Grow Magazine

The best way to spend $50k renovating

11 December 2017

You can achieve a lot with a modest home improvement budget, writes Ben Hurley.


In summary:

  • $50,000 is enough to update a kitchen and bathroom, as long as you avoid moving the sinks, showers and toilets.
  • For the kitchen, invest in new or refinished cabinets, new splashbacks, replace the floor and update lights.
  • Freshen things up by changing carpets, polish floors and add furnishings that pair nicely.
  • Make sure the home is well-insulated: install double-glazed windows or shade them for significant efficiency gains.
  • A new coat of paint can work wonders, but choose the shade carefully.


It’s the first piece of advice you can expect when telling friends or family about a planned renovation: expect to spend more than you expect to spend. Typical renovations often exceed $200,000.

But with $50,000, a structurally sound home, and a sharp eye on the bottom line, you can achieve more than you think.

How to renovate to sell

Improvements will often depend on your plans for the house. If you are renovating to sell, the general appearance of the house will be a higher priority and getting the kitchen and bathroom up to standard will probably come first.

Beware of older homes that may have hidden costs, says Catherine Townsend of Townsend + Associates Architects. Replacing old tapware could require going right back to the infrastructure in the wall and modernising the plumbing, especially if the copper breaching piece is looking worse for wear.

But $50,000 should be a manageable budget to modernise a kitchen and bathroom, Townsend says, as long as you avoid moving the location of sinks, showers and toilets which quickly becomes expensive.

You may want to first look at the relationship between the fridge, stove, sink and preparation areas and see if there is any way you can arrange them for better workflow – without extensive electrical rewiring or plumbing work.

The kitchen could probably use new or refinished cabinets, new splashbacks, replacement of the floor covering, updated lighting fixtures and some better placed lights.

“Typically in a mid-century house the lighting will be something in the middle of the room so you’re always working in your shadow,” Townsend says. “You might want to get a strip of LED lights underneath the overhead storage.”

If you’re selling a house you need to make it stand out from other homes on the market, suggests Kerry Fyfe, director of architecture and interiors for Allen Jack+Cottier. With a $50,000 budget a lot of things can be freshened up.

In the kitchens and bathrooms you could similarly do a lot by staying on the cosmetic side of things. “You are still going to have to spend some money in the kitchen and bathroom, but [on a $50,000 budget] you would have to look at leaving major things intact and at what you can do around them to freshen up and make things a bit crisper,” Fyfe says.

“Maybe it’s a new benchtop and splashback that shouts out a bit more.”

She also suggests changing the carpets, polish the flooring, and consider furnishings that will pair nicely with them.

Another option, adds Townsend, is to go for a larger, more focused approach in renovating, such as improving the home’s indoor/outdoor relationship: a lot of older homes have the kitchen, laundry and dining room in a line along one side, and none of it opens outside.

For a tightly managed $50,000 you might be able to bring the laundry into a cupboard in the kitchen, make a new opening that incorporates the kitchen and dining rooms and then install a sliding door leading outside. This can create a striking change, bringing in more light and opening up the house. 

“On that budget you wouldn’t want to be shifting your plumbing spots or anything, you would have to work carefully on what was there,” Townsend says

Renovating to rent the house or live in

Some of the best improvements aren’t necessarily visible at first glance. If you are planning on holding the property either to live in yourself or rent out, Townsend suggests considering some measures that reduce the building’s ongoing costs, as well as its environmental footprint.

Making sure the home is insulated sufficiently is a good first step. If you don’t want to foot the bill for double-glazed windows you can make significant efficiency gains by making sure your windows are shaded, particularly the most exposed windows on the western side. This could be a trellis with vines, an awning over the window, plantation shutters or blinds inside and perhaps louvres outside.

“External shading is a really important one now that we’re moving into summer because you have got to try and stop the sun hitting your windows,” says Townsend, who proudly lives in a 1960s home without air conditioning.

“Once the sun is on the window and the heat is inside you have lost a fair bit of the battle. And what you can gain as well as monetary saving in utilities is just that increased comfort during the extreme weather.”

Adding character to an apartment


Fyfe suggests adding character and atmosphere by replacing the surface-mounted oyster fitting that is common in 1970s apartments, and adding some floor lighting such as standing lamps.

A new coat of paint goes without saying, usually a shade of white, but be careful in choosing the right shade, she says.

“The white you would choose depends on the light coming into the apartment,” Fyfe says. “You need mainly to brighten it or soften it depending on the quality of light you have got.”

A feature wall of a different colour can add character if it’s well placed, she says.

Lastly, taking things out to streamline spaces can be as effective as putting things in. If there are some old vertical venetian blinds, get rid of them.

“Be minimal what you put into the apartment and try to keep the spaces clean,” Fyfe says. “You might put some curtains with simple tracks in to soften spaces, or just have roller blinds. But get rid of anything that is cluttering.”

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