Is your kitchen straight out of the 80s? You know the style: closed off from the rest of the house, plain oak cabinets, a clunky island, ugly taupe countertops, peel-and-stick tile flooring. If so, maybe it’s time for a remodel so down the road, you can sell your house for more. But let’s be honest. How much does a kitchen remodel increase home value?
Ultimately, you’re not likely to get back everything you paid for your kitchen remodel when you sell your home. It’s a popular but low return project. Do your research here before starting demolition—you’ll learn about the cost, what you gain, and what you can do to decrease expenses.
Cost of a kitchen remodel
No matter which way you look at it, kitchen remodels are going to cost a decent chunk of change. Christina Kolb, a designer with Delafield, WI, Kowalske Kitchen Bath, says that for minor updates like replacing countertops and other outdated pieces while maintaining the existing footprint of the kitchen, you’re looking at a cost of about $35,000 to $55,000.
But she’s also worked on major projects, where the entire kitchen is gutted, reorganized, upgraded, and sometimes even moved to a new room—and those can cost between $80,000 and $120,000.
Mid-range remodels fall snugly between the two, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Report, at about $66,000.
ROI on a kitchen remodel
According to Derek Gilbert, a top agent with Keller Williams DTC in Colorado, you’re going to get back about 60% of your kitchen remodel costs when you sell your home.
Remodeling Magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Report backs him up, showing that depending on the size of the job, you’ll likely recoup 60% to 80% of what you paid. HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Report for Q1 2019 shows that on an average kitchen upgrade cost of $23,140, you’re only going to increase your sale price by $23,122—an ROI of -.08 percent.
Your ROI really depends on the condition of your home and the price point you’ll be selling at.
“I don’t think that a remodel itself specifically adds value unless the home is in a certain level of condition,” Gilbert said.
“The mistake I see with a lot of sellers is they think just by remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom, they’re going to immediately increase the value of their home.
“So when we’re evaluating whether to improve a kitchen, I take a look at what the cost of that project is going to be, what we see for the aftermarket repaired value of the home, and if it makes sense to actually do that investment if they’re going to be selling the home.”
The kitchen remodel ‘Joy Factor’
The National Association of Realtors’ 2019 Remodeling Impact Report shows that of all home renovations done by a professional, 72% of those were done indoors.
That number goes up to 77% if it’s a DIY project. And the second most popular project on the list? Kitchens.
When it comes to ranking how happy homeowners are with the project—a number called the Joy Score, ranking happiness on a scale of 1 to 10—professionally upgraded kitchens ranked at 9.2, while professional renovations, DIY updates, and DIY renovations all ranked as a 10.
After a complete kitchen remodel, 90% of homeowners reported they wanted to be in their homes more—and you can see that reflected in blogs of people who went through it. Liz Joy, for example, owner of Pure Joy Home, redid her kitchen and says she’s so happy she would sleep in a sleeping bag on top of the new island, if she could.
Plus, her new kitchen sink and picture window are fulfilling her lifelong dream of standing at the kitchen sink and looking out over her yard.
The moral of the story? If you’re going to remodel the kitchen, do it for your own happiness. Because money-wise, there’s no guarantees at resale.
Top 3 kitchen remodeling projects with the best ROI
If your budget is smaller than you expected, there’s still hope for your kitchen. Get the most bang for your buck with these smaller projects that bring in great returns on your investment.
Swap out your hardware
By far the easiest and cheapest trick to update your kitchen is to get new cabinet hardware.
For old oak cabinets that you can’t replace, Kolb says to choose a matte black pull; it instantly pulls the cabinetry from the ‘80s into the modern day. Pulls are inexpensive, maxing out at about $5 a pull. Be sure to get a matching faucet—mismatched hardware looks clunky.
Recommended Products (all are the top sellers at Home Depot for matte black kitchen hardware):
- Classic Round Matte Black Solid Cabinet Knob (10-Pack) ($24)
- Step Edge Center-to-Center Matte Black Dual Mount Drawer Pull ($5)
- Edison Single-Handle Pull-Down Sprayer Kitchen Faucet in Matte Black ($160)
Update your lighting
Changing the lighting in a kitchen can be as simple as getting a new fixture, but is one of the best projects for good ROI.
“New lighting is huge,” Kolb said. “It’s one of the first things people see when they walk into the room. If you have something that is updated, attractive, and blends in, it makes the whole space feel more updated.”
Don’t worry about calling an electrician and getting all new wiring, though. Swap out what’s there for something sleeker instead.
