8 surprising ways renters have the better end of the design deal

Guest post by Viviane Brock

You may not be able to update your rental, but you can use your money to go crazy on the vintage decor, like this temporary wall paper.
You may not be able to update your rental, but you can use your money to go crazy on the vintage decor, like this temporary wall paper.
When I lived in rentals, I frequently thought, “If only I owned this place, I would change this, this, and this about it!” Landlord beige walls, restrictions on decorating, and the constant fear of losing your damage deposit can make apartment living seem the antithesis of decorating freedom. When I bought my own place, I was going to finally make my place, my own.

Trouble is, ten months after my husband and I bought our house, we have spent $2700 on “making the place our own,” and you can barely see ANY of it.

I doubt there are many Pinterest pages dedicated to re-grouted bathroom tiles, or replacing peeled, yucky, outdoor paint with a new coat of the same colour. New windows are great for saving on your heating bill, but not really a visual showstopper.

If I had EVER spent $2700 on any apartment I lived in, it would have been a “look at my design flair” orgasm. With ownership, all that “make things pretty” money gets sucked into the “make things functional in the long term” hole.

So without further ado, I would like to let all those frustrated renters out there know the eight ways how you might have the better end of the design deal…

1. “Never going to happen” can be less frustrating than “one day…”

When there is something you don’t like, but can’t afford to fix, you can justify it by saying, “I am not putting that kind of money into a rental.” Everyone will respect that decision. When you own it, you just have to say “Yeah, we can’t afford to. But one day…” You may have no idea when “one day” will happen.

2. When you rent, your “one day” can be today!

Do you have extra money that you want to splurge on temporary wallpaper, a shelving unit, a rug to cover an ugly floor? Go crazy. When you own, you have to balance your “right now” budget with your “in the future” budget. That means, if you know you are going to redo that floor in a year for $1000, it doesn’t make sense to cover it with a $200 carpet right now. You save that $200 to work towards the fix you REALLY want. In the meantime, ugly floor.

3. Outside is usually not your problem

Roof leaking? Porch sagging? Peeling paint? Call your landlord. These mildly annoying issues can eat up a lot of money when you own your own place. Money that would be better spent on temporary vinyl back splashes, or the latest amazing looking new storage solution for your space.

4. Temporary fixes are usually cheaper than long term solutions

Ugly laminate cupboards while renting? Cover them with contact paper — it will last a year or two at least. When you own them? It’s time to take them all outside, and properly paint those suckers for the long haul. When you own you often have to do bigger jobs that cost more upfront to save money in the long run.

5. Your own place? Your list of fixes can be endless

Unless you lucked into buying your dream house right off the bat, thinking about all the ways that are possible to make your place better can leave you with a longer list than you thought possible, and can leave you feeling bummed out with “your space.” Since there are limited things you can do in a rental, you can (sometimes) hit the point where it is as awesome as its going to get, and be happy with it!

6. When you finally have extra storage, shit piles up

It’s like the more room you have, the more crap you accumulate. I have done at least six purges of just random stuff since I moved into my own place. Having a basement makes you a sucker for grabbing free stuff that you might use “one day.” Limited space makes you pickier, and makes moving easier.

7. No one judges your decorating choices based on resale value

For some reason, even if you don’t plan on moving any time soon (or ever) after you have purchased a place, you are supposed to morph into an HGTV home-flipper who is hell bent on fixing up a place to satisfy the largest portion of the real estate market. It is suddenly not rude to point out how most people do not appreciate cat doors in unlikely places, or that painting the creepy basement with blood red paint splatter might be ill advised.

8. Finally, where you live can be awesome because YOU live there

Renting can force you to be more creative with how you flex your flair. If you make it your own, however you can, it will still be awesome because it will work for YOU and YOUR LIFE right now. And that’s something pretty great.

