The Rental House. Before & After Photos.

How a rental house makeover goes when you don’t have the budget to add an addition, take down walls, put up walls, raise the roof or install marble anything. Paint, drywall compound, caulking and an endless supply of coffee is all you really need. And if your mother has a bottle of 34 year old valium in her medicine cabinet, obviously grab that too.

Let’s start with what was fun about this house makeover so’s I don’t give you the impression this was the awful job that it actually was. Cause that would make me sound like a whiner and not the twinkling lover of doing stuff that that I truly am.

The most fun thing about fixing up a rental house or a house you aren’t the one moving into is that you’re MUCH more willing to take chances.

Take the stairs and railing for instance.

The downstairs was originally all beige. Every single thing was beige: the walls, the trim, the cabinets, the doors, the stairs, banister – everything. All the colour of television barf.

So I decided I needed to break that up a bit. The fastest and easiest way to do that was to take the (beige) carpet off of the stairs and paint them.

Since it WASN’T my own house I also decided to paint the banister and newel post the same colour (Benjamin Moore Iron Ore) as the steps. Had it been my own house it would have taken me at least 3 months just to decide on which colour and how to paint the staircase. Black risers and steps? Just black steps? Black spindles?

But a rental house? I quickly decided on black steps and banister. Done.

The stairs aren’t perfect and I’m not worrying about it. There are cracks, bangs, dents and enough carpet tack holes for them to double as a fencing mask.

Again. It’s a rental. I’m going to do a good job, but I’m smart enough to know that I can’t erase 100 years of age.

Unless it’s my face in which case I’m not smart enough and bring on the gadgets, serums and palm sander.

What I did for the staircase

  1. Removed the carpet and underpad.
  2. Removed 789,544,540,652,549,666 carpet tacks and staples from stairs.
  3. Valium.
  4. Filled in gaps between stairs and wall with caulking.
  5. Primed.
  6. Painted stairs, banister and newel post with Benjamin Moore oil based paint.
  7. Painted risers with a not quite white oil paint. BUT NOT BEIGE.

The Bathroom

This is the room that was the worry.

It looked better than this above photo when I bought it. The walls were beige wallpaper with little flowers.

This shot on the left is after I started to go Free Britney on it.

The small bathroom had a tub, no shower and oak everything. The vanity was oak, the towel rack, the toilet paper holder and of course the toilet lid. All wood. The window (that is conveniently located right in the shower area so you can both get clean and wave at the neigbours) was also unpainted wood. And the trim. Did I mention the trim?

The wood wasn’t the scary thing. It was the fact that this bathroom only had a bathtub and I didn’t want to get into any big renos with this house.

So how do you get a shower into a bathroom without a reno? Like I showed you last week, with a diverter faucet, a handheld shower and some Diazepam.

I also plumbed the new sink and faucets, painted everything and got new accessories. I’m still waiting for the mirror and medicine cabinet to arrive.

The bathtub has fairly neutral tile surrounding it but it wasn’t high enough to protect the walls during a shower/neighbour wave.

So I thought about it, researched it and did something very strange.

Instead of tiling the shower walls I painted them with oil based paint.

Again, this is something that you might be a bit worried about doing at home but in a rental? I’ll give it a shot! If it doesn’t work, I go in and fix it, but as long as I’ve siliconed well between the wall and the the existing tiles it should be fine.

For protecting the window I’ve used 2 shower curtains in the bathroom. One on each side of the bath to stop water from getting on the floor and the window.

What I did in the bathroom

  1. Removed the wallpaper and had the walls skim coated so they were like brand new again.
  2. Painted all the trim with primer and white oil based paint.
  3. Removed ALL wood features and replaced them with chrome and white.
  4. Removed the old vanity, sink and faucets and replaced them with a new inexpensive ($179 from Canadian Tire) vanity/sink combo and used faucets I scrounged from a tear down house in the neighbourhood.
  5. Painted the walls in the shower area with 3 coats of white semi-gloss oil paint.

The upstairs sitting room

The area at the top of the stairs in this house had lightly stained carpeting and a lot of water damage in all the closets from a leaking roof years ago.

