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12 Home Improvements You Can Make for Less Than $500

12 Home Improvements You Can Make for Less Than $500

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Sterling White

Sterling White is a multifamily investor, specializing in value-add apartments in Indianapolis and other Midwestern m...

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There’s no denying that renovating a home from the studs to the ceilings can be pricey. Even renovating a single room can be a budget killer. But if you’re wanting to upgrade your space, cheaper options can still make a big impact.

This goes doubly for real estate investors, who need to make big impacts on tiny budgets. Sometimes there’s no time for a full renovation! And if the home’s HVAC unit is shot, you may not be able to afford rejiggering floor plans and other major home improvement projects. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give your new property a tenant-approved makeover.

Here are 12 cheap home improvements—all costing $500 or less.

1. Paint

You may not be able to paint a whole house for $500, but you can enhance key rooms, update the entryway, and create accent walls. According to Good Housekeeping, this year’s color trends include browns, jewel tones, and greens.

But that doesn’t mean the perennial popular queen of the color ball, plain old white, is out of style. If you’re struggling to pick a shade, it’s amazing what a crisp, clean coat of white paint can do. Give it a shot—you might be shocked to see your whole space spruced up with only a fresh coat of paint.

Don’t skip the crown molding and baseboards. These small strips can get dingy quickly—and repainting them is super simple.

Other places to consider painting include brick fireplaces—especially if they’re tan bricks, stairs, and fences.

2. Change Out Flooring

There’s a few caveats to the under-$500 limit for this DIY.

  • You gotta DIY it. Bringing in a contractor pretty much ensures you’ll go way, way over budget.
  • Your space needs to be small. Even the cheapest flooring materials add up when you consider the cost across an entire house—or even a large room. This is a good project for a small bathroom whose existing floor is old and ugly.

For a 5′ by 8′ bathroom, inexpensive porcelain tiles (installed by you) might squeeze under the $500 limit. Downgrade to vinyl and you can cover even more space. Does vinyl make you wrinkle your nose and think of your college frat house’s bathroom? Things have changed since the ’90s. Today’s vinyl is durable and attractive.

And if you’re renting out the house, that durability is key. Hardwood in rentals needs more frequent refinishing, and even tile can get scratched and damaged. Sturdy vinyl withstands renters’ damage… and if you do need to replace it a few years down the line, it’s not that pricey.

This quick upgrade can improve the rent you can ask, too. Putting new flooring in small entry areas and bathrooms or replacing the carpet in that one ugly bedroom could help you rent the space quickly and for more money.

3. Patch the Roof

While roof repair won’t bring you immediate, visual joy the same way a new faucet or can of new paint will, it’s an essential and inexpensive repair. And amazingly, it can be done for relatively cheap, especially if you’re willing to get on the roof (safely) and fix the problem yourself.

Roof leaks can cause major havoc. They can quickly deteriorate your house and cause ballooning repair bills. If you rent out your property, they add to the maintenance interaction burden with tenants and can damage renter belongings—which you may be on the hook for.

In many cases, you don’t need a new roof, just patches. Some handymen may be able to do this repair quickly and inexpensively, too.

Pro tip: Some roof damage is simply too widespread to handle with a quick patch-me-up. If you’ve recently endured a hail storm or the roof hasn’t been replaced in decades, you might need to replace the whole thing. In the case of damage, your insurance may help you pay.

4. Add Smart Home Tech

Want to feel like you’re living in a whole new house? Maybe you just need some technological upgrades. Consider smart locks, a programmable thermostat, or improved WiFi—a mesh network is a genius solution for properties with dead spots, like the basement. These small updates will make your home work more smoothly.

Plus, if you’re renting out the property, potential tenants will be thrilled by these upgrades. Just keep in mind that installing smart technology and then renting out your house can leave you responsible for that technology, depending on the way your lease is worded. If you don’t want to be on the hook for replacing a $250 Nest thermostat, make sure to spell your expectations out in the lease. (As always, an attorney review is helpful.)

5. Bring in a Bar

Here’s a fun one: Use your small home improvement budget to create a place to relax. You may be able to expand countertops or bring in a standalone bar, which really adds to the excitement and emotional appeal of a place.

There are a few ways to do this cheaply. IKEA cabinets are inexpensive—especially if you have a flexible space and can purchase used cabinets via Craigslist or at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. A single piece of butcher block countertop isn’t terribly expensive, either. Dress up the space with a nice wine rack or coffee maker (pick your poison!) to create a new hub of the home.