Comments on 8 surprising ways renters have the better end of the design deal

  1. I own rentals with my husband. I have had a couple renters who wanted us to put red carpet (or other off the wall color carpets) We would tell renters they could do what ever they wanted to the house as long as they put it back to how it was when they received the house (we paint the walls white and keep the carpets beige or some other neutral color). So, unless they want to do a total remodel of the house, then they can paint the rooms purple for all I care, as long as they paint it back to white or beige when they leave the house, along with fixing holes in the wall were paintings hung (that kind of stuff).
    We have also had renters get their own higher appliances. So when they do that, We do come and take the fridge, washer/dryer, dishwasher, and we store it and put it back when they leave or put it in another rental. Some renters do actually do that. Which I never understood. You rent for whatever reason, but you want to spend $5,000.00 on a washer/dryer. I don’t even have a $5,000.00 washer/dryer (any money we make off the property goes back into the property, so due to misconceptions of people, most landlord’s don’t pocket the money they make (unless the house is paid off and most even then put it back into the property)).

    • That wouldn’t be surprising here in NZ, many rental houses don’t come with whiteware! It’s annoying actually that some do and some don’t. We bought our own when we moved into this place, but if the next house we go to has them…. Grr!

  2. Dude, yes. I love renting and never being responsible for shoveling or lawn care or finding a good plumber. One call to the landlord and boom, done (as long as you have a good landlord, obviously)! Hadn’t really thought about the design aspect, but it’s so true–it can be really freeing to work within the limits of what the owners will allow, rather than having to decide on your own what you are willing to invest time/money into.

    • I think it depends on where you live. If you live in a condo, then yeah, no worrying about lawn care or shoveling as those places have as part of the HOA fee’s stuff.
      Since we own houses, it is up to the renter to do the lawn care and shoveling. In the area we live in it is the expectation from pretty much all landlord friends we know that house/townhome = renters do mowing/shoveling. We have never had people say otherwise as they know that coming into the situation. We did have one person who argued it. We told him we would jack up his rent $100 a month during the summer so we can hire a landscaper to mow/weedwack. He quickly changed his mind and got a mower from a friend who was getting rid of it as his friend got a new mower.

      • Our landlord provided a push mower in the shed with the property for us to use. And it is nice to be able to choose when to mow the lawn ourselves, rather than coordinating schedules or being surprised by the mower on your one day to sleep in, etc.

        In general we have a pretty hands-off landlord, which is great for us. We can do small fixes ourselves and deduct the costs from the rent (our particular landlord encourages this). And for the big things he comes to assess the situation and decide what to do. The lack of decision making is a nice thing about renting, too!

        • We have a renter who does a lot of the fixing himself (usually under $50.00 like leaky faucets, running toilets, etc). A lot of times he does not even bother us about what he does anymore, it is usually, oh, by the way, I fixed the toilet if we happen it chit chat. He never asks for money or deduction from the rent (as it really does not happen a lot or it is not worth his time to bring it up. I think in Maryland too that Maryland leases usually have a stipulation that anything under I think $75.00 it is up to the renter to fix themselves somehow or pay for themselves). Anything big, like the fridge broke or the A/C broke, then it is up to us to fix obviously.

  3. “No one judges your decorating choices based on resale value”
    Ugh! Resale value is the most annoying thing ever. I see beautiful bathrooms and kitchen, and all I hear homeowners say is how it would effect the resale value. Heck even my mother is talking about redoing her new house to have a tub for resale value. I am just sitting there scratching my head thinking “But you don’t want a tub, and it will cost a lot of money, so why bother? Whoever buys the house 10 to 20 years from now can put a new tub of their choice in there”

    • Totally can relate to this. We made some quirky color choices with our house and have had people make comments about resale. We aren’t planning to move if ever and a lot of those details are things I love about my house the most. I also think it is silly when people who aren’t moving in the next few years do some sort of very trendy thing that they aren’t into. That color or tile choice in 15 or 20 years will make your house look dated so why do it, if you don’t like it yourself.

