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8 Kitchen Updates That Cost Less But Sell Your House For More

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.

Over the past two years, we’ve spent a lot of time in our homes, and boy, are we ready for a change! According to a survey released in January 2022, 35% of homeowners want to remodel their kitchens because they “can no longer stand” their old kitchens. However, thanks to a surge in the savings rate, 45% of respondents say they’re remodeling now because they “finally have the means to” bring their kitchen update ideas to life.

Regardless of why, renovating your kitchen can be pretty expensive, ranging between $3,600 to $60,000. The national average for a kitchen update is $25,736. Fortunately, if you’re doing a minor kitchen upgrade, you can recoup up to 81% of that cost when you’re going to sell.

This means that if you’re on a limited budget and want kitchen update ideas that aren’t in the five-digit price range, or if you want to find the most affordable kitchen updates with the most significant return on investment, there are plenty of options available.

Here are 8 easy(ish) kitchen update ideas that won’t break the bank but will increase your property’s value.

Considering a Kitchen Upgrade?

If you’re considering upgrading your kitchen in anticipation of a home sale, start with an estimate of your home’s value with our Home Value Estimator.

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1. Revitalize the space with a fresh coat of paint

A new paint job is one of the most straightforward kitchen update ideas every homeowner should do before listing their homes. The National Kitchen and Bath Association reports that the average size kitchen in a newly built house is 161 square feet, or 13’ x 13’, and the project could be completed in a single weekend. First, of course, you’ll need painting supplies and paint.

In terms of color, Liz McCarthy, a top-rated real estate agent in Marin County, California, whose listings sell at an average price point of $1+ million, advises:

“We use Swiss Coffee, but not tan colors. Tan colors tend to have a yellow tone and make things look dated. It’s hard to tell our sellers that when they’ve painted something with a yellow undertone, it’s a brand-new painting. We highly recommend repainting because it looks older, tired, and doesn’t work well with lighting.”

Average range: $150 to $250

Estimated ROI: 107%

2. Don’t forget to paint the cabinets for a complete transformation

Did you know that new kitchen cabinets can cost between $1,860 to $9,187? They can cost a lot more if they’re custom-made. So the more cost-effective alternative is just to paint the cabinets. White cabinets are very trendy right now, but Delaware County’s top-rated agent, Megan Toll, isn’t much of a fan.

“Homeowners don’t realize that if you have kids, they’re a total pain in the butt to clean. We have white cabinets in our kitchen, and I absolutely hate them now. I love the trend that you have darker cabinets on the bottom and the white ones on top because the sticky little fingers aren’t getting all over them.”

She points out that unless you’re staying in the house for the next five to ten years, you have to be mindful of what would appeal to buyers.

Average range: $175 to $2,600

Note: If you plan on painting your cabinets, you’ll want to make sure you use hot water and Murphy Oil Soap to remove any dirt, grime, and grease that may have accumulated over time.

A kitchen with updated cabinets.
Source: (Sidekix Media / Unsplash)

3. Replace existing cabinet hardware

Replacing the hardware on your cabinets is a quick and easy project that makes a significant impact. You can find new cabinet hardware that only costs a few bucks per piece. When you’re choosing what kind of hardware to upgrade to, consider the other metal finishes in your kitchen (like your light fixtures and the faucet).

Kitchen cabinet hardware comes in a wide variety of styles, finishes, and types. Black and polished bronze are popular finishes, but PHCP Pros 2022 kitchen trends predict we’ll see a lot more unlacquered brass, chrome, and polished nickel, copper, and gold.

You can learn more about all the different types of hardware by referring to Wayfair’s guide for choosing the proper cabinet hardware for your kitchen.

Average range: $130 to $275

Estimated ROI:  85% to 100%

4. Shed some light with new fixtures (and bulbs!)

“A lot of times, the light fixtures themselves are dated, so we not only change the light bulbs [to LED], but we change the whole light fixture because it’s a very inexpensive cost that immediately elevates the look. A lot of the time, we use black fixtures with Edison lightbulbs. But, there’s a lot of different styles right now, so it depends on if it’s an overhead light or a hanging light,” McCarthy shares.

If you’re unsure what type of lights you should choose, you can’t go wrong with a simple modern pendant light. Simple pendant lights have clean lines that won’t overpower the overall design of your kitchen. For example, pendant lights work best over a kitchen island (if you don’t have an island, a chandelier will work fine over a table), and recessed lights are preferable in the work areas.

Bob Vila has an in-depth guide that highlights the best under cabinet lighting if you like the look of under cabinet lights but don’t know how to choose between LED strips, puck lights, or bar lights.

Average range: $151 to $894

Estimated ROI:  65%

5. Invest in a new countertop (or refinish existing ones)

Depending on your budget, installing a new countertop could be pretty expensive, especially if you’re opting for high-end materials like quartz, granite, or marble. But, since we’re going over affordable DIY kitchen update ideas, that’s not going to work.

So what other options do you have?

If you have a tile countertop, you have two options: use good old-fashioned elbow grease, a toothbrush, and a grout cleaner to clean the grout so the counters don’t look so old and dirty. Or, you could cover them up with concrete or epoxy.

