NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Even though mortgage rates are at historically low levels, it's the rental market in many areas across the U.S. that is really heating up. Obtaining a mortgage is undoubtedly a strenuous process on the heels of tightened credit standards. Add to that the fact that many Americans simply can't afford a new home, the number of Americans still jobless or just getting by -- and many consumers are finding it easier, or necessary, to rent, which explains why the average rent nationally is at its highest level since 2007, according to researchers at Reis.

Testifying on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of the housing crash, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spoke words that previously might have been considered politicl suicide: Geithner suggested that home ownership should no longer be considered a singular measure of the American Dream, and maybe every American shouldn't own a home.

Welcome to the post-housing bubble renter's society. Geithner didn't mention it, but his words implied that the do-it-yourself projects associated with the American Dream of home ownership should be applicable to the growing ranks of renters across the nation.

When renting, it doesn't make sense to complete a major renovation, like flooring, new windows or a new kitchen. Throughout the duration of your lease, however, there are some easy and inexpensive projects you can do yourself to spruce up your rental. MainStreet asked design pros to weigh in on the top DIY projects for renters.


If you've ever thought the weak water pressure in your shower has nothing to do with the low-flow showerhead installed by the building to minimize their water bill, think again. Chances are the showerhead in your rental needs to be replaced -- whether or not it's because the landlord installed a low-flow head. You, and your hair, will be very happy if you complete this project, and thankfully, this isn't a lengthy or costly job.

First off, it's helpful to know the types of showerheads so you can easily narrow your choices when selecting one at a home improvement store.

"There are two main categories of showerheads to choose from: fixed or handheld. But within these categories is a wealth of options -- from rainshowers to multi-setting versions," said Andrea Conroy, director of retail marketing at Moen.

And as for the actual installation of your new showerhead, here's what Controy suggests:

1. Unscrew the existing showerhead from the shower arm, using a crescent wrench if necessary.

2. Remove any old thread seal tape and apply new by wrapping the tape around the shower arm threads two to three times.

3. By hand, screw the new showerhead onto the shower arm. Use the wrench to tighten the new showerhead. If installing a handheld version, first screw the handheld bracket to the shower arm and tighten with a wrench. Then, attach the hose and handheld shower to the handheld bracket.

Choosing the Right Paint Color

Any time you move into a new place, chances are you'll be painting the kitchen, bedrooms and living room. When choosing what color to paint your rental, there's a "science" behind different colors.

"Blue colors elicit feelings of tranquility and confidence. This is the least appetizing color, so it should not be the main color in a kitchen," advises  Chris Ring, v.p. of ProTect Painters.

"Yellow enhances concentration, speeds metabolism, and is perfect for kitchens and bathrooms," Ring advises.

Pink colors are on the tranquilizing end of the color mood scale, making a pink shae an appropriate choice for bedrooms.

For this and other painting tips below, do keep in mind that even if you are a Michaelangelo, you may have to re-paint the walls to white when you move out, and/or take the risk of a landlord trying to claim part of a security deposit as a result of a custom paint job. As such, it's best to ask for a landlord's approval to paint and agree to terms before undertaking the project.

Painting the Bathroom

Painting a tiny bathroom makes for a challenge, especially when trying to paint around the sink, mirror and shower.

"Before painting, wash all the walls to remove any mildew with mildew remover or bleach and water," advises Joe Kowalski, training manager at Glidden.

And for your bathroom painting job, Kowalski adds these recommendations:

  • For walls, use either a semi-gloss or eggshell finish; both provide dirt and moisture resistance.
  • For the ceiling, paint with an eggshell finish is advised.
  • Paint that includes primer provides extra adhesion over a glossy surface.

More Storage is Better

Whether you're sidestepping into your small studio rental or fortunate enough to be renting a place with enough closet space, tips for maximizing your rental's storage space always come in handy.

Janet Lee, author of Living In A Nutshell, shares these tips:

1. Place a removable, peel-and-stick wall decal on a bare surface (whether it's on a wall or the back of a door.)
2. Rub the surface of the sticker with a squeegee to ensure the decal lays smoothly against the wall.
3. Add a hook onto the decal and apply pressure to ensure damage-free hanging.
4. Wait one hour before hanging hats, jackets, backpacks and other apparel.

Hiding Your Lamp Cord

Cords can make your rental a cluttered mess as well as an eletrical hazard for children. Lee offers these easy steps for making the cord 'disappear:'

1. Use a hand drill to create a hole in the bottom of a metal gelatin mold.
2. Run a pre-wired pendant cord through the hole of the mold.
3. Insert a light bulb into the end of the cord.
4. Affix cords to wall in decorative loops using clear cord clips for damage-free hanging.

