7 Budget-Friendly Ways to Dramatically Enhance Your Rental Property

by | BiggerPockets.com

Rental properties come in all levels of rent-readiness. If you have a rental that is unattractive, it’s going to take longer to rent out. People want to live in nice places, and properties that were last renovated in the ’70s and ’80s won’t rent quickly or for nearly as much money as more up-to-date properties.

If you are strapped for cash, time or both, it can be difficult to get it rent-ready. Here are 7 ways to freshen up your rental and get it rented quickly.

7 Budget-Friendly Ways to Enhance Your Rental Property

Start With Curb Appeal

What does the outside of your property look like? Dead grass, dying trees and scrubby weeds don’t say “welcome home.” A few plants and flowers can take your yard from tired to lively, quickly and inexpensively. Purple fountain grass rapidly grows to about three feet wide and tall. It’s a lovely, rich shade of purple and is drought resistant, which means if you or your tenant forgets to water it, it isn’t going to die. Snapdragons are a gorgeous way to add color, they spread like wildfire and are also drought resistant.

Do you have an ugly chain link fence? Morning glories are your best friend here. They’re a quick-growing vine with beautiful leaves and colorful flowers that open in the morning. They re-seed themselves and need almost no water.


Color Those Walls

A fresh coat of paint looks clean and crisp, especially if you’ve done it right. White or cream used to be the go-to paint color for landlords, but adding a splash of neutral color can help your property stand out. Light to medium grey or tan creates a richer, more contemporary look, while costing you nothing extra. Pro tip: The smaller the property, the lighter you should go. Dark colors tend to suck the space out of a room. And make sure you paint the ceiling white; it just looks better.

Related: The Top 5 Items to Replace or Upgrade in Every Rental Property You Buy

One way to save on paint is to buy the five-gallon buckets. It costs less per gallon than individual gallons. Another way to save is to shop the “oops” paint section. These are mis-tinted gallons of paint that are sold at a steep discount. Prices vary by location, but my local store sells them for $7 each. If you can find similar finishes and colors, you can buy an empty five-gallon bucket with lid and mix the gallons together to get the amount you need.

Paint is absolutely your best bet for brightening up a property on the cheap — just make sure you use neutral colors. It would be disappointing to spend a lot of time painting, only to lose renters because the vivid paint you put on the walls clashed with their furniture. Remember, you aren’t living there. Choose colors that appeal to the widest array of renters.

Freshen Up the Kitchen

A lot of rental properties have an older style oak cabinet in the kitchen. When clean, they don’t look bad. Shiny or dull brass handles or knobs make them look outdated and can bring the whole kitchen down. The big box stores sell understated, classy door hardware in bulk packages of 50 for $45.

Do you have a backsplash? Tiling is a very inexpensive way to brighten up a room, and I have seen quality glass/stone mosaic tile at Costco for less than $5/sq ft. Another inexpensive option is to use beadboard or wainscoting. Cut it to fit the space and paint with a high gloss paint for ease in cleanup. You can pick up some 4′ x 8′ sheets for about $20.

Update Your Light Fixtures

Shiny brass was super popular back in the ’80s, but it’s horribly ugly now. Swapping out an old light fixture is a fairly easy process, and your room can only look better afterwards. Keep in mind that all finishes throughout a room — and ideally throughout the house — should match, so if you’re swapping out the brass light, make sure the door handles, etc. are changed out as well.

Electricity isn’t something to be taken lightly (seriously, no pun intended). While changing out a fixture isn’t a tough task, if you aren’t comfortable with it, hire this job out. Have all the fixtures you want installed ready to go, and pay one service call for the whole house.

Don’t Forget the Bathroom

The old, grungy shower head may still work, but a newer one will look better. A high-efficiency shower head can save water and money. Changing out a shower head isn’t very difficult; you simply unscrew the old one and twist the new one on. (Turn off the water before you start, and make sure it’s on tight!)


Paint Cabinets

I’m not a fan of oak cabinets from the ’80s. I think oak is ugly in general; however, it is a very sturdy building material. Those cabinets are probably in great shape and why spend money you don’t have to? If they just don’t do it for you, paint them.

This is a time-intensive process — there are many steps that must be followed or the paint will either not stick or will look terrible once it does. Steps include degreasing, stripping the old finish, and sanding. A LOT of sanding. My friends over at Frugalwoods detail the steps involved and show you how their kitchen cabinets turned out. If you are heavy on time and light on funds, this may be a great option for you.