If you don’t have a tile countertop, there are more ways to cover up the dated countertops:

  • Use a countertop refinishing kit for a durable, stone-look-a-like finish
  • Lay laminate over the existing countertop
  • Use a modular granite (also called stone overlay)
  • Spread a thin layer of concrete over the counter for an industrial look
  • Use a wood overlay to achieve a butcher block look for a fraction of the cost

“White countertop has stayed pretty trendy. You can do a dark gray countertop, and they do look trendy, but they’re not super helpful because they show a lot of water stains,” McCarthy adds.

Average range: $1,851 to $4,309 (new) or $150 to $800 (refinish)

Estimated ROI:  60% to 80%

A faucet in a kitchen that has been updated.
Source: (Callum Hill / Unsplash)

6. Replace the outdated sink and faucet

While you’re working on the countertops, McCarthy recommends replacing the sink and the faucet too:

“Usually, the older-style sinks were an overmount sink, which means it was mounted over the countertop, where you get a lot of crumbs, and gross stuff on the sink, and a lot of those sinks are partition sinks where they have like a little area for what your garbage disposal is. But now, the trend is a farmhouse sink or an under-mount sink. Again, typically stainless steel, because they’re not that expensive, and then add new faucet hardware.” 

Average range: $600 to $2,000

Estimated ROI:  50%

Note: When choosing the faucet, you’ll want to consider the other metals in your kitchen. In addition, you’ll want to make sure they match so your kitchen design is cohesive.

Example of this in action: Amy, a DIY blogger, shared her $650 kitchen renovation and the work she did on her faucet, countertops, and cabinets. The stain Amy put on her counters and the chrome farmhouse-style faucet creates a modern and homey focal point for the entire space. In addition, Amy made simple changes to her counters and faucet to make the kitchen look rich and brand new. Oh, and the house is 175 years old!

7. Jazz up the space with a new backsplash

A backsplash is going to protect your walls from grease and food splatters (when behind the stove) and water when it’s behind a kitchen sink. So, if you don’t currently have a backsplash, now’s a great time to install one. But, what type of backsplash should you opt for? Backsplash.com has an excellent gallery you can browse through for ideas.

“A busier tile is trendy, but it might not appeal to everybody. It’s probably going to appeal to younger buyers, but it might not appeal to the buyers who are downsizing – like baby boomers. They like simple designs. Then again, millennial buyers also like very simple designs,“ reports McCarthy.

Average range: $592 to $1,317

Estimated ROI:  60%

Note: If you want to update your backsplash but don’t have enough in your budget for tiles, you can use a high-quality peel-and-stick backsplash. These typically cost between $6 to $25 per square foot and are incredibly easy to install. Remember that this is a temporary solution that’s a great option if you want to experiment with designs and styles before committing. The jury is still out regarding peel-and-stick backsplashes and how they affect the value of your home. Some say it adds value (albeit not a lot), while others say it can lower resale value.

8. Purchase “new” appliances in a matching finish

Replacing your appliances with new ones can be costly, especially if you’re choosing high-end sets. However, you can find used appliances in excellent condition at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore or discount appliance store. You can even look on Facebook Marketplace for locals who’ve upgraded their appliances and want to sell the old ones.

McCarthy explains, “A lot of times, we look for bargains in used appliances. Say the seller has replaced one or two of the appliances already, so I don’t have to replace every single appliance. For example, if they already have a stainless steel refrigerator, we’ll look for a used stainless steel cooktop or dishwasher.”

Average range: Varies

Estimated ROI:  60% to 80%

A mason jar in an updated kitchen.
Source: (Callum Hill / Unsplash)

DIY kitchen update ideas can add lots of value for little cost

There are many things you can do to make your kitchen look fresh and inviting. Along with the kitchen update ideas above, Toll shares a few other ways you can make your kitchen visually appealing.

“Think of storage, how to make it look clean, and something that they don’t have in their house currently. For example, many people like to use large mason jars to store stuff so that it’s visually appealing. They like to use the same colors throughout so you’re not being hit in the face with different types of motifs. I also suggest clients stay away from patterns and designs for the storage they’re going to put on top of the counters because it looks too busy. I’d rather see a pop of color coming from kitchen towels, flowers, or a fresh bowl of fruit.” 

Ultimately, the name of the game of upgrading some things in the kitchen is to be mindful of who will be there to enjoy it. Toll concludes:

“When it comes to kitchen upgrades, the owner needs to think if they are looking to sell in the next year or two, or is this going to be a house that they’re in for the next five to ten years? The level of upgrades would depend on that. If you’re staying for 15 years, do whatever kitchen upgrades you want to do so that you can enjoy them. If you’re looking to sell within the next 12 to 36 months, look at the small and easy projects that will make the kitchen look more visually appealing and streamline the process.”

Work With a Top Agent to Help Prioritize Kitchen Projects

Real estate agents have seen it all, and if you’re wondering which projects will help your kitchen add the most value to your home, lean into their experience to get your house in great shape before you sell.

Our Agent Matching platform will introduce you to top agents in your area with a track record of selling homes faster and for more money.

Header Image Source: (Aaron Huber / Unsplash)