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Here’s how to make a rental house feel like your home

family at home resize

Whether you are delaying buying your dream home because you want to travel, have professional flexibility or need to save up for a few more years, the fact is more and more South Africans are renting for longer.

Landlords are understandably sticky about their properties and allowing changes to be done, but if you’re going to be living in this property you need to feel like it is home. There are some easy, temporary changes you can bring to your rental; but before you start it’s best to work with a plan and have a fail-safe approach.

Start off by having a chat with your landlord or rental agent. Find out how much leeway you have, what changes you can bring and if there is any room for discussing sharing of costs – for example, adding a beautiful wooden deck or awning to the property will no doubt increase the value and landlord’s potential future rental income, but is the landlord willing to negotiate on these matters?

The next step in your planning process should be to set goals. Right now looking at your rental home you could probably name a thousand little things you’d like to change but you need to prioritise and focus on what you can do with your limited resources.

To help you prioritise LifeHacker recommends the following questions:

  • What in your rental property makes you feel the most dread when you see or use it?
  • How much are you willing to spend to customise your place?
  • How much effort are you willing to put into changes (and reversing them when you move out)?
  • What changes can you make and still retain your deposit?
  • What themes or parts of your apartment do you like?

To get you thinking and planning, below are seven simple updates to make your rental feel like home:

Get your green fingers workingPot plants.resize

If you’re renting a home with a garden you could plant something special or beautiful; or if the garden is already beautifully established pick a spot to turn into your outside lounge. Consider a bird feeder to attract local birdlife, a hammock or a small café table and chair to have regular tea-for-one. Spending time outside in the garden will definitely make it feel like you belong.

Don’t stop there though, bring the plants indoors. Few things are as effective at creating a homely atmosphere as a few considered pot plants throughout the home.

PaintChildren's room with fun paint and wall paper

This is the easy one – repainting the home in colours and themes you love is an instant solution. However, be sure to check with your landlord – you might have to paint everything in neutral shades again before moving out. This is definitely one of those cases where you need to think about your budget and the effort you are willing to commit.

If you are not keen on repainting the whole home again when you move, a good compromise is picking a few focus walls and changing them according to your style. Alternatively look into wall stickers or decals.

Storage and shelvinghigh shelves

Clever storage solutions, such as storage ottomans or gorgeous baskets for throws and pillows, or even board games, add character to your lounge while being functional. Something slightly more permanent is floating shelves. They are so easy to install and, fortunately, equally as easy to remove and can really create a beautiful focus point in any room.

Conveniently you

Little things can really make all the difference. If you have a favourite bowl put it close to the entrance you use most to double as a storage solution for all your odd bits and bops. Looking at it will instantly make you feel at home. Maybe you really love your collection of umbrellas or boots, or even gardening equipment like gloves and hats. In that case use it as décor. Add a beautiful coat rack or hat stand to your entry and hang your favourite things there, easily reachable as well as happy to look at.

It smells like homecandle flame

What’s the one smell that takes you right back to your childhood home, or maybe the first apartment you and your partner shared? Whatever it is, invest in a candle or incense sticks to create that smell, or plant a lavender bush. This is an especially useful trick for the first couple of months in your new home.

Display your memories

Whether it is family pictures, little mementos from holidays abroad or special artworks that mean something to you, display them in your home. Nothing will make you feel more at home than having all your favourite things on display around you, and it really is very easy to remove and patch up the spot on the wall where you had nails when you need to move.

Settle in fast, and know when it’s enoughRelaxed reading on grass.resize

The first night in your new home you can already do something to make it feel like home as early as the first morning you wake up there. Are you a book fanatic? Pack out your books. Love to bake? Test out the oven by making your favourite simple recipe in time for coffee the next morning (if you have the strength after moving day). If you believe it’s your friends, and your ability to entertain them, that make a house a home, have your closest buddies come over, get some snacks and drinks and laugh as they help you unpack. Hopefully you will do more laughing than actual unpacking. Maybe you just want to watch a favourite movie with your partner? In that case move the couch to its spot and connect the TV – on a box if you have to. The boxes can wait for tomorrow.

Equally important is knowing when to stop – consider your budget, when you will be moving again and the time you have to make changes. At some point you will need to accept that you have made all the changes it is wise to make, and that you don’t have space for everything. Embrace storage units and the ugly kitchen backdrop tiles.

Happy rental-living! Hopefully you spend so much time doing your favourite thing in this home – be it reading or entertaining friends – that the ugly kitchen backdrop becomes a fond part of happy memories.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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