14 renovation tips to transform an apartment

20 July 2020
In this edited extract from his book Flip for Cash Geoff Grist shares the renovations that can add value to an apartment.

One of the advantages of renovating an apartment is that, unlike a house, there is a limited number of things that you can do to add value, and we can concentrate on the areas that will get maximum bang for our buck.

We can take our first cues from other apartment updates in the building. Simply viewing the before and after photos online provides a visual reference as to what adds wow factor.

Structural changes to the interior walls and doors will have the most dramatic effect on the floor plan’s functionality but let’s take a look at some other renovation options that buyers will love.

1. Ceilings

Many 1970s buildings have what I call ‘popcorn ceilings’. The actual name of this type of ceiling is ‘vermiculite’ – a sprayed and coloured concrete with a textured, popcorn-like finish. If you try to paint vermiculite with a brush it will absorb all the paint on your brush and you will dislodge it, making it look even worse.

There are two common options for tackling vermiculite. A specialist company can apply four coats of vermiculite recoat, which will leave you with a snowy white but still textured ceiling; however, you will still only have the option of track or hanging lighting.

The other option, depending on your ceiling height, is to install a new ‘shadowline’ plasterboard ceiling over batons. This will lower the overall height of your ceiling but will give you a flush, smooth finish with no edge cornices and the possibility of installing recessed LED lights instead of track lighting.

The difference is the wow factor that buyers notice immediately, particularly if they are walking from a common hallway which has popcorn ceilings and into your apartment with a ‘shadowline’ ceiling.

If you have also installed recessed LED lights with dimmers, you are now competing with the presentation and feel of a brand-new apartment.

2. Painting

Every property will benefit from a good coat of paint. The secret to a great paint job is preparation, so be sure to scrape off any flaking paint from ceilings and walls and wash walls down with sugar soap before painting again.

Colour trends come and go but a classic white colour provides a light and bright starting point, allowing the apartment to take its personality from the colour and texture of the furnishings.


Lights over armchairs
Source: Philipp Shuruev (Shutterstock)

3. Lighting

Older units often have very basic lighting. In many cases, they have flat oyster lights, single hanging feature lights and a variety of track lighting everywhere else. This is an area where you can really make a difference. In addition to ceiling lighting, think about wall washing lights, floor lamps and table lamps, all of which allow you to create mood and interest without using overhead lighting at all.

4. Electrical

If the power switches for your unit are located in a common area cupboard, you can add value by installing a switchboard inside your apartment. If a fuse trips, it’s so much faster and safer to reset the switch in your own switchboard.

5. Windows

Generally, the owners corporation own your windows and front door, so they can’t be changed without authority. As windows are readily seen from the street, they are very much part of the look and fabric of the building, and consistency is important to the owners corporation. However, check your by-laws as sometimes windows and doors to balconies have been ruled to be the responsibility of the owner.

Where a door and window combination open onto a balcony, you may be able to request changes from the owners corporation when they are in keeping with the building’s theme.

Apartments on busy roads or in noisy locations will benefit from treating the windows with some sort of system to reduce the noise. I have sold properties which had windows retrofitted with a double-glazing system: in essence, they install another level of glazing made from acrylic inside the window, which is held in place by magnets to make it easy to install and manage.

6. Floors

Your older-style unit will most likely have carpet in the bedroom and living room, lino in the kitchen, tiles in the bathroom and concrete on the balcony. The variation may be some type of parquetry timber floor in the living room.

These days, every second buyer talks about their allergies and how they can’t live with carpet anymore. That’s a big tick for a timber floor, and you have a choice of engineered boards or laminate depending on your budget, but both will be more buyer friendly than carpet in the living room.

I am not a fan of tiles on the floor in the kitchen because they are so unforgiving. Bathrooms are a tile area and I prefer carpet in bedrooms. Some people don’t like carpet in the bedroom so it will end up being your choice. If you do opt for carpet, it likely won’t be a big space so choose a quality wool carpet, not a synthetic type. Carpet people can tell the difference and the investment is worth it.

7. Balcony

The balcony floor is often ignored. In your unit it will probably either be plain concrete or tiled, hopefully using a plain tile.

If you have tiles and they have a pattern that dates them, you may be able to replace them or, depending on drainage and the doorway height, you may be able to tile over the existing tiles (or plain concrete). If you do go for tiles, make sure they are slip proof, because it will be a wet area at some time or another.

