To Paint or Not to Paint? 10 Questions to Consider Before Painting Your Rental
It’s certainly no secret around here that I 100% believe in the power of paint to transform a space…especially a rental! Rentals are often bland, boring, lacking in architectural details AND are usually identical to others in the same building or on the same street. Paint is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to make a dramatic change…and with a bit of work and a few cans of white paint or primer, can also be “un-done” prior to moving out. Despite all of these wonderful qualities though, I don’t necessarily believe that painting your rental is the answer to making your house “your home” in every scenario. Today, I wanted to share how Greg and I typically go about deciding whether we will paint or not when we move into a new space…and offer you 10 questions to consider before you open the can of paint in your own home!
It might surprise you to know that we’ve only painted 50% of the homes we’ve lived in: our second apartment in Okinawa, our California condo, and our Cape Cod-style home in North Carolina. These three homes had a two key things in common: 1) we were going to be there for a long-ish time, and 2) we hadn’t painted in the previous house so we weren’t exhausted by the labor and cost of it all! I had a good time walking down memory lane for this post and was even able to dig up photographic proof of our painting escapades!
The Power of Paint
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of whether to paint or not, let’s first look at a few examples of how truly transformative paint can be. All three of these spaces are from our last home in North Carolina where we painted the entire house. I took a lot of pride not only in the spaces I created, but also that our house looked and felt different than every other house on the street (because we were in base housing…every single house was the same…and that was a big deal to me). In my mind, none of these spaces would have looked or felt the same with the standard yellowish walls we started with!
In our master bedroom, we painted to walls a blue-ish grey that played off the fabrics in the room perfectly…
In our dining room, we did a two-tone paint treatment with cobalt blue and white…
And in our living room, we took on our biggest painting project ever with horizontal grey-on-grey stripes! By far, the stripes were ALWAYS the first thing people mentioned when they walked into our home! (Look at 1 year old Henry!!!)
The Power of Furnishings & Accessories
While I do think the room transformations above are spectacular, I think it’s also valuable to see some examples of how color, style, and personality can be brought into a space through OTHER things! As I said, we didn’t paint our first apartment in Okinawa, our Virginia rental or our current Kansas house. And as I look through these room transformations, even I am amazed at how much can be done with white walls!
Even with light walls and carpet and a white couch, this living room felt vibrant and colorful in thanks to pillows and picture mats!
When there is no color on the wall, you have the opportunity to bring in color on almost everything else (which is great for renters who move a lot!). Chairs, window treatments and accessories provide ALL the color in our Virginia dining space.
And of course…we haven’t painted our current rental! As I get more and more design savvy, I’m learning that neutral walls really allow you to bring in lots of different colors and patterns since nothing has to compete with the wall color. We had no plans to paint this year so I REALLY experimented with other ways to bring in color to these neutral rooms…and I think I succeeded!
I haven’t shown you the full room reveal yet, but here is a glimpse of our “final” Kansas living room! Can I box this room up and ship it just as it is, please?
As most of you know, the playroom wall proved quite the challenge. Who knew a stack of blue paper could be so transformative!
Henry’s room is brought to life with a plethora of colorful accessories that are able to really shine because there is no other color(s) competing with them!
10 Questions to Consider Before Painting Your Rental
Now that I’ve made the case for both painting your walls AND leaving them neutral, here are 10 things Greg and I often consider when deciding whether or not to paint!
1. Are you allowed to paint?
Before you even start to look at paint chips, you need to determine if your landlord or rental agency allows you to paint. We have never come across a lease that says we can’t, but I’ve been told by friends and readers that they have! The first place to check is your lease – it will usually state what is and isn’t allowed for your walls (and may even offer some “pre-approved” colors that you wouldn’t have to paint back.) Even if your lease says “no painting,” it doesn’t hurt to double check with your landlord or agency. We’ve found that MOST will say yes, as long as you paint the walls back to their original color before moving out.
