10 Renovation Tips That Will Save You Time and Money

by | BiggerPockets.com

The impact of renovations aren’t always quantifiable.

While there are tried-and-true focuses and methods to see a good return on your renovation investments, you don’t have to break the bank to make positive changes for your rental properties.

Renovating a property is arguably the one line expense sheet line item where you can make what looks like the right decision and end up in the red.  Creating visually impactful changes to a property is important, but there is a fine line between smart renovations and wasted dollars.

10 Renovation Tips for Your Real Estate Investments

The following are 10 tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of spending to much and will help give you the most bang for your buck.

1. It’s Just a House

It’s not a home.

While you want your rental properties to be inviting and a place for tenants to be comfortable, they aren’t homes. Because of that, you don’t have to create a picture of perfection.

You don’t need everything to be top-of-line, especially if it doesn’t match the surrounding properties. Your tenants aren’t going to put a rental property under the same scrutiny as they would a home.

Related: 9 Incredibly Important Do’s and Don’ts of Flipping Houses

Whatever you do, don’t over-renovate your property. It doesn’t have to fit anyone’s vision of perfection — even yours.

2. Functionality Trumps Style

While a chic pad is nice, for your tenants, functionality will always win out over style.

It doesn’t have to be sleek, ultra modern and over-styled. Most tenants just want a comfortable place to spend their time and live their lives.

Choose function over style all day long, but that does not mean you need to choose boring or even have a blah looking house.  There are all kinds of little things that cost no money and catch the eye of renters and buyers.

Highlight what is new.  Leave tags on new blinds.  Leave the manufacturers label hanging on the pull cords for new ceiling fans.  Leave the energy efficient labels on all appliances so the buyer or tenant knows what is fresh and new.

3. Clean and Repair Before You Replace

It can be tempting to rip up all of the carpet in a new rental property immediately or toss out anything that looks old or worn.

In many cases, however, all things needs is a little TLC. A deep cleaning of pretty much anything — appliances, fixtures, carpets — can refresh things to make them seem like new at a fraction of the cost of replacing them entirely.

If you want to keep carpet, check out the condition closely. It’s probably fine and will look new with a deep, professional cleaning.  At the same time, if you think a good deep cleaning will work go for it, but if you determine on the front end that replacing is the only route to take, then replace it.

You usually have a low-cost option of cleaning first and then replacing, but when it comes to some items you have to be careful.  Carpet is one thing, but furnaces, AC units and water heaters are another.

Related: Appliances – To Repair or Replace: That is the Question

If they can accurately be tested and shown to be in high working order, then clean the units thoroughly and have them certified as working.  If they cannot be tested, replace them!

4. Don’t Overlook Landscaping

The exterior of your rental properties is just as important as the inside — maybe more important!

It’s what tenants, prospect and otherwise, see first. A little bit of thoughtful landscaping combined with a clean, well-painted exterior can add the perfect level of curb appeal to make a tenant want to live there.

Make sure, of course, that safety is number one. No cracked or broken concrete, steps, gates, fences, etc. Apart from that, a well-groomed lawn is powered. Before showing a property, have the lawn mowed and the flower beds freshened with new mulch.

5. Give Current Tenants Proper Notice

If you’re going to be doing major renovations, make sure that the property management gives tenants proper notice (at minimum, a month beforehand, though 90 days is even better.

Think about the laws that apply to eviction or landlord inspections). Major property renovations may mean that a tenant can’t live in the property while its being done. Generally, hold off on big projects until their lease is up and you have a vacancy.

Otherwise, help the tenant find temporarily accommodations and know that they don’t (and shouldn’t) pay rent until they can return.

6. Focus On the Kitchen and Bathroom First

Kitchens and bathrooms are what people notice first. They may love the rest of the house, but if the kitchen is stuck in the 70’s and the bathroom is full of pastel yellow tiles (complete with matching bathtub), they may have second thoughts.

7. Appliances First

If you can’t do an entire overhaul in one go, start with replacing the appliances.

A new stove or sink can fit in just fine with future changes. Opt for energy-efficient models to save on your bills and know that new appliances, by themselves, can lend the kitchen a more modern feel, even if the tile or cabinets are decades out of date.

8. Cabinets & Backsplash

Not all old cabinets need to be replaced entirely.

A new coat of paint and some fresh hardware can do just the trick. If they’re in desperate need of replacement, skip custom jobs and go for pieces from IKEA or hardware stores.

There’s a lot of variety out there nowadays, so you don’t have to break the bank to have a good-looking kitchen. If you want to try something different entirely, consider shelves in place of some cabinets. They’re less expensive and modern to boot.

