Every month, leading reno expert Cherie Barber answers your questions on renovations. This month Cherie tackles questions about renovating on a budget, lighting and renos in low socio-economic areas

Limited Budget
Q: I’d like to renovate a three-bedroom brick house in outer Sydney, but I only have a $5,000 budget. Is it even worth doing a reno? Will a partial reno work? How do you think we should spend the money? This is mostly for us to be able to release equity so that we can borrow more from our bank.
A: I’ve transformed properties for $5,000. It’s tough but do-able. You’ll have to be savvy and spend your money on changes that are highly visible. 
Painting is one of the cheapest ways to make a huge difference, so I’d start with that. Choose a light, modern colour palette that will make your place seem lighter and brighter. 
If the carpets are shabby and there are floorboards underneath, consider tossing them and polishing the floorboards or replacing them with a new budget carpet. Lino is a great cost effective flooring option too: many mimic the look of real floorboards. 
Updating kitchens and bathrooms can be expensive but there are some budget shortcuts. If your kitchen and bathroom are in good shape, products like tile and laminate paint can make old cabinetry and splashback tiles look new again. For under $200 and a fair bit of DIY work, you can cosmetically renovate your kitchen or bathroom with these products. Pick up smart kitchen handles in bulk packs as opposed to individual handles to complete your new look. 
If you need new appliances, look for bargains on sites like GraysOnline and eBay for second hand materials in great condition. Be sure to discard and replace any drab window dressings. Buy off-the-shelf slimline venetians in a white colour as opposed to custom-made window furnishings. 
Outside, consider external painting DIY and paving paint to liven paths and driveways. Add mulch to freshen up existing garden beds and trim back overgrown plants yourself to get gardens neat and tidy. You’ll be surprised how far you can make $5,000 stretch. 
Renovating in Low socio-economic areas
Q: My partner and I bought a house in an area considered “poor”. Rental yields are high and the property was very affordable. It does need some renovation and we’re thinking of doing a full reno: new kitchen, new bathroom and a total repaint of the house. This would make our property one of the nicest-looking in the neighbourhood. However, another investor recently pointed out to us that we should not spend that much money in areas like these because tenants trash properties anyway. Can renovating in low socio-economic areas be worth it? 
A: There are two important points here. 
  1. Generally, the better the property, the better the quality of tenant you’ll attract
  2. Low socio-economic areas offer some of the best profit potential for renovators. The key is not to overcapitalise 
In my workshops, I drill home the importance of crunching  the numbers before you even pick up a paintbrush. You say your house already delivers a high rental yield, so find out what similar properties to yours – but renovated–are renting for. At the very least, spend some time looking online at other renovated houses in the same suburb and ideally inspect a few if you can so you have a benchmark to go on. You’ll soon get a sense of the potential extra rent you could attract, if you renovated. If it’s $50 a week more, that’s $2,600 additional income a year. Over five years, it’s $13,000, not allowing for rent rises. This is the kind of number crunching you need to do to determine what your renovation budget should be, if any. 
Also, being a not-so-great suburb, you don’t need high-quality, expensive finishes. Stick to low-budget cosmetic improvements like cabinetry and tile paint for your kitchen and bathroom. These simple changes can make a huge difference to your house for well under $200.
Q: You mentioned in a previous article how important lighting is. I want to update the lighting of our two-bedroom unit which is currently being rented out, but don’t know where to start. I know next to nothing about lighting trends. Could you suggest some brands and styles that suit  units? The ceiling is not too high but not too low either. The unit is on the top floor so we get a lot of natural light, but the (electrical) lighting is outdated and hasn’t been replaced for decades.
A: Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have great-looking lighting. Places like Bunnings and IKEA offer all the latest looks at cheap prices. Of course, you don’t always need to follow the latest trends. Sometimes the timeless classics can make your place look and function better. 
As it’s an apartment, check what type of ceiling you have first, as that could be a limiting factor. Halogen or LED downlights are the preferred lighting option for most homes these days, but your ability to install these in apartments will depend on the type of ceiling you have and whether it has a cavity. Many old apartments have concrete ceilings with no roof cavity and to install downlights you’ll need to first put in a false plasterboard ceiling underneath your concrete roof. Should a false ceiling not be possible, consider track lighting or feature lights in strategic focal points.
Generally, I prefer brushed chrome circular halogen downlights for cost efficiency, but if you want an economical electricity bill, opt for LED ones. These cost at least three times more, but won’t require a bulb change for quite some time. 
Both halogen or LED downlights, if they’re set around 1.5m apart, really brighten up a hallway, living room or kitchen. You can pick up halogens for $12 to $20 each and LEDs from $40 to $100 each from major hardware stores. As a rule of thumb, work on $40 per downlight for an electrician to install these. Make sure they’re on dimmers, so you can adjust the mood. 
Lighting also needs to be practical in “task” areas like kitchens and bathrooms, and create atmosphere in living rooms and bedrooms. Pendant or “drum” lights are always a stylish choice when you want a feature light. Hang one either side of your bed in your master bedroom for a bit of intimate “wow factor”; as a trio over an island bench if you have one;  or as the centrepiece of a living room or hall. 
Cherie Barber | Your Investment Property