2. How long will you live in this rental?
This one is a big one for us! Painting can be a lot of work and a good chunk of change (depending on how many rooms you are painting), so you want to make sure your time and financial investments are worth it. There is no “one size fits all rule” on this. Only you can decide what length of time makes it worth painting your walls. For us, we don’t even consider painting if we’re going to be in a rental a year or less. I’ll never say “never” on this one – because you better bet I almost painted a wall in this house – but we typically save our painting projects for homes we will be in for the long-term (relatively speaking).
3. How much will it cost?
Yes…in the grand scheme of home improvements, painting is relatively low-cost and easy. And the transformative effect you get for less than $100 is often worth it. However, for renters, buying paint and supplies (and more paint and supplies upon move out) is almost always a sunk cost. You will most likely not be “investing into the home” with your paint job…as any changes you make will most likely have to be undone and/or painted over. You have to decide if spending a couple hundred of dollars on paint/supplies is worth the overall effect of having your walls a different color. Again…there is no right answer here. There are times when we say “Yes, the sunk cost is worth it to us!” And there are times we say “Let’s save the money.”
4. How inconvenient is it to paint?
I have been known to say “You’ll be surprised how fast painting goes!” to friends or family who are thinking about painting but fretting over the labor, chaos and time involved. It is indeed true that I am continually surprised at how quickly painting CAN go, but when you factor in shopping, setup, rearranging, taping, painting and clean up, the whole production can also cause a bit of chaos around the house (especially if you have kids!) When deciding if you should paint or not, consider how much of a disruption it will be and if it is worth it. I am often of the mindset the the temporary chaos is worth the long-term enjoyment of a new wall color, but that might not be true for your living situation.
To significantly decrease the hassle of painting, we ALWAYS paint empty rooms before our stuff arrives (and we re-paint after all of our stuff is gone). If we know we are going to paint, we schedule the delivery our our stuff for 2-3 days after we get the keys (and on the backend, we schedule checkout 2-3 days after our stuff is hauled away). Not having to move furniture away from walls and/or protect it saves us a lot of time and worry; and it helps us get the paint on the wall a lot quicker. Plus, when our stuff finally arrives, we can turn right to getting settled rather than having to hold off in order to paint.
Need to get a paint job done fast? See my tips for getting a whole house painted in just 4 days!
5. Do you have to paint it back?
I’ve already mentioned this a few times, because at least for us, it’s a big one. If your landlord or rental agency says that you can paint, be sure to clarify whether you will be expected to return the walls to their original color before you move out. In EVERY home we’ve lived in, the answer to that questions has been YES. Which means that in all three homes we painted, we also had to paint them back before checking out and getting our security deposit back.
Why is this such a big deal? For one, buying more paint and primer and tape and trays and plastic is kind of the LAST thing you want to buy heading into a move (when there are a lot of costs associated with your NEW place). Also, packing up, cleaning up, and moving out of a rental is a lot of work. Add in painting and it makes a busy and exhausting period even more so. Lastly, when you’re moving out, you kind of don’t care anymore. When you’re moving in and putting your own colors on the wall, it’s fun and exciting and you don’t mind the work. But when you’re on the way out, it just feels laborious and a nuisance. In all three apartments where we painted, the days leading up to our checkout were exhausting and a ton of work (which is why we often don’t paint our NEXT house – we’re still recovering from painting upon move out!). I still say painting our entire house in North Carolina was worth it, but repainting all the rooms was NOT fun when we just wanted to be gone!
That’s me getting ready to paint over my beloved stripes!
6. How bad is the current color?
Most of our decisions about whether or not to paint revolve how long we will be in a certain rental rather than having to camouflage an ugly color (our rentals have always been some version of white, which I can usually work with.) In fact, part of the reason we decided to rent our current house was because it was painted with neutral walls throughout the house. However, you might find yourself in a rental property (especially if it’s a house owned by another family) where the wall color(s) really bother you and/or seriously clash with your belongings. Part of deciding whether or not to paint includes evaluating how bad the current color is and if you can live with it in light of the other things I’ve already mentioned (cost, length of time). Sometimes you may not be entirely up for the cost, labor, inconvenience, but if painting an offensive color allows you to enjoy your home and your belongings more…it might be worth it!
