Should You Renovate Your Apartment? | Real Estate

Fika Estella

Most renters refuse to spend a dime on apartment renovations because they don’t own the property, but there are ways to personalize your space without breaking the lease agreement. Homeowners have much more leeway when it comes to renovations, but some changes may require permits and approval from the local condo or homeowners association.

Whether you’re an owner or a renter, here’s what you need to know about renovating your apartment:

  • Can you renovate your apartment?
  • Why you should consider renovating your apartment.
  • Renovation ideas for your apartment.

Can You Renovate Your Apartment?

It is possible to renovate your apartment, but the type of work that can be done depends on whether you’re the renter or the owner of the unit.

“Renters should get written permission from their landlord before making any irreversible alterations to the rental unit. When they make reversible changes, renters should restore the unit to its original state before they move out,” explains G. Brian Davis, co-founder of SparkRental, a property management software company. “Otherwise, they risk the landlord withholding some or all of their security deposit in an effort to restore it.”

If you own the unit and plan to make irreversible changes, you may need permission from your condo or homeowners association. Permits may also be required for major renovations. Check with your local municipality before starting any work.

Generally, you’re free to remodel the interior of your home without the approval of your HOA. Exterior projects may require HOA board approval, as your individual unit is viewed as secondary to the overall welfare of the entire community. You can find your HOA’s guidelines in the covenants, conditions and restrictions established by the association, but in general you may need board approval for:

  • Renovations visible from the exterior of your home.
  • Moving or adding plumbing or electrical.
  • Moving load-bearing walls.

Why You Should Consider Renovating Your Apartment

Whether you’re renting or the owner, there are many benefits to remodeling your apartment unit. However, renters may come across more restrictions and will need the approval of their landlord before making changes to the property.

“Landlords sometimes allow renters to make alterations that make the unit universally more appealing. But they don’t usually allow alterations that are niche or specific to just the current renter,” Davis says. “Sometimes they’ll make exceptions if the renter has signed a lease-purchase agreement and is working toward buying the property.”

Here are several reasons to consider renovating your apartment:

  • Increase the comfort of your home. Your comfort should be reason enough to make changes to your surroundings. If you’re a renter, little changes can make a big difference. If you’re the owner, you have more control over what you can change to increase your comfort.
  • Fix a safety issue. Safety issues should be addressed immediately. Residential leases should include a promise on the part of the landlord to keep the property in reasonable repair and to comply with health and safety laws. Owners are generally responsible for fixing safety issues within the unit, but if you live in an attached unit, your HOA may be responsible for safety issues in common areas.
  • Increase the value. Renters typically have nothing to gain by improving the value of their apartments. Owners have more reason to invest in their units. Renovations can potentially increase the value of your home, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll make back the money you spend.
  • Improve functionality. Landlords are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled tenants, Davis says. “The line gets blurry for where the distinction lies. For example, in an apartment building with assigned parking spaces, it’s reasonable to switch a handicapped tenant’s assigned space to be near the entrance, but not reasonable to overhaul the parking lot,” Davis adds. “Likewise, it’s reasonable to install handlebars in the shower, but not to install an entirely new shower.”
  • Increase efficiency. New appliances, lighting, plumbing and even windows can help increase the efficiency of your apartment. Increasing the efficiency of your unit is a common reason for owners to renovate, though renters are unlikely to want to cover the up-front cost in exchange for lower utility bills unless they have a multi-year lease.
  • Update the style. Making updates to the style of your apartment can be done whether you own or rent. If you’re thinking of making irreversible changes, make sure to ask your landlord for permission.
  • Prepare the unit for sale. If you plan to sell the unit, renovations should only be done if they help with its sale. Cosmetic fixes and updates or upgrades that add value can help attract potential buyers.

Renovation Ideas for Your Apartment

Renters can personalize their apartment without breaking the lease, or the bank. For more permanent changes, make sure to get your landlord’s approval in writing. If you violate the lease agreement, your landlord could keep your security deposit, take legal action or even evict you.

“In most cases when landlords do allow changes to the property, they only allow licensed contractors or their own trusted handymen to do the work,” Davis says. “Renters making their own renovations often do shoddy work.”

Here are renovation ideas for renters:

  • Swap out light fixtures. Light fixtures in apartments are usually cheap. You can swap these out for chandeliers, pendant lights or track lighting and replace them again when you decide to move. According to HomeAdvisor, you can pay as little as $15 for a simple light fixture or as much as $5,500 for something a little fancier. If you’re hiring an electrician, this can cost between $40 and $125 per hour.
  • Install a new showerhead. Not only can a new showerhead have multiple settings to choose from and increase the water pressure, there are also energy-efficient options to save water and lower your water bill. Shower heads can cost $75 to $100 with installation costing around $50, according to home services directory company Angi.
  • Removable flooring. Temporary flooring options are nearly limitless. Peel and stick flooring or floating flooring can be catered to your tastes and easily removed when you decide to move out. The price of removable flooring depends on the type and finish. For example, vinyl peel and stick flooring can cost around $1,000 for 200 square feet of peel and stick vinyl planks, professionally installed, according to Fixr, which provides cost guides, comparisons and term cheatsheets for hundreds of remodeling, installation and repair projects.
  • Peel and stick tile. This option can give your floors, bathroom walls and kitchen backsplash an affordable makeover. When you move, peel and stick tile is as easy to remove as it is to apply. This can cost between $1 and $5 per square foot, according to Real Simple.
  • Paint. A fresh coat of paint can transform any room, but make sure to ask your landlord for permission before painting. Bob Vila reports painting a 10-by-12-foot bedroom costs $300 to $750.
  • Removable wallpaper. Another option to improve your apartment walls is removable wallpaper. This can add color without ruining your walls, and be removed fairly easily when you move out. The price of removable wallpaper starts as low as $1 per square foot, but varies based on brand and pattern.
  • Add shelving. Install shelving for additional storage space or to showcase your favorite photos, plates and keepsakes. The national average cost for labor and materials for a 25-linear-foot project costs between $352.18 and $558.67, according to Porch.
  • Upgrade hardware. Household hardware can be swapped out to fit your aesthetic and then switched back when you move out. Most cabinet hardware installation projects cost under $1,000, according to Angi.

Owners are allowed to update their unit in almost any way they’d like; however, there are still some gray areas.
Kitchens, for example, are typically the focal point of any home renovation. You have complete control over all upgrades to your cabinetry, appliances, flooring and countertops. Kitchens in apartments and condos are usually small, but there are plenty of ways to maximize the space you have. Task and ambient lighting can also help enhance the workability of the space. Kitchen remodels can get pricey, however. HomeAdvisor reports the average cost to remodel a kitchen is around $25,626.

You also won’t need approval to swap out the showerhead, paint the walls, change the tiling or upgrade your vanity in your bathrooms. If you have a small bathroom and don’t want to break down walls, you can better utilize the space by keeping baskets under the sink for storage or adding shelving and hooks to the walls. The average cost to renovate a bathroom is $11,187, according to HomeAdvisor.

Don’t forget, if you plan to move or add plumbing or electrical, move load-bearing walls or make changes visible to the outside of your unit, then you may need permits and HOA approval.

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