Kitchen remodels. The value of your home – and adding value to it.   Leave a comment


(This week: Guest writer Michelle Portesi of Much Ado with Nothing)

During the holidays I stumbled upon this very informative article on kitchen remodeling:

As a designer that specializes in remodeling, and specifically kitchen and bath design, it is by far one of the better written pieces aimed towards your average homeowner that I’ve read – with some caveats. It also got me thinking about the information as it pertains to the Tahoe real estate market…both as a seller and a buyer. From the article:

“consider what’s best for your finances, family, and future…classify improvements into two categories: One being projects that add monetary value to the house, the others make the house more appealing,” … “For example, a larger kitchen will increase the actual value of the house, whereas granite countertops are going to make the house more appealing to buyers.”


Obviously the first question that needs to be asked is whether you are a seller or a buyer, as your intentions, and the spending budget and scope of any remodeling you will be doing is vastly different for the same property.  Today I am going to focus on the seller.

As the seller of an average home, your intention, if the kitchen is old and dated, is to make it appear less so.  This preferably involves cosmetic changes that gives the place a bit of an updated ‘facelift’ without spending a lot of money on it.  Certainly as a seller, the materials selection are different as well as the budget for such a project – as opposed to a home YOU personally intend to live in for awhile.

Before photo. Old cabinets with worn out finish, chipped and dated laminate countertop.

Inexpensive kitchen facelift. Cabinets painted white, new hardware, stock white tile, 4 glass doors, wallpaper, clearance faucet and stock home center sink.


As the phrase goes “Men buy a house. Women buy a home”.  I’ve heard tales time and again from house hunters describing properties for sale that were spectacular in every way…until the wife hits the kitchen, took one look and quickly turned on her heal and sprinted out the door with not so much as a backwards glance.  As a seller, the last impression you want to leave on a potential homebuyer is that the first order of business should they purchase your property will be a complete and total, expensive and tedious gut of the entire kitchen just to make it tolerable.  But nor do you want to be the one to do the expensive gut just to sell the house. In today’s real estate market, it’s a given that if you spend a lot of money updating property you intend to sell in the near future, that you probably won’t be getting your investment back out of it. It may sell the home quicker, but you will run the real risk of taking a monetary loss. So the amount of money spent on an update to a house going on the market should always be cautious at best. (Unless it’s an old lakefront for which spending $100,000 would bring a return on investment of a cool million…in which case, all bets are off…)

The article lays out 6 different kitchen projects that can ratchet up the appeal and/or value factor to a kitchen.  The following are suggestions as to how a home seller can adapt the article’s design principles to appeal to a home buyer without breaking the bank.


 Project #1: Cabinet Replacement or Refacing

If you’re a home seller, this option comes more under the category of ‘fuhgeddaboudit’.  Both new cabinetry and refacing will require a healthy chunk of change that would be more appropriate for the home buyer to be investing in. That being said, there are inexpensive things you can do to spruce up tired and outdated cabinetry to be more appealing.

  1.  Start with a good cleaning. Most kitchens build up a phenomenal amount of grease and grime over the years, and tackling the inevitable buildup will at the very least give a home buyer the impression of cleanliness if nothing else. After you’ve cut down on the crud factor, you now have a clean canvas to start with to consider some other options.
  2. Stain.  I’m a big fan of the Zar family of products. With a ‘two-fer’ of stain and sealer combined, it’s just the ticket to add a nice sheen and freshen up the finish on old, scratched cabinetry.  You can also use the same product to ‘glaze’ your cabinets, which is applying more stain to the creases and crevasses of the cabinet doors and drawers, wiping it off gently, allowing the excess to linger in the depressions. A basic cabinet door will have more visual interest and definition by doing this –  or you can also use this technique to create an old world look.  Realize this IS a temporary, cosmetic fix. You will be staining the existing finish, not the wood itself. It is not intended to hold up for long term use, although a coat of varnish over it would make it longer lasting. Remember, you’re not aiming for new cabinet perfection here. You’re just trying to make the kitchen seem freshened up to a potential buyer, not remodeling it for them.
  3. Paint. It’s a wonderful and inexpensive way to salvage run down cabinets that have been abused beyond all redemption. At least any redemption that can be fixed with stain. Consider sage greens, antiqued black or brick red for an updated mountain feel. Glazed and painted cabinetry are popular (and more expensive) options in most manufactured cabinetry lines. If you have any DIY abilities whatsoever, you can mimic the look on your old cabinets for pennies on the dollar compared to new cabinets. And never underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint and color on your walls. Sand beiges are still appealing neutral colors while adding a touch of  elegance. Boring (and often dirty) white walls just makes the  house you would like to sell for a pretty penny look like a low rent apartment.
  4. Add decorative cabinet door and drawer hardware. Those of us in the trade call this ‘Jewelry for your cabinets’. Not only does it add some zip to an otherwise boring cabinet, it also protects the cabinetry finish from the oil on your fingers, which builds up over time. (Remember all the scrubbing you had to do on #1 above? That’s why.)


