Transform your home into a beautifully designed space — without the spendy price tag.
Home improvement pros and DIYers tout a fresh coat of paint as a favorite among low-cost home upgrades that can make a huge impact. But what else can you do to accessorize and decorate? Sometimes the little things can make a bigger difference than you’d think.
Professionals share the following easy and low-cost home upgrades to add a designer’s touch all around the house. These projects may even help increase your home’s perceived value.
For the Bathroom
1. Frame It
Estimated cost: starting around $100
That edgeless, builder-grade mirror hanging above the bathroom vanity may be prime for an update. Jessica Love, an interior designer with Urbane Design in Austin, Texas, suggests using DIY frame kits, like the ones from MirrorMate. Measure the mirror and choose from numerous frame styles and materials, like wooden walnut or shiny brass. The frame kit includes clips and metal strips to attach to the existing mirror. A once-forgettable mirror instantly looks customized and styled to the space, Love says.
2. Infuse Some Green
Estimated cost: $5 and up
Simply adding greenery can liven up bathroom spaces and soften harsh lines from all the heavy fixtures, designers say. Try a statement plant on the floor, like the vertical sword-shaped leaves of a snake plant or the feathery foliage from a bird’s nest fern. Or you could incorporate smaller plants, like a mini aloe in a white ceramic planter or an iron fern in a rounded marble vase.
Many renovators say they’re incorporating greenery to update their bathrooms for aesthetics, air purification, and odor-fighting abilities, according to the 2022 U.S. Houzz Bathroom Trends Study, a survey of 2,500-plus remodeling homeowners. Tight on space? Love suggests topping a shelf or vanity counter with an air-purifying indoor plant on a natural tray (for texture) along with a favorite candle.
3. Modernize Hardware
Estimated cost: hardware starting at about $2 apiece, faucets for $200 or less
Just swapping out the faucets and drawer pulls is a small home upgrade that can refresh an outdated bathroom. Try trendy gold or black cabinet pulls or a modern boxy-style faucet. “Mixed metals are trending right now,” Love says. “We’re seeing black with brass and brass with chrome.” Love’s favorite resource for inspiration is Build.com, which features a variety of manufacturers and styles.
4. Soften the Lights
Estimated cost: about $100 or less a piece ($40 to $120 per fixture for installation by an electrician)
Wall sconces can warm up the bathroom lighting, says interior designer Jessica Nelson of Jessica Nelson Design in Seattle. She suggests wall sconces hung on each side of the vanity mirror in a black, brass, or chrome finish. The bulb color’s temperature is important, Nelson adds. “My sweet spot is between 2700K [Kelvin] and 3000K. I do not recommend going any cooler than that,” she says. “2700K is a crisp but warm white, and 3000K is my personal favorite. It’s a really soft warm light.”
For the Bedroom
5. Add Molding to the Walls
Estimated cost: about $200, including a designer’s input
Installing molding on the walls behind the bed is an impressive home upgrade. Krisztina Bell, founder of No Vacancy Home Staging and Virtually Staging Properties in the Atlanta area, recently used black molding zigzagged across a wall to dress up a white, blank slate behind the bed frame. She says designers and woodworking artists are readily available on sites like Etsy.com (search under “professionally designed custom dimensional accent wall”). They will custom design a 3D digital model of the molding to fit your wall and provide an instruction packet, shopping list, and cutting and installation instructions so you can DIY.
6. Decorate With Mirrors
Estimated cost: $150 to $250“
I love adding a statement wall mirror to a bedroom,” says Channa Alvarez, interior designer and production designer at Living Spaces, a national furniture retailer in La Mirada, Calif. She suggests hanging a new mirror above a nightstand, dresser, chest, or bed. Try a mirror in an unusual shape, like a diamond, hexagon, or square silhouette. “If you’re itching for a redesign but don’t want to spend so much, a mirror is the perfect buy. It’s simple, affordable, and light-enhancing.”
For the Living Room
7. Texturize and Accessorize
Estimated cost: $50 to $150 to update a few accessories“
A room can appear one-dimensional when it’s missing texture,” says interior designer Lance Thomas of Thomas Guy Interiors in Lake Charles, La. Designers may add texture by incorporating dressers with fluted designs, chunky knit throws, velvet ottomans, or leather accent chairs. You can adapt that idea by scoping out items from other rooms in your house that you can mix in the living room to add texture and depth. Or shop secondhand stores for small items you can refinish, repurpose, or re-cover. For example, re-covered accent pillows are an affordable way to add texture to your furniture.
