Should You Be Decorating And Renovating When You Rent?

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Decorating a living space can make an area of your home a more inviting place to enjoy when you rent for your family and guests.

We’ve all heard the saying, “The rich get richer” and that may be true especially when we give money away when we simply don’t have to.

We may not be literally handing cash in hand but the landlord where you rent will be all smiles when decorating costs are not coming out of his/her pocket.

Sure your landlord could potentially deduct renovations for the rental from his/her taxes but why bother if the renter is paying for them out of their own pocket?

We all decorate our houses from time to time especially when seasons change or just a change of decor inspires us that we’ve seen on social media, media or print.

Rental Decorating For Return On Investment

Decorating and renovating doesn’t have to consist of expensive handmade screen printed wallpaper or exotic hardwood flooring.

Taking a space and decorating it can be as simple as painting and that is probably the best return on investment there is.

Painting will brighten any room in the home instantly and give it that brand new feeling back.

I’ve talked before about decorating your home and which renovations tend to be better than others along with which ones we’ve done to our abode.

There is however some decorating tips that I would give out that involves no decorating what so ever and it includes painting or lack of it.

Decorating A Rental When You Rent

Although painting gives you that instant pop for the cheapest possible price it is possible to get zero return on investment.


By decorating someone else’s house.

Decorating and/or renovating a rented house is throwing money down the drain. It may look great after you’ve finished but who is ultimately going to enjoy your care and attention?

The landlord and they will love you for your efforts and thank you for the extra cash they can earn once you move out.

I used to live next door to a couple of roughly the same age in the UK when I owned my first home.

The difference between the two homes was I owned mine through a mortgage and they rented theirs.

My mortgage was roughly half of what they paid in rent in those days which was bad news for them.

They also got the first home bug and decided to decorate from top to bottom at their expense.

I’ll admit it looked better than mine, but I wasn’t the one losing out.

For everything they paid out and the hard work they put in, the ultimate winner was the landlord.

When the couple left the house it was instantly rented out again for a higher rent, probably because it was beautifully decorated inside.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be indoor decorating either, outside the home can easily use up the same amount of money or more.

Landscaping A Rental Property

I used to know someone back in the UK that lived in a rental property and decided to re-grade the back garden and build a retaining wall believing that they would stay there for a number of years.

They also re-painted, installed new light fittings among other things.

In the end, life happened and things changed and they moved out a lot sooner than they had anticipated.

If you must have a garden full of flowers and bushes where you rent doesn’t go to a garden centre and spend your money.


It’s not like you are going to dig them up and take them when you leave.

Reality is most renters leave at some point or move to another location for various reasons.

Decorating For Free or Cheap On A Budget

Think smart and find free plants and easy ways to save money on gardening by using everyday tips that most people don’t think of.

The cost of materials and the labour were all lost to the landlord who reaped the benefits of the improved garden, or should I say the new tenants.

Pots or hanging baskets would have been a better way to add that certain something to a rental property.

The difference is, they have the added advantage that they can be taken with you when you leave.

Now I know that long-term renters may disagree with me as living for years in a completely bland white wall box of a house can be very dull and uninteresting.

It doesn’t have to be that way if you are creative and a smart decorator with a frugal mindset.

I’ve seen some rentals in my time where the whole house could do with a coat of paint just to hide all the dirt, scrapes and damage that earlier renters have inflicted.

Some people may live in a rent-to-own home and have the opportunity to buy out the property at some point at the end of a rental agreement.

This may make a little more sense if you insist on decorating although some rent-to-own schemes have a little left to be desired.

There was a TV series broadcast on Home and Garden Television (HGTV) that was called “For Rent” where a couple or small family would look at rental options and then the presenter and the production team would redecorate or renovate.

They would ask the landlord for permission in which most were obliging mainly because they were getting a bargain out of the deal.

The one thing that got me thinking was these people were often looking for a rental property on a certain budget because money was tight.

Why would you go and blow more money on decorating or renovating the property at your expense if you’ve got a tight budget?

We know people who have renovated kitchens, bathrooms, added on a deck or finished a basement with their own money just so they could enjoy the space in their rental.

Not a smart investment if you ask me, but that’s just my opinion.

Of course the landlord approved it and made sure permits were in place where needed but likely went home laughing about how much money he saved because they spent theirs.

Decorating Smart Without Extra Costs

There are still ways you can decorate your rental without having to lose out.

Just because it’s not your own doesn’t mean you can’t make it a space you are comfortable in.

Wall hangings and/or paintings can add colour and a focal point to a room.

I’d suggest checking with your landlord before putting holes in the walls.

Rugs can cover over bad carpeted areas.

Curtains tend to be easier to move from one house to another rather than blinds as they tend to be custom fit.

Don’t rush out to buy brand new when you can try to find free decor online or shop garage sales for cheap items.

If you insist on changing out light fittings, make sure you keep the original so you can re-install it when you leave the property.

Why leave your new light fixture for someone else to enjoy and reap the rewards of your hard-earned money?

Sometimes the shiny brand new effect can get the best of us and start to pull you off your path and away from your goals.

Renting To Save Money To Buy A House

We have rented short-term before to save money because bills were included in the rental and this helped us get to where we wanted to go.

In all the time we spent there we didn’t once get the urge to decorate let alone renovate, although it needed it.

