The Unexpected Home Upgrade with the Biggest Impact (Hint: It’s Not Paint)

published Jul 8, 2024
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Pendant above dining table.

Sometimes it’s hard to justify putting in money to renovate a home that you’re ultimately trying to sell. While the adage “you have to spend money to make money” is absolutely true when putting a house on the market, the problem with sprucing up a space — staging it, renovating it, painting it — is that it can be expensive.

Even something as simple as swapping out your living room’s area rug could run a few hundred dollars, while projects such as installing bookshelves, adding wallpaper, or exchanging your vertical blinds for curtains can cost a pretty penny and take up precious time.

Many people agree that if you want to make a big impact on a small budget, paint is the way to go: After all, a fresh coat of paint can make a huge difference in a home. But painting can be time-consuming and messy — two things that you might not want to deal with when trying to keep your house as neat as a pin for buyers. So, if you’re unwilling to pick up a paint brush, what else can you change?

“Lighting is hands-down the single most impactful element that can cost almost nothing but leave a profound impression,” Hanin Smith, the founder and principal designer of HIDE Studio Interiors in Carlsbad, California, says.

According to Smith, most homes come with builder-grade finishes (think: recessed can lighting and maybe a ceiling fan with a light). Staging your space with your own lighting through table lamps, standing lamps, and pendant lights can make a huge impact and really transform the mood of your home — for the positive.

“Changing the lighting in your space effectively influences the mood and feel of your space,” said Audrey Scheck, the founder and principal designer of Audrey Scheck Design in Austin, Texas. “Proper use of lighting can make rooms appear larger, highlight decor, and create a cozy or energetic atmosphere.”

The first thing you’ll want to consider is color temperature. Basically, this is how “cool” or “warm” a lightbulb will be. If you’ve ever noticed that your lightbulbs look mismatched, they might have different color temperatures. Generally speaking, the designer recommendation is to use 2700 Kelvin, which is on the warmer end of the spectrum. 

Once you’ve gotten a consistent color temperature throughout your space, you can focus on styling with fixtures that match your decor. Lamps and sconces can get expensive, but they don’t have to be. Even just adding an inexpensive table lamp in your bedroom can immediately make the lighting more pleasant. 

“Aside from the change in lighting location and temperature, the style or material of the light fixture also adds another layer of impact,” Smith says. “Depending on the design of the fixture, it can bring a traditional or contemporary vibe, and the finish material also can amplify its overall effect. A brass fixture is going to bring warmth and a little femininity to a space, while an alabaster will bring a soft glow and an artsy feel.”

Smith uses the example of a primary bedroom to show just how much lighting can make a difference. “To make it feel quiet, cozy and serene, you can replace the ceiling fan light with a chandelier for accent lighting, and add wall sconces around the bed for task lighting,” she says. “Lighting isn’t limited to walls and ceilings only, but you can install them in furniture pieces like cabinets or glass hutches, closets, drawers, and stairs.”

The best part about a small project like this, is that it’s inexpensive and easy to do. You don’t need to hire someone for a small lighting project, which means you won’t have to spend money on labor. The hardest part will probably be selecting the fixtures you want to add around your home — and budgeting out to make sure that you’re not over-spending.

“Typically installing basic fixtures, new lamps, or swapping bulbs can range from $30 to $250,” Scheck says. “More extensive projects involving rewiring, smart lighting systems, and light bars can range anywhere from $500 to $3,000 or more depending on fixture and installation costs.” 

And finally, this kind of project can take practically no time at all. After all,  you can definitely change a lightbulb on your own (or you can hire a TaskRabbit to help you.)