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Update Your Kitchen For the Best Return on Your Investment

by Caitlin Kelch

This post is sponsored by Travelers Insurance. All words and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting our sponsors who help bring you original content every day!

We’ve seen our share of amazing before & afters here at Design*Droits-Humains and, after a little bit of research in our archives, I’m pleased to report that the number of smaller “updates,” as opposed to full-scale renovations, is much higher than I expected. With some planning, saving and good old-fashion DIY muscle, those of us without massive budgets can make a big impact happen ourselves. The reason for my research? I needed to create a budget for some general updates as well as some more major repairs for my own home. I wanted to make sure that I would be prioritizing and budgeting in a way that would eventually help me get the biggest return on my investment when my daughter heads off to college and I sell my home.

Since this is the first home I’ve actually purchased, and my new-home search was quick and dirty, I knew I needed to find out what the data out there said regarding home improvements and their relationship to resale value. And yep! I do indeed work on the business side here at D*S, so my need for knowledge in this area is not at all shocking to my colleagues (wink, wink)! My plan was always to purchase a home that wasn’t exactly a fixer-upper, but that could use some updates to go along with the other good selling points of the house, like its post & beam structure, serene privacy and access to the local park and downtown.

We’ve lived here for two years this July and have settled in comfortably, but now’s the time to get serious about some home improvements. Thanks to my handy Time-Life home improvement book set from the 1970’s that my mother passed down and resources like the , I’m getting a real sense of how things are built and, therefore, how to evaluate DIY versus handyman versus licensed contractor projects. I’ve tackled some projects myself already, like re-caulking all the outside windows. I had no idea that what seemed like a simple project like caulking would cost so much if I hired someone else to do it.

When I visited the , I learned that kitchen improvements are the number one way to pump up your resale value and recoup most of the costs of the project. It’s said that everyone ends up hanging out in the kitchen at get-togethers and parties and, apparently, the same is true when homebuyers tour homes for sale. It’s that nice, neutral spot where people tend to linger if the house is likely to end up on the buyers’ short-list. This is where my affinity for data comes in! I found out on the Travelers site that, according to a recent study done by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), it’s true what conventional wisdom has always held – that kitchens, do indeed, sell homes in most cases.

The kitchen also happens to be one of the more expensive areas to take on in the home improvement realm. The good news is there are some very useful tips to consider when thinking about a complete renovation versus a well-thought out upgrade. And remember – home improvement projects not only help you when you’re selling your home and appealing to new buyers, but they can also make your home a more enjoyable place for you to live.

The study I referred to, by the way, actually ranked the most likely to provide the best value to the home for resale. So if you spent $10K on a kitchen update, you’d probably recoup around 65% (or $6,500) of the money you spent on it in the final selling price of your home. Today we’re sharing some tips on how to improve your home now for your own pleasure that will pay off when it’s time to sell.

Image above: Ashley and Luke Mayes’ beautiful renovated kitchen in their Springfield, MO home. Photography by .

Tip 1: New Paint & Lighting Can Transform a Room

The kitchen shown above is small and probably would not wow any prospective homebuyers. However, with minimal expense, unifying the space by playing up the contrasts with a fresh coat of white paint, new hardware and a statement light fixture tells buyers you’ve made the most of the space you have, you’ve kept it neat and updated. That leaves a good impression that the care you’ve shown in this tiny space extends throughout the home. It feels fresh and, suddenly, all of its awkwardness has become charming and full of character. It’s also neutral enough for the prospective buyers to imagine a total redo of the space should they have the means.

Image above:  Alison Allen is the genius behind the kitchen above! She completely transformed her Minneapolis kitchen into a beautiful & functional space. See more of Alison over at her blog  . Photography by .

Tip 2: Everyone Loves Shiny & New

Image above: Anna and Austin Smith renovated their Minneapolis kitchen to a show piece thanks to Anna’s professional interior design skills. Visit her professional site ! Photography by .

This fixer-upper kitchen was designed in a classic way that isn’t likely to go out of style any time soon. Incorporating details like a new drop-in sink, a hexagon tile backsplash and shiny new appliances that can be shined up again when the owner moves on, this space is another great example of fresh and neutral that’s likely to attract homebuyers when the time comes.

Tip 3: Don’t Be Afraid To Rearrange a Space

Image above: Ashley and Luke Mayes’ beautiful renovated kitchen in their Springfield, MO home. Photography by .

Aside from the dated wallpaper and border, this kitchen had a spatial disadvantage because the refrigerator and stove were directly next to the dining room entryway. By detaching some lower cabinets and swapping them with the stove, there was the opportunity to create a side-by-side appliance wall with the addition of some new cabinetry for the refrigerator. Adding in some modern shelving and a sleek cabinet paint job, the room suddenly feels upscale, modern and custom – perfect to entice new home buyers who want a move-in ready home for entertaining.

If you’re itching to do some improvement projects that will eventually help you sell your home and recoup a good portion of the cost of those improvements, you should learn about the other two spaces that top the list for the best return on your investment. Over on the you’ll find a lot of good information (and data!) from the pros who study this stuff to help educate their customers and provide a great set of tools to make sure their customers’ current or future homes are not only protected with insurance coverage, but can help them increase the value of their homes when it’s time to sell. If you haven’t guessed or have no idea what the other two rooms are that provide the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to home improvements and resale value, hop over to the Travelers site to find out!

I’d love it if you’d share what sold you on your home when you were house shopping. Let me know in the comments if you would! –Caitlin


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  • My main criteria when house hunting are location, light, layout, size and orientation of rooms and condition of the building. Other things can be changed – dated kitchens, daggy carpets, paint colours etc but these criteria are either not possible or very expensive to make changes to. And some compromise is ALWAYS necessary!

  • We were renting a house in a hip part of Oakland when the landlord jacked up the rent by 10%. This motivated us to begin shopping for a home of our own. Our realtor called to tell us about a house with a yard that was more like “a small farm”. We love to garden so this was a big draw. My husband drove by the place on his way home from work that day and fell in love with the huge redwood tree in the front yard. The stars aligned from there. The open house happened over 4th of July weekend, which meant fewer potential buyers toured the house. The previous owners did little staging so the photos didn’t show well online. In the crazy Bay Area market we were lucky that ours was one of just two offers. It’s been three years ago this week that we saw the house for the first time. We’ve made some (mostly cosmetic) updates and put in some sweat equity in the house and garden. We’re hoping to make some more significant changes in the next year or so, including adding a bathroom and renovating the kitchen. Living here has been wonderful, which is largely due to our great neighbors, and the garden which was the initial attraction to the property. We sometimes miss the hustle bustle of our last neighborhood, but we figure we save a lot of money without the temptation of cool restaurants within walking distance. Plus it’s pretty amazing to hear owls calling to one another in the evening.

  • Interesting post and great looking kitchens! I think the example for Update #1 Paint & Lighting is more of a butler’s pantry off a main kitchen, rather than a very small kitchen.

  • Renovating the kitchen is quite cool and exciting. Since the kitchen should become one of the most pleasing, organized and neatly arranged parts of the house. Thank you for sharing useful ideas. Please keep posting

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