7 Easy DIY ways to update your old rental apartment

I have been renting for over ten years now and every time hubby and I move, I am always keen to Google and seek out Pinterest hacks to update our new home. This usually results in staying up into the wee hours of the morning researching, scrolling, planning and budgeting to make our house a home. As we are saving for our own home deposit, we are typically choosing older style apartments (cue the browns and beiges from the 1970s!) to save our pennies. 

Here are the key things I change in every rental to update the fixtures and make it ours to feel more like home! Updating old fixtures not only improves the overall look and feel, but it also creates the instant feeling, that even though the place is old, it has been taken care of with pride.

Most of these are simple to do, but do require some basic tools. Over the years we have slowly built up our toolkit and I cannot recommend enough how useful it has been. These tools will also come in handy for our Forever home. Your local hardware store or even IKEA are great starting points to accumulate tools for DIY tasks in your rental. For tutorials and how-to’s, I simply drop the tasks into Youtube and hunt around until I find one that has similar specifications to our home. I usually watch a few to ensure that if anything could go wrong, I know how to resolve it by myself. If it all sounds too technical or tricky, I just leave it.

The tasks below are all quite easy to do and there are many easy and clearly explained tutorials on Youtube on how to do it! As an extra precaution, I also chat to the team available at our local hardware store (in Australia, it’s Bunnings) who are super helpful in explaining what to do for each task. It’s a simple way to cross-check with what you have learnt online before pulling things apart. 



1. Change the toilet seats

Old, tattered, yellowing plastic toilet seats are the WORST. They look gross and make the bathroom look dated. Also, you use it everyday. Fortunately, your local hardware store probably sells new ones for quite cheap! Our local hardware store here in Australia has universal toilet seats for around $20AUD. I always buy the most basic option and don’t worry too much about soft close or fancy bits as its 1000% better than the existing seat anyway.

A bright, new white toilet seat will update your bathroom in a flash. From my research over the years, when replacing a toilet seat, there tends to be two “universal” types of toilet seats – “round” and “D-shaped”. There are others, but these seem to be the most common. As with everything regarding renovations, take some close up pictures of what you have before you head to your hardware store so you can match the fit before you buy.


2. Ditch the dingy globes and replace with brighter ones

I love light. Mood light, work space light, sunlight, and of course fairy lights! I often find in rentals that the light bulbs are the weakest strength and sometimes are those ones that take a while to “warm up” before they reach their full brightness.

I also like to change all the bulbs to the same brightness for different areas. Having three warm yellow lights and then one random cool white light just throws the balance off in a room. By changing the light bulbs, you will be shocked at how much brighter the room can become! Rooms that used to be dingey, can be transformed into bright and welcoming.

We usually spend the extra money and buy energy efficient light bulbs as this saves money on electricity bills, but also means they are less likely to break than traditional light bulbs, as they are a sturdier make.

To replace, always ensure that the light is switched off and remove the bulb. If you’re not sure, do your research. Pendant lights and some fixtures need to be done by a registered electrician, so always double check what you can and can’t do before jumping in.

Take the bulb to your local hardware store so you can match the correct size, strength and screw.

The only light bulbs I don’t think you can change are those horrible fluorescent lights – the types you would find in an office. They are what they are, really. I keep an eye out for these when I inspect properties and honestly, if there are too many in the home, I pass. Fluorescent lighting is where hygge goes to die!

For lighting hue, I find that “cool white” is usually the best or a bright “warm white”. However, different brands do display different hues. I have 100% been that person to try every light bulb in IKEA to ensure I got just the right light hue I wanted for our open plan living space. It’s a fair bit of work, but totally worth it every single night when we turned the lights on!


3. Change the shower head

Looking at rusty, crappy, old shower heads in rentals is right up there with old toilet seats. Fortunately, like toilet seats, they are super cheap to update! Changing the shower head is easy (you don’t even need to turn off the water mains!) and totally worth your time as you will be using it every day (or nearly every day).

Local hardware stores tend to sell a universal fit of shower head, but take a picture of what you have before heading to the store.

Also note that some shower heads have a flexible arm, meaning you can move them up and down to adjust height whereas others do not. A non-flexible arm can mean that the water hits your shoulders and you can’t move it up (true story). 

To install, check google or watch a youtube video as there are loads of helpful guides out there. Here is one that I have used: youtube video of how to change shower head.

You do need a few basic tools to do this, but purchasing these basic tools is totally worthwhile when building up your toolkit for the years to come.


4. Hide ugly blinds and replace ugly curtains

This is more of a personal style taste, but if there are ugly curtains I will replace them with my own choice of fabric to transform the room. I wrote an in-depth article about how to hang curtains (Surprising Ways to Hang Curtains in a Rental Property) in a rental which has loads of helpful options, including how to cover ugly vertical blinds.

Purchasing curtains can add up fast, so choose neutral colours and tones, like whites or blues, that can easily be used again for future rentals.


5. Remove the general grubbiness

This may sound obvious, but removing all the grubby marks the rental property has accumulated over the years can make a HUGE difference. This may be marks on walls, paint touch ups, or giving the floors a good scrub.

Marks on walls and floors can be easily removed with a basic cream cleanser or magic eraser. It is worth “washing” the walls in heavy traffic areas like hallways as this will make it not only look much brighter, but also be easier for you to clean moving forward.

Washing windows, both interior and exterior, can also quickly brighten the place up. For washing outdoors, your best friend is a pressure washer. We bought ours for about $100AUD and it has been so useful for small courtyards, garages, balconies and even washing our car. You just need a water source (we have used our kitchen tap in some places) and a power source. A pressure washer uses a lot less water so it makes cleaning much easier as you don’t flood the area.


6. Touch up the paint work

Most landlords in Australia won’t let you paint. And by that they mean don’t paint the white walls your favourite shade of blue as there is a risk of you doing a poor job/spilling the paint can – it’s too risky. And I get it. I have seen so many poor paint jobs over the years! However, we have always touched up the existing paint by sourcing a colour match of what is already there. And by touch up I mean chipped paint, scuff marks that won’t budge, rust, door frames, hooks and so on. Some landlords have also kindly told us the exact paint colour which is super helpful. Simply buy a tiny sample pot of paint from your local hardware store and touch up the chips and marks.

It may seem small and insignificant, but all those little dings and dents truly do add up!


7. Be bold when adding art

I truly believe that art is the skeleton key to creating a home you love. There were days that I thought I would wait before buying art, but I have just dived in now and spent the money. After all, art is a reflection of you so it will suit wherever you live! Art makes your personality shine and gives guests insight into what makes you happy. Instead of buying 100s of small photo frames, invest (or make your own!) large scale artworks. A large statement piece can transform a space and make it look lived in, rather than having 100 tiny frames on side tables.

Whilst we are renting, I deliberately choose lightweight canvases or use IKEA frames with acrylic instead of heavy glass in the frame. These are easier to hang and there is less risk of them falling off the wall if you can only use 3M or Command hooks. I also keep in mind to buy or create pieces that are easily transferable (no large marble sculptures here!) so when we move there is little risk of them being damaged.

Over the years I have built up a collection of pieces and now have a small stock in rotation between rentals. Some pieces have worked in some rentals, whereas others have not. It all depends on what works for the space, both practically in terms of hooks and wall space and stylistically in terms of colours and tones. In our current apartment, I have tucked away some pieces as they simply don’t work where we are now, but I know that in the future they will be used – specifically when we buy our Forever Home! Ahhhh, bring on that day!

All in all, when switching up your rental, there are many things you can do, but I hope these DIYs and the investments into these changes are useful for you as I know they have been for all of our rentals!