When a Total Gut Kitchen Renovation is More than You Need: Less Can Definitely Be More

Paul Kazanofski, Revision Homes, LLC, Nashville, TN.

Kitchen Update On A Budget

Not every kitchen needs to be gutted and completely done over to function well, look smart, and attract a buyer or renter. Minimizing work will also make a property available to list, sell, and rent faster. It’s also prudent for other financial reasons. Kitchens remain the place to congregate but who knows if your preference for white Shaker cabinets, an island with big overhang for eating, or the new health-oriented steam oven is what the buyer or renter envisioned—and is willing to pay for. That’s why not every dollar invested in a kitchen gets repaid even when lots of improvements are made, according to the latest Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling magazine. Your goal is to get a great Return on Investment or ROI, says Paulie Kazanofski, a real estate investor, house flipper, and founder of Revision Homes in Nashville. Over the last nine years, he has flipped more than 315 houses and gotten back 90 percent of his investment on each home.

Another investor and analyst Allison Bethell with FitSmallBusiness.com, concurs and adds, “It’s tempting to build your dream kitchen but most of the time it’s not the right thing to do for an investment property. As an investor myself, I consider the neighborhood and the expected rental income before deciding what type of kitchen renovations to make,” she explains. In addition, making minimal improvements permits you to use saved funds to purchase another rental property that may provide a better ROI down the road, Bethell says.


Following are seven smart ways to update. Before you start, pick a number you consider “safe” for your budget, possibly $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 and stick to it, says Kazanofski. He also encourages investors to purchase their cabinets, appliances, tiles, and other essentials at surplus and close-out stores where prices are lower and it’s easier to negotiate.


Paint the room. Paint is always fast and affordable and perks up any room, especially one where hard work and cooking have been done. The tougher part may be deciding which hue to use—even if you go with white—since so many are available. Know that white kitchens remain an evergreen favorite. Grays remain popular though some owners and investors are beginning to tire of the color after so many years of seeing gray everywhere. A color from nature can work as a neutral if soft, and it also will connect the room to the outdoors. Buy some paint samples, roll on a large enough swath and live with your choice for a few days—and nights. The cost should run between $1 to $2 a square foot for a quality paint and labor for a skilled painter. Expect to pay $400 to $800 for most average-size kitchens. Before work begins, do as much prep work as you can to keep down your costs.


Refinish cabinets. Tired or dated looking cabinets? That’s a good place to start, especially since new ones typically represent 50 percent to 60 percent of a total gut kitchen job. Also, most tenants appreciate cabinet storage and plenty of counter space (see below) over fancy finishes. There are many good affordable paints (Kazanofski prefers a flat oil-based paint) available that can cover wear and imperfections well, but again first sand with a light-grade sanding paper the cabinets and prime them, which will help stop scratching and chipping. Expect to pay about $2,000 for 30 fronts to be finished and new knobs inserted. Be sure that the hinges are still in good shape or replace them, too. If the cabinets are in very poor shape, consider replacing them, which you usually can do for $3,500 to $5,500, depending on the quality.


Countertops. After cabinets, countertops are what many buyers and renters notice and old laminate or too busy, dark granite may make some turn and run. What’s fresher looking are white and off-white quartzite and quartz that resemble classic marble but cost less. How much this change will cost, of course, depends on the specific material you select, length of linear feet involved and edging style you choose. But think in terms of $2,300 to $2,700 for quartzite for an average-size kitchen. Add in a new stainless steel undermount sink for about $150 and a new faucet for $200 and you’ve really changed the look.


Appliances. Stainless steel fronted appliances sparkle and say quality. Now, instead of going with one new item, careful shopping can help you switch out all your appliances in a package many stores offer, which will include a refrigerator, electric range, dishwasher, and microwave from such companies as Frigidaire, GE or Whirlpool, Kazanofski says. If you have a gas hook-up and think your buyers or renters would prefer that, expect to pay another $100.




Flooring. While many of us don’t look down first, a new floor can make a room look larger depending on how its pattern runs. Smart choices include porcelain planks and ceramic tile that will hold up to water spills and high traffic. Prices generally run from $1.25 a square foot to $3, even for hardwood if you prefer that material. But avoid laminate wood flooring since it tends to curl and buckle when wet; cork also tends to disintegrate when wet, Kazanofski says.



Lighting. Speaking of looking up, there’s lots of choices when it comes to light options that are easy to install and will make a huge difference in a room’s appeal, especially if it doesn’t have many windows for natural light. There’s no reason why every bulb shouldn’t be switched to an LED for energy efficiency and also have a dimmer control. Furthermore, LEDs have come way down in price. Kazanofski likes to outfit a kitchen with a nice monorail track fitted with LEDs. Your total lighting bill may run about $300 for the fixture and dimmer control.



Backsplash. This is less costly to purchase and install than floor tiles since most walls require less prep work—no backerboard or cement needed. Expect to pay anywhere from $3.50 to $12 per square foot for the tile and another $2 per square foot to install it or a total of $750 for a typical size kitchen. The dollars are well worth the price since a new backsplash can give a room a big pop and unify colors used in the room. “It will take a drab, average looking kitchen and make it look high-end,” Kazanofski says.



If, after you add up all the costs and you feel you’re making choices that are more the equivalent of a Band-Aid™, then weigh the option of a total redo. But when you do, factor in the time to complete the job, what you paid for the property, and how much the cost will help resale as well as cut into your profit. All the numbers for both scenarios will tell you which route to take.

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