Judy McLendon of Bay Head, N.J. knows why home sellers often put their money into kitchen renovations. "Redoing the kitchen is probably the best thing you can do," she says.
McLendon should know. She has sold many of her own homes without the help of a realtor. Years ago in Summit, N.J., McLendon was a city council member known for having lived in four homes within a 10-block area, and she enjoyed completing home renovations.
One of the things she learned along the way: Bigger is not always better. The important thing is to have a sensible work space, with the sink and the fridge and the oven "all within a few steps," McLendon says.
Yes, big kitchens have become a status symbol. But home sellers should know that wise buyers will also look at layout. "If they are smart buyers, they would be impressed with the design of a kitchen," McLendon says.
She also says that cost does not have to be crazy. "You can put together a very good-looking kitchen -- and a practical kitchen -- without spending millions," McLendon argues. Our team of experts agrees. So what exactly should sellers do to renovate their kitchens? What is on the to-do list for a kitchen upgrade?
The first step: Look at your kitchen and come up with a candid assessment.
"You have to take a look at what you have first," said Robert Kleinbardt of New Heights Realty in Manhattan. His simple advice: "It's always easier to sell something that's been fixed up."
Kleinbardt thinks that kitchens and bathrooms are still "where you get the best return for your dollar." In fact, kitchen renovations net a higher profit in resale than upgrading the basement or adding on to a deck. But don't go too far or spend recklessly. Kleinbardt cautions against spending $70,000 to fix the kitchen in a $300,000 apartment.
Hitting the same theme, Ainslie Dougherty, a RE/MAX broker in Colorado, said never spend more than 10 percent of the value of a property on the kitchen improvements.
Her first step: de-clutter. "You want to have no more than two things on your counter: your coffee pot and one other item," Dougherty said.
Other tips for kitchen remodeling:
Fix faucets and light fixtures.
"It's a cheap update," Dougherty said. "If they're more than 10 years old, update them."
Replace cabinets -- or at least update them.
If it's not cost-effective to do a complete overhaul, then do a paint job and make less expensive improvements. Kleinbardt remembered a client with so-so cabinets. "Some were in good shape, some were not," the New York realtor recalled. The seller painted the cabinets a nice driftwood gray color. Then new knobs were added to the cabinets, complete with an attractive ceramic design. "There was really a major difference in the way you thought about the place," Kleinbardt said.
Be careful with color.
"Don't say, wouldn't it be cool to have a bright orange kitchen?" Kleinbardt said. When picking colors, think about what will attract the most people.
Think about the function of a kitchen.
"Is there a place to work?" Kleinbardt said. He's seen kitchens with Sub-Zero appliances where there is not enough work space. So he argues: "Get yourself as much work space as you can. The kitchen is a place where we spend a lot of time -- at least most people do. Some people just use the kitchen to heat up the Chinese food."
At least that's the advice from RE/MAX Realtor Bill Gassett in Massachusetts. He said granite is becoming incredibly popular, and often expected in homes selling for $600,000 and above. "That's really one of the hot-button things here," Gassett said. "People really want to have granite in their homes." Gassett shares his expertise on his blog and has written about getting homes ready to sell.
Keep current when picking a style.
Know what's popular in the neighborhood where you are selling your home. Gassett said that currently in Massachusetts, wood cabinets are popular. Lighter cherry, maple, birch are all seen in for-sale kitchens. "The pickled kind of stuff is out," Gassett said. "Real dark is out."
McLendon fixes up houses to live in, not necessarily to sell. But over the years her homes certainly did sell and her renovations made the sales profitable. McLendon believes, and our panel of real estate experts would agree, that a large part of that success was being smart about kitchen renovations.