The Australian dream of owning a home seems to be drifting further from reach for younger generations.  With talk now of interest rate rises and property price ‘bubbles’ potentially bursting, there may well be opportunities emerging for those waiting in the wings with deposits saved up ready to buy.  Stay tuned for some upcoming articles to support the process of purchasing a property for those that are ready to pounce.  However for many young Aussies, buying property in a large city (even with potential price drops of 10% in the near future) is still unrealistic, at least for now.  

There are many middle income couples, families and professionals and plenty of lower income families and students renting in the big smoke as they save up to eventually buy.  I rented from age 17-39 and enjoyed it mostly.  I had the freedom to travel regularly (both interstate and internationally), live with friends, move in (and out again) with boyfriends, meet new people and explore new suburbs.  I also had a tad more disposable income to invest in nice furniture from time to time.  So when I did finally buy my own place just over two years ago (with a loan from Australian Mutual Bank of course) I easily filled it with over 20 years worth of cherished home furnishings I’d collected. 

Whether you are renting while you save up for your own place, or simply enjoy the flexibility and simpler maintenance of renting, you can still make a rental feel like home.  As an experienced tenant for over 20 years in 12 different rental properties across two states, allow me to share some tips and tricks to making the most out of your rental. 

Make it feel like your own even if it isn’t

Furnishing - stick to one style

A house or an apartment is simply an empty shell until you fill it with your stuff.  So while there isn’t much a tenant can do to the shell, you can decorate the interior with your own removable belongings very easily.  The trick to making your interiors feel welcoming and appealing is to stick to a style and keep things simple.  Less really is more when it comes to making your rental feel calm rather than chaotic.  Figuring out your style is a good start.  Whether its eclectic vintage, beachy chic, or mid century modern, go with a look which already complements some of your existing pieces of furniture.   A few nice pieces of furniture which work together each is better than a room crammed with mismatched pieces.  Invest in durable pieces that you really love and which will last multiple moves and get rid of anything that clashes with your decided aesthetic.  If you are renting with others, pool your resources together and try to find a style that works for everyone. 

Anchor the look with decorative elements

Elevate the look of your space with rugs, artwork and cushions.  Carefully selected pieces which compliment your chosen style and colour theme will help create a cohesive space and make it feel like home.  Rugs not only allow you to easily anchor your own style into a room, but they also protect the installed carpet underneath.  As for art, there are plenty of temporary yet effective ways to add a pop of colour to your space without damaging the paintwork such as removable hooks or even leaning framed artwork against the wall on a shelf.  Add a complementary throw or blanket for cosy comfort. 

Potted plants and vases of fresh flowers bring the outdoors inside and truly do elevate a space.  I have a whole article here about the benefits of bringing in plenty of green into your home.  It’s one of the easiest and cheapest way to refresh living areas.  And of course lighting can make or break a home.  Ensure plenty of natural light can get into your home by keeping blinds open during the day and replace bright fluorescents and cool bulbs with warm rendered light bulbs and lamps for soft evening lighting.


Depending on how long you plan to stay in a rental you can often negotiate little bits of renovation either before or after you move in.  A twelve month lease is certainly enough to justify some surface level changes that will help you to feel like you’ve personalised the space.  Even a 6 month lease may inspire some superficial improvements.  Be mindful you will likely be expected to pay for any renovation or adjustments you do make.  However, you might be able to negotiate shared costs or if you’re lucky, have all the expense covered by the owner if they agree the update will maintain or increase the value of the property.  If you’ve lived in a property for over 12 months and plan to stay for longer, even more reason to consider speaking to your real estate or landlord and discuss how you can refresh the space.

It pays to ask

Painting the walls, requesting a new built-in wardrobe (if the existing one is falling apart), or installing new blinds can all give a property a fresh boost.  With permission you can usually change light fixtures and hardware too (just keep the old ones somewhere safe so you can replace them again when you move out).  Some people even manage to negotiate getting new carpet as part of entering into a rental agreement.  The longer you stay somewhere, the more reliable you are with rent, and the more compassionate and understanding the property owner, the better.  Don't assume the landlords will reject your request.  If you open up the conversation around freshening up the property, the owner may just realise you plan to stick around, that you care about where you live and will take care of the property while you are there.  Every landlord dreams of a reliable and responsible tenant.  As a tenant you can achieve a sense of connection with the place as you create a space that feels like home.  Any improvements to the rental property is tax deductible for the owner, so often they will be more accommodating that you think.

Negotiation tips

  • Ask if the owner will pay for the cost of paint if you provide the labour.  At minimum, a fresh coat of paint (white is ideal as it really helps to brighten up a space) will improve any living space.  Get a couple of quotes from professional painters to demonstrate to the landlord how much they would be saving if you volunteer to paint.  For the owners it’s a win win.  When you do finally move out, the property will be that much easier to rent out as it will have been recently painted.
  • Next time your rent goes up, ask for something to be updated.  Whether you are on a continuing lease or a set lease period, you rent will inevitably increase at some point.  Each time rent goes up or a new lease is signed see it as an opportunity to negotiate updates. Politely requesting things to be replaced or fixed every time you get a rent increase is a good way to get help maintaining the rental, keeping it updated and you happy. 

Investing some time and energy into your home, regardless of whether it’s a rental or your own property is well worth it.  Enjoying where you live will improve your quality of life and emotional wellbeing.  Nothing beats walking through your front door and feeling at ease and welcomed straight away.

Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur. She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.  


28 July 2022