Hacks For Remodeling Your Rental Properties


What remodeling projects should renters take on, or not?

There are volumes of advice, ideas, and how-to manuals for real estate investors on renovating rental properties, but almost nothing for renters. As America increasingly tips towards a nation of long term renters (for now), what DIY remodeling projects can tenants do, and how do they play into leasing?

Inspecting Your Rental Unit

Every renter needs to inspect their rental unit before signing the lease. This can seem like a challenge in very active and competitive rental markets, but you’ll likely be signing up for a year of payments, plus deposits. You’ll owe those whether you actually move in and stay or not. It can also get tricky when apartment managers and owners use models for showings. Often, no other units in the complex look even half as nice. Make sure you check out your exact unit in advance, and that the unit number matches your lease. Complete a walk-through inspection just like when buying a home too. Make sure you mark all flaws so you know what they are, and don’t get charged for them later. Those that want to be really thorough and are putting a lot on the line might even want to hire a professional home inspector. Some landlords are great about home repairs and improvements. Others are terrible. If you aren’t sure how good this landlord is, you might be cautious when moving into a unit with major appliances and services that are on their last legs. Many new real estate investors just aren’t financially prepared to replace AC units, washers and dryers, ranges, fridges, and electrical systems, roofs, or plumbing. Some may not have the cash or credit, even when they would like to.

Negotiating Your New Lease

The above can be used to negotiate a better deal on your new lease. Perhaps you are willing to take an outdated unit as-is in exchange for less rent or deposit. Maybe you are handy and are willing to put in a little sweat equity. Or maybe you can negotiate a shorter lease, or some form of free rent credit for taking a unit under construction. Or how about a Home Depot gift card?

Getting Your Apartment Improvements Approved

Renters that want to do their own remodels, or even make minor improvements need to be aware that they will normally need written and documented permission. That can take some time. A property manager may have to get approval from an out of area or even overseas landlord. And as crazy as it can seem, some don’t want their units messed with, even if you think you are investing in big improvements. It pays to know and have it in writing before you move in if possible. It the rental property is in an apartment complex or housing association tenants may have to also coordinate contractor access and working hours with the association and security. This may be limited to certain hours and days.

Which Rental Property Remodeling Projects Make Sense?

Three criteria for evaluating a rental property DIY or remodel project from a renter’s perspective:

  1. Can you undo it when you move out (and how much will that cost)?
  2. Can you take it with you?
  3. Will it pay for itself during the lease term?

Personal comfort and peace of mind have real value, but make sure to do the math. In some cases it may just be a waste of money. Money you could use to buy a home of your own, and fix it up. In other scenarios improving your rental unit may offer a better deal than on an expensive bed or sofa that will need to be replaced by the time you pay it off anyway.

7 Remodeling Ideas for Renters:

  1. Update lighting fixtures
  2. Replacing ceiling fans
  3. Add new cabinet hardware
  4. Place new flooring
  5. Paint the interior
  6. Resurface cabinets
  7. Add built in storage
  8. Replace switch plates
  9. Add security cameras and systems
  10. Hook up your unit with new smart home technology (like lighting, locks)
  11. Create cool outdoor relaxation and entertainment areas