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March 13, 2013

Local experts share landlord-friendly tips for sprucing up a rental home

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

Turning a house into a home can be stressful for anyone. But the process is even more complicated when you don’t own your home.

In today’s economy, there are plenty of families choosing to rent a home, condominium or apartment, as opposed to buying. While renting can take away much of the cost and stress of home ownership, it can also be difficult to customize a space, leaving many renters with homes that look outdated or impersonal.

But that doesn’t always have to be the case, according to Michelle DiPiazza, owner of General Home Corp. property management service, which manages rental properties for landlords by negotiating leases, collecting rent, taking maintenance calls and more. She said that rental homes can often be altered more than a tenant might suspect — it’s all about communicating with the owner.

“It’s not something they’re going to get reimbursed for, but renters will often ask to do things to the home to make it look nicer if they’re going to be there for a long time, and as long as they get the landlord’s approval, they usually will let them do things,” said DiPiazza.

While most landlords will shy away from allowing a tenant to completely renovate a room, DiPiazza said that the most common update requested by tenants is to change paint colors.

“A lot of landlords make the mistake of painting a home plain white. For most people’s homes, the paint colors you choose for your home reflect your personality,” she said. “You have to get permission, and the color has to be approved by the landlord. If it’s not a neutral color, the color must be returned to a neutral color when the tenant moves. And it has to be a professional job; otherwise, if there’s paint on the trim or something that needs to be corrected, that could be deducted from the security deposit.”

At Village Ace Hardware in Grosse Pointe, manager Denver Jean said he has plenty of customers who are renters looking to update their space with a fresh coat of paint, and he has recommendations just for them.

“We have Clark & Kensington Paint and Primer In One. It’s a new brand of paint and it’s a good one to start off with because it’s all in one. It’s just a one-step thing,” he said, adding that the paint and primer combination is a good choice for renters, because it makes it quick and easy to return the walls to a neutral tone.

DiPiazza also said she’s known tenants who have, with a homeowner’s permission, changed carpeting, light fixtures, and even updated sink fixtures or appliances. Landlords, she said, will give their blessing if they think they’ll benefit from the update.

“There was this renter, and the house had carpeting from 1976 in it. It was a golden shag carpeting. They put in brand-new brown carpeting, and painted the walls taupe. It made the house look totally different, and the landlord let them do it because those are things that are of value to them when you leave,” she said.

Of course, not every renter is thrilled to spend money on a home they’ll likely never own. DiPiazza said that tenants should also consider décor and home updates that could be transferred to another residence one day, such as window treatments or cabinet hardware. Even outdoor landscaping, like perennial plants, can be uprooted and planted at another home when a renter decides to move.

It’s Your Window has been in downtown Royal Oak for 35 years to help people create distinctive interior designs with custom window treatments. Owner Doug Scheibner said that many people moving into a new home, whether it’s their own or a rental, don’t realize the dramatic effect that window décor can have on a living space.

“It’s usually the last element of design that people look at when they’re re-doing a room, and it really is the thing that brings all the colors, the flooring, the wall surfaces together,” said Scheibner. “It’s form and function, and also there’s an aesthetic value.”

It’s Your Window specializes in custom-made window treatments, which can be a little more expensive than one-size-fits-all window dressings found in retail stores. While he said that there aren’t too many options available on the ready-made market for window treatments, it’s worth taking a look at your local store. If a renter doesn’t like what they see, they can always come to him to get the kind of designs that can really turn a house into a home.

“A lot of time in rental units, you just have blinds. But if someone has a reasonable amount of money that they’re willing to invest, they can really enhance it and make that space a little more special to them.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.