Yes, it would have been much nicer to live in a better-looking rental but a tight budget is what we set ourselves.

That was our choice because we knew we weren’t going to stay long-term nor would we spend the money even if we were.

It did, however, get a very thorough cleaning before and during our stay and the day we left.

The end result of doing without enabled us to put down a larger down-payment on our house purchase.

Saving on not decorating a rental apartment helped us by transferring the savings on to decorate and renovate our new house.

Even if you have the mindset that you will never own your own home you need to stop thinking that way or you never will.

Put goals into place and start saving for your down-payment today even if it takes you years of renting before you can get into a house.

If you insist on renovating or decorating a home/apartment you rent accept the fact that your money is as good as gone, no return on investment.

Our house has been decorated to a certain extent and is currently under planning for the next phase.

The end result will be money in our pockets and not the landlords’ bank account.

Discussion questions:

  • Have you renovated somewhere you’ve rented?
  • Why did you make that decision and how much did you spend?
  • What are some other ways you can decorate where you rent for less?

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  1. I live on disability, and 83% of that income goes towards rent. I have lived in my apartment for 8 years, and have added a lush perennial garden [on my own meager dime, also scouring online classifieds, and demolition sites for free plants]. Other upgrades include paint, weatherstripping, and new knobs to aging cabinets. I had the carpets cleaned when I moved in, and regularly wash my floors by hand. I am a big fan of elbow grease. When my landlords head south for the winter, I become the de facto building manager and have to contend with hot water tanks leaking and pilot lights going out. Not paid, but I’ve been here the longest, and these are things I’ve chosen to take on as my landlords are unreliable, and the other tenants too transient to deal with them.

    This apartment is not expensive by most accounts, but it is too much for me to handle on my own anymore [I previously had a roommate, but my disability has reached a point where this is not feasible any longer]. My financial prospects are bleak, so I have done my best to make things better and more user-friendly/liveable where I can. I have asked my landlords for a fractional compensation, as most other tenants in the building have cited the garden I created as their reason for moving in, but no dice. I will be moving into a new place [a “former drug den” according to the tenants in the main house — mine is the laneway], and fixing it up on my own dime again. But it is a little less expensive per month than my current household, so by doing the upgrades myself [switch out poorly-installed and mouldy plywood kitchen and bathroom DIYs for modular Ikea systems], I will reap the benefits of a much better apartment for my buck further down the line. When you have very little money, spending it all on rent is especially gutting when you’re not getting much in return — that it has value is penultimate, because you stretch every dollar as it is. And when you can’t trust the landlord to do it properly or at all, doing it yourself just saves a head/heartache. Soon enough you’ll have place worth much more than the rent you are paying for it. And it does wonders for your health, to live in a home that is cozy and well-maintained. I wish I could afford one of my own, but I can not. Really bothers me that renters have such a bad rap. I care about my things and my home and my neighbours. It makes me sad to see neglected houses. I’ve been on waiting lists for the Housing Council for a long time. I recently got a letter that said “Your case has been deemed ‘High Priority’. We will send you an update of your status in a year”. Seems like high priority. Hehe. Anyways. That’s why I renovate my rentals.

    “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Teddy Roosevelt

  2. I definitely appreciate this advice. You’re really just “wasting your money” if you reno someone else’s property.

    However, I think there might be a shift underway because the housing marking is so crazy that many people, especially in HCOL areas, cannot afford to buy. We currently rent a semi-detached house in Toronto, and a mortgage on this property would be probably 3 times what we rent it for. Even with my husband’s great job, we really don’t see ourselves buying anytime soon. And by “soon,” I’m talking 5-10 YEARS. That’s a long time. Our bathroom is not lovely. Someone has attempted to paint the tub at some point. There’s a certain level of mildew and nasty that will not go away no matter how hard I scrub or what products I use. We currently have a year long lease, but if we could sign a 3 or 5 year lease, I would seriously consider spending some money on fixes that we would ultimately leave behind. Because I believe that enjoying where you live has a value, even if it isn’t measured in dollars.

    Given the real estate market, I think we may be seeing more people like me–people who become long-term renters who are willing to put in some money because we want to like where we live even if we don’t own it.

    Just adding some other perspective to the conversation 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your point of view. Is the landlord not responsible for taking care of mildew and other issues in the house where they are considered “unhealthy” in Canada? I’m still learning about renting laws and will likely do more research on the topic. I can understand your desire to love where you live and I guess it’s personal opinion which I respect. I’d still save my money and put it into something I own down the road but that’s just me. Friend’s of ours are similar to you where they spend hundreds if not thousands on gardening every year and adding this and that to a home they rent although they will likely never own a house and be long-term renters. Thanks for your perspective… it’s always nice to hear the flip side. 🙂 Mr.CBB P.S What would you do to the bathroom if you could fix it up? Do you have a set budget or would you just go with the flow?

  3. My experience of landlords is that I am merely an inhabitant and don’t have choice over decoration. Either way, for the most part it is only a luxury option.

  4. My tenants asked if they could paint the place and do a little DIY, I was really happy they were taking such good care of the place, so I paid for all the paint and supplies. As a renter you deserve a nice place to live, even if you stay only a year or so, the cost of paint is negligible compared to the feeling that you are at home.

    1. That’s great that you went ahead and paid for the paint Pauline. I agree that when you rent somewhere you should be getting a decent place to live in.

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