Related: How to Best Prepare an Investment House for Rental (As Opposed to Sale)

Check Out the ReStore

Habitat for Humanity raises money for their program through their Discount Home Improvement stores called Habitat for Humanity ReStores. They sell new and gently used home improvement products at significantly discounted prices and can be a great source for unique items to update your home. Plus, you’re helping out a great cause. Win-Win!

A Little Improvement Can Go a Long Way

Walk around your rental property and take a hard look. What stands out as the biggest eyesore? Bring a friend with an objective eye and ask for honest feedback.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer members.]

What’s your favorite way to spruce up your rental properties?

Leave your tips below!

About Author

Mindy Jensen

Mindy Jensen has been buying and selling homes for almost 20 years. She buys houses, moves in, makes them beautiful, sells them, and starts the process all over again. She is a licensed real estate agent in Colorado, author of How to Sell Your Home, and the community manager for BiggerPockets.com, where she helps new and experienced investors learn the proper ways to invest in real estate to grow their wealth. Mindy is an alumnus of the School of Hard Knocks and will happily share her experiences with anyone who asks. When you can get her to stop talking about real estate, you can find her on her bike or adventuring in the beautiful mountains of Colorado.


  1. Ronda R.

    “It would be disappointing to spend a lot of time painting, only to lose renters because the orange paint you put on the walls clashed with their furniture. ”
    I had to laugh when I read the above. Was just reading that post this morning.
    Great pointers and reminders here. I agree that painting cabinets is tricky. Tons of prep work is required. If you are going to pay someone to do it make sure they have had prior experience with cabinets. We paid a professional painter to paint ours. What a disaster! Turns out ours were the first cabinets he had painted.

    I love ReStore. They have great deals on paint too.

  2. Joe Harper

    I wanted to leave a thoughtful comment but it took me 15 minutes to get back here after the ad revenue trickery. Thank you for writing this article. I am now ambivalent as to its content or veracity because I’ve had 15 minutes to temper my response.

  3. wesley c.

    For painting cabinets I think there is a better way. All that sanding and stripping isn’t necessary. Here’s what I do:
    1. Clean with tsp
    2. Rinse
    3. Light sanding to rough surface a bit. (No need to strip or remove old stain or poly)
    4. Apply Bullseye primer (either with a brush, sprayer, or aerosol can)
    5. I like another light sanding here but it isn’t essential.
    6. Couple coats of paint. Good paint. Either applied by brush or airless sprayer.

    Depending upon how you apply paint and primer you might not even need to remove doors. Rustoleum makes a kit that advertises “no sanding”, but I’ve never used this and really like the way I do it with Bullseye. Cheaper too. Also my experience is that Kilz doesn’t work as well on cabinets with a finish. Bullseye will adhere to anything. I really think it would work with no sanding as I’ve used it on baseboards trim and it has held up fine, but it doesn’t kill me to sand just a bit too be safe.

    Happy painting.

  4. Donald Zaroda

    If your area, like mine, has many old houses, say, from the 1900’s then you’re not going to be greeted with nice, hardwood floors when pulling up that dingy, smelling carpet. It likely will be pine and fir — softwood never meant as the final surface. They would use a dark stain and shellac to make a two-foot border around an area rug.

    These soft floors can be a great final treatment, though!

    A variety of goo-remover chemicals can eliminate/reduce the stain/shellac. After sanding the floors, try a Tung Oil instead of polyurethane for a soaked-in preserved wood that turns a beautiful Amber color and needs only localized scratch repair, instead of whole=area sanding & re-coating as with poly.

    Waterlox makes a great product for this. Specify the Marine grade

    I also include a Disclosure in my lease informing tenants that this flooring can produce splinters because it is softwood. So far, no problems and I believe that is because the tug oil penetrates and seals

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for that tip, Donald. I’ve had one house with the soft wood. I didn’t have any splinters, and it had a neat finish to it with the dents and scratches and weathered look. I wouldn’t choose it if I were installing the floor, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to carpet over.

