One of the questions I get asked most frequently is "Why are you investing in a rental when it doesn’t belong to you?" It’s a tough question, simply because there are always so many "But what about..." or "How about you…" responses to whatever I say. The simplest answer is that there are certain things I need in order to be happy in my home and I’m not going to wait until I have a deposit to get them.
I’m Elle and I’m a classic millennial (lattes, avo toast and all). By day, I work as a digital marketing executive for an interiors company. At evenings and weekends I work on my lifestyle blog. I have a love of design and homeware and since moving into our current home a little over a year ago, I’ve been slowly giving it a mini renovation. After many years of getting scolded for even thinking about putting nails in the walls, it’s a welcome relief to have such a trusting landlord who lets me stretch my design muscles.
Our two up, two down home first caught my eye on Rightmove. Our landlord at the time wanted to hike up our rent – again – and was asking us to pay over £900 a month for a two-bedroom city centre flat in Leeds. While we could have afforded it, we felt that all our money would be going on bills and rent, with nothing left for ourselves. It was my husband, Lee, who suggested we look outside the city centre for somewhere else to live. Leeds is not somewhere we have always been familiar with – we moved here due to a job offer and at the time, living in the heart of everything was a great way to get to know our new hometown.
By opening the search to a few miles out, we found some amazing small neighbourhoods, eventually settling on our lovely village. With good transport links (a must for Lee, who works in the city centre) and a great community vibe, it’s worked out perfectly for us. Plus, rent is so much cheaper. With our rent only costing us £625 a month, we’re saving over £150.
After years of not being able to put my stamp on the places I was living, I was getting desperate to do some decorating. As a child, I would constantly move my bedroom around, much to my mum’s dismay. I knew I was asking a lot, especially when it came to a rental, but after a couple of searches on the Rightmove app I finally found what I was looking for. I was scrolling away during my coffee break and this Victorian mid-terrace popped up. I knew this was my chance and booked a viewing. I was on my own when I looked around, and agreed to lease the house without Lee even seeing the inside of it. I’m lucky that he trusts my judgement on these things; he knew as long as I was happy with the place, he would be too.
Before signing our contract, I wanted to ensure we had it in writing that our landlord was happy for us to make some changes to the house. While the house had great bones, the decor was not to our taste. Lime green walls and brown carpets is all I’m going to say! Thankfully, she was up for it. One week after moving in, I was already giving our fireplace a makeover.
People are always so surprised that we rent after seeing what we’ve done to our home. To me, it doesn’t always feel like we’ve done a lot but when I compare the before and after photos on my blog, I’m almost shocked. It’s amazing how much paint can change a room! When it came to the makeovers, we started from the bottom up, beginning with the rooms that we spend the most time in. The room that's had the most changes is the kitchen: we painted the cabinets and gave them new handles, repainted the walls and covered the counters with contact paper. I get so many compliments on the space – who knew the kitchen would become my favourite place to hang out! My favourite upcycle has to be the Ikea hack I did on our TV cabinet. I love how the brass T-bar handles have completely changed the feel of the drawers.
I’ve loved renovating our home but it hasn’t always been easy. I’m grateful that our landlord has been on board with our changes to her house, although there have been times when things have moved slowly. When our kitchen flooded and the old flooring was damaged, there was a two-month period where we didn’t have any flooring. Not ideal, especially during the winter months! In the end, though, it was a blessing in disguise. The new floors look so much better, but I could have done without that headache.
Another thing we’ve learned is that an old house needs a lot of work. We’re constantly discovering new quirks, cracks that weren’t there before. After living in new-build flats for so long, it’s a shock to the system. And the carpets! I wish we could get new carpets throughout the house. We’ve been able to get a new one in the bedroom, however, to get them elsewhere, we’d have to pay extra rent to cover the cost. For now, it's something we can live without.
Most of our friends and family have been positive about the changes we’ve made to our home, however there are still a few who see it as a waste of money. I understand – we don’t own the house, so why are we spending money on it? But when I think about the amount of money we’ve spent, it isn’t that much. We got the cheapest white emulsion that I could find at B&Q, £20 for 5 litres. We’ve gone through three tins painting the entire house and still have quite a bit left, with two rooms to go. I’m also lucky that when it comes to lighting and handles, I’ve been able to source most of these things from my work, saving us a few pennies along the way. My home means everything to me and spending money to make it feel like a home, especially when we’re considering living here for quite a while, is a no-brainer.
To some, it may seem crazy to spend money on something with no return. But I ask people to think of a rental like the items of clothing in their wardrobe. We’ve all brought clothes that we’ve worn once, only to sit in our wardrobe or be thrown away, and we don’t necessarily see that as a waste of money. To me, decorating or renovating a rental is essentially the same concept.
When I come home from work, I feel instantly in love with the space. It’s a testament to good design and making a house feel like a home. We’ve recently finished our bedroom, painting the walls white, changing up the lighting situation and bringing neutral tones into the room. Now, I wake up feeling happier and ready to take on the day. It’s slowly nudging out the kitchen as my favourite room in the house.
The final two rooms to complete as part of our renovations are the bathroom and the guest bedroom. While I’d love to do big things to the bathroom, like getting rid of the tiles, we’re going to stick with small jobs: a coat of paint, more storage and getting rid of the weird wall mirror. The guest bedroom has become a dumping ground – out of sight, out of mind. I’d love to turn it into an office for myself, somewhere I can sit with my laptop and work on the blog. Both these projects are most likely going to happen in 2020, it depends how bored I get towards the end of the year.
It took me a while to become comfortable with our renting situation but now I’m happy to talk about it all day long. I’m a renter and I love it! We’re starting to think about buying our first home but that isn’t going to be for a long time. Rather than living for a distant future, I’m enjoying the now and our current situation. If we weren’t renting, we wouldn’t have discovered the amazing area we currently live in. Since moving out of the city centre, we’ve met lovely neighbours, have great amenities and a better quality of life. And while I miss not being able to pop into Leeds easily for drinks with the girls, I wouldn’t change anything. My rental house is definitely my dream home and I love it.