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Anyone who knows me knows how HGTV-redo-a-room obsessed I am. I love that stuff - can't get enough of it! And it makes my heart go pitter patter to see someone installing a back splash, painting a room or replacing a fixture.
 Photo by Vincent Ma

And there are times when I want to do all of those things here, but there is this little nagging voice in my head that says "Psst, Jess - you know you don't really own this house right?"  Yep - for those of you that didn't know, we are renters due to "the situation". What is the situation? The cliff notes version is that we both lost our jobs and had to move to another state to find work. Caught in the balance was our home that we had been in for a year and a half. So we have been balancing a mortgage and rent for quite some time. When we finally get it sold, it is going to take us some time to bounce back from the inevitable loss we are going to take. I figure we will be renters for awhile. And from the emails I have gotten - there are a LOT of us out there in similar situations.

So my question today is when you rent, how much renovation is too much? I think the answer depends on how long you plan to be a renter and if that is the "norm" for your area. In some markets, especially big cities like NYC or San Francisco, it is cost prohibitive to purchase. Most people are long term renters who are looking to find a great place (preferably rent controlled) and just stay there.

But for a lot of us, renting is a temporary situation. A stop over if you will. And while I don't want to cut out all decorating, I also don't want to take it too far. I mean we are probably only in this place for another year to year and a half. Given that time frame, I have been thinking a lot about what I will and won’t do and here is my personal list.

I won’t be … painting the walls.

I love to paint. Love it. Love picking out the colors, love rolling it on the wall, love standing back at the end of the job and just adoring how it brings a room together. But I hate the prep work. If I paint something, I plan to leave it that way for at least 2 years. And since we are under that time frame here in this rental, I think I am going to pass. The vaulted ceilings in the main living area would be a pain and would probably require a professional. Besides – the walls aren’t white. They are a creamy deep beige color that is actually nice and works with all our furniture. See example below with bird plates.

I will be … hanging things on the walls

As you can see, I have had no issues with putting holes in the walls. Actually, I use a lot of the 3M Command products (no endorsements here just love em). Our Kitchen Chalkboard is hung with the picture hanging strips.

I won’t be …. installing light fixtures

Yeah the ones here aren’t great. But they work in a pinch. The only thing I might have considered was if the master didn’t have a ceiling fan – but it did. So we are good to go. See example of builder basic chandi and the only BAD fixture in the house – the kitchen florescent.

I will be … adding additional lighting through table and floor lamps.

Yes, the ceiling fixture in any room can be the focal point of your eye when you walk in. But if the fixture isn’t horrible, you can take that view point down and into the other details of the room. Especially the other lighting details. And adding floor and table lamps is something you can take with you when you go!

I won’t be … installing anything in a bathroom

Yeah – I won’t be installing new faucets or even hanging new towel rods. There is just no point in investing in that kind of stuff. Yes – you can take them down and take them with you. But who says that they will work in your new space or if your style will have changed by then. So for now, I will stick with what I have. Here is a peek at the guest bath vanity. Nothing to write home about but it isn’t horrible either.

I will be … gussying them up a bit

The baths actually aren’t bad. I love the transom window we have above the shower! It is really a highlight in there. I did hang the two prints above the toilet, find some great towels and put in a little bamboo. To me – that is enough for a rental!

I won’t be … purchasing any more furniture

Let’s face it. A lot of your furniture purchasing is based on the room you are going to put it in. I don’t want to purchase anything else for this house because we just simply aren’t going to be here long enough for me to worry about making an investment for the space. Now if someone offers up something for free or nearly free – certainly I would consider that! Like our living room sofa and chair. All freebies.

I will be … updating what I have

I don’t have a problem with making new pillows up for the couch or refinishing a chair cushion. Or even painting a piece. That is all fine by me! Like my desk I refinished. Looks tons better than what we had before and let’s me get my painting fix.

What about you? Are you in a rental now or even in a home that may be temporary? What will you do in that space and what won’t you do?  I wanna know!

15 frugal friends said ...

suzieQ said... @ September 15, 2010 at 5:52 AM

With the economy the way it is...you might be better off renting. I have a house and I am seriously under water. I don't feel that I should put any more money into it, since I won't be able to get it back.
What is sad with this economy is that so many of us are hurting. Houses were a hedge, a nest egg, and now, mine sometimes feels like a big financial mistake.
But, having a place to live beats being homeless, so I have to always remember that things could be worse.

Sarah said... @ September 15, 2010 at 7:28 AM

I use a lot of the vinyl stickers to give my builder-beige walls a custom look. They would work really well for renters, because they come right off!! Another question: how much is too much when you own? Our first home was a 1920s bungalow in an older neighborhood...we completely reno'd it, but had to be careful not to "price ourselves out of the neighborhood." Meaning, don't do renovations that you won't get a good return on when you sell.
Love your site!! I'm definitely going to be doing the bird plates in my house! Thanks!

Stephanie said... @ September 15, 2010 at 7:50 AM

I rent and always have, but for the time being it your home and you need to make it your own. As you live there and it's a reflection of who you are specially if you entertain and have people over. Ps I love that Desk!!!

Karen said... @ September 15, 2010 at 7:56 AM

There are so many things you can do to make a rental a home. I think it's wise of you to save your money and also buy/make/update things you can take with you when you move on.

Suggestion, have you considered small shades for the chandy? I bought some for very similar fixture we had in our last house and people always asked if I got a new fixture. It might warm up the look a little.