  4. Interesting food for thought, for someone who has been renting for a while, but is seriously saving up for a house. I do really like not having to be responsible for a lot of maintenance and repairs! But our house has pretty crappy wiring, plumbing, flooring, etc. and I look forward to the day when it will be worth it to actually improve those things, and also get the pets I’ve been desperately wanting without hearing another disappointing “no” from our landlords. So for now the extra money is going into the house fund instead of decorating.

    In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the fact that the landlords pay for the gardeners and are on the hook for any major stuff that has to get done to the house. All I need to bring is my renter’s insurance, and spackling paste to fill in the holes from hanging things on the wall. 🙂

          • It’s in the Goals section at the top, next to Budgets. They have pre-made ones as well as custom. I set it up so I decided how much I wanted to save up total, and the other two controls are your goal date and how much you want to save per month. You also tell it which accounts to include in the total.

        • Oh man, I feel ya. The housing market is ridiculous and I’m secretly hoping it will crash soon because then we’ll be able to afford a house, but in the meantime…

  5. 3, 6, 7!!! Not that I’d want to go back to rental, but yeah, those do irritate me about owing my house. I *despise* taking care of the outside; I’d have gotten a condo just to not deal with a yard, except I hate all the condos in my area even more. Outside maintenance & yardwork are a huge time & money suck.

    Storage/space, well, my house is a little smaller than the last place I rented (Silicon Valley economics are weird, yo), but you always expand to fill every last spot. Up down, out. This is why I will never move again. Which leads to #7.

    If I ever sell my house, I’ll think about it then! Right now, I want purple walls, so I have purple frickin’ walls. And I put in a carbana in the backyard instead of grass, bec. that’s what I’ll use, not some mythical future potential buyers. Screw them!

    I live here now. I’ve lived in this house for nearly 15 years, which is way past the supposed average of 5-7 years. For that matter, my neighbors on both sides have been there longer. Resale is BS.

    • I don’t know what the regulations are in your town, but in several places I’ve lived you can get your yards certified as “backyard habitat.” Basically, you can get rid of the lawn, plant some native plants, and just let it go… might be something to look into if you want to decrease your future outside maintenance time.

  6. “With ownership, all that “make things pretty” money gets sucked into the “make things functional in the long term” hole.” – This quote is my life right now. The only change I’d like to add is the word, “time.”

    Its crushing working on the house all weekend and having friends come over who can’t see it. I want to run around the place pointing to the wires that were straightened and re-grouped in the exposed-ceiling, the level cabinet and countertop, and how now there are no little gaps in the bathroom grout!

    It makes me much more appreciative of the place I’m currently renting while doing the remodel.

  7. I love the comments, seems like there are a lot of landlords reading this blog! I wrote this partially out of frustration with having to rejig our entire life budget to have work done on the roof in a few years. Meaning all my wee decorating projects have to be damn near free if money is going to be allocated to them. There are too many “we actually need to do this” type jobs that need to be paid for, and not enough money for fripperies! That being said, we do love our home, but design wise…there is a lot more dreaming than doing for the time being. Internet bragging rights will have to wait!

  8. The rental market in Australia is obviously a lot different to the US, I’d say owning has a lot more advantages than disadvantages, especially with decorating. We cannot paint, we can’t put nails up to hang things, we can’t do minor fixes. If something is broken if the landlord feels like fixing it then great. If they don’t feel like fixing it you can give them forms to say they have to but to actually make them you have to basically take them to court, that costs money out of your own pocket with no guarantee of winning or winning those costs back its not usually worth it. I’ve gone 6 weeks without clean drinking water, I’ve had no air conditioners for 2 years despite multiple forms, I’ve had a dead animal in an air conditioner that we can’t pull apart to clean out because it’s an enclosed electrical device. All three of those examples were in different houses, with different landlords and different rental agencies.