7. Can you add color without painting the entire room?
Painting a single wall is an entirely different ballgame than painting an entire room. Likewise with painting JUST the ceiling, stripes, or the top/bottom half. This approach allows you to add a potent splash of color or pattern without the time, hassle, and paint required to do an entire room. Sure accent walls are a bit “out,” but if you’re living in a space that desperately needs a punch of something, just one (or part of a) wall might be the ticket!
8. Can you use something else on the walls instead?
A lot of you might remember back when we moved into this house that I took a friendly bet with Greg’s buddy that I wouldn’t paint this year. Admittedly, it wasn’t fair for me to take the bet because I KNEW we weren’t going to paint (because we’re here for just a year!), but I did use the bet as an excuse to REALLY stretch my limits to find and try techniques and ideas for adding color to walls without paint. Wouldn’t you know it that after trying wallpaper, fabric, wrapping paper, cardstock, and peel-and-stick wallpaper, that I really didn’t miss paint that much after all! These days, there are so many removable and renter-friendly products on the market. If you really hate your bland walls but don’t want to paint, there are other options!
Be sure to check out these 9 things renters can put on their walls!
9. Hire it out or DIY?
My sister uses a phrase that I have now adopted and use pretty regularly myself: you either have time or money! When it comes to painting, this phrase definitely holds true. You can save yourself SOME money by painting yourself; or you can save yourself SOME headache and hassle by hiring it out. In all cases but one, we have done the painting ourselves. Usually, the cost savings of hiring a professional is worth the 2-3 days of labor and chaos. On the other hand, the one time I paid for it a room to be painted, the entire room was done in 2 hours and put back together by bedtime. Worth.every.penny. Only your budget, your lifestyle, and your desire to have the job done right and/or fast can help you decide!
10. Does the wall color conflict with your vision?
Last but not least, wall color is indeed a valuable and important aspect of room design. It’s not only the backdrop for all the things you will place in the room, but it can also help set the tone and mood of a space. If you have a VERY specific design plan in mind for a certain space, you might indeed find yourself with a paint brush in hand. There will be times when you can make a less-than-ideal wall color work with your design vision, and others when the clashing and mis-matching just can’t be fixed, ignored or lived-with. If you just can’t pull your vision together within the confines of your current wall color, change it. It’s only paint. If you can justify the cost, inconvenience or other aspects discussed here, paint it, bring your vision to life, and be happy!
In our last home, Henry’s nursery was painted (as shown below left) with tone-on-tone stripes and a lime green ceiling. When I started to update his room as he got older, I tried to make everything work with the current paint treatment. But as element after element came together, I found myself pining for a clean, bright white room. After weeks of trying to make it work (and with only a year left in the house!), I decided to have the room painted fresh white for $100 plus the cost of paint. Sure my decision went against my pro-DIY/not for any time less than a year mantra, but having bright white walls completed my vision for the space and allowed me to enjoy it and all the projects I had made much more fully. It made me happy every single day I went in there; so for me and at that time, it was the best decision ever.
I tell this story only to illustrate that deciding whether or not to paint is not black/white or a one-size-fits-all formula. As you work through some of these questions, you may find that not only is there no easy or right answer, but they don’t all hold equal weight all the time or with every house. All the various aspects of our homes and our home life have different values to each of us. What is important to some may not matter to others and vice versa. There are times when the cost or inconvenience is prohibitive, but you just can’t get over the wall color…so you find a way to make it happen. There are other times when the color isn’t your favorite, but you can make it worth for a certain period of life or until the next house. For us, painting is a tool in our Renter’s Toolbox to help us transform bland and boring rentals into spaces that feel more like us and more like home. But it’s not a tool we use every time. Painting does require an investment of time and money, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us to spend either.
Friends of mine here in Kansas know that if we were staying here longer, we’d likely be investing in some paint this summer. While neutral, the walls in this home have a slight pink undertone that drive me bonkers. Even though I don’t love them, I’ve done my best to work with them for our time here (knowing the “next house” is just a few months away has helped!) We don’t yet know what our walls will look like in our next home or if we will be painting or not…but now you know the things we’ll be considering when that time comes!