“Perhaps the best thing about accent pillows is they’re an easy seasonal item, making your living room feel different without costing as much as a new furniture buy,” Alvarez adds. “Throw pillows are a great and inexpensive way to incorporate new trends or add color to your living room.” Also, functional accents — like a set of three seagrass baskets — can be great for a corner or near a fireplace, Alvarez says. Then, “place throw blankets in them to give the room a cozy, inviting feel.”
8. Wallpaper the Shelves
Estimated cost: about $50 for a small roll
For homeowners who may be too timid to jump on the wallpaper comeback trend, try it in small doses and with less commitment (especially when using a removable peel-and-stick type). Interior designer Mel Bean of Mel Bean Interiors in Tulsa, Okla., suggests adding wallpaper to the inside back of a bookcase or other shelving unit to dress it up. Recently, she used a jagged, striped gray-and-cream-colored wallpaper behind each shelf on an all-white built-in to add texture, color, and a more custom look.
For the Kitchen
9. Bring in Some Bling
Estimated cost: starting at $2 apiece for cabinet hardware, $60 to $150 for pendant lighting (extra $40 to $120 per fixture for installation by an electrician)Don’t let an all-white kitchen become boring, Bell says. “Add industrial or contemporary black hardware and lighting to make a kitchen look more chic. Gold is trendy; or chrome, nickel, brushed silver, and stainless steel hardware and lighting are always safe bets,” she adds. Bell likes sites such as Overstock.com, Wayfair.com, or Amazon.com for affordable, stylish mid-century mod, industrial, or futuristic pendant lighting options.
For example, she used shiny gold canned pendants in an otherwise all-white kitchen to highlight the island. “Even just changing out one main fixture or series of pendants above a kitchen island can change the whole look of a room instantly without having to renovate the entire kitchen,” she says.
10. Dress Up the Pantry
Estimated cost: starting at $1 each for baskets and glass jars
Pantries have emerged as a kitchen favorite, so they’re a good choice for a home upgrade. They’re rated as essential or desirable by at least 80% of home shoppers, according to the National Association of Home Builders “What Home Buyers Really Want” consumer survey. Retailers such as the Container Store, Ikea, and Dollar General offer baskets and glass jars in all shapes and sizes.
“Invest in a label maker and go to town organizing your pantry so everything matches and looks almost decorative or too pretty to take snacks from,” Bell says. “This helps create visual order in the space too.” For example, stow pasta in a glass container, put the packaged bread and other products in shelf-sized baskets, and color coordinate the canned goods.
11. Accentuate With Flower Boxes
Estimated cost: $150
Boxes filled with flowers along the bottom ledge of your outside windows can enhance your home’s architecture and colors. “Flower boxes have this cozy and charming feel,” says Jackie Mosher, co-founder of Dzinly, a company in Royal Oak, Mich., that helps homeowners and real estate professionals digitally design exteriors. “They can add interest, dimension, and some personality.” Fill them all year-round. Mosher suggests using three different types of flowers (for example, greenery, a taller plant in the center, and a colorful accent flower).
The size, proportion, and positioning of flower boxes are important; don’t overdo it, she adds. Not every window needs one. Maybe it’s just the large picture window or the windows on a second story. To test placement, Mosher suggests duct taping cardboard cutouts to the windows to view the possibilities before drilling any holes.
12. Swap Out Lighting Fixtures
Estimated cost: $200 to $250Bring in a statement light above the front door for a functional and dramatic home upgrade. A hanging pendant or chandelier on the front porch isn’t just for extra illumination. It can enhance curb appeal, Mosher says. She suggests a fixture that’s about one-third or one-fourth the size of the front door (including the trim) and having it hang about 66 inches from the ground. “So many times, we hang them too high,” she says. “Let your front porch light be the loudest. The lights on the exterior should be your jewelry — your ‘wow.’”
If there’s no place for a pendant, upgrade the lights to the side of the door, such as with boxed lanterns in a black or antique bronze, she suggests. Her favorite site for inspiration: Bevolo.com, which recommends fixtures based on house style (modern, traditional, coastal, etc.).