6. Resurface Cabinets

Yes, a full kitchen reno is way outside of that $500 limit. Sorry. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep a dated kitchen. Resurfacing cabinets is an inexpensive option—and it can be as simple as a new coat of paint.

Keep in mind that resurfacing kitchen cabinets isn’t as simple as putting paint directly on the existing cabinet. You may need to strip any sealant and clean with TSP before you start painting or staining the wood. And make sure you seal your cabinets properly once you’ve finished—the kitchen is a messy, oily place, and surfaces can easily be damaged. That goes double if you plan on renting your property.

7. Add a Backsplash

Here’s another easy way to upgrade a kitchen inexpensively: Add a backsplash. While your limited budget means elaborate, super-trendy decorated tiles are out of the question, you can absolutely throw up a simple subway tile backsplash. Subway tiles even come in fun colors, if you’re looking for a bit of pizzazz. Peel and stick backsplashes are growing in popularity and durability, too.

Kitchen backsplashes can make a massive difference in the appeal and perceived value of a home. And there’s another benefit, besides visual appeal: They protect your wall from damage. That’s why you commonly see backsplashes behind kitchen sinks—they protect splashed water from damaging drywall and studs. Same goes for behind the stove, where grease splatters can damage the paint and become impossible to clean.

8. Add Office Space

Thanks to COVID-19, working from home is the new norm. But remote workers quickly find that working from the sofa isn’t as effective as they expected. Why not add a cozy space to work?

One option is simply converting an unused bedroom into a home office. However, if you’re renting out the house—or simply tight on space—you may not want to reduce bedroom counts. Create flex space through the creative uses of cabinets, pantries, or Murphy beds. Convert storage space into functional space. (Just don’t forget to seek out alternative storage solutions elsewhere.) Create dual-use spaces that enable quick changes between daily living and work.

9. Finish the Garage

Finished garage spaces add a big “wow” factor and more value. Even on a tight budget, you may be able to finish walls, add flooring, install storage, or put in office furniture.

Alternatively, consider adding some shelves, pegboards, and storage so a potential renter or buyer could utilize the space as a workshop. Everyone can easily visualize filling a garage with cars—why not help them understand its multifunctionality?

If there’s already plumbing near the garage, you may be able to add a sink or even an enclosed quarter bath. This can be useful for dog owners, who want to wash their dogs after a muddy walk without trekking dirt through the house.

10. Replace Hardware

Replacing front door and cabinet hardware can have one of the best returns of any home improvement. And it’s one of the easiest changes to make—all you need is a screwdriver. Most hardware includes instructions and a template that make installation even easier.

It’s surprising how much this small change can do. Installing hardware in the same color or metal throughout the whole house makes the space feel cohesive. Stainless steel or nickel finishes are the best blend of affordability and attractiveness, especially if you’re trying to appeal to renters.

If you’re simply updating the home for your own enjoyment, feel free to suit your own tastes. Door hardware is available in a wide variety of colors and styles. You can find everything from mosaic glass to shiny bronze.

11. Update the Light Fixtures

Outdated light fixtures can bring down the vibe of an entire room. And “boob” lighting—your standard flush-mount fixture—may be popular, but it can feel rather institutional. Consider swapping for a ceiling fan, especially in rooms that get warm. Lighting stores sell inexpensive but modern fixtures that increase the attractiveness of a whole room.

Don’t want to deal with swapping out fixtures? Here’s an easier (and even cheaper!) upgrade: Change the bulbs. Soft or warm white bulbs, around 2700 Kelvin, can help a space feel cozier and more welcoming.

12. Add Curb Appeal

Wow your visitors and potential tenants right away by improving your home’s curb appeal. This project is easily done on a budget, and can be as small or as large of an endeavor as you prefer.

Refinish the patio or deck, add a bench in the garden, or even just swap out the house number. Little pops of color make a big difference—try painting the door a fun color. Even just installing a new mailbox can help your home feel more welcoming.

You don’t need a big budget to enact changes that feel big. If you can’t afford a home makeover right now—or need to rent out your place stat—these inexpensive fixes can have major returns.

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Which of these would you consider implementing on your rental? What would you add to this list?

Let us know your thoughts with a comment.