Recommended Products (all on the affordable side and 5-star top-rated products by customers on Amazon):
- BONLICHT Sputnik Chandelier ($100);
- Farmhouse Lighting Triple Wood Beam Vintage Light with Edison Cages ($195);
- VINLUZ 6 Light Contemporary Chandelier ($150)
Paint your cabinets
Don’t be afraid to paint your cabinets. It’s an easy, cost-effective way to upgrade your kitchen from stale, old-fashioned oak boxes to something more modern. Both Gilbert and Kolb note that white is still a popular color (especially if the walls have warm tones to them, Kolb said).
As long as the cabinets are in good condition without any leaks under the sink, grab a paintbrush and get to work. Just be sure to first remove the cabinet doors and hardware, make sure everything is clean so the paint goes on nicely, and prime them.
Recommended Products (all are top-selling cabinet painting kits at Home Depot):
- Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations Kit, Gray ($80)
- NuVo Titanium Infusion Cabinet Paint Kit ($70)
- Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations Kit, Pure White ($80)
How to keep costs low on your kitchen remodel
1. Choose cheaper materials
Countertops and floors can be a great starting point for saving money on the materials you’re using. Kolb and Gilbert both note that buyers currently prefer quartz countertops, but they’re also pretty expensive—so instead opt for cheaper Formica (like this etched stone kind from Home Depot) or butcher block (like this birch version from Lowe’s).
“Choose something that will make it look clean, is less of an investment for you, and less of a heartbreak for a buyer who doesn’t like it,” Kolb said. Do the same with floors; a cheaper laminate or vinyl plank, like the New Haven Harbor Oak laminate or Pioneer Park vinyl plank from Lumber Liquidators, looks just as good as hardwood.
2. Use what you have
Don’t worry about buying all new cabinets to replace your older oak ones. You can stain the ones you have to make them look more upscale. Bonus: it’s cheaper than painting them, too. You’ll need to take the cabinet doors off and sand everything before starting, then go over the wood with a conditioner and two coats of stain.
Try a gel stain, like Minwax’s line, to ensure even coverage. Or, for a different but still modern look, remove the doors of the cabinets and turn the kitchen into an open-shelving layout. You’ll need putty to fill in the holes where the hinges were, and a saw to cut out vertical dividers you don’t want. Then paint and seal for fresh open shelves.
3. Take out a little less
Removing an entire wall to open up your kitchen is expensive, difficult and time-consuming. Save yourself some money and stress by just opening part of the wall to make a pass-through window.
That way you have the feeling of more space but without the hassle. You can get the same effect by pulling out an island instead of ripping out an entire wall; Gilbert says islands really aren’t the preferred style anymore.
4. Just leave it as is
If your kitchen is really terrible or will take a substantial amount of work to modernize it before you sell, just leave it alone. The next person will likely remodel it, Kolb says, so instead of spending all that money to do it on your own, let them handle it.
How to find the right contractor for your kitchen update
As any business person will tell you, the greatest compliment is a personal referral—and that means your neighbors will have the best suggestions of which contractor to use when you’re remodeling. Ask around in your neighborhood, and use sites like Nextdoor to see what companies people in your area would recommend.
Short of that, you have a few other options for finding a contractor.
Angie’s List and Houzz make it easy to find a reputable contractor quickly. It’s simple—on Houzz, you can search by ZIP code or project and find local companies that work on the projects you need done. You’ll be able to see project photos and browse reviews left by people who have used the company.
All the contact information is there, or you can contact them directly through the site. For Angie’s List, you’ll need to fill out a survey about the project you’re working on and a list of matching companies will both be populated on the site and emailed to you.
Local real estate agents
Even more than your neighbors and legitimate websites, local real estate agents are the absolute best resource to find a contractor. Those agents do a high volume of business in your area (plus, you’ll be using one to sell your home anyway) and will have a selection of people they work with to choose from.
“A lot of the contractors come from the neighborhoods we’re working in,” Gilbert said. “There are contractors that live there that know those homes, that have been remodeling those homes for years. They do a great job of keeping up on the trends of the neighborhood. They know how much money to put into those properties because they live there and they’ve been doing those projects.”
Where not to look
Try to stay away from Yelp and Google reviews, Gilbert says. “I tend to find that a lot of those contractors are really expensive,” he said. “Unless you have a higher-value home, you might end up overspending on the contractor, and that’s going to eat a lot into your budget.”
You’ll be disappointed with how much a kitchen remodel adds in value
No matter how you choose your contractor, keep in mind that remodeling your kitchen won’t necessarily be all you want it to be. Move-in ready kitchens are popular, but extensive renovations won’t recoup all your money. Instead of spending a ton of money just to have something ripped out later, opt for cheaper updates with mass appeal. If you’re remodeling to sell, keep it small or skip the project entirely. Every buyer wants something different.