Nick and Catherine (who prefer not to give their last name) bought the beautifully furnished model home in their subdivision 16 years ago with top-of-the-line everything and interior design by a professional. They took very good care of things and when they needed to sell because of a new job in another state, they resisted their REALTOR’s ® suggestion to upgrade the kitchen counters and cabinets because they still looked fine. (The refrigerator and dishwasher had been replaced when they wore out.)
After far-too-many months in a distant city (with double mortgage payments), they finally had the REALTOR® arrange for granite counters and a new microwave to be installed, and the cabinets nicely refaced. Within two weeks there were two competing offers.
“A nice kitchen is all important,” declares REALTOR ® Sabina Harvey, Associate Broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III. “Buyers don’t want to have to redo, even with a very nice ‘allowance.’”
Case in point: “I had a listing about two years ago,” recalls Harvey. “There’d been a fire and the owner redid the kitchen with nice cabinetry, but he put in Formica counters and low-end fixtures. The feedback from potential buyers was that the kitchen needed to be redone and it really held back any sales. The house was on the market for so long and probably sold for $25-$50,000 less that it should have gotten. It would have sold for a lot more with a gourmet kitchen.”
Is it worth the cost?
“Kitchens have historically served as a gathering place for friends and family, originally because it was usually the warmest place in the house,” observes REALTOR ® Janet Matthews, founder of Charlottesville Town and Country. It’s just as true today with family and friends often migrating to the kitchen during a get-together.
“An upgraded kitchen is a big selling point when marketing a house today,” Matthews adds, “and the cost is usually a good investment because most buyers don’t want to do it themselves because they see it as expensive and inconvenient.”
Remodeling magazine’s nationwide analysis shows that upgrading a kitchen returns from 70 to more than 100 percent of the investment when the house is sold. Remember, too, that every house is competing with all the other houses on the market in their general price range. If two houses are generally comparable, the one that’s truly move-in ready will usually get the offer.
Before upgrading, do your research so your kitchen is not highly unusual, which could be a turn off for some buyers who might feel they are in someone else’s kitchen. Instead go for a new-and-neutral look. Be especially sure your design is up-to-date by cruising the Internet and visiting model homes and kitchen galleries at home supply stores and contractors studios to check out the latest styles.
What’s going to say up-to-date?
“Stainless is very, very popular for appliances,” notes Harvey, the REALTOR ® with Better Homes and Gardens. Black or bronze stainless steel is the very latest as a darker alternative to the shiny finish. “People love the new sub-zero fridges with two doors and a drawer for the freezer.” Harvey also says that many homebuyers favor gas cook tops over electric.
“People love kitchen islands,” Harvey continues. “They make a big difference if there’s room.” A kitchen island not only can provide extra workspace, but today’s islands with deep storage drawers, sinks, food prep areas and room for seats can be the focal feature when guests gather in the kitchen. Unplumbed islands are sometimes designed as rolling islands for extra flexibility.
Neutral colors and the colors of nature are among the trends forecast for 2016. Wood hues in tones of browns and pale grays suggesting natural stone are also popular. White kitchen walls and cabinets are definitely an emerging trend and “pops” of the colors appealing to the buyers can make the place “theirs” while avoiding an unfinished, sterile look.
“Today everyone wants white counters and cabinets,” confirms Jim Bosket, of Stellar Remodeling and Design in Charlottesville. His company remodeled more than 100 kitchens and bathrooms last year. “Granite is probably the most cost-effective countertop. It’s not solid white, of course, but has some flacks or graining in grays or blacks.”
Where do I start?
You can make a big difference with what Bosket terms a cosmetic upgrade. “That could even be just repainting the kitchen,” he says. “It could also include new countertops, under-cabinet lighting, new light fixtures, or a new backsplash,”
Indeed, fresh paint is a good place to start, but it’s very important to find the right color and those little two-inch-square samples are almost impossible to judge. For example, white isn’t just white, you’ll find dozens of shades of white. Consider buying a small can of paint that will cover a large enough space to really evaluate the color by both daylight and artificial light. It’s important the paint go well with existing surroundings such as countertops, cabinetry, and flooring that won’t be changed.