Installing Lights Under Your Cabinets

Renovating the kitchen is without a doubt a major expense and something that isn't appropriate for an apartment or house that you're renting. Adding some lighting under your cabinets is a classy and cheaper way to modernize your rental's kitchen.

Jocelyn Jane Cox of the website,, and author of The Homeowner's Guide to Greatness, offers these tips for installing lights to lite up your countertops:

1. Gather your materials: The lights (which are usually oblong and have holes in the back for hanging), a drill with screwdriver bit, nails, and screws of the correct size (often, these will come in the package of lights.)
2. Make sure you have electrical outlets near the cabinets and that the cords from the lights will reach. Unfortunately, solar-powered lights aren’t going to work in this situation.
3. Measure the distance between the holes in the back of the lights and place pencil marks under the cabinet at that same distance. This length does need to be exact since the lights are under the cabinet.
4. Hammer some small holes where you put your pencil marks, in order to get the screws started.
5. Once you have some moderate-sized holes in the wood, turn the screws with your hand until they stay. This is when you’ll have to get the drill out. You don't want to screw in the screws all the way, as you want some of the screw head hanging so the light can hook on.
6. Hang the lights. Because you won’t be able to see the screws or the holes that they fit into, it may take a few tries to match them up.
7. If the cords are hanging down, you can bundle them up in a knot and secure them to the bottom of the cabinets with packing tape. This will hold pretty well for anywhere from a six months to a year, and is easily re-applied, once the tape gives way.


If you're looking for a quick and cheap way to cover up any damage or imperfections in the wall, hanging a mirror over that spot is the answer.

"If you are putting up small block mirrors, use a special type of glue called mastic," Cox advises.

But if you're trying to hang a large mirror, you'll need more than just glue. "Many mirrors have wires across the back, just like paintings, but because mirrors can be very heavy (especially ones with frames), make sure you use screws with anchors instead of nails so they don’t fall," she explains.

Cox also cautions about the importance of measuring. "If your mirror comes with brackets on all four corners, which are usually inserted into the wall with screws or nails, take the time to do some measuring beforehand. Crooked mirrors can make your room look like a funhouse."

Creating Your Own 'Wall Paper'

Chances are your landlord won't allow wall paper, but painting geometric shape designs on your wall that look like wall paper (but without actually hanging the paper) make for an inexpensive and trendy accent to the room.

Leslie Ezelle, a contestant on season six of HGTV's "Design Star," offers these detailed tips:

1. Choose a geometric shape that suits your taste -- simple shapes like triangles will make a great pattern, but other more complex shapes add a classy look to the space. Cut out the geometric shape using a piece of cardboard -- for this example, we'll use a diamond as our geometric shape of choice.
2. Make a diamond that is 14 inches vertically and 10 inches wide (it should look "skinny")
3. Before painting take a ruler measure left to right 10 inches, and measure floor to ceiling vertically
4. Use a level or a ruler and with a pencil create vertical lines that go from floor to ceiling and are 10 inches wide
5. Make sure your pencil stripes are 10 inches apart
6. When painting, use a small brush 1/2 or 3/4 inches thick. Use colors that are a few shades darker than your white wall.
7. Put the cardboard diamond on the wall and trace around it with the paintbrush. Remove the cardboard after tracing
8. Move the cardboard up on the wall so that it connects with the last shape that you just painted.
9. Continue until you have completed the entire wall

Window Treatments

Plenty of landlords don't provide any window treatments, let alone stylish ones. Ezelle share these ideas:

1. If the standard mini blinds came with your rental, take down by unscrewing the top. They will then snap open.
2. Clean the windows and the window sill or ledge.
3. Use wood filler for the open holes from where the mini blinds were originally.
4. Paint the inside sill or moulding white.
5. Install roller blades or draperies.

"Drapes are great for renters, because you can take them with you when you go," she adds.

Get Organized

When you're rushing to work in the morning and you whip open your closet to grab some clothes, it helps to have your to-do list posted conveniently on your closet door, so you don't forget about your 11 a.m. meeting. Author Janet Lee clarifies the process:

1. Decorate some clipboards with patterned scrapbook paper or decorative duct tapes.
2. Adhere clear wire hooks to a wall or filing cabinet for damage-free hanging.
3. Hang the clip boards on hooks.

A rental society doesn't mean the American dream has to get any uglier or less classy. As a matter of fact, with home budgets tight and longer rental terms for many Americans, we may just be living in what should properly be called the DIY Society, whether it's linked to a mortgage or lease.

--By Scott Gamm

Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC and CNN.  Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.