So there was black mould, rotted crumbling drywall and for some reason indoor/outdoor carpeting in the closets.

The walls in this sitting room are textured and I VERY briefly considered getting them smoothed out but quickly laughed and thought, um, no. The walls are in good condition and plain white. No changes needed.

The entire upstairs was carpeted so that was the first thing to be done. After I got that done, my sister and brother in law descended on the house to put down the click flooring.

With that finished I could paint the walls and trim and call it a day on the sitting room.

What I did in the sitting room

  1. Pull up carpeting and tacks.
  2. Level floors a bit with Bondo (which is what you repair cars with, lol) because my brother-in-law did it and he owned an autobody shop for years and therefore fixes EVERYTHING with Bondo.
  3. Laid vinyl plank flooring, because it is the most forgiving of floorings.
  4. Painted trim with oil based paint and walls with Benjamin Moore’s Simply White.

The room looks great now with furniture in it, but it’s amazing what just pulling up the carpet and putting down inexpensive flooring did.

It feels clean and unbeige.

Bedroom number one

The bedroom at the front of the house seemed like an easy fix until I started to remove the blue floral wallpaper.

That’s when it dawned on me that even the sliding closet doors were wallpapered. My solution to that was to remove the wallpaper which I just KNEW was going to be super-easy to take off and then have the skim coater skim coat the doors so they just looked like drywall.

I’ll say this for him, my drywaller didn’t even snicker when he reminded me that the panelled doors were pretty bouncy and bendy and if he skim coated them they’d all crack to bits the first time someone moved them.

Right. Good point.

So I just painted them and they came out fine.

That will become your most favourite saying if you’re renovating a rental house by the way.

“It’ll be fine.”

Which isn’t to say that I want to be a slumlady – but you DO have to keep perspective. I wanted the house to be nice, clean and welcoming without spending time or money where I wouldn’t see any return.

I wanted this to feel like someone’s home, not a rental – but I wasn’t willing to fix it up better than my own house is fixed up. And my bathroom is in my kitchen and has never been updated so that didn’t leave a lot of room for improvements on this house obviously. 🤣

What I did in bedroom number one

  1. Stripped the wallpaper.
  2. Had walls and closet skim coated and drywall repaired.
  3. Removed the carpet – even the flashy indoor/outdoor carpeting in the closet.
  4. Laid new click flooring and quarter round.
  5. Caulking. If you don’t know what to do with caulk – here’s my post on it.

The massive sliding closet doors made the perfect spot for a desk for school.

The second bedroom

The second bedroom is the one that had the separation anxiety wallpaper.

Nothing but NOTHING was going to convince it to let go. So my skim coater Terry worked some kind of drywall man magic and skim coated the seams of the wallpaper so perfectly and gave me such good instruction on painting the walls afterwards that you 100% would never know it’s painted wallpaper.

Like I mentioned in my original post on getting this rental house painting wallpaper is NOT recommended but in extreme cases it can be done well. You just have to follow the basic steps I outlined in my first post on the rental house.

What I did in bedroom number two

  1. Removed the carpet.
  2. Removed 2″ of wallpaper.
  3. Skim coated the wallpaper seams.
  4. Primed and painted the walls and trim.
  5. Caulking.

The living/dining Room

Floors. Perfect, lovely, in excellent condition floors. I love you so.

No carpet to take up, no flooring to put down. All I planned on doing was painting the walls and trim white.

When I realized painting the trim was going to be days because it involved things like massive built ins and windows with a bazillion mullions (the cross pieces of wood in the windows) I rethought my plan.

I mean a little big of beige is O.K., right? Right.

So downstairs all I did was paint the walls Benjamin Moore’s Simply White and fill in any nail holes on the walls.

That was all it needed. As you can see.

When my neighbour’s family first thought of selling the house they had a real estate agent come in. The agent told them they’d have to take out the built ins completely before listing the house because nobody wanted built ins. They wanted blank walls and the built ins felt dated.

I’d like to redirect you to this post revealing the built ins I did a few years ago in my own house. That ended up being featured in The New York Times.

