Saturday, October 8, 2011

Redoing the Kitchen -- Is It Worth It?

     B and I have been having a spirited discussion lately. About our kitchen. She wants to renovate it. She started out with the idea of gutting the whole thing. She'd put in a new floor, new cabinets, new appliances, a new granite countertop, and a fancy new sink and faucet.

     It would cost a lot of money. But she renovated her kitchen in her old house, back in the mid-2000s, and it really improved how the place looked, and paid off when she sold the house in 2007.

The sign on the fridge says: "Out of Order. Do Not Use."
Can you see the cracks in the tile floor?
     I hate to disappoint B. I don't want to argue with her. I want her to have whatever she wants. But all I'm thinking is, oh man, we've already lost so much money on this house of ours -- the house that we bought in 2007 -- do we really want to put yet more money into it so we can lose even more?

     B and I bought this house together in 2007, just as the real-estate market was rolling over. Okay, we both sold our old houses, and had made money from them over the years, but it's still hard to watch the value of this house keep sinking like it's stuck in quicksand. We know what it's worth, because our old real-estate agent sends out a newsletter once every two months, updating us on the price of homes in town, and what's sold in our neighborhood. Besides that, there are these sites on the Internet, like, or, where they list the market value of your house. I know I shouldn't look at these sites. We're not about to sell our house. Besides, their so-called market price is just an estimate ... a wild guess. But I look anyway.

     That's just the point, B tells me. We're not going to sell the house anytime soon. She wants a new kitchen because we hang around the kitchen every day of our lives, and she wants to make our surroundings look a little nicer. Not so we can improve the sale price of our house, but so we can enjoy it while we're here.

     But B is a reasonable person. After we got an estimate to replace the kitchen cabinets, without my even prompting she quickly decided it wouldn't be worth it. "Are they kidding?" she said. "Over $20,000 for cabinets? That's way too much. Besides, our cabinets are perfectly good."

     But she doesn't like the design of the cabinet doors, and even I'll agree that a lot of the door hinges are not working properly. Some of the doors are crooked. The doors are supposed to close by themselves, but a lot of them don't. So we looked into refacing the cabinets. But that would cost almost $15,000, and that seemed outrageous as well.

     So we "tabled" the question of the cabinets. But B was more insistent when it came to the countertop. She doesn't like our countertop. It's not worn out or scratched up or anything. She just thinks it's ugly. It's made out of Corian, which I think is pretty fancy. But it's not as fancy as granite. I suggested to B that she didn't think the countertop was ugly when we bought the house.

     "Yes I did," she replied. "I just didn't say anything about it."

     So we went shopping for granite countertops. They range from about $50 a square foot, to over $100 a square foot. Guess which one B liked the best. And you don't have to have a lot of countertop to start adding up to major dollars -- $3000 or $4000, easy. Then you have to buy a new sink and a new faucet, which ain't cheap either. (I know, because when we moved here in 2007, we replaced the old faucet with a new faucet from Home Depot, for around $200 -- and at $200 it's a cheap faucet that never has worked very well.)

     We were both taken aback by the price of the countertop. I said to B, "You know, I wouldn't mind spending a fortune on a countertop, if I thought we were going to get some of it back when we sold the house. But our house is worth, probably $100,000 less than what we bought it for in 2007. Do you think a new countertop is going to make the house worth any more?"

     "No, I don't," she replied honestly. "But we will enjoy the countertop for as long as we live here. And when we do get ready to move, a nice countertop will make the house more saleable. We probably won't get more money. But we will be able to sell it."

     I thought about the issue for a few moments. "Yeah, we will enjoy the countertop. But I don't think I'll get $3000 or $4000 more enjoyment out of granite than I would out of an old-fashioned Formica countertop. I mean, either way, you set your dish on the counter. End of story. They both work equally well."

     B looked at me balefully. "You don't want a Formica countertop."

     "You know, I don't understand it," I said. I was getting exasperated. "My parents weren't rich, but they were solidly middle class. They were satisfied with their station in life -- in fact, they thought of themselves as pretty well off. But they never had a granite countertop. They never had anything but Formica. And they still managed to get through life quite comfortably."

     B looked at me. "I know what you're saying," she replied understandingly. "But that was then. This is now. Don't you remember when we were looking at houses? You were the one who looked down your nose at a house that had Formica countertops."

     "Yeah," I laughed. "But that was in 2007. That was then. This is now!"

     And I meant it. Back in the housing boom, everyone wanted a granite countertop ... because they never really thought they'd have to pay for it. But now, when homes do not appreciate, you really do have to pay for the countertop -- and I wonder if Formica won't become fashionable again.

