12 Affordable Upgrades to Help Make Your Apartment Look Fancy

Decorating on a budget? Here are a dozen things you can do to make your pad look fancy without spending a fortune.

Landing a great apartment doesn’t always mean you have the budget to furnish it. As great as any pad might be, guests won’t be too impressed if they have to sit on the floor.

Luckily there are ways to spruce up an apartment without spending too much money. Here are a few:

1. Plants

House plants can liven up a room, said Brian Davis, a real estate investor and director of education at SparkRental.com. “Some plants, such as aloe vera, can actually filter out toxic chemicals and improve the air quality in your apartment,” he said.

2. Mirrors

Mirrors can make your apartment seem much more spacious. “If you have plain doors, they’re the perfect place to add mirrors,” Davis said.

Renters can also upgrade the plain mirrors that come with their apartment with mirrors that match their tastes, said Brentnie Daggett, a real estate writer for Rentec Direct, which specializes in renter trends. “If you don’t want to toss your existing mirror (or it came with the apartment), find a DIY project that offers instructions on creating a damage-free frame to give the mirror more style.”

DIY mirror projects abound on sites like Pinterest. (If you’re an aspiring do-it-yourselfer, make sure you avoid these common DIY home repair mistakes.)

3. Rugs

Area rugs can help cover up old flooring you hate or new flooring you want to protect, Daggett said. “Eclectic and traditional designs are easy to find these days, making it simple for you to find something inexpensive that will give your space a pop of color while covering the existing carpet or vinyl,” she said.

4. Large Cutting Boards

Renters can take the same approach with ugly countertops by covering them with large cutting boards or a butcher’s block, Davis said.

5. Removable Wallpaper

“Creating an accent wall with removable wallpaper is an affordable weekend project that can transform any home,” said Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com.

6. Curtains

Back on the theme of covering up stuff you don’t like, curtains can help hide your view of the dingy building next door or the dingy window itself.

7. Door Knobs

You can give your kitchen or bathroom an updated look by changing out the door knobs that came with the apartment. Just make sure you hang on to the originals so you can swap them back in when you move out, Hoxmeier said.

8. Cabinet Knobs

The same goes for the knobs on your kitchen cabinets. Landlords often opt for durability over style when picking products, noted Daggett of Rentec Direct. “Give your kitchen an instant update by replacing the hardware on your cabinets to create a more modern look.”

9. Flatware

A simple matching set of dinnerware and flatware can go a long way toward making your dinner party seem more fancy, Daggett said. “If your table settings consist of hand-me-downs and a hodgepodge amassed from yard-sale finds, it’s time to upgrade.”

10. Steam Mop

It should go without saying that your apartment won’t really be fancy unless it’s clean. Daggett said upgrading from a sponge mop to a steam mop can make your apartment look nice and make cleaning easier, which your landlord and guests will appreciate.

11. Shower head

Speaking of clean, an upgraded shower head could make getting ready for work feel more luxurious, Daggett said. Installing a new one might require permission from your property manager, but you’ll see the dividends pay off in your routine and possibly your water bill if you pick up a low-flow shower head.

12. Coffee & Side Tables

A set of coffee and side tables that match your style and room can help tie your apartment together. You can find deals at your nearest flea market, Daggett said.

Remember, overspending on decorating is one of many mistakes first-time renters make. Don’t buy a coffee table at the expense of making rent on time. Missing rent can leave a mark on your credit reports, not to mention make it harder for you to get an apartment in the future. (You can check two of your credit scores free on Credit.com). Make sure you know to avoid these other apartment errors as well.

Image: Wavebreakmedia

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Could These Sites Kill Craigslist?

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When my father-in-law asked me to help him offload his old furniture, I immediately thought of Craigslist. But after digging around, I realized there were plenty of other sites out there that were an option. There was Move Loot, a San Francisco-based startup that connects used-furniture sellers with buyers, and Chairish, a design-centric curated marketplace for used furniture and decor. There were plenty of others. But I kept coming back to Move Loot and Chairish because both seemed to offer something wholly refreshing: a viable way to kill Craigslist.

Buying and selling on Craigslist can be risky. As a buyer, it’s very hard to tell if the listing is accurate — or that the seller isn’t trying to scam you or worse. As a seller, the logistics are tedious. Skip delivery, and you’re opening your home to a stranger. Pay for delivery, and, well, you’re spending money you’d rather use on something else. The used-furniture startups are trying to change this. They know you don’t want to deal with delivery or some random person showing up at your door. And they realize you’re probably lazy — you’re not going to research that dresser, are you? But for all of these perks — nicer websites among them — do they have what it takes to beat Craigslist? Here’s a look at their strategies to corner the used-furniture market and how they differ from Craigslist. (Craigslist did not immediately respond to request for comment to this article.)