And now I’d like to direct you to the rental house complete with furniture and – the dreaded built ins.

Real estate agents usually have a very good understanding of the market and houses in general. They have good advice. Not this time and not this agent.

What I did in the living/dining room

  1. Painted the walls white. That’s it.

The kitchen

The kitchen. I love this kitchen and didn’t update it at all. Even if I’d had the money, time or energy I wouldn’t have updated it.

It reminds me of the original kitchen in my house which I also LOVED. The only reason I redid my kitchen is just opening and closing drawers was a ridiculous struggle. And the configuration was horrible.

My sister Fish Pedicure came in and cleaned her little heart out (she LOVES cleaning). She scraped and Windexed and wiped until this little 1940’s kitchen was ready to open her cupboard doors to the renters.

She was just doing it without a dishwasher or any good spot for a microwave because – 1940’s.

That is a very nutshelled overview of how I went from buying a house to having it readyish for renters in a couple of months. Obviously it could have been done much more quickly but I was working this overhaul in during nights and and weekends when I wasn’t working on my blog or The Art of FUN Stuff membership site.

Why YES! My garden is WAY behind this year, thank you for asking. THAT overhaul will be ready for viewing soon. I’m thinking of installing built ins.

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  1. Jody says:

    Well well done! ‘Nuff said…

  2. Karen says:

    Hi Karen,

    Good work. I love oil paint recently repainted with oil in 1930’s bathroom with free standing shower. Holds up well. Was oil paint previously & no mold etc. original plaster walls.

    PLEASE do another detailed blog on your friend Terry showing 2″ removal of wall paper & skim coating to blend joins. I have lining paper over original plaster walls in L.R./D.R. and every coat of paint just builds up those seams. That lining paper won’t come off & I am not tearing out original plaster walls, love them. Plus life is short .

  3. I am so glad that at some point in the recent past, I obviously came across your website during a search for who knows what and added myself. Because – DAMN girl you got it going on!!

    I am in the middle of trying to make a 100+ year old hoarder house livable with NO money. Do you know how many of these ideas I am going to steal?!!

    BTW are you sure it wasn’t 789,544,540,652,549,667 tacks and staples on those stairs? Just kidding.

    THANK YOU for what you do!!

  4. Barb says:

    Looks awesome Karen but I think we beat you by a few hundred staples when we redid our stairs a few years ago. It was torture.

  5. Deb Wostmann says:

    Beautiful job. I’m a Realtor and I would never have told you to take out the built-ins. They are not dated no matter how old or new a home is!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Deb! It was the weirdest thing for the realtor to say! Especially in an old house that like most old houses doesn’t have huge storage places. ~ karen!

  6. Mary W says:

    I love the built-ins! The kitchen cabinet drawers appear to be slanted so that the top is further out than the bottom. It may be just the pictures but is this really how they look? Seems like they were built to provide larger counter tops with limited floor space. Brilliant! And it seems quirky but interesting and cool. Is it my imagination? Oh, and I also love click flooring! As an unslum lord you will be very happy with this, I’m sure.

  7. Barbara Kemp says:

    Thanks to you folks can see what a little money, good taste and elbow grease can do. What a beauty! You need to buy another one and do it again!

  8. Sheila Turchyn says:

    Fabulous! And I love built-ins. Storage up the wall? What’s wrong with that?! Great job.

  9. Sheila Johnson - Wolfenden says:

    Hi Karen,
    lOVE your blog….been here since Day 1… but suddenly weird things are happening!
    Some of the photos are stacked on top of each other and also on top of the text…I am missing a lot of your post! Can you help?

  10. Jim says:

    Nice job– looks good!

    You are definitely high energy.

    What is “click flooring” ?


    • Mary W says:

      We are getting ready to put it in the whole house. It ‘clicks’ in place, faux (beautiful) wood planks that you can’t tell from real wood, that are water resistant, easy to clean and last a long time. Water resistant? Try having a water heater leak entire contents over your click floor without your knowledge for a couple of days and see what happens – nothing. My best friend had it installed in her new forever home and that happened to her with NO, NONE, NADA buckling, warping, or evidence remaining.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jim. Click flooring is engineered wood that you simply click together to lay it down. It’s very thin. It goes together almost like tongue and groove but without the need for nailing. ~ karen!