  5. Just wanted to make a point about metals. Interior designers now agree that it is not necessary for metals to always match. Mix-and-match is totally acceptable now and is often done on purpose. So don’t be too hung up on whether every piece of metal matches, as long as it looks good.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Hi Diane.
      I’m not sure about zones. I’m in Colorado, and it died last year – I had to get more this year. I’m going to try to dig up and store in the house, then replant in the spring. We don’t salt the roads here, so I don’t know how it holds up to salt. We are super dry, and it does well with no water.

  6. Aleksey Vinogradov

    Good article, but I would strongly oppose the idea of painting the cabinets! If the cabinets look clean and neat – leave them alone! Only if you’re a hobbyist furniture restorer, enjoy the process, know what you’re doing and have no idea how to otherwise utilize your spare time.
    As the author specifically mentioned, painting is a ton of work and if you cut corners to expedite the job, you will inevitably paint hardware, get runs etc.. Once you paint your cabinets once, you’ll paint it again and again..
    My own experience is that I’ve lived in a rental apartment complex for seven years and there were oak cabinets in the kitchen. When we moved in, obviously we didn’t get too much excited about the kitchen – absolutely standard look. At the time we moved out I caught myself thinking – hey, the cabinets look exactly the way they did 7 yeas ago! (We’re neat ppl) Which means zero maintenance for the landlord. At the same time i happened to look at the kitchen in the apartment next door and for some reason their cabinets, identical to ours, were already painted and looked dirty again kinda waiting for another coat(s) of paint. So I thought the landlord ruined the cabinets once it was decided to paint them.
    Now i’m a small landlord myself, i replaced 3 kitchens out of 4 and purely out of time and budget considerations I had to paint cabinets in the 4th kitchen. I felt bad when i was doing it! Hopefully I’ll get the budget to replace that kitchen by the time the apartment gets vacant.
    Just a little tip that i learned – if you’re installing a new cabinets which do not require knobs (have grooves on the doors) and you think it’s great that you save on knobs and handyman’s time – think again. The tenants will be touching the doors all the time and it’s a great chance their hands wont be “free of dirt, oil, grease and other contaminants”.

    • Mindy Jensen

      Thanks for reading, Aleksey.
      Painting cabinets is a time-intensive process, that’s for sure. But it is a less-expensive option than replacing them all, and if you are tight on money, but have lots of time, it could be a great way to improve the kitchen.
      I agree, you should have the time to do it. Rushing will make it look like you rushed.
      And I, too have had the no-knobs on the cabinets that turned dirty and gross from tenant’s hands. Almost like they never wash?!?

  7. Richard G.

    Great article and especially great tips! The tips about curb appeal makes sense to me as this is the first thing potential buyers or renters will see when considering a home. The plants you mentioned I have never heard of but have written down and will be on the look out for them the next time I go to Home Depot or some gardening shop!

    Thanks for sharing —

  8. Deanna Opgenort

    Best stuff ever; Benjamin Moore makes a paint called “cabinet coat”. Not cheap ($50/gal) but SOOOOO worth it! 1 gallon did a full Island kitchen (15 linear feet of upper and lower cabinets, PLUS an island, + laundry) & there is probably enough to do at least one bathroom if not two.
    Note — it is not a “bright white”, and there may be some issues with tinting it. I had asked for a tan/mushroom color, but it came out almost exactly the same as swiss coffee (same as rest of house, so that worked out). Don’t know if it can go dark.
    It is a water-clean-up alkyd. It handles like an oil base, but cleans up with water. PLAN on 3 coats thin coats (DO NOT try to “cheat” and do thicker coats), but it goes a long, long. long way. Direction said to let dry some number of hours between coats (I did NOT do this, but had ideal painting drying conditions. No problems so far).
    I took the kitchen doors off to paint, but did the laundry ones in place. Hinges looked a bit neater with them taken off, but I don’t think I’d bother next time. Because the paint is so thin it’s prone to run, but simple to fix runs –just let the run dry, sand it down & repaint the door.
    Works MUCH better with foam roller than with a brush. Prep is minimal (TSP – no sanding). Dries moderately quickly, but plan on 7 days to finish curing to get a hard surface.
    After 3 months with (good) tenants it a few tiny, tiny scratches, and this was over wood-grain-printed manf home cabinets.

  9. Nice article with great tips! Painting the cabinets and curb appeal is really a great idea. I love the way which you are explained well about the article. Let me too try this tips. Thanks for the valuable post……

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