Kitchen cabinetry, countertops, backsplashes, and appliances can sometimes turn off buyers at the first hello. Yet, a total redo may be too costly.
The average gut rehab on a mid-range kitchen has surpassed $56,000, and an upscale one hovers around $113,000. Many home owners simply can’t undertake a kitchen renovation after scraping together a down payment. It doesn’t fit into their new budget alongside their mortgage, real estate taxes, insurance, maintenance, and new furnishings.
Many potential buyers cross off houses with great locations, floor plans, and prices because of dark, dreary, or dated kitchens. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You should know that a handful of affordable improvements can make a huge difference and possibly result in a better return on investment than big-ticket changes.
1. Go for cabinet 2.0.
Cabinets often represent the biggest cost of a redo, typically 50 percent to 60 percent of the total budget. They also are often the biggest eyesore, particularly if the style of fronts, paint finish, or color appears dated. Many designers and real estate experts say it’s relatively easy to sand down the fronts; paint, stain, or spray cabinetry; and then install new snazzy hardware. Some design experts recommend replacing all fronts if the style doesn’t appeal, but that will cost much more—possibly triple the price. Before you pursue either strategy, remember this maxim: Don’t throw good money after bad. If the arrangement of cabinets and appliances doesn’t work for you, or if the cabinetry’s not in good shape, there’s little point in spending money on even a modest facelift.
2. Change countertops and the sink.
The black countertops in the otherwise all-white Hamptons kitchen in the movie “Something’s Gotta Give” proved a stunning—and much imitated—look. But home owners don’t have to go with expensive soapstone or the best granite to achieve it. The latest generation of affordable laminates has come a long way aesthetically and functionally, so they should be considered. In most cases, a sink will have to be replaced when a countertop is switched, but that can be done for as little as $300. Some home owners may want to splurge on newer and pricier sink models that can be accessorized with fitted cutting boards, drain holders, colanders, and prep dishes. If there’s still wiggle room in the budget, change the faucet, too. It can really complete the new look and notes home owners often enjoy the utility of the long gooseneck designs that are popular now.
3. Replace equipment.
Items that are not working obviously need to be replaced. If upgrades are under consideration, first change out the refrigerator, a noticeable improvement in an appliance that is used daily by everyone in the family. Try to match the replacement to existing equipment—whether black, stainless, or white—rather than have a mishmash of hues. If you are really unhappy with your appliances in general, it’s often less expensive to replace the three key appliances—refrigerator, range, and dishwasher—in a package from one manufacturer.
4. Update the backsplash.
The area between the counter and cabinets or ceiling is highly visible in most kitchens. It’s even more noticeable if it has a dated tile design, such as diamonds, embedded in a rectangle or a fruit basket motif. A more updated yet classic look includes subway tiles in a row. For a twist, you can install them vertically rather than in the traditional horizontal way.
5. Improve lighting.
A dark kitchen can quickly nix a sale. But adding lighting requires minimal effort and expense. Buyers should consider recessed ceiling cans for good general lighting. The trend is for fewer and smaller cans (5 inches to 6 inches in diameter) to avoid a Swiss-cheese effect. They might also go with one attention-grabbing chandelier over a dining table and two or three large pendants above an island. All should be installed with dimmers to offer the option of different moods and LED bulbs for energy efficiency.
6. Paint the room.
Always the least expensive way to affect change, paint can be selected in a neutral shade for wide appeal. But nowadays, neutrals no longer just mean white or beige; soft greens and blues work well as universal mixers. Most design pros recommend steering clear of wallpaper, which can quickly date a room and attract grime.
7. Change the flooring.
Most kitchen floors don’t generate negative buzz unless they’re very worn or comprised of dated linoleum or vinyl. When that’s the case, an easy fix is to switch to popular real-wood planks that can be sealed well and are easy on the feet. New porcelain designs imitate real wood well and can be less costly to install and easier to maintain.
8. Add one “wow.”
Nothing impresses buyers more than one great splurge—the equivalent of a piece of statement jewelry in the hub of the home. Buyers on a budget can try a less costly solution with great personality.
9. Open up the room.
Open-plan living has been growing in popularity for years now, and many predict that trend will continue. Instead of everyone crowding into the kitchen, more home owners want this room to be part of surrounding spaces such as the living and dining room. Taking down a non-load-bearing wall makes sense. If you want a professional to do it, the cost depends on the size of the wall, but it should be something a contractor could do in a couple hours for minimal cost.
While the final effect may not rival a Hollywood-ready kitchen, these smaller changes are still apt to make the space more appealing for cooking and congregating—and may some day woo buyers in the resale process.
Director, Luxury Homes Division
Professional Financial Planner
Keller Williams, Santa Barbara