  11. Cathy M says:

    When my dad was building our family home in Niagara he used oil paint in our small shower, top to bottom. I think he did 7 or 8 coats but it’s seriously lasted 50 years and looks good. Still in use!

  12. Sherry says:

    Just so good!

  13. Lohi Karhu says:

    Ah, Karen…
    “But, a Rental?”

    “fixing up a rental house or a house you aren’t the one moving into is that you’re MUCH more willing to take chances”

    “Since it WASN’T my own house…”

    “Again. It’s a rental….”

    “So there was black mould, rotted crumbling drywall …” what about THAT? Black mould is damned dangerous!

    “worried about doing at home but in a rental?”

    “most favourite saying if you’re renovating a rental house by the way. “It’ll be fine.””

    “without spending time or money where I wouldn’t see any return.”
    What, having happy, long-term, low-hassle renters?

    Good old Canadian owner/renter relationship, renters are just an inconvenience, regardless of the fact that they are paying for *YOUR* investment.

    • Lauri says:

      I can’t help but agree

    • Jennifer Hibbard says:

      As a person who’s rented most of her adult life, this comment is spot-on. It’s the same here in the states.

      • Karen says:

        Really? Did you read or see any of the things I did in the house? Does this look like an unkept, slumlord house? Please read my reply to Lohi. ~ karen!

    • Lanna Banana says:

      It’s easy to judge from the safety and comfort of one’s armchair. It’s even easier to judge when it’s not your livelihood on the line.

      Privilege takes on many forms, and complaining about how someone else chooses to run their business (because, unfortunately, that’s what the rental market is) instead of just voting with your money (by not renting a space that isn’t clean and safe—— which this house indubitably is) is a form of privilege. Don’t like how landlords run their business? Then become a landlord and show them how it’s done. I can almost guarantee that anyone complaining about Karen’s job here has never attempted the feat.

      Agreed, there are some truly heinous slumlords out there. I’d suggest turning your upset towards them, or do the work of getting your government to pass more laws to protect renters if you believe they are needed.

      Karen, not that you need my humble approval ;), but you’re doing great. You’ve put more love, sweat and good juju into that place than many others might have, and it’s just lovely. We own a few rentals in the States and vividly remember the months of reno work done by our own hands, the money poured in, the worry and tears shed, and how one single renter can then destroy it all and walk away. You chose the perfect balance of genuine care and letting go. Your chosen renters will be quite happy there!


      • Karen says:

        Thanks Lanna! And they do love it. The husband was particularly happy with the new fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house, lol. Men. ~ karen!

    • Lisa says:

      You aren’t a landlord, are you.

    • Karen says:

      Seems to me Lohi that you might have had some bad experiences with renting. But everything I’ve said is true. You’ve conveniently left out mentioning all of the work I did in the house – which by the way wasn’t necessary – I did it to make the house comfortable and more functional for all the renters that use it. You act like I left the black mould. I had it removed and repaired. And you are willing to take more design risks in a home that isn’t yours. It’s natural and I’m not sure why you think it’s a bad thing. It’s a good place to try new things. I’d continue explaining but like I said, it seems you’ve had a bad experience with a landlord and you’ll see this post through that lens no matter what. ~ karen!

      • Lyanne Hoefer says:

        Hi Karen……water rolling off your back. Sometimes folks can get jealous, best to ignore and remember most folks with positive thoughts are on your side.

    • Ly says:

      I beleive Karen means that it’s not her home so she doesn’t look at it daily, so it won’t constantly be in her head….

    • TucsonPatty says:

      You do understand humor, yes?
      Excuse me for butting in, Karen. You may now proceed.

  14. Patricia says:

    My dad owned a body shop for most of my life, and the smell of Bondo and hardener (while probably toxic – but who knows?) takes me back to my 70s childhood.
    And the house looks beautiful, I love everything.

  15. Kathy Renwald says:

    Great story. You really help people see what can be done with vision.

