Kitchens: Remodeling the Heart of Your Home

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.

Unlike 50 years ago, the cost of renovating your gathering place now averages $15,000 to $40,000. And what does that buy you? A $15,000 kitchen includes 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 is tile, and the lighting controls look like the control panel of a 747. But is it worth spending all that money if the other kitchens in your neighborhood are more middle-of-the-road?

Market Information

If you’re concerned about recouping the cost of your kitchen remodel, you can consult with a real estate agent who provides local market information. You may find that your home is in the upper-end of values in your neighborhood. If that’s the case, you’ll get a lower return on your renovation than if you owned the home worth the least in your neighborhood

Before embarking on a major home improvement, consider the option of moving to a home that has a new kitchen and the other amenities that your current home lacks.

Remember that remodeling a kitchen is stressful. It will take you a month or more to complete. That means you’ll relocate your kitchen, perhaps to your dining room, for a month.  Your refrigerator will be there – 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 also make your entire home dusty even if the kitchen is sealed.

Remodeling a kitchen is best done when the weather is moderate. Then 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 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 almost exclusively through repeat and referral business. A contractor who puts up his sign in one neighborhood and completes quality work, can stay for an extended period of time through referrals.

Hire a Contractor

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

Before you make your selection, 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 will pay off in how satisfied you are during and after the remodeling process.

Take Time to Plan

It’s important to take your time to ensure that your kitchen will meet your needs today and in the future. Many new houses 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 excluded. 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 since homebuyers always prefer light and airy spaces.

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 always wanted.

Get the Biggest Bang for Your Buck

To realize maximum increase in value from your kitchen renovation, consider these tips:

► Select a counter surface carefully. Just as hardwood floors say quality, so do granite countertops. When you put your home on the market, granite countertops will give a quality feel to your entire kitchen. But remember, granite requires periodic sealing. Laminates are the least durable, but also the least costly (and new dramatic colors are available). Some solid surfaces can incorporate seamless sinks which make cleanup a breeze.

► Beware trendy kitchen cabinet finishes. There’s a myriad of finishes available from washes to faux. 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. 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 12x12-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 hardwood suits your lifestyle as it doesn’t work very well with a young family.

► Installing a tile backsplash adds a touch of class, even with a laminate countertop. You can also add accent tiles to create a dramatic effect.

► Lighting really makes a kitchen. Unlike 50 years ago when there was one light in the middle of the room and another over the sink, new kitchens include several recessed lights in the ceiling and under-cabinet lighting to create a warm, inviting feel. Adding many small lights brightens a dark kitchen, even with darker cabinets and countertops.