Seven Kitchen Upgrades Worth the Expense

Today I’m at the International Kitchen and Bath show in Las Vegas, the annual event where brands across the world gather to showcase the latest in renovation and design. I haven’t been since before the pandemic so it’s exciting to be here.

Time and again the statistics reflect that kitchens and bathrooms are what sell a home the quickest or in a competitive market. Year after year, kitchen facelifts rank high as one of the best returns on investment in an annual survey of real estate brokers and appraisers.

It’s been my personal experience with the homes I’ve renovated and clients I’ve assisted in the past six years, that it was the remodeled kitchens and bathrooms that added the most value to the home and got the “for sale” properties under contract in less than two weeks. If you’re careful with your budget and don’t over improve the spaces, you’ll get your money back dollar for dollar, and even more. My husband Matt has been a broker and appraiser for over 30 years and he would tell you the same!

In honor of today’s trade show being the hot topic in kitchen and bath design, I’ve written up these tips for those home owners who are considering resale in a few years (not living in their “forever” home) and want to get the most return on their investment and be competitive listing when they go to sell their home. All of these updates will give your kitchen an instant facelift and make it feel fresh.

1. New/Refinished Cabinets & Backsplashes

For the community space that’s the most used in the home, the kitchen space needs to be functional and neutral to attract the most buyers. You do not need to choose a white kitchen with subway tile (although the look is still classic), you can opt for color as long as it’s neutral, think off white, taupe, or soft blue or green grays. Wood has made a comeback in the modern style shaker and slab front cabinets. It’s best to avoid wood stains that have red or yellow undertones, those come across as dated choices and don’t always coordinate with tones in your flooring or backsplash.

It’s not always necessary to replace the cabinets if they are in good condition and you don’t need to alter the layout. You can also choose to replace the cabinet doors and drawer fronts (like we did in this client’s kitchen) and the fresh look is just as nice as new cabinetry.


2. Flooring

The best kitchen flooring is luxury vinyl plank, stone, or tile. The only time I’d ever use hardwood in a kitchen is if it’s original to the house. I find real wood in kitchens to be impractical. Thankfully the wood look waterproof options are incredible due to modern advances, so a vinyl plank or wood look tile will give the look of tile without the risk of water damage. Classic terra cotta, natural stone, or large format neutral tile in kitchens are also lovely choices.


3. Appliances

Outdated or poorly functioning appliances are an eyesore and can cost extra in monthly energy bills. Opting for more efficient, high performance appliances will give future buyers peace of mind. There is a range of price points for appliances, so install new appliances that are in line with the comparable homes in the neighborhood. High end appliances in modest homes won’t always give you a big return on investment.

Stainless steel is still a classic choice, but I’ve chosen slate appliances to pair with darker wood and also white appliances for a light and bright look.


4. Countertops

Quartz is the new standard for renovated kitchens, I can’t imagine choosing anything other than this surface designed for beauty and practicality with its built in resistance to heat, moisture, and chipping. Beautiful stone is always a lovely choice but more of a personal one. Marble is classic too, but more porous and prone to chipping, so I always recommend a subtle marble look or pure white quartz for any client and I also choose those whenever I’m remodeling a kitchen. However, I am always keeping my eye out for other options in neutral tones, I still love the pale olive quartz used in my brother Nate’s kitchen renovation from a few years ago.



5. Faucets

How many times a day do we use our kitchen faucet? Countless. A beautiful faucet is will catch the eye of a prospective buyer. There are so many great faucets to choose from now, ones with attractive shapes and functional sprayers. It’s best to choose one that matches the style of your kitchen space, and you can always thoughtfully mix metal finishes (chrome and black, brass and nickel, etc.) since all metals are timeless.



6. Hardware

Hardware is functional but also the jewelry of the kitchen. Modern shapes give a kitchen a fresher look, and also make a space cohesive when the same style is used on all of the cabinetry. Brass is still the hottest in kitchens right now and has been for a few years, but nickel or black are also classic choices.



7. Lighting

Often overlooked, but one of the most important elements to consider is kitchen lighting. Over the years I’ve removed florescent boxes and replaced with a combination of recessed and task lighting for function. Over sinks and islands or peninsulas is where you can add the decorative drop down fixtures that add both ambiance and style. I’m a firm believer that every kitchen light should have a dimming option for evenings since so often the space is adjacent to a family or living room.

Pendants that complement the style of the kitchen but are an opportunity to add a bit of flair. I chose weathered wood and glass pendants in this kitchen remodel from many years ago to complement the coastal style of the space.


all images shown courtesy of better homes & gardens


There are a few “dont’s” that I keep in mind whenever renovating a kitchen. I never overspend for the neighborhood since the local comps are what will be used to appraise the home when it’s on the market. I don’t add unnecessary upgrades or non-essential luxury items like built in coffee makers, icemakers, or warming drawers, those options are personal to the homeowner or for a more luxury market where those amenities are expected.

I avoid anything too personalized like a bold wallpaper or busy backsplash, and I rarely remove storage, in fact I try to add more. There have been times in the past when I have removed big bulky cabinets that make a kitchen feel cramped and replaced with open shelves. As much as I love the minimalist look of kitchens with no upper cabinets, those are less appealing to prospective buyers who are looking for all the places to store their kitchen dishes and belongings.

Those are the lessons I’ve learned over the years whenever I’ve renovated a kitchen for a home to be sold. Those are the seven updates I believe are worth the expense.

What about you? What’s been your experience good or bad with kitchen remodeling choices?

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