Many of us have lived in an absolute pit — a filthy, small, dilapidated house or apartment we probably had to share with others. It’s a typical living situation when we first strike out on our own and can’t afford anything better. At the time, the place probably didn’t seem too bad. But you likely wouldn’t want to do it again — at least not without some basic home improvement tricks to make it feel more like home.
There are numerous ways you can engage in some small and cheap home improvement projects to improve your place. You won’t need a sledgehammer or vast amount of tools either. Even if you’re broke, you might be able to stretch the few dollars you have to make your place more comfortable.
We worked with the team at Triplemint, a New York-based real estate broker, to come up with a list of cheap, effective projects that can turn a rundown place into a comfortable home. You can start by doing what you probably already do: shop for deals.
1. Look for ‘vintage’ deals
Triplemint’s Sam Lazar recommended spicing up a “vintage” apartment or house with some “vintage” decor. The good news is that type of decor can usually be found and purchased for cheap. “Unique, antique-looking items don’t have to cost a huge amount,” Lazar said. Take a trip to some local thrift shops, or even look on sites, such as Etsy and Pinterest, to get ideas. You might even have some luck at garage sales.
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2. Upgrade your shower
There’s nothing worse than a terrible shower head. Often it’s something we give very little thought to until we end up dealing with low water flow — a conundrum explored in an episode of Seinfeld. Triplemint agent Amy McDonald said changing your shower head is a small expense, but it can really make your new place a lot more comfortable. “My favorite inexpensive (and super easy) change to an apartment is a new shower head. It will make your mornings so much better,” she said.
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3. Artwork and mirrors
Another easy way to make your place a bit more homey is to use artwork and mirrors. Specifically, Lazar said you should look for floor-to-ceiling mirrors or pieces of art you can lean against the wall. “Etsy and Homegoods are great places to find items like these that are unique but also feel more expensive than they are, she said. “I’ve found that wall art that’s unique usually makes people think your home is very luxurious, even though you don’t have to pay a lot for it.”
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4. Mount your TV
It’s a simple, yet brilliant move: Mount your TV. You can buy a mount for your flat screen just about anywhere. And not only will it look good, but it’ll free up some space. “Mounting a TV — seems obvious, but people forget how much it opens up a room,” McDonald said. If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to make the most of your square footage and class things up a bit, look at mounting your TV.
5. Tap into your inner Michelangelo
A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for aesthetics. Of course, you’ll want to make sure it’s OK with your landlord first. “I always recommend painting an accent wall,” McDonald said. “If you’ve already moved in, painting seems like a huge undertaking — moving/covering all of your furniture — so do it on the fly. Shift everything to one side, paint two coats, and voila.
6. Play around with lighting
Don’t stop with color. Try playing around with the lights, too. Many light fixtures are relatively inexpensive, and they offer another way to enhance your home’s atmosphere. “Another option is lighting: It is all about the lighting,” Triplemint’s JJ Choi said. Again, you’ll want to check with your landlord before making any huge changes, but even some strategically deployed lamps can make a rundown apartment much more comfortable.
7. Try some ‘floating’ decor
You’re probably not going to end up with a place that resembles the photo above. But if you empty out that room, you basically have empty, boring space. You can use “floating” furnishings to make a space work for you, especially if you can’t knock down walls or replace the appliances.
8. Update the cabinets
Most crappy apartments have crappy cabinets. You can complain about them to your landlord, or you can do what you can to spruce them up a bit. “Painting cabinets and resurfacing cabinets is cheap and easy fix,” Triplemint agent Nick Gross said. Gross also suggested using adhesive backsplashes to give your kitchen a prettier look.
9. Check out contact paper
See whether your landlord is OK with the use of contact paper to give your kitchen countertops a homier appearance. For a small price, contact paper can cover up ugly, outdated counters and give them new life. “Putting contact paper on an old counter can be a great way to add a modern feel to a kitchen,” Triplemint COO and co-founder Philip Lang said. “Contact paper is sold in marble finish, so you can make your countertops beautiful with the new veneer.”
10. Green it up
Bring the outdoors inside. It’s as simple as that, according to Triplemint agent Greg Moers. “One of the best ways to make changes to any apartment is by putting a variety of plants and succulents all around,” he said.
“You can have them hanging, sitting on a window sill, or placed on the floor boarding to the walls,” Moers continued. “Having greenery inside the home creates a feeling of tranquility and relaxation and provides fresh oxygen. You can even get fake plants, which require no upkeep whatsoever and look almost identical to real plants.”
11. Check out room accessories
If you can afford it, check out some unorthodox (but classy) accessories that add an extra layer of character to your new place. One example? A bar cart. “Bar carts are a great way to give guests the feeling that you entertain a lot, and glassware that looks expensive can be found very inexpensively,” Lazar said. “It doesn’t have to be crystal to glitter on your shelves).”
12. Add a wine cooler
Nothing complements a bar cart quite like a wine cooler. These are essentially mini fridges built specifically for wine. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and you can even find models that fit on your countertop. Imagine fresh countertops, a splash of paint on those cabinets, and a wine cooler in your kitchen. Suddenly, you have a pretty nice place.
13. Organize your entryway
Finally, you’ll want to do what you can with the entrance to your new place. McDonald suggested investing in a floating shelf if you’re short on space. “If you don’t have a foyer, use a floating shelf to catch your keys or your mail — or better yet, get a floating shelf that also has hooks for your coats,” she said. And don’t forget a nice welcome mat.
Check out Triplemint for more tips, as well as other real estate-related services.