VOLUME 4RFive Ways to Upgrade a Bathroom for Under $500
By Thomas Cochran
The condition of a bathroom can be a deal-breaker for some tenants. They can walk into a single-family home and be wow’d by everything else, and then turn on their heels once they see a bathroom that leaves much to be desired. However, if property owners are willing to negotiate with tenants on upgrades, this can be a win-win for both.

Maybe it's a freshly tiled backsplash or new paint on the vanity that could really turn heads. Or, maybe it’s a small furniture upgrade. These improvements don't have to break the bank, and landlords may appreciate the tenant’s suggestions. Here are five ways to upgrade a bathroom for under $500.

1. Change the Medicine Cabinet Mirror.A medicine cabinet provides storage for medications and toiletries. But older medicine cabinets can be plain and sometimes dingy from repeated use and age. Consider upgrading with a vintage, decorative, stylish or eclectic version. Just make sure the replacement medicine cabinet has similar specifications as the current one so that it is easier to install.

2. Refresh the Vanity With New Paint.
A new coat of paint is an inexpensive way to upgrade a bathroom vanity that has become dull or chipped. Color choices are endless, but it is important to use paint that will hold up in a humid environment. Oil-based paint is most effective in a moist environment. Or, choose a mildew-proof latex-based paint if the bathroom has had prior problems with mildew or mold.

3. Appeal to Tech-Savvy Tenants With a Bluetooth Speaker Vent Fan.Although the pandemic slowed down jobs and shut down non-essential businesses, consumers still had faith in technology. In fact, in 2020, Safewise reports that 85% of Americans bought a smart home device. The bathroom is another place where smart home technology should be considered. One way to do this is by installing a bathroom vent fan with a Bluetooth speaker. This technology allows residents to connect their phones, laptops and other devices to the speaker, and stream music or podcasts while they are in the bathroom. These vent fans cost between $100 and $200.

4. Add a Tiled Backsplash.
Adding tile to a bathroom doesn't need to be expansive or expensive to be impactful. Tile options can cost around $2 per square foot. If a bathroom could benefit from brighter color and texture, tile may work. Choose a small space, such as above the sink, and add a tiled backsplash to upgrade the look of the bathroom. (Be careful with accent wall suggestions, and make sure to keep the original and new paint color in case it needs to be changed to its original color.)

5. Caulking Around the Tub or Shower
If a bathroom is old enough to have a worn-out medicine cabinet, then it can probably use caulking around the tub. If the caulk around a tub or shower is old and cracking, it needs to be stripped before applying fresh caulk. Otherwise, the new caulk will not provide a strong bond and can result in leaks that leave the bathroom vulnerable to water damage. Check the lease carefully to see whether the landlord would be held responsible for this type of job, or if it’s something that the tenant can deduct from the rent as a do-it-yourself job or paying out of pocket. Either way, get this monetary agreement in writing.

Although Moving.com reports that home improvements rarely if ever get a complete 100% return for property owners and tenants don’t benefit taxwise, there’s an upside: “Improvements that tend to have the highest returns are those that cost less at the outset.”

By talking with the landlord and choosing upgrades and materials carefully, such as the ones above for under $500, this can easily increase the rental property value. If the landlord pays for any of the above, they may be able to recover the expenses if/when the lease ends. Savvy property owners will understand that Investing in bathroom upgrades will ideally pay off in the long term, whether it’s with the current tenant or new arrivals.