Updating the backsplash, too, is a relatively cheap way to give a kitchen new life. Subway tiles are popular right now, but whatever you pick, make sure it matches the cabinets and is neutral in tone.

9. You Don’t Always Need Granite

Slab granite, for whatever reason, is a coveted feature in a kitchen.

Home shows, whether they have a renovation focus or are more in the vein of House Hunters, like to give the impression that anything short of a slab granite kitchen is utterly unacceptable.

Remember, again, though, that this is not a home. Especially if your property is not upper-end, you don’t need to spring for costly slabs. Look instead to cheaper alternatives — granite tile, modular granite, laminates and natural stone all look nice, last long, and can make a kitchen look nice.

10. Don’t Underestimate a Fresh Coat of Paint

Whether it’s in the interior, exterior, or a fun accent for the front door, a little paint can go a long way.

Aim to freshen paint every five years or so — it’s inexpensive and can give new life to your property. With any property renovation, take into account potential for wear and tear. You want things that last. Saving money is more about being smart than being cheap.

How do you save money with your property renovations?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

About Author

Chris Clothier

In 2005, Chris Clothier (G+) began working with passive real estate investors and has since helped more than 1,100 investors purchase over 3,400 investment properties in Memphis, Dallas and Houston through the Memphis Invest family of companies.


  1. Chris, #9- Granite / Marble, one can buy pieces from other jobs called cut offs for less money.
    One could go down pick out cabinets, then find a stone they want to match the square footage having very little waste. The problem with them is one has to seal them once or twice a year or they will stain. Quartz on the other hand will not and cost half the price. For my rentals, I install Formica because it’s easy and last a long time at very little cost.

    • Chris Clothier

      Great tip James on the cut-offs and left-over pieces. We also will use formica on most of our rentals. Some of the higher end properties we have started doing over the past year are getting higher end finishes, but on most we use formica. It comes in so many good looking finishes today and looks sharp, plus the cost is lower.

      Again, great tip and thanks for sharing!


      • BOB CRANEY

        i have put together some beautiful but not costly kitchens using granite looking formica. If you look into what really high end houses do in the kitchen, many include a full height granite backsplash in addition to the counter top. i took that idea and now have my top fabricator make the counter tops and then install using a pc of the laminate only on the full backsplash. They will cutout for any outlets in the backsplash and use a strong spray adhesive to mount it directly to the drywall. As a bonus its very durable and will hold up well to years of scrubbing and is impervious to food and oil that splash around the stove area. Cant figure out how to post a picture here.

  2. Chris,

    Great tips, short and simple, but very powerful. The curb appeal is extremely important to our business model. We want houses that tenants and neighbors can be proud to have.


    • Chris Clothier

      Jason –

      Thanks for the comments. I think the curb appeal is very important for another reason.

      When you have a clean house that starts from the curb and goes in, it attracts great tenants and also communicates what they can expect from you as a landlord. If your place is clean and well manicured that will instantly tell a prospective tenant that this is someone who at a minimum cares about their property.

      Thanks for the comments – Chris

  3. I agree, don’t fix up a rehab to the same level as a flip. I don’t have granite in my own house because I don’t want the extra chore of sealing it, so I would never put it in a rental.

  4. Chris,
    Thanks for taking the time to write this thread. I all too often over do renovations. I did better when I had a partner. one of us could always tell them other when they were getting too far into a renovation.

  5. I didn’t realize that the kitchen and bathroom are what people notice first but the more that I think about it, the more I realize about true it is! My husband and I have been wanting to renovate our kitchen so I’ll have to keep that in mind. We are going to be doing a lot of the work ourselves so we might rent a dumpster just so we can keep track of all the debris.

  6. I really like your tip about focusing on the kitchen and the bathroom first when it comes to home remodeling. My husband and I have been wanting to redo our kitchen for a while now along with some other areas of our home. Hopefully, we can hire a great contractor to help us with the whole process, thank you for sharing!

  7. My husband and I have been wanting to renovate our kitchen for some time now. We realize that we need to stay within our budget, but we still want quality work done. As you said, we can look at having our cabinets repainted instead of completely replaced. We’ll be sure to keep these tips in mind!

  8. I really like how you said that not all old cabinets need to be replaced entirely. That is something that I’ll have to keep in mind after we get a new setup in our kitchen. We just have shelves right now so we are really excited to get some new cabinets. I think that maybe repainting them in the future would be a great way to change the look of our kitchen every once in a while. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I really like the tip to make sure you’re keeping the kitchen light. I have a tendency to like darker colors, but when you put dark colors in a small room, it makes it look smaller. I really like the tip to make sure you’re making as much use as possible for multi-purpose things, because I feel like that’s going to save a lot of space. Thanks for sharing!

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