  16. Mary says:

    You did a beautiful job, the house looks amazing. Thank you for being thorough, a house like that deserves it. We just sold our rental: a beautiful Craftsman bungalow with original woodwork (glass doored built ins, 9′ kitchen ceiling with cabinets TO the ceiling, original oak floors). We loved it but renting it was such a pain – I hope your experience is less sstressful. Also, thanks for the fearlessness on the skim coating and paint choices. I’m at the beginning of that journey right now.

  17. Julie says:

    I love this!
    I’m curious about using oil based paint inside, is there a specific reason why you chose to use this?

    • Karen says:

      Yes. Because it’s super durable. WAY more durable than water based paint. So in a rental it’s perfect. It lets the tenants bash around a bit without ruining things and then feeling guilty. And it’s very waterproof so that’s why I used it in the shower area. ~ karen!

  18. Christine Hilton says:

    Did you know if you rent furnished it is “hotel” rules so eviction is easier? Having been a landlord you NEVER know.l bet Betty is regretting her decision not to move in but too stubborn to admit

  19. TucsonPatty says:

    This is amazing, Karen! I think you made excellent decisions for what you were going for, however, I am not a rental property owner. I have rented many apartments and houses in my younger life, and I would LOVE to live in this house, and make it my home! You did good, girl! You got the entire family in on this project, eh? : ) That was a tremendous amount of work you did, and I hope you are okay with it all, now. Now, take that staged furniture back, and then relax for one minute – K?

    • Karen says:

      That’s the new homeowners furniture! Sorry – renters, lol. It’s their furniture. :) ~ karen!

      • TucsonPatty says:

        You already have the trust of, and a great rapport with the nes homeowners, for them to allow you in to photograph their vision for the house. Great choices. I hope they also dearly love that wonderful kitchen! Thank you, Fishbait sister (I know that isn’t quite right, 😂 but since I wrote it I think it is hysterical and please tell her!). She did a beautiful job restoring the kitchen to its former glory!

  20. whitequeen96 says:

    Good grief, I’m exhausted just reading about all the work you did! If I accomplished 6 of these things in 1 year, I’d be so proud! But you . . . where do you get the energy?!! It must be the potato chips.

    • Karen says:

      Well I think I’m very close to my energy tipping point and am considering quietly living in a soup can for a few months, lol. ~ karen!

  21. Gayle m says:

    OMG–love evdrything you did! Been trying to decide on a color for click flooring for my little 1050 sq home–absolutely fell in love with the color of the product you used. Care to share info?

  22. Hanna says:

    What about the garden of THIS house?

  23. Jodi Blackman says:

    It looks fantastic now. You’ve done enough to freshen it up and make it pretty, but not so much you’ll be in the red. Just one thing: you want to be a really nice landlady and keep good tenants happy, assuming they are good clean tenants who pay on time etc, give them permission to have a proper handyman/woman (or Pink Tool Belt) to hang a couple of pieces of their own personal photos or art. It took me two years and a pandemic to get permission but now our rental feels so much more like home to us. It’s your house, but it’s their home. My theory is if you allow good tenants to personalise the space, they will be much more likely to want to renew the lease and stay put. Which saves you money and stress in the long run.

  24. Lynn says:

    Wow can’t believe how much you have done in so little time. Great job Karen, give pink tool belt a high five on her job in kitchen

    • TucsonPatty says:

      OMG! I just called her Fish Bait sister! It was Fish Pedicure sister!!! I wrote one reply but the internet swallowed it, along with my reminiscences about living in an old old house while in college. Built-in corner china cabinet. Gas stove with built-in griddle in the middle! It also had a hinged cover to come down and make it pretty. Farmhouse sink with a long drainboard…I loved that place! My very favorite thing was the spice “wall”. Someone took out the wall between the window and door and built in 4 1/2 – 5 foot tall spice shelves. Just between the studs. A whack of shelves and enough room for my spice collection to grow even more! Ahhhh, the good old days of school and working and falling in love. <3 <3 <3

  25. CathyR says:

    Well done! Is it being rented furnished? Or is that the new tenants’ furniture?

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