Is your home or investment property looking dated and tired, but you don’t have the cash to fund a total renovation? Whether you’re renovating for profit, getting a property ready to rent out, or you’d like to create a more beautiful home environment for yourself and your family, it is possible to achieve some high-impact improvements on a very low spend. It’s all about knowing where to focus your efforts, what to spend your money on (and what to avoid), and coming at it with a can-do attitude.

Smartline caught up with two of Australia’s most experienced renovations experts, Cherie Barber1 and Naomi Findlay2, who have each renovated more than a hundred properties. Here are their top strategies for getting the most out of your renovation dollars.

Target your spending

When you’re working with limited funds, it makes sense to channel them into the most visually prominent rooms of the house. “Kitchens, bathrooms and outdoor areas are the big-ticket items when it comes to property, so I recommend renovators allocate their budget to at least one of these spaces,” Naomi says.

Paint is your friend

“Never underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint,” says Naomi. “Your internal and external walls are big spatial areas, and you can change the entire look of your home with a quality paint job.”

Specialist paint products can also be used to breathe new life into tired kitchens and bathrooms. “If you’ve got hardly any budget, you can cosmetically resurface the kitchen cupboard door and drawer fronts with a few licks of White Knight laminate paint, which can be tinted any colour,” Cherie advises. A couple of coats of specialist tile paint can also make a dated tile splashback that’s still structurally sound look “brand new”, she says.

Tile paint is also a great, low-cost option for a quick bathroom revamp. However, in this particular application, “it’s a good interim measure; not a forever solution,” Cherie says. “It’ll extend the life of your bathroom for a few years.”

Photo courtesy of Cherie Barber – Renovating For Profit

Update the fixtures and fittings

You can quickly and cheaply modernise your interiors by replacing outmoded fixtures and fittings such as taps, cabinet knobs/drawer pulls and door handles. “Updating your hardware will bring your home into the current decade,” Naomi says. “There are so many options at different price points for tapware and door handles that you will be spoiled for choice.”

Cherie adds: “It’s a series of little things that make a real difference.” For example, she says, “You can instantly make everything look so much better just by improving your lighting. A lot of people have little oyster lights in the ceiling. Replace these with some good quality LED downlights.” (Note – while LED lights aren’t expensive, you will have to hire an electrician to do the changeover for you.)

Hanging new window furnishings is another high-impact, low-cost cosmetic fix. “Heavy, dark drapes that made rooms look smaller, lace curtains, vertical blinds … ripping these out and replacing them for more modern window furnishings like slimline venetians, white timber venetians, or lighter curtains will brighten up the room,” Cherie says. “And when you’re on a budget, you’re buying these off-the-shelf from stores like Spotlight, Ikea and Freedom; you’re not getting them custom-made.”

Shop smart

“Your budget will dictate what materials you’ll install in your property,” Cherie says. “Otherwise, what happens is you spend too much money on one thing and then the rest of the property looks unrenovated, and that’s not going to add value. So the key is to try and install affordable materials that are still of reasonable quality, so your budget stretches to cover as much ground as possible.”

Bathroom basics

Bathroom renovations are generally very expensive (Cherie estimates upwards of $15,000) because they are so material- and trade-heavy. To keep costs down, leave the plumbing and main fixtures in place and opt for a facelift instead. Along with the trusty tile paint, Cherie’s tips for smart cosmetic fixes include:

  • installing a new flatpack vanity
  • kitting out the space with shiny new tapware, soap dishes and towel rails
  • replacing the medicine cabinet with a large mirror – “this can instantly transform the look of a bathroom. Larger mirrors bounce light around and increase the sense of space.”
  • installing shelving to improve storage and create a decorative focal point
  • hanging crisp, modern window-coverings such as micro-venetians.

Be creative in the kitchen

Kitchens are also very expensive to renovate, but Cherie is an expert at restyling them on a budget. Again, the idea is to address the visual, rather than structural, elements of the space.

She suggests looking at the kitchen and working out what can stay and what needs to be changed. “You might have cabinets that look okay but a splashback that looks really dated, so you can update parts but not have to do the whole kitchen.

“If your internal carcasses [cupboards] are in great condition, you can remove the door and drawer fronts and end panels and have new ones made by a cabinetmaker,” she adds. While this will set you back somewhere between $2,000–$5,000, “people won’t know that it’s an older kitchen behind the new doors”.

Other tips include:

  • If you do need to install new cabinets, go for flatpack rather than pre-assembled.
  • You can save hundreds by buying appliances in bundle deals rather than individually.
  • Swap out the benchtop for a new stone-look laminate. “It’s all about faking it until you make it with benchtops,” Cherie says.
Photo courtesy of Cherie Barber – Renovating For Profit

Elevate the exteriors

Outdoor living is a big part of the Australian lifestyle, so whether you’re renovating a house or a unit with a balcony, pay attention to freshening up the alfresco spaces. “You could also restore a deck to create a gorgeous outdoor entertaining area,” Naomi suggests. A good scrub-down with a hard brush followed by a coat of decking oil can be done in a weekend and will deliver great results. “Just remember to connect your indoors to the outdoors so it feels considered and cohesive, to achieve a luxe feel across the spaces,” she adds. You can do this by selecting outdoor furniture and accessories such as cushions that tie in with your indoor décor.

Cherie’s tips for dressing up the outdoors include:

  • Liven up drab concrete pathways and porches with paving paint.
  • Accessorise the front entrance with potted plants or a bench seat.
  • Gurney the house, old tiles, driveway and fences to make everything look fresher. (Note – if water restrictions are in force in your area, you may not be able to use a gurney until these are lifted. Get scrubbing with a bucket and sponge instead.)
Photo courtesy of Cherie Barber – Renovating For Profit

DIY with discretion

“Your budget will dictate how you approach your renovation, whether you outsource things to certain people or whether you tackle them yourself,” Cherie says. “But there are certain things that DIYers and homeowners just shouldn’t be doing if they’re not experienced or qualified.” These include electrical and plumbing work, which must always be carried out by a licensed professional. But carpentry and tiling projects may also be best left to the professionals if you’re not the handy type. “If you don’t do a quality job, then you devalue your property and you cancel out the very thing you’re trying to achieve.”


SOURCES: 1Cherie Barber,, 2Naomi Findlay,, 

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DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is correct at the time of publishing and is subject to change. It is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, Smartline recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. Smartline recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.