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Behind the Scenes: No-cost kitchen updates 

Posted by Johnine Larsen on December 20, 2019
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December is a slow month for real estate (although winter is a great time for motivated buyers), so we’re busy preparing listings for January. We’re working on one house right now that needs a bit of TLC before we put it on the market. 

Part 1: How we prep a listing 

Part 2: No-cost kitchen updates (this post)


We’re putting some serious time and money into renovating the kitchen in this listing, but remodels like this one don’t really “cost” money—they’re an investment. The seller will be able to list her house for a higher price after we’re done, which will more than cover the money put in to the updates.

This isn’t true in all cases. That’s important to know. You can’t update willy-nilly and expect a an enthusiastic future buyer to make up for the remodel cost. Turning the master suite into an upscale palace, for instance, only provides a 50.4% ROI on average. If you’re updating or remodeling to increase your home’s value, you should do so judiciously. The easy way to make sure it’s worthwhile is to ask us, but here’s a longer explanation based on this particular home.


The Problem

This house isn’t in great shape. It’s not just passé; it’s problematic. It’s one thing to have last decade’s paint, an out-of-fashion backsplash, or ten-year-old appliances—update them if you’ll enjoy the change, but don’t update with hopes of recouping all your money and more. Minute style choices depend so much on an individual homeowner’s taste that your gorgeous, expensive updates might be the first thing on a buyer’s list to replace once they move in. If it’s just a matter of just being “pretty,” the update might not be worth it.

But this house’s problems went beyond fashion. The walls and floors were damaged, and the cabinet situation… five different cabinet styles had been cobbled together over the years, which goes beyond a matter of taste. That’s an in-your-face sign of incomplete projects, which gives the entire house an “unfinished” feel. And THAT deters buyers. So, too, did the canary yellow paint. Garish colors like that aren’t just “last decade’s style”—they’re they current owner’s particular preference that does not appeal to the average homebuyer. Quite the opposite.

So we had on our hands a house with a kitchen that wasn’t just unfashionable—it was a turnoff that reflected poorly on the rest of the house.


The Goal

We wanted to make updates that would (1) come close to paying for themselves on their own and (2) raise the overall home value to more than make up any remaining costs.

Kitchen updates in general are a pretty good place to invest your remodeling dollars. According to one recent survey, 80% of homebuyers ranked the kitchen in their list of top three most important spaces. Of buyers who bought homes without certain features, 69% of those surveyed said they would have paid more for new appliances, and 55% said they would have paid more for granite counters.

Getting down to the actual ROI for a minor kitchen remodel, the national average is 81%, but that jumps up to 93% in the Pacific area of the country. That’s a promising start. Already, we were looking at recouping most of the money we put into the kitchen.

But what about that remaining 7%? We touched on this earlier: how the canary yellow and hodgepodge cabinets deterred buyers by prejudicing them against the rest of the house. There’s no statistic or objective rule for determining this; that sort of knowledge only comes from experience. But after almost 30 years of showing buyers around thousands and thousands of houses, we’ve developed a sixth sense for what shuts down prospective buyers. Some things, like this kitchen, makes buyers walk right out the door. This kitchen would make other buyers classify the house as a “fixer upper,” something they would rank below otherwise comparable homes and wouldn’t offer top dollar for—or even average dollar. We knew that updating the kitchen would improve buyers’ impressions of the rest of the house, which would easily let us raise the listing price to recoup the cost of updating (and then some).


The solution

We got to work. We cleaned up the floor, repainted the walls, tore out the eclectic cabinets and installed a new, matching set of cabinets. We even spiffed up the appliances, too. It’s now a kitchen that will no longer deter buyers and drag the price down—instead, it’ll do that opposite. How’s that for no-cost?

We’ll share more updates about the rest of the remodel process!

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