Ask Brian: How Can I Remodel My Kitchen on a Budget?



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Donna in NC: Hi Brian. I just read your column about FHA 203(k) renovation loans for run-down houses. I wish I had known about those before we bought our home nine months ago. We bought what I definitely consider a fixer-upper, but we don’t have the money to upgrade it all at once. Our home was built in 1987 and hasn’t seen a major remodel since the day it was built. I’m sure the carpets have been replaced and the walls painted a few times but that’s about all I think has been done in more than 3 decades. With the new house payments, we’re on a tight budget, but we’d like to start doing a few projects as we can afford them. The kitchen and bathrooms need the most help and we’ve decided to start with the kitchen. We are well aware of how much this can cost but I thought you might have some ideas on how we can do several smaller kitchen projects in sequence as we scrape up the money.

Answer: Hello Donna. Without seeing your old house, I agree the kitchen is often the first place to start when you are on a budget and will be doing most of the house over a period of years. Still, without knowing what you have in mind for your dream kitchen, it likely includes new cabinets, flooring, appliances, countertops, and sink. The total price tag can easily be between $20,000 and $45,000 depending on how much work you do yourself and how much professional help you’ll need. Projects like relocating a stovetop or sink to a kitchen island can be the most expensive. But as you consider what you want in the end, be thinking about your kitchen’s busiest areas, like the sink, stove, and refrigerator that should be positioned for a smooth flow for the cook and others. Kitchen designers often refer to this as the kitchen ‘work triangle.’

Donna, I do think you’re on track by starting with the kitchen because that’s where family and friends gather the most when they visit. So, let’s consider what you can do on a budget today while putting off some major expenses like a kitchen island and appliances for a future time. The biggest bang you can get for a few bucks is transforming the appearance of your kitchen from floor to ceiling. You can sequence this with new flooring, all new paint, upgrading the cabinets, and new lighting.

New flooring. Two modern upgrades to consider are luxury vinyl tile and luxury vinyl planks. Both have made big strides over the past few years to become much better than your mama’s old vinyl flooring. This new flooring uses a relatively simple click-and-lock technology that can be installed right on top of some existing flooring like tile and grout as long as the subfloor is solid. If you put it over old flooring, be sure to use a luxury vinyl that has some thickness like 8mm thick. It’s waterproof, scratch-resistant, and the thicker versions add foot comfort. It comes in a lot of patterns and designs, with a cost that should be $4 per square foot or less. You can probably install it in one weekend, and you’ll might even be able to still cook in your kitchen while the new floor is being installed.

New Paint and hardware. It probably won’t surprise you that fresh paint in a new color can give an old kitchen a completely new look. You can paint the walls, ceiling, and cabinets. Painting the cabinets now creates an impressive but inexpensive upgrade if you plan to replace the cabinets later. Many people are going with milk paint for a decorative finish with an intense depth of color and a low luster. It creates a distressed look that is popular with crafters. Milk paint is rugged and long-lasting. It adheres best to porous surfaces, such as wood; often without priming. For a more complete upgrade to your cabinets, install new handles and knobs. While you are at it, consider adding or replacing backsplashes around the counters. There are many beginner-friendly backsplashes on the market. Consider shiplap or peel and stick vinyl tiles if you aren’t up to the task of installing real tile.

New lighting. Most new kitchen lighting can be added at any time by simply changing out fixtures. Yet, it’s often overlooked for the powerful change it creates to the overall appearance. In fact, changing light fixtures in any room is a great way to help give a space a quick refresh. The right lighting is essential for optimum kitchen function, it also creates an glow of warmth and coziness. You can find all types of light fixtures for almost any budget. Donna, there’s a good chance that your 1980s home has something like recessed canister lighting. For a more modern look, consider fixtures that become features in the kitchen, something that hangs from the ceiling. Depending on your tastes and kitchen design, variations can range from farmhouse glass and wood pendant lights to a chandelier with crystal drops.

Donna, I hope this gives you some good ideas to transform your 1980s kitchen into something you will enjoy until finishing it off with the most expensive upgrades of appliances and countertops. This might not be your complete dream kitchen, but you’ll lose that outdated look without going into massive debt.

What are your sequential kitchen upgrade ideas? Please add your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.