13. Oversize the House Numbers
Estimated cost: $150 to $200
The home’s address numbers may seem insignificant for the outside design, but Mosher calls them one of her favorite inexpensive home upgrades. Large format, sleek black address numbers can add a modern vibe to a home, she says. “House numbers are like adding a statement watch to your outfit. It pulls it all together.”
The numbers can be in all-black or in colors, like even pink or teal, depending on the home’s style, she says. The placement varies too, from the side of the front door to above the garage or anywhere along the front. “These can become a focal point and add some flair,” she says. Mosher’s favorite site for inspiration for house numbers: Modernhousenumbers.com.
Episode 302 AskJasonGelios Show
Realtor Jason Gelios breaks down the home selling process in easy steps.
Episode 301 AskJasonGelios Show
Episode 300 AskJasonGelios Show
Learn the basics to avoid surprises.
After investing a lot of money in your home, the chance to get some of it back during retirement — while staying in the home — sounds like a good deal. That’s the idea behind a reverse mortgage. The option may especially appeal to homeowners who have significant equity in the house and want to age in place.
If you or a family member are exploring retirement planning, you’ll want to weigh reverse mortgage pros and cons, including the strict eligibility requirements and alternatives.
How Does a Reverse Mortgage Work?
A reverse mortgage is a loan you take against the equity in your home. You don’t have to make monthly principal or interest payments as you would with a traditional mortgage or a home equity loan. The lender distributes funds tax-free as a lump sum, a line of credit, or a monthly payment. You won’t have to repay the reverse mortgage loan as long as you’re living in the home, but it becomes due if you sell, move, or pass away. So, for seniors who plan to spend the rest of their life in their primary residence, the loan may never come due.
What Are the Requirements for a Reverse Mortgage?
Most reverse mortgages are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECM, loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Some private lenders and state or local governments also offer reverse mortgages, but they may not offer the same level of consumer protection.
HECM loans require borrowers to meet strict eligibility requirements, including:
With these strict requirements, many people won’t qualify for a reverse mortgage loan. But eligible homeowners will want to know reverse mortgage pros and cons.
What Are the Pros of a Reverse Mortgage?
A reverse mortgage has several benefits, including:
Reverse Mortgages Could Provide Income During Retirement
Retirees can use a reverse mortgage to supplement other retirement income streams, like Social Security or a pension. The reverse mortgage process allows homeowners to turn an illiquid asset (a house) into cash they can use for daily expenses.
Situations in Which the Mortgage Loan Will Be Due Are Clearly Defined
Until you move, sell, or die, you can continue borrowing and using the loan. But you or your heirs may need to sell the residence to cover the loan balance in the future.
The Loan Amount Won’t Exceed Your Home’s Value
With a changeable real estate market, some homeowners are concerned about what they’ll do if their home loses value. The good news is that FHA mortgage insurance fills the void between what you owe and the home’s sale price. That means you won’t be responsible for more than what your home is worth.
Reverse Mortgages Offer Tax-Free Payouts
The money you receive from a reverse mortgage isn’t considered taxable by the IRS. That means you could end up with more money in your pocket than what you’d pay for withdrawals from another retirement account, like a pretax 401(k).
What Are the Cons of a Reverse Mortgage?
Cons of a reverse mortgage include:
Risk of Foreclosure As with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit, failure to meet loan terms or keep up with costs could cause the lender to repossess the home through foreclosure.
A reverse mortgage carries insurance costs, closing fees, and origination fees. Discuss these costs with a loan counselor to avoid surprises.
Since you must be 62 to be eligible for a reverse mortgage, many homeowners can’t access it.
The proceeds must be enough to help cover property taxes, homeowner insurance premiums, and home maintenance costs. Failure to stay current in any of these areas may cause lenders to call the reverse mortgage due, which could result in the loss of the home.
Reverse mortgage scams often target homeowners facing foreclosure. Because of higher closing costs and other fees, taxes, and premiums, a reverse mortgage could be too expensive for a senior with financial problems.
Inability to Borrow the Full Value of the Home
Qualified homeowners may not be able to borrow the entire value of their home even if their mortgage is paid off. The amount a homeowner can borrow varies based on the age of the youngest borrower or eligible nonborrowing spouse, current interest rates, the HECM mortgage limit, and the home’s value. Most reverse mortgages have a “nonrecourse clause,” meaning you or your estate can’t owe more than the value of your home when the loan becomes due and the home is sold.
