Home Insight - Property Value and Home Price Check
Kitchens: Remodeling the Heart of Your Home
Written by: Lankarge/Nahorney for HomeInsight

Fifty years ago, kitchens were the heart of every home. Today, the appliances may be high-tech and the fixtures sleek and shiny, but the old-fashion sentiment is returning. Now more than ever, kitchens are the gathering place for the whole family. Decorated warmly, they invite you in and keep you cozy as you share the events of your day.

But unlike 50 years ago, the cost of renovating the heart of your home now averages $15,000 to more than $40,000. And what does that buy for you? A $15,000 kitchen will include low- to mid-range cabinets, a laminate counter, and perhaps a new floor. Move into the $40,000 range and the cabinets are hardwood; the counters are granite; the floor and backsplash are tile; and the controls for the overhead and under-cabinet lighting may look like the control panel of a 747. But is it worth spending all that money if all the other kitchens in your neighborhood are more middle-of-the-road?

Market Information

If you're concerned with recouping the cost of your kitchen remodel, you will want to consult with a real estate agent who can provide you with local market information. You may find that your home is already in the upper end of values in your neighborhood, so you'll likely have a lower return on your home improvement than if you owned the home worth the least in your neighborhood. See Home Over-Improvement Can Lead to Market Under-Performance.

Before embarking on a major home improvement like a kitchen remodel, be sure it makes more sense to renovate than to move to a home that already has a new kitchen, and perhaps other amenities that you desire but that your current home lacks. Read Remodel or Move: Does It Make More Sense to Stay or Go?

Remodeling a kitchen is stressful. It will probably take you a month or more to complete. During that time, you'll need to relocate your kitchen - perhaps to your dining room. That means your refrigerator and perhaps a stove, microwave, your pots and pans, and all of your food. It will be messy. Ripping old cabinets off of the wall, cutting holes in the ceiling, and preparing the floor will make the rest of your home dusty, even if the kitchen is sealed off.

Remodeling a kitchen is best done when the weather is moderate, so your living space expands to include your yard and what may become your best friend during the process - your gas grill. Your other new best friend will most likely be the pizza delivery person.

Contractor Questions

Ask your friends, relatives, and neighbors if their contractor:

  • Completed the job on time.
  • Finish the job on time and on budget.
  • Kept regular, reasonable hours.
  • Was a professional they would hire again without hesitation?

    When you meet with a contractor. make sure you ask:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Does your company carry Workers' Compensation and liability insurance?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?

The last question is very important. Quality contractors work nearly exclusively through repeat and referral business. A contractor who puts up his sign in one neighborhood and completes quality work will often find that he can stay in the neighborhood for an extended period of time through referrals.
Hiring a Contractor

Unless you're a whiz at DIY, you will want to find a contractor. Ask relatives, friends, and neighbors for referrals to contractors they have used. Be sure to see the work they have done first hand. Be sure to get additional referrals from at least three other contractors.

Before you make your selection, make sure that you drop by unannounced to one of the job sites. Check to see how the site is kept. Are trucks parked on the lawn? Is the yard full of building materials and debris? Is loud music playing? Would you feel comfortable having the workers you see on this job in and around your home for a month or more?

The time you spend looking for the right contractor now will pay off in how satisfied you are during and after the remodeling process.

Take Time to Plan

It's also important to take your time and ensure that your kitchen will meet your needs today and in the future. Many new houses now include an island that separates the kitchen from either the dining room or family room. This open floor plan allows the cook to participate in family activities without feeling cut off. When remodeling your kitchen, consider removing an entire wall to help your home flow better and appear larger and brighter. This will not only help your kitchen's functionality, it will improve its value because home buyers always prefer a light and airy space.

And make sure you think about technology - even in the kitchen. Include at least one phone jack, plenty of electrical plugs, and a cable hookup for that flat panel television you have your eye on.

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

If you are concerned about getting the maximum increase in value from your kitchen renovation, consider these tips:

  • Just as hardwood floors say "quality" to a home, so do granite countertops. Should you put your home on the market, granite countertops will give the quality feel to the remainder of your kitchen. Select a counter surface carefully. Laminates are the least durable, but they are also the least costly (and new dramatic colors are available). Some solid surfaces can also incorporate seamless sinks which make cleanup a breeze. Granite does require periodic sealing.

  • Beware trendy kitchen cabinet finishes. There are a myriad of finishes available today, from washes to faux finishes. But just as people grew tired of Harvest Gold appliances from the 60s, these finishes will likely mark a kitchen as outdated in 10 years, or perhaps less. Traditional medium wood finishes or white cabinets don't go out of style. And with a simple hardware change, they can be made new again.

  • Choose your floor carefully. Vinyl floors are the least expensive and the least durable. New laminate products on the market are growing in popularity, but nothing wears like tile. To make your kitchen look larger, select 12 x 12-inch (or larger) tiles and have them set on a diagonal. Be sure to choose a neutral color. Hardwood is another popular choice, just make sure your lifestyle will support it (they don't work very well with a young family).

  • Install a tile backsplash to add a touch of class, even if you have selected a laminate countertop. You can also add accent tiles to give a dramatic effect to your new kitchen.

  • Lighting can really make the kitchen. Unlike 50 years ago when there was one light in the middle of the room and another light over the sink, remodeled kitchens now include a half dozen or more recessed lights in the ceiling and under-cabinet lighting to create a warm, inviting feel. Adding many small lights can help brighten a dark kitchen, even when installing darker cabinets and countertops.