Other modest steps might include new lighting, new window treatments, or refinished cabinet fronts with new hardware. Relatively inexpensive, but significant might be replacing an old kitchen sink—especially if it is damaged or stained—and including one of those fancy new faucets that almost do the dishes for you
Probably the biggest impact can be made with new countertops. Granite is very popular these days and generally costs between $50 and $100 per square foot installed. Less expensive options include composites, laminates, or butcher block. Laminate, for example, generally runs from $10 to $20 per square foot installed and comes in an amazing range of range of colors and appearances.
Whatever you choose, get the largest possible sample and check it by both daylight and artificial light. These days, the counter space is painstakingly measured with lasers for an exact fit. Some composite materials may arrive in pieces for easy transport, yet once in place, they can be finished with no visible seams.
New backsplashes to go over the new or existing counters can be a real eye-catching upgrade. In the past, most backsplashes were simply painted, but these days the addition of “subway” tile, coming in many styles and colors, is a highly popular option. Faux brick, marble, and tile—which can be metal, glass, or brick—are other stylish choices. So-called chalkboard paint is another trendy choice to punctuate an all-white kitchen and provide artists of any age with a bulletin board and a surface to decorate for the season or a special event.
While not everyone is artistic, one creative civil engineer who simply didn’t like the backsplash options when she and her husband updated their kitchen, is hand painting 100 tiles at a nearby ceramics studio. She completes about a dozen each week, bringing home the ones that were fired the week before and plans to be finished in about a month and a half. Her husband is already studying his do-it-yourself guide for installation instructions so they can mount them when all the tiles are done.
Even cabinetry styles change over the years. These days, cabinets are typically floor-to-ceiling rather than leaving a dust-catching shelf at the top. “I’m seeing a lot of chocolate-colored cabinets these days,” says REALTOR® Harvey. She also stresses that good cabinetry is important. “Cabinet makers can take a long time to fill specific orders and re-facing is an option, but it’s not usually as nice in the end.”
Often as major appliances fail over the years, they are replaced with something that no longer matches. Having all the appliances blend well has a very positive impact, so it’s usually a good idea to have them all made by the same manufacturer for a unified appearance.
While appliances don’t have to be the top of the line, there are actually trends in appliance styles and better quality can make a real difference. Don’t forget still-working appliances can be sold to cover some of the cost.
While a new floor covering can tie everything together at a relatively modest cost, that is probably the last item to replace unless it is badly worn. There have been many improvements in flooring in the last decade with a variety of materials to withstand the traffic in a kitchen. Ceramic tile resists wear, spills, and stains while today’s vinyl flooring comes in a wide range of styles and colors. Some styles mimic wood or tile floors, but with much easier maintenance.
How much will it cost?
“A kitchen is like 10 to 15 percent of the value of a house,” points out Jim Bosket, of Stellar Remodeling and Design in Charlottesville, “and there is a huge range of costs to remodel because there are so many variables.”
Take, for example, a single 30-inch-wide kitchen cabinet. “Depending on options and choices and finishes, the cost for that cabinet could range from $300 to $2,400,” he says.
“And then you’ve got costs apart from the materials like removal and maybe re-plumbing.”
Still, a house usually will fetch a better price and be on the market for a shorter period when it has the very best kitchen possible for potential buyers to see. It’s ideal to have them visualize themselves putting their pots and pans in the cupboards, their canisters on the counter, and start cooking right away.
“Most buyers don’t have the time, the energy, or the desire to do remodeling,” stresses REALTOR ® Judy Drayer from Long and Foster. “This means you really need an up-to-date kitchen. Formica just doesn’t cut it anymore.”
By Marilyn Pribus
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. They recently upgraded their counters and installed a great backsplash. She was convinced if they waited long enough, their white walls would become trendy again and it turns out 2016 might be the year for it!