The other option that is popular with tenants who want to upgrade their balcony without getting permission is to buy pre-made timber or timber-look squares that clip together and allow water to pass through the spaces so that there is no drainage issue. They may also be called ‘wooden pavers’, ‘deck squares’ or ‘timber tiles’. They can easily be cut to size to fit and as they are not fastened down and they can’t be seen from the street, there is no issue with the owners corporation.

8. Airflow

If you are double glazing for traffic noise reasons, then you also need to look at air conditioning; the two go hand in hand. Every new apartment on the market will offer air conditioning, so to compete with them we need to include air conditioning in our upgrade as well. One split-system air conditioner with the header unit well positioned will heat and cool your whole apartment.

9. Dining

You have to eat somewhere, but eating TV dinners on your lap went out with your 1970s flower-power wallpaper so hopefully you have room for a dining table and four chairs. A dedicated dining table and chairs is often seen as a luxury item in a one-bedroom unit because space is tight, however try to fit at least a round table and four chairs to create the impression of a larger space than you may have. At the very least, you may be able to design a kitchen bench with an overhang so that you can include two stools as a breakfast bar option.


Office space
Source: Photographee.eu (Shutterstock)

10. Study nook

All the up-market apartments now feature some sort of study nook, so if we can include this as well, it ticks an important box for many buyers. It can be as simple as a bench along a dead-end wall just wide enough to take a laptop and high enough to sit with a stool, which takes up less space than an office-style chair. There you have it – an instant study nook. If you can create anything more, that’s a bonus.

11. TV cabling

Cabling is always a challenge. It never seems to come into the unit in the right place. Nothing looks worse than cables taped to walls… well, some things might look worse, but you know what I mean.

12. Storage

No-one has ever said, “This place has too much storage”. Just bear that in mind when you are upscaling your unit – storage is luxury.

If you happen to buy the top floor apartment in a small building, you may be able to negotiate with the owners corporation for exclusive use of the ceiling space above your unit. If the roof has enough pitch you can install a pull-down ladder and put down basic flooring over the rafters to create a storage space for light but bulky items like suitcases. When it comes to storage, you need to think differently to find opportunities that others may miss.

13. Bathroom and laundry

Older-style bathrooms are likely to have a bath with a shower over it and a plastic shower curtain, a pedestal sink, old-looking loo with exposed plumbing and an opening shaving mirror with storage for next to nothing. It may even feature a mosaic-style floor and a pink, yellow or green colour theme.

You do have the option to call in the professionals and let them spray-paint the wall tiles and the bath in white. You would still have the same floor and fittings and, unfortunately, as big an improvement as it may be, it’s still the old bathroom in disguise. Depending on your budget, this may have to do.

In my mind, the bathroom and the kitchen are the two areas that you will need to do properly to impress. The bathroom may also be the only place where you can put an under-bench front loading washer/dryer because you need the existing water and drainage to make it work. If there is no room in the bathroom, the kitchen is the only other laundry choice. If you are not keen on that idea, then it’s back to the bathroom for a full redesign and the bathtub probably has to go.

The bathtub is a luxury but the laundry is a necessity so a compromise may be necessary. It’s better to have a generous shower with easy level access plus the concealed laundry under a bench with a designer basin or two on top, than a bath and no laundry.

If you are lucky enough to have a separate laundry, make the most of it. Stack your washer and dryer and put in as much storage as possible. Include as many cupboards to conceal shelves as possible and the space will look even better.

14. Kitchen

There is a saying that ‘kitchens sell houses’ – well, let me tell you that kitchens also sell apartments. The hard part of upgrading the kitchen is sticking to your budget. You can easily go over budget on your choice of brand name appliances alone. Getting the kitchen right, in my opinion, is best left to a designer. That said, you are looking for great bench space, great storage, clean lines, clever design and a timeless feel. Kitchens can date a unit faster than any other room, so choose classic looks that will stand the test of time.


This is an edited extract from Flip for Cash (Major Street Publishing $29.95), exclusive to Canstar, and republished with permission.



Geoff Grist headshotAbout Geoff Grist

Geoff Grist is a Sydney real estate agent with two decades of experience in the real estate industry. He is the author of several books including Journey to Sold and Flip for Cash, published by Major Street Publishing.

Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.