him a note about some things that need doing. They go out, clip what little is on their side and mine doesn't get touched. We have a circular drive - I'm the one who is weeding it since I can't stand looking at it. I'm the one buying weed killer, lawn spray for bugs (my dog is getting eaten alive by something out there). Add in we have a mouse problem that she's well aware of but will deny to my face. The carpet is ruined by the dog scratching at the scent of the mice. I just had the cleaner come in (as I do yearly) and clean the carpet twice - the dog isn't touching anything anymore. I bought gap filler and (with my bad knees), have pulled off every baseboard, cleaned and filled any holes inside and I'm still not done. I was using the hose to rinse them - now the spigot is broken (she bent it a few yrs. ago trying to power wash which I'm sure she'll blame me for!) and that's something I need - I wash down the deck I don't use, try & wash the siding a bit or wash down the driveway. I don't wash my car here.
I want to stay here - rentals, esp. duplexes are hard to find in my area - but where's does her (as the landlord) responsibility kick in??
My note to the nephew - he said one day he had white paint so in my note, I asked if he still had it and I'd be happy to paint the front door. Still waiting on that.
There's a political flier that was stuck in our storm doors 2 weeks ago - I pulled it in when I got my mail. His must have fallen off into the patch of ground between us. They're in & out constantly and it's still sitting there - I refuse to pick it up even though it's aggravating me. I am so done with picking up the slack and I'm guessing that she isn't charging them rent in return for the 'maintenance'.
Point is there are plenty of irresponsible landlords out there, too. This is a nice area and this house is starting to look pretty shabby. Chances are she's off in Atlantic City at the slot machines.
Me - I'm documenting everything from Day One.
I am about to buy a new house, but after my divorce, I started renting the house I live in now from a landlord I have known for over 20 years now.
I knew I would live here for quite a while (as it turns out, 6+ years), so yes, I put about $4,000 in work into this place, but I negotiated a rent that was at least $150 per month lower than market value. I would ask him to do upgrades, often saying if you put in 2/3, I will put in 1/3. One of the most valuable upgrades was putting 18" of insulation in the ceiling and 9" in the floor. My heating bill here in New England was only $700 per year, including hot water.
In addition, we bought a new dishwasher, he put in a brand new 27 cubic foot refrigerator, among other things.
Yes, it cost me up front, but the place was a lot nicer to live in, and I easily made it up on the back end through lower rent.
And never, ever take a tenant's word that "everything is just fine." A friend had to move to another state and rented the home they owned. The tenant was frequently asked, "How are things? Everything OK? Do you need anything?" Oh, "Everything is just fine!" When the tenant moved out into a home of their own my friend walked into her house and found: wallpaper torn from the walls and left hanging in pieces, custom window treatments costing over $500 in a trash can, and much more. They ended up with a new mortgage just to pay for the repairs before the house could be sold which, of course, totally devastated their dream of paying cash for their new home. They've been kicking themselves ever since.
Always go look.