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4 Tips for DIY Kitchen and Bathroom Makeovers on a Tight Budget

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

If you’re selling a home that’s more than a few years old, chances are you’ve got outdated fixtures, appliances and interior design elements. And it’s your kitchen and bathrooms that will show your home’s age the most.

Refreshing your kitchen and baths remains one of the best ways to see a return on your investment (ROI). In the National Association of Realtor’s 2017 Remodeling Impact Report, kitchen and bathroom renovations top the lists of both what buyers are looking for and what projects have the most resale value.

Still, you can’t expect to make your money back if you invest in a full remodel. As stated in the report, you will only recoup an average of 50% of your expenses on a full bathroom renovation. Kitchen remodels and upgrades will net you a bit more, with a 57 to 62% ROI. That still means you’ll be spending almost twice what you’ll make back when you sell.

And unfortunately, kitchens and bathrooms are some of the most expensive spaces to renovate. According to Fixr, the national average for a full remodel is $20,000 for a 200 square foot kitchen. Bathroom remodels are just as expensive, with a national average cost of $18,000 for a 150 square foot master bath and around $5,000 for a small half bath.

That’s a lot of money to spend on a home that you intend to sell. Which is why, according to a recent study by the National Kitchen and Bath Association, only 19% of homeowners opt for a full remodel.

Instead of going to the expense of gutting your kitchen or bathroom down to the studs, enlist a top-notch agent to help you determine how much work the spaces actually need.

Experienced real estate agent Tom Becker, who ranks #7 of 6,745 seller’s agents in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, GA, gives his sellers a list of home improvement recommendations that will increase the asking price, including kitchen and bath upgrades.

“Installing new faucets, countertops, and appliances can make a big difference. I had a client with an older house built in 1995 and the homeowner did everything I recommended. It might’ve cost the homeowner about $15,000 and we got around $40,000 more.”

You can give your kitchen and bathrooms a brand new look by making a handful of DIY kitchen and bathroom makeovers on a tight budget or hiring a professional to complete a few smaller projects. Let’s take a look at the places that might need work and what you can do to improve them.

1. Clean Up Cabinetry

If you think replacing outdated appliances is the most expensive part of a kitchen remodel, think again. Brand new cabinets can cost up to 50 percent of your budget, so look for ways to salvage your existing cabinetry.

Outdated cabinets may look old, but appearance is no reason to rip out and replace them. There are several ways to restore or salvage sturdy, unbroken cabinetry that’ll be easier on your wallet than replacing them. These same techniques can also be applied to bathroom cabinets and vanities.

One option is to reface your old cabinets. Rather than tearing them out entirely, you’ll simply be replacing the doors and drawer faces while leaving the original cabinet framework in place. A big hurdle with this project is finding faces that will fit your existing cabinets, so measure every piece before ordering replacements.

Create a two-tone effect by selecting doors that complement the color of existing cabinet framework, such as lighter toned doors on a darker base. If you’d rather make them match, add a veneer over top of all the exposed cabinetry framework.

If refacing isn’t in your budget, consider transforming your cabinets by staining or repainting them. Both options require you to scrub and sand down all surfaces first to remove the old finish to ensure the stain absorbs and the paint sticks. You’ll also need to pick the right paint or wood finish that can withstand kitchen splashes and traffic.

However, staining and repainting are time consuming projects that can ruin your cabinets if done incorrectly. You’ll need to avoid leaving streaks, drips, visible brushstrokes or other signs that an amateur did the work. If you’re not confident in your DIY skills, hire a professional to do the job for an average of $800 to $1,200.

Of course, your kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities may not need refurbishing at all. Once cleaned, you might find that the only element dating your cabinets is the hardware.

2. Swap Out Hardware

Just like your choice of tie or necklace changes the look of your outfit, brand new door and drawer pulls can make a cleaned up cabinet look brand new.

For cupboards that have exposed or broken hinges, it’s probably best to hire a professional to do the job at a cost of around $150 to 200. But if your cabinets have hidden hinges and you’re only replacing the handles, all you’ll need is a screwdriver and a little elbow grease.

Cabinetry pulls run from around $2 up to $30 apiece and an average kitchen needs between 20 to 40 door and drawer pulls. This means that you may be able to complete the project for $50 or less.