A Stylish Solution

No one ever said Craigslist’s website was sexy. Functional, yes, but not sexy. Perhaps that’s why Chairish, founded in 2013 by a husband and wife who wanted to offload their high-end furnishings, is all about making things easy on the eyes. It certainly makes shopping more-streamlined. And way more fun. “Instead of going through pages and pages, we want to take that work off the buyer, and frankly off the seller as well,” Eric Grosse, a co-founder and chief executive of Chairish, said. “We just want to have quality items that we know are going to sell.” Curation is the best way to do this, even if it means weeding out popular but not fancy items from Ikea.

Whereas on Craigslist you’re basically on your own, said Grosse, Chairish acts as sort of a guide with sections pertaining to style and sometimes even era. The photos are cleaner than those found on Craigslist, and the “What we’re digging …” banner helps users discover new looks. “If you happen to have a thing for Shaker furniture, you’re going to find some items here,” Grosse said. And since the site does its homework, making sure every listing is accurate, buyers can rest easy. “There’s a scrubbing that we do to make sure we have a very high-quality experience that’s again different from Craigslist,” he said of the vetting process.

Positioning itself as the stylish, smarter alternative to Craigslist seems to be working. With 70,000 unique listings and counting, Chairish has already been named a best shopping app by Architectural Digest and the design nerd blog Design Sponge. Grosse also said that Chairish, which has taken $13 million in funding, draws 400,000 unique visitors per month and has seen rapid growth across a number of metrics. (It’s free to list items, but Chairish takes a 20% commission on each sale.) But despite features like “Local Pickup,” which lets buyers skip delivery costs altogether by picking up an item themselves, I have to wonder whether the average Joe is savvy enough to seek out the site. Could it be that there’s more to used-furniture shopping than scoring a pair of Victorian armchairs?

Logistics Made Simple

Move Loot bills itself as the easiest way to buy and sell furniture, but it might consider playing up the fact that it does all the hard work for you. I’m not talking about wiping furniture for photos. I’m talking about delivering and installing all the items you’ve purchased, or, in a seller’s case, handling everything to get the furniture out of your home. No one wants to deal with these headaches, and the logistics part is Move Loot’s “best chance of beating the competition,” to quote Bloomberg. “From a seller’s perspective, we handle all of the heavy lifting from both sides,” co-founder and CMO Jenny Morrill said. “We’ll go and pick up pieces in the home, assemble everything, bring it back and store items until they sell, and deliver it to the end buyer. You have a trusted professional coming into your home instead of dealing with someone you haven’t met before.”

No one would argue with that, but for those outside major hubs like Los Angeles, New York or the Bay Area, where Move Loot is based, how will they get their design fix? I also wonder how the startup can scale if it’s not passing on the cost of handling furniture to customers. Do people really buy that much furniture?

The need for Move Loot and Chairish may be “restricted to urban areas,” said Quentin Fleming, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. “I don’t see this taking off in the middle of Oklahoma or a big demand for certain pieces of furniture.” In order to succeed, he said, these sites need to target their audience and not waste resources trying to appeal to people who wouldn’t possibly use them. “This is more of a niche business,” Fleming said of used-furniture shopping, “so they may have to go high-end, like in the New York City area and wealthy suburbs where there’s a demand for that type of stuff.”

To list on Move Loot, sellers agree to pay a pre-outlined consignment fee from a curator when they get their offer. If the item does not sell quickly, the price may be lowered up to 40% and if it doesn’t sell after 60 days, you’ll have to pay a $65 fee to have it delivered back to you (you can also opt donate it or list it in a flash sale.)

Fleming was also quick to point out that sell-it-all sites like eBay and Amazon present a big challenge. While they don’t offer the sleek, curated experience that Chairish does, or take care of logistics like Move Loot, their variety alone is what helps them scale. Still, I have faith that these sites can find a small audience. With more people in their mid-20s and 30s starting families and buying homes, there’s a real need for affordable and chic decor as anyone can see from the boom in design and DIY blogs. (You can see how any high credit card balances related to furniture shopping are affecting your credit score by viewing your free credit report summary each month on Credit.com.) Then there are people like my father-in-law, who just want to downsize. They may no longer love their rickety dresser, but there’s someone out there who might. If sites like Chairish and Move Loot can connect them, it may be enough to rival the best of Craigslist.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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