To help control costs when updating your kitchen, use the same layout, make simple style choices and do some work yourself.
By Beth Buczynski
The kitchen may be your home’s most popular room, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most loved. Constant foot traffic means outdated features are always visible, begging to be replaced. But can you afford it?
The average cost of a minor kitchen remodel is $20,830, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2017 Cost vs. Value Report, while a major kitchen remodel could set you back $62,158 on average. The report looked at costs nationally to make what it called “midrange” updates in a 200-square-foot kitchen.
Of course, your dream kitchen could cost more, or a lot less, depending on where you live, the size of your kitchen and the changes you plan to make.
Here’s how to prepare for this popular home improvement project and some tips for controlling costs.
How much does it cost to remodel your kitchen?
In a breakdown of kitchen remodeling costs, cabinetry is the biggest expense (29%), according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
“Cabinets are the workhorse of the kitchen,” says Tennille Wood, CEO and principal designer at Beautiful Habitat in Denver. “The entire floorplan and function of the kitchen is built on them.”
Labor is the second-biggest expense in a kitchen remodel, at about 17% of the cost, followed by appliances and ventilation at 14%, and countertops at 10% of the total.
As well, location plays a big role in the costs of remodeling, Cathy Norman, co-owner of Kitchen and Bath Design Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, said via email.
For example, labor and materials tend to be more expensive in bigger cities where wages and transportation costs are higher.
How to plan your kitchen remodel
Determine the goal. Start by asking “What do I do most in the kitchen?” Christina Starmer, building contractor at CenterBeam Construction in Jacksonville, Florida, said via email. How your kitchen is used should guide design choices, from adding an island to where you’ll hide the trash can.
Then ask, “will this countertop, tile backsplash or flooring be timeless?” Starmer says. Unless it’s your forever home, avoid styles that may not be trendy in a few years.
Create a budget. Make a list of must-haves and want-to-haves and work with a professional to price them. Prioritize the replacement of elements that waste money — like inefficient appliances — or that make your kitchen look dated, like stained flooring. Only when all the must-haves fit into your budget should you splurge on that warming drawer or built-in wine fridge.
Once you have a design and budget, stick to the plan. Clients often want to add things when the contractor is already in the house, Norman says. Soon, what started as a simple kitchen remodel becomes a much bigger project.
Think about ROI. Keeping things simple often means more bang for your buck, especially if you’re remodeling to boost resale value.
A minor kitchen remodel — refinished cabinets, new flooring and a couple of modern appliances — recoups about 80.2% of the cost in increased home value, according to Remodeling Magazine’s report. A major kitchen remodel — custom cabinets, all new appliances, custom lighting and more — will see about 65.3% of the costs returned in a higher home value. With that in mind, decide whether you need a lower-cost refresh or a full remodel to achieve the results you want.
Do your research. Finding the right contractor and materials requires some homework. Take the time to:
- Read credible reviews of products, materials and professionals
- Ask about past projects, including final cost and how long they took to complete
- Contact previous customers to find out if they were satisfied with the experience
- Make sure contractors are bonded, licensed and insured (if required) by asking your local building department or state consumer protection agencybefore hiring them
Get estimates from at least three kitchen remodel contractors, says PJ Golkar, founder of RYZUP Kitchen in San Francisco. Make sure they measure the area, draw up accurate plans and provide a detailed written contract.
Be wary of contractors who give low, ballpark estimates without a thorough inspection, Golkar says. They may be banking on the fact that they’ll have to make a lot of changes later to increase the price.
Tips to make your kitchen remodel more affordable
1. RETAIN THE SAME LAYOUT
Don’t move any existing plumbing if possible, Starmer says. Moving a sink to the opposite wall could mean pulling up your kitchen floor to move the drain line, for example. The same goes for relocating electric or gas ranges, which often add a full day of labor.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE
If new cabinets are a must-have, choose ready-to-assemble or stock models instead of custom options. And resist fancy add-ons like cabinet and drawer dividers, vertical spice racks, and countertop garages. “As lovely as these things may be, they add a hefty expense when you’re on a budget,” Starmer says.
Use a similar approach with appliances: Efficient, mass-market products often cost less than their professional-grade counterparts without sacrificing performance or appeal.
3. DO A LITTLE YOURSELF
If you have the time, tools and know-how, doing parts of your kitchen remodel yourself can trim the cost. For example:
- Remove old cabinets, countertops or appliances before the contractor arrives to reduce labor and disposal costs
- Pick up materials instead of having them delivered to eliminate delivery fees
- Paint walls or door and window frames on your own rather than paying someone else
Be sure to share your DIY aspirations with potential contractors to find out if they’re comfortable leaving some parts of the job to you.
Beth is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. Her work has been featured by the Associated Press and USA Today.