Kitchens sell houses. That’s still true. But if you are remodeling your kitchen with an eye towards recapturing your investment, you’ll want to concentrate money on the elements that deliver the best return.
Paradoxically, spiffing up the kitchen—by adding new finishes or appliances, for example—adds more value than a complete renovation, according to the most recent Cost. vs. Value report generated by Remodeling magazine.
A ‘minor’ kitchen update returns about 72.8% of its $21,695 average cost, according to Remodeling, while a ‘major’ project adds 68.7% of its $58,367 average cost. (These are national averages; the magazine also offers regional breakdowns of project costs.)
That’s because major projects are more likely to involve low-glamour structural and redesign elements. (The magazine’s definition of ‘minor’ updates assumes minimal structural work.)
The best way to serve up the greatest value for your remodeling effort is to work with the layout you have. Moving walls is expensive; moving plumbing and electrical lines is less, but still costly. Without altering the layout—the placement of sink, stove, and so on—what tweaks would make the kitchen more workable and contemporary? For example, could you change the size, shape, or orientation of the island? Could you eliminate a peninsula in favor of adding a new island, thereby improving workflow without touching the structural elements?
Also, examine nonstructural walls to see if the floor plan can be opened up by stealing space from adjacent rooms. For example, a ‘landing zone’ could be integrated into the back porch, allowing you to convert a closet into a pantry or storage niche.
Once you have nailed down the new floor plan, examine your options for appliances and surface finishes. Matchy-matchy stainless steel appliances are the new norm, expected even by entry-level buyers. Fortunately, stainless finishes are now available at nearly every price level. Attend a few open houses to gauge the typical quality of appliances and finishes; you won’t get back the value of top-end appliances if the norm is mainstream brands. Track real estate listings to see if agents think that brands signal value for your market—are the ads studded with Bosch, Viking, and AGA, or do the ads simply emphasize stainless? If brands are a proxy for quality, consider upgrading at least one appliance to a brand popular in your area.
If you expect to sell within a few years, go for low-maintenance, high-quality flooring and countertops that will still look great when it is time to put the house on the market. Marble, granite, and tile are notoriously finicky finishes for counters. Go instead for solid-surface engineered materials that are impervious to stains and heat.