    Don’t get me started on land lords doing the cheapest, often dodgy and bad quality fixes for any problem which doesn’t last and they then try to blame on you when you move out. I’d love my own place so that I can do fixes that last, I’d love to be able to just put a nail in the wall and hang artwork where I like. I’d love to be able to spend my money on a more energy efficient hot water heater so my electricity bills are not $450 a quarter. It’s funny but when I think, what would I do if I owned this place it’s not decorating that comes to mind but hot water heater, window screens and insulation. Not pretty but life is lot more comfortable with them.

    • It’s super interesting reading about the differences between the Aus/US markets. I’m in Perth and the housing market is insane due to the mining industry.
      1. We decide to build because land+build is actually cheaper than buying established and renovating. Everything is new! And the way we want it!
      2. Renting really depends on the landlord. Our previous 2 landlords have been super cool with us drilling into the wall, painting, changing light fittings, etc (70s shaggy shades to Ikea paper spheres, yay!). But others are super strict regarding conformity to the standard rental contract.
      3. I totally agree that most landlords will do the bare minimum on a house, probably because they would prefer their money go towards their own decorating budget.

      • Yeah rents are high in nth qld too, not as bad as a mining town though. I wish we could could afford our own place but that’s not an option right now. We have our first ever decent landlord now, after ten years of renting but still no nails in walls etc but at least he fixes stuff that needs fixing even if every fix is the cheapest possible. It’s the real estate agency that is slow and a pain. We have rental inspections every three months, we have been here for nearly two years and are quiet, clean tenants. It’s ridiculous.

    • In the U.S. & in a tight rental market, I had a lot of these kinds of problems w/landlords not wanting to make repairs or doing really crappy repairs themselves. One landlord lived in the upstairs flat and FELL THRU OUR ROOF while I was at my computer in the room below. He was “fixing” something. Plaster & dirt got everywhere into all our stuff. He just said sorry & put a board over the hole.

      So yeah, glad to own a house & not have to deal with ppl like that anymore!

  9. I think it really depends on your landlord and the local market. I’ve had awesome landlords and shitty ones, and it makes an enormous difference in the renting experience. Honestly, the biggest thing for me is sharing a wall and/or ceiling/floor with neighbors. I hate it, and I am so sick of hearing people yammering or their thumping bass all the time. My fiance and I just signed a contract for a house and will be moving in May, and we are STOKED. The owners of the house we are buying have great decorating taste for the most part, so there will be very little that we change in the way of decorating. The main thing will be to put in awesome built-in closets, since right now they are tiny reach-ins that definitely won’t be able to contain our combined wardrobes. Other than that though, it will just be some re-painting of bedrooms, since they have kids and we don’t, so we will be converting two of the bedrooms into our office/studio spaces. And it will be so quiet with no shared walls! 🙂

    • The neighbor noise is definitely one of the worst things about renting. I look forward to the day when my husband and I can afford to buy a house. Best of luck with your new place!

  10. We bought our first home in 2013 and I definitely agree that there’s a lot that goes into “maintenance” that you wouldn’t think about while you’re renting. It’s a tough adjustment, but I still like owning my own home. I think there are pros and cons to both sides. With rentals there’s the cliche of crappy landlords and dull walls (which we’ve seen here can be spruced up all kinds of ways!) but there’s also the perk of not being on the hook for major problems if the roof needs replaced etc. With ownership you have to deal with those major problems if they come up, but there’s the benefit of freedom to do things like renovate without permission, not to mention the financial benefit of at least a portion of your money coming back to you if/when you decide to sell.

  11. “It’s like the more room you have, the more crap you accumulate.”
    This is true for renters too! We rent our apartment, but it has pretty decent amounts of storage space that over the last three years have gotten completely filled with ‘one day’ and ‘can’t be bothered to sort through it’ crap. We just did a big purge and wow, I was amazed by all the junk we owned.

  12. Sooo…I’m married for 17 years with 4 kids. I have rented and currently own. It is totally not worth it. We are constantly broke, spending all our money on mortgage, yard, house repairs and upkeep. Should we decide to sell, I hope we break even. I dream of having my dishwasher break and being to call the landlord! And it’s is definitely true every decor
    move you must consider resale!

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