According to Remodeling magazine, the national average for a full kitchen remodel is $54,909.
As some one who invests in real estate and remodels a lot, I have never been able to get my mind wrapped around this, considering that the national median income is only around $51,000.
The average full kitchen remodel is defined as:
“Update an outmoded 200-square-foot kitchen with a functional layout of 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, including a 3-by-5-foot island; laminate countertops; and standard double-tub stainless-steel sink with standard single-lever faucet. Include energy-efficient wall oven, cooktop, ventilation system, built-in microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal and custom lighting. Add new resilient flooring. Finish with painted walls, trim and ceiling.”
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My average kitchen remodel usually comes in at less than half this national average cost. (Remodeling magazine also reports that a major kitchen remodel returns an average of $40,732.) Here’s how you can save money on your kitchen project and turn your effort into a positive gain in home equity without sacrificing quality:
1. Start with your design. Figure out the layout you want for your kitchen. A simple and sleek design will help keep costs down. Keeping your existing layout is always cheaper. Avoid moving plumbing and electrical items if possible – at least try to keep your stove (especially gas stoves) and sink in the same location.
2. Try to pick an overall theme – country, modern, rustic, etc. This will help you select materials and ensure everything comes together properly. Have a good idea of the look you want before you go into a design center or talk to contractors.
3. Get a design early and plan ahead. Cabinets can take six weeks or more to be delivered. You don’t want to have your kitchen torn apart while you’re waiting for an item to be delivered.
4. Once you have a very good idea of what you want, sit down and write up a good detailed list of tasks that you want completed. You don’t have to be technical and you don’t have to use construction terms but just state all the things you want a contractor to do and bid. It can be as simple as: remove all existing flooring and cabinets; install new flooring, cabinets, countertops, sink and appliances per the plan; paint; hook up sink plumbing; and install new light fixtures.
5. When you start talking to contractors and designers, you may find additional work is required. That’s OK. It’s easy to update your list and resend to all the bidding contractors. Otherwise, the various contractors will list the items they believe you want and it will be difficult to compare bids. A basic scope of work also eliminates some guess work by the contractor.
6. Ask your contractors to line-item their bids as you’ve categorized the items. This, too, will help you compare costs and refine your plan.
7. Try to select the materials yourself. Asking a contractor to supply big-ticket items such as flooring, cabinets, countertops and appliances leaves them with a huge range to guess on, and there is a chance you’ll end up paying the contractor an additional fee on top of the supplied costs.
8. Don’t select cabinets based on name brands. Cabinets are a huge expense. There can easily be a $15,000 difference between designs and manufacturers for 30 linear feet of semi-custom cabinets.
You can get a very good cabinet for a fraction of the cost of some of the big-name manufacturers. Most cabinet makers will provide similar warranties. Check with your supplier.
9. You should look for cabinet boxes made of furniture-grade plywood. Doors and drawer fronts should be made from a solid wood frame surrounding a panel, and I prefer a solid wood panel. Furniture-grade plywood panels are OK as long as it looks good, but avoid laminated particle board.
10. Drawers should be constructed of solid wood with dovetail joinery and a plywood bottom that is tightly fitted into a groove in the side of the drawer. I also look for a good slide and soft-close feature. Shelves should be made of at least a half-inch furniture-grade plywood.
11. Choose the countertop wisely. My top choice is granite. Countertops are one of the first things people notice in your kitchen. Formica or other laminate is almost always a turn-off to potential buyers. Granite is granite, so there is no significant quality difference in the stone. You can easily pick a $20 a square foot granite and get the same look as $45 a square foot granite.
12. Watch the installation costs. When it comes to granite, the supplier will almost always do the install. I’ve found that some suppliers advertise really cheap per square foot costs but then they jack up the installation costs. Make sure you get a full bid from the suppliers you visit.
13. When it comes to cabinets and countertops, try going to one of the many small local suppliers. Shopping around with these shops can often save you thousands vs. what you’ll pay at home-improvement stores. And you are much more likely to be dealing with just one person.
14. Low-priced flooring may be just as good as the costly kind. Tile and hardwood can easily range in cost from $1 a square foot to $15 a square foot or more. I find that I can get a very good look in a home with a $2 or $3 a square foot tile.
15. For tile, I normally go to the big home improvement stores. Big retailers normally have the best price on tile, but their selection is limited. Avoid using real stone if you’re cost-conscious. Good prices on hardwood can be found at one of the surplus or overstock warehouses.
16. Make sure you get four or five bids. Be wary of any bid that is too cheap or too expensive.
17. Have contractors line item their bids and closely compare the items. If one of the items varies greatly in price from bid to bid, then you may not have properly explained your needs.
18. Getting the best price on labor is not always about just finding the right contractor. It’s about finding the right contractor at the right time. If a contractor happens to be busy, he’ll probably still give you a price but he probably won’t give you the best price. So always get multiple bids from reputable contractors.
19. If you have a choice, try timing your project after the holiday rush but before the spring thaw. This is typically contractors’ slowest time of the year, and they’ll appreciate having indoor work.
20. Big retailers will provide you with local contractors. This is almost always the more expensive option, but it does provide you with an additional layer of protection.
Justin Pierce is a real estate investor who regularly writes about his experiences buying, renovating and selling houses in the Washington area.
Plan remodel in advance
Kitchen remodels are never painless. This is a time when you will not be able to use a vital portion of your home. Starting to plan your remodel months in advance is key to finding the best price on materials and mitigating the stress of the construction process.
Have a plan, start early and work with good people and you can save thousands of dollars and immeasurable stress. In the end, you’ll not only have a beautiful kitchen to enjoy but also add significantly to your home’s value.