More Owed Over Time
As you get money through your reverse mortgage, interest is added to the balance you owe each month. That means the amount you owe grows as the interest on your loan adds up.
Potential Change in Interest Rates
Most reverse mortgages have variable rates, which are tied to a financial index and change with the market. Variable rate loans may give you more options on how you get your money through the reverse mortgage. Some reverse mortgages — mostly HECMs — offer fixed rates, but they may require you to take your loan as a lump sum at closing.
Interest Not Tax Deductible Each Year
Interest on reverse mortgages isn’t deductible on income tax returns until the loan is paid, either partially or in full.
What Are Alternatives to Reverse Mortgages?
If you don’t qualify for or you decide against a reverse mortgage loan, you still have financing options. A home equity loan, or second mortgage, lets homeowners borrow against the equity in their home. The loan amount is based on the difference between the home’s current market value and the mortgage balance the homeowner still owes.
If you don’t want to take out a large loan against your home’s equity, you may want to consider a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. You can draw funds as you need them and repay them using a variable interest rate. HELOCs can make sense for homeowners who need funds for ongoing home improvement projects or time to pay down existing debt. To qualify for the most attractive rates, you’ll need a high credit score, a low debt-to-income ratio, and substantial equity in your home.
Learn the basics about where to put them and how often to replace them.
Fires are burning faster than in years past due to modern home furnishings, open floor plans, and unprotected lightweight wood, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Homeowners only have two minutes (or less) from when a smoke alarm rings to react. For small fires, a fire extinguisher could save your home from destruction.
Melissa Gugni, a professional home organizer in San Francisco, has noticed that many fire extinguishers in her clients’ homes are tucked away and even left in their original packaging. “That could be a problem if they were needed in an emergency,” she says.
While many households know the importance of having a fire extinguisher, they may be fuzzy on upkeep. Steve Kerber, vice president and executive director of the Fire Safety Research Institute, offers guidance on fire extinguishers.
How Often Should You Replace a Fire Extinguisher?
The general guideline is every 10 years. But always check the manufacturer’s recommendation, which should be displayed on the fire extinguisher.
How Do You Know If Your Older Fire Extinguisher Still Works?
Most fire extinguishers have a pressure gauge that shows the current pressure. That will indicate if it has been used or damaged. Check to see if the pressure gauge is still within the device’s indicated proper pound per square inch (PSI) range. Also, make sure the extinguisher’s can, hoses, and nozzles aren’t damaged, dented, or rusted. If they are, it’s time to replace the extinguisher.
Where Should You Put Fire Extinguishers in Your Home?
In general, a portable fire extinguisher should be placed so that a person wouldn’t ever have to travel more than 40 feet to reach it. You should never have to travel up or down stairs to access an extinguisher either, Kerber says. Keep at least one on each floor of the home. Make sure nothing is blocking or limiting your ability to reach it quickly. So, avoid storing it under sinks, where it may be more prone to getting blocked by other items.
What Type of Fire Extinguisher Should You Have in Your Home?
There are actually many types of fire extinguishers. Here’s a primer on what the markings mean from the U.S. Fire Administration:
A: For use on ordinary materials like cloth, wood, and paper
B: For combustible and flammable liquids, such as grease, gas, oil, and oil-based paints
C: For electrical equipment, like appliances, tools, or other equipment that is plugged in
D: For flammable metals (geared to use in factories)
K: For vegetable oils, animal oils, and fats in cooking appliances (geared to use in restaurants)
Most home improvement stores carry multipurpose fire extinguishers that cover Class A through Class C. If you want to get more technical, look for a portable fire extinguisher with a rating of at least 2A:10B, Kerber says. That means it has a firefighting capacity equivalent to 2.5 gallons of water and 10 square feet for a BC type of fire.
Prepare now. Fire extinguishers can do their job only if they’re in good working condition and placed where you can quickly reach them.
Jason Gelios is a Husband and Father. After that, a Top Producing REALTOR®, Author of the books 'Think like a REALTOR®' and 'Beating The Force Of Average', Creator of The AskJasonGelios Real Estate Show and Expert Media Contributor to media outlets across the country.