Buying a new home in a struggling real estate market is a double-edged sword. On one hand, available homes are plentiful and mortgage rates are lower than they have ever been. On the other, if you are like me, you also have to find a buyer for your current home, and the glut in inventory works against you. That means you have to work extra hard to make your home appealing to potential buyers. Most of us have taken what real estate agents say about staging a house to heart, but let’s face it, an ugly room is an ugly room and as the saying goes, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. For many homeowners, the “piggiest” room in the house is the kitchen. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive to renovate.
Large appliances, like ranges, refrigerators and dishwashers aside, there are also usually walls of cabinets, countertops and the kitchen sink. You don’t want to put a huge amount of money into redoing a room you’ll never use and never recoup the cost on, not to mention the fact that the economy has put the squeeze on most family budgets. The key is to do a kitchen renovation on the cheap – without making it look cheap in the process.
The first step in the process is to make a list of what absolutely has to be addressed. In our case, part of our counter top had to be replaced since we installed new cabinets when we moved the refrigerator. The floors were also badly scuffed and the cabinets were old and dingy. There were also a couple of things I wanted to do that I thought would be good selling points. If we had money left over, I would do those too.
The counter tops were the biggest, and, we thought, most expensive item to replace. There were a couple of ways to go. Obviously, granite or other solid surfaces were out of the question. That left laminate. It was about this time that we stumbled upon the IKEA site and were delighted to learn that they sold counter tops in a variety of attractive finishes, including natural wood, at very reasonable prices. Most come in standard dimensions of 73 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches. We worked out that it would take two to complete our kitchen. At $59 for the model we chose, that worked out to a total of only $108 to completely redo our counter tops. I should add the disclaimer here that we did have a table saw at our disposal and I have some basic woodworking skills, so we were able to save quite a bit on the labor, but if you have a friend or neighbor who is willing to help – maybe for a nominal fee (or a case of beer) – you may be able to do the same.
As for the cabinets, there has been a lot of talk around refacing which usually involves building new doors for the existing cabinets. This can be an expensive and time consuming exercise which involves hiring a company to do the refacing. As an alternative it can be just as effective to simply sand down and refinish the existing doors and replace the old hardware. For the cost of some sandpaper, paint, and new hardware, a total investment of $100 and a little elbow grease, our cabinets came out looking like brand new.
Finally we got to the floor. In our case, we were faced with a little bit of a challenge. Our kitchen floor sloped a little because of some renovations done by the previous owner without sufficient forethought. Because of this, I worried that using a wood laminate or real tile floor would be a problem since neither is flexible. The problem with vinyl flooring or vinyl tile is that it has a tendency to look cheap and wear poorly. That said, vinyl floor tiles have come a long way lately. No longer is the homeowner restricted to cheap, industrial-looking 12 x 12 inch squares. We found some textured tiles that are a decent imitation of real stone at a fraction of the price. To cover a total of 225 square feet, it cost us a grand total of $340.
With $52 left out of our starting budget, I was able to score a pendant light for over the sink and a goose-neck faucet – both on clearance at the local big box retailer – for $49.95.
Admittedly, the $500 was a stretch on a severely limited budget, but our agent seemed to be pleased with the changes, and thinks our home will be easier to sell now. It’s too early to be sure, but our agent says she heard a couple of potential buyers who had positive things to say about the kitchen and how modern it looks. Hopefully that will be enough to push the buyers to make an offer, fingers crossed. Granted for anyone who wants to make similar changes, the costs will vary based on the size of the kitchen and the complexities unique to that space, but our experience is proof positive that relatively inexpensive changes can yield impressive results.