Erin said... @ September 15, 2010 at 8:04 AM

When I rented, I didn't paint or change anything fixture-wise, I knew it was temporary. Plus, I have had the misfortune of a lawsuit due to the landlord agreeing to some changes and then not wanting to give my security deposit back cause she's a greedy @#$%& and then suing me, which I then understood, don't do anything without it being in writing and signed by both parties because no one is as good as their word.

Krista@RustikChic said... @ September 15, 2010 at 10:23 AM

We rented for about a year and I tried my best to make it "us" without too many changes. I did hang a lot on the walls, but didn't change any fixtures. (maybe if we had been there longer ;) Fixing up furniture and adding fabric in places is a good way for sure. Investing time and money in things you can take with you. The things you have done look great!!

Thanks for the visit and FB love! I really appreciate it. :) Warmest Wishes!

Shelly @Crafty Creative Studio said... @ September 15, 2010 at 11:45 AM

You already have a lot of awesome comments -you knew you would, right? I think you are totally on the right track. We own, and I do not do a whole lot of permanent changes in the bathroom. The walls are a color I like, pick a couple of pics/frames for the wall, then I just change towels and floor rugs around. My best "eye-popping" item? The shower curtain! (Outer curtain, not the lining :) I have had the same one in the master for @ 2 years, I really though I would NEVER tire of it... I am totally ready now!

I love the vinyl idea! Affordable and you can remove them easily, and they may work in your new home. In lieu of vinyl, or stenciling, how about a group of 6 or more 8x10 canvas (butted up against each other) with a "stencil-like" scene painted across all of them? Take with or paint over later. Have a great rest of your day! (Sorry so long...)

Beth said... @ September 15, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Smart not to drop a lot of money on a place you'll soon have to leave. As long as a place feels like "you" is all that really matters in the end!

emily @ the happy home said... @ September 15, 2010 at 2:04 PM

my entire blog is currently revolving around what we are doing to our rental to make it work. we need to rent for a while (LA real estate is brutal), so we're looking at a 5 year plan.
1- we painted. a lot. our landlord had horrible taste in colors (lots of salmon), so it needed to go. also, laws in LA say you can't be charged for paint if it's been through 3 years of tenancy. we're good!
2- we won't touch the kitchen or the bathroom. it's just cost prohibitive, even though the fixtures aren't that good. we just demand that the landlord keep the appliances in tip-top shape.
3- installed a towel bar in the bathroom. seriously, we didn't have one when we moved in.
4- installed a new light fixture in the second bedroom. it has a short ceiling, but landlord put in a ceiling fan anyway. which didn't work for my 6'2" boyfriend.
5- lots of lawn care and gardening. we'll have to leave it, but the lawn was in horrible shape, and dangerous for our dogs (not level, etc.) we pulled it up and re-did the whole lawn and garden!

Making It Work Mom said... @ September 15, 2010 at 5:52 PM

I think you have just the right balance. Your place reflects your taste without investing too much money or too much time. We have been in our house for six years now and I am still promising myself that I will get to our bedroom to take down the horrible wallpaper and paint it! Who knows when I will get to it.

Anonymous said... @ September 15, 2010 at 6:57 PM

This is such a great post. We may be in a rental for a year or two as well after we sell our house. Not sure yet. Things are just so crazy in this economy. And right now there are people selling at huge losses and we're trying to avoid that. I just recently realized that I've spent my entire life living "temporarily" because it wasn't "the house" and now that I've come out of that, living truly temporarily is frustrating to me. BUT - this post gives me hope. Thank you so much, Jess!

fafner said... @ September 16, 2010 at 8:09 AM

I'm a renter now (as you said, it makes the most sense in NYC--for those of us who don't have a couple of million to lay down on a nice condo), and I still do some painting and touch-ups on apartments. I think despite there being so much turnover on apartments in this city, a lot of people feel the need to make the place their own. Maybe because it's so crazy and busy outside, you want your little oasis to be the exact color and decor that you want.

Ritkiss said... @ September 16, 2010 at 12:53 PM

We are in a rental right now, and sometimes knowing that we are moving in eight months makes it hard to decorate. Thanks for sharing ways to make a rental a home, I really needed that!

JenMarie said... @ September 30, 2010 at 10:02 PM

Looks like a nice rental and LOVE your touches!
Loved seeing a peek at your kitty!

Anonymous said... @ October 15, 2011 at 8:19 PM

Just stumbled upon your site today and I really love it. My situation is that I live overseas where DIY is nearly unheard of. Labor is super cheap, so you can hire anybody to do anything for pennies, however, you get what you pay for. Our country has a 'communist hangover' so most of the "skilled laborers" believe that 60% is a job WELL DONE. Sigh. It is tough knowing I could do it better myself, and negotiating the boy's club of any handy or crafty project is treacherous! However, my husband and I recently purchased a fixer-upper in the United States and are living in it while we fix it up to become a rental. I've been loving the painting and refinishing and swapping out hardware on all the cabinetry, etc., but hubby is telling me it is time to reign in my enthusiasm: no guarantee the renters will want or appreciate what I'm doing and it is almost time to pack up our bags and head overseas again--where we rent but also where we CAN do whatever we want to the place we rent. I guess we have the best and worst of both worlds and I shouldn't complain!!! :-) Thanks for the great site, I've already emailed several projects to crafty friends that I know will appreciate it.

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