Project #2: Floor Installation

Sometimes, the ‘value’ of your home to a buyer is all about perception. An old and outdated vinyl floor isn’t going to appeal to anyone, and especially a home buyer at the higher end of home price ranges.  Amazingly enough,  homes in the +500K and up range still sport vinyl flooring –  which just screams ‘cheap’.  As a rule of thumb, whatever you can do within your budget to change out or fix finishing materials that appear to be beneath the quality and caliber of what should be in a home of your price point- do it. While I agree that laminate floors are a relatively easy and inexpensive DIY project that is certainly a cut above vinyl, as a selling point,  it leaves something to be desired.  Realtor’s ads consider ‘genuine hardwood floors’ as a compelling selling feature in your home. Laminate? Not so much. Consider tile instead. Still DIY friendly, but with some beautiful, yet inexpensive options available…and without the ‘wanna-be fake wood floor’ stigma that goes with it (re: you didn’t want to pay to put the real stuff in). Don’t get me wrong, laminates are great options for many homes, but if your property’s  value is in the vicinity of say 800K, think about upping your game.

Inexpensive saltillo tile with painted and glazed cabinets.

Inexpensive saltillo tile with painted and glazed cabinets.


Project #3: Countertop Installation

Old countertops are a biggie under the above category of  materials that scream ‘cheap’ that really should be replaced if you want to spruce up a kitchen for resale. While I disagree with the article’s assertion of considering manufactured stone as an ‘affordable’ option (costs for kitchen appropriate manufactured stone haven’t come down much and are still pricey) there are plenty of ‘prefab’ granites at reasonable prices. Nothing updates an old kitchen more than replacing laminate or tile countertops with granite slabs. Just be sure you have no intention of changing the cabinets out later after the fact, as it’s unlikely the countertop can be salvaged and reinstalled without breakage.  (I mention this because homeowners have a penchant for doing this little ‘bass ackwards’ ditty. It rarely works and ends up being a huge waste of money.)


Project #4: Lighting

Lighting is often the most overlooked element in a kitchen, and few homes were originally designed with adequate lighting for the tasks at hand.  As a seller, you won’t want to be tearing out the drywall to rewire the place, so you will likely be limited to updating fixtures. Lighting options have changed drastically over the years from generic fixtures with basic incandescent bulbs – or horrors!  florescent drop ceilings –  to updated versions of low voltage halogen, innovative florescent and LED options- to name but a few. As the article states, consider changing out large ceiling can lights to drop pendants over islands for some visual pop and appeal.  There are also monorail and other systems that can be hooked up to where existing  light fixtures were that can be bent and shaped for a more contemporary feel  – or extended to add  light to areas where there wasn’t any before without rewiring.  Definitely consider changing out any dated track lighting.

Low voltage monorail system by Tech Lighting.

Low voltage monorail system by Tech Lighting.


Project #5: Open Floor Plan

Closed off tiny kitchens are just a turn off to today’s home buyers.  That being said, this type of update veers more into the realm of new homeowner remodeling, so unless you’ve got some strapping teenaged boys who can’t wait to take a sledgehammer to an existing non-load bearing wall or two, I’d shy away from this one as a resale project.  Opening up the space can certainly make existing rooms look larger, brighter and offer better living areas and flow to the house, but you’ll need mad DIY skills (or be able to pay someone to do it for you) and be completely confident that there will be a huge payoff when you sell. You might be better advised to have a designer draw up a plan and a few perspectives as to what the space could be. Thus showing a perspective homebuyer with no vision the possibilities for the home –  and an added selling feature (read: Remodeling Project) that you  personally don’t have to pay for. Or live through.

Before Kitchen - what presently exists

Before Kitchen – what presently exists


C.A.D. drawing of possibilities for the existing kitchen

C.A.D. drawing of possibilities for the existing kitchen. (The wife wanted white cabinets)


Remodeled kitchen. (the husband wanted stained cabinets. Guess who won...)

Remodeled kitchen. (the husband wanted stained cabinets. Guess who won…)


Project #6: Tile Backsplash

Like the countertop, an interesting backsplash can pay off big in perceived value and bang for the buck.  Even a newbie to DIY projects can manage tiling a backsplash. It really isn’t rocket science, and the inexpensive yet creative options are endless.  For resale, stick to neutral tones, with maybe a few decorative tiles scattered in for good measure. (In Tahoe/Truckee? A penchant for ‘Pinecones and Squirrels and Bears…Oh MY!’ are always prolific and popular)  Other interesting options are metal, laminate that looks like metal, mirror, glass, acrylic and wallpaper…although tiling is still the most popular option.


Backsplash with tumbled stone and glass tile accents.


So now that you have some ideas, and provided you have a little cash to bring them to fruition,  as a home seller you now have to sit down and decide if you want to put the money, time and elbow grease into your home  –  – or just sell it as is.  If $5000 worth of DIY spruce up can bring an additional return of $30,000 to the selling price of your house, it’s money and time well invested.  Also realize that not all returns on investment are monetary. Never underestimate the value of adding charm and ambiance. It may sell your house in 1 month instead of 1 year, which is why ‘staging’ has become such an important part of selling real estate.

Well, that, and open houses with fresh baked chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven…


~ Michelle Portesi . Interior, Kitchen and Bath Designer . Much Ado With Nothing


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