The only tricky part is picking handles that fit your existing holes. For handles that require two or more screws to hold them in place, you’ll need to measure the distance between them—from center to center. Bringing along one of your existing handles is the easiest way to check if potential replacements will line up. Also ensure that the bases of the replacements cover any wear or damage around the existing holes.

Replacement pulls that don’t line up with existing holes can still be installed, but it will require more work. You’ll need to drill new holes and fill the existing ones with wood filler, creating visible flaws in the cabinetry. Refurbishing or refacing your cupboards can hide these blemishes, so select your replacement hardware first.

Apart from finding ones that fit, you’ll also need to ensure that you pick knobs and pulls that appeal to the largest pool of buyers. Opt for simple, sleek designs that are in keeping with the style of the house. Popular finishes include brushed nickel, stainless steel and oil-rubbed bronze, that should be chosen to match existing fixtures, such as the kitchen sink and faucet. Unless they need replacing as well.

3. Focus on Faucets

Faucets are the main focal points in both your kitchen and bathrooms that buyers use to gauge the condition of the spaces. Rundown fixtures (leaks, water stains, damaged handles, outdated styles and finishes) say that your home hasn’t been updated or well-maintained.

Luckily, faucets are an affordable upgrade, costing anywhere from $80 to 500 for a kitchen faucet and starting around $50 for a bathroom sink faucet. The cost of the faucet itself largely depends upon the finish, style and function.

In the bathroom, you’ll need to replace your shower head, faucets and tub drain as well so that the age, style and finishes of your plumbing all match the new sink faucet. While costs start around $150 for the shower/tub fixtures alone, it’s the installation that’s the big expense.

If you don’t have the skills to DIY it, a plumber will run you an average of $235 for installation of one faucet alone—that’s over and above the cost of the faucet. Luckily, many plumbers charge a flat rate per job so you can save on installation costs by having the kitchen and bath fixtures installed at the same time.

Buy the faucets and fixtures ahead of time to save even more, but make sure you get the right ones. You need to select replacements that match the placement and function of your existing faucets or the installation will cost extra.

For example, don’t purchase a centerset sink faucet with handles attached to the deck plate if your existing faucet has freestanding, wide set handles.

If your faucet purchases don’t line up with the existing holes in your sink or shower, the plumber will likely charge more for custom installation. Or they may not be able to install it at all, which means you’ll need to buy a new faucet and pay for a second installation session.

Kitchen and bathroom makeovers on a tight budget: when to tackle the big ticket items
Image via Holland and Green Architectural Design

4. When to Tackle the Big Ticket Projects

With every fix you make, a transformation takes shape, until it starts to feel like you have a brand new kitchen and bathrooms without the expense of a full renovation. For some homeowners, though, these small improvements highlight the age and wear on the big ticket items that they haven’t changed.

If your new faucets and hardware are tempting you to replace your old flooring, vanity or countertops, take a step back and remember: this won’t be your home for much longer. These minor upgrades are simply designed to make your home more appealing to buyers. Little fixes simply give your kitchen and bath that “brand new” look without the expense of being completely brand new.

But sometimes those big items do need changing. Any major item with visible damage, like worn floors, water-damaged walls or scratched countertops, will need to be replaced by a professional.

New countertops range from $20 to $250 per square foot depending upon the material type and extras like special edgings. Typically, that price includes the cost of installation as well.

For kitchen and bath flooring, the materials and installation costs vary widely depending upon which flooring material you choose. Be sure to pick an easy-clean, water-resistant material like tile or vinyl that can withstand heavy traffic.

In kitchens, old appliances are the biggest eyesore, but it’s not always worth the cost to replace them. Refrigerators and ovens that are in good repair can be refreshed with a thorough cleaning.

But if you’ve got outdated appliances in a high-end home, it’s worth the investment to replace them with modern, stainless steel ones. Just don’t go overboard and buy the most expensive options even for a high end house as you won’t recoup your costs. Stick with mid-range appliances in sizes that fit your existing spaces.

Just remember: don’t invest money in repairs and upgrades without talking things over with your real estate agent first. They’ll know best what buyers in your neighborhood are looking for, so you don’t spend money on the wrong elements. But with your realtor’s advice, you’ll soon be renovating your way toward receiving your best offers.