     The same goes for linoleum floors, versus wood or tile floors. I think my parents did finally have a tile floor in their kitchen -- when they moved to the retirement complex in Florida. But it's not as if they required a tile floor in their kitchen for them to be happy. They were perfectly satisfied with linoleum floors. I grew up with a linoleum floor. I never felt disadvantaged because of our linoleum floor. I never felt like we were the poor people in the neighborhood. I never suffered injury or aesthetic insult because of our linoleum floor.

     Yet when we stopped by the floor store and asked to see linoleum, the clerk looked at us as if we were on welfare. Still, I wonder if linoleum floors will make a comeback ... you know, now that people actually have to pay for their floor.

     Finally, we have the appliances. We bought a new dishwasher when we moved here -- the old one gave up the ghost. But B had a vision of a new cooktop and a new oven -- the one we have, according to her, doesn't heat evenly and the temperature gauge isn't accurate. But when we gave up the idea of the new cabinets, she gave up the idea of a new oven.

     We still need to get a new refrigerator. The old one is ... well, it's kind of old (duh). And it's small, and the icemaker doesn't work.The problem is, if we want to get a full-size refrigerator, then the cabinet above it has to be changed -- and we're back to changing the cabinets again!

     Yesterday, B's son came home from college for the long weekend. This morning B and I were standing around the kitchen, trying to decide if we needed to make a trip to the tile store. "Oh, you're still talking about redoing the kitchen?" asked B's son. I think he was smirking as he made his inquiry.

     "Yes, of course," answered B.

     "I thought you'd given up on that idea," he said. He looked around. "I've been gone for quite a while ... but nothing's happened."

     "There are a lot of decisions to make," said B defensively.

     "I know, I know," he said dismissively. "It's just that you guys seem to be moving even slower than usual."

     "Well, it's complicated!" we both said, in unison.


Rubye Jack said...

That's funny. I remember 2007 as the year I retired from a good job thinking I would find another when I came back from a 6-month vacation. Big mistake! I don't think many of us will forget 2007. Ah well...

June said...

I am . . . . . . frugal.
If you need a new refrigerator, get one. And by all means, get a full size one. But skip the ice maker (why have to replace a whole appliance because the in-door ice maker doesn't work?), and put a plant shelf over the new fridge. Voila!
Or, you could shop upstate where we're all poor and prices are lower...
....or this place we got our cabinets from in one of the Dakotas. They're gorgeous, and practically custom-made. You'll need three or four gorilla size men to unload the parts from the truck and you'll have to put them together, but you'll save a LOT of money.

Olga said...

When I moved into our house, I loved the kitchen. Now it looks exactly those featured on the HELP-My-Kitchen-is-a-DISASTER shows. I still love my kitchen, though. Frankly, you could not pay me to have granite counter tops. Way too fussy to maintain and every time I dropped a dish or a glass (which I do often) it would be in pieces and shards. And stainless appliances--really I have better things to do than wipe fingerprints all day long. I do like an ice maker and My next fridge will have one of those. I don't think I'll go for the built in computer or TV.

Caro said...

Corian is not only cheaper than granite, it can be repaired if it's chipped or cracked. Granite has to be replaced.

Nance said...

Oh, does this ever resonate!?

Like you, we've been debating our house forever. And acting on our decisions, only to have the ground shift under us. Sell? buyers. Drop the price? Okay...but the market just dropped even faster. Stay and renovate? Look at those prices!!

I think we'll have to settle for painting our cabinets and replacing the hardware, maybe having the floors refinished, replacing appliances as they die with something a little more stylish. And style is the issue. We've been taught the refined art of dissatisfaction.

Somebody should Occupy HGTV.

Anonymous said...

You guys live on Long Island, right? I can tell.

First off, granite is out. Do your research. Some granite (it's rock, stone, etc.) emits radon. Some people have had to rip it out of their kitchens because of the radon gases.

Everything is relative. We Americans try to emulate the Europeans and have stone, marble etc. counter tops. In reality, marble, stone, granite is CHEAP in Europe, esp Italy, so the rich people in Italy have rich kitchens with FORMICA. Duh? Go look in a european decorating mag!

Have you looked at the new innovations in formica? Amazing. Some even look like granite but without the price tag. Plus, there are new paints out on the market that you can paint over formica if in the future you don't like it any more. Double duh.

As for linoleum floors, again more innovations at 2/3 LESS the cost are floating floors in tile or linoleum. I wanted a linoleum floor in my bathroom because I couldn't afford tile. The linoleum was $500! for a little bathroom, which is equal to tile in $$. As we were walking out of Home Depot, the saleslady called us back to show us this new floating floor stuff. It only cost us $150. Done and triple duh.

Your cabinets look good. Just repair and repaint them. Put in a formica countertop and replace whatever appliances need to be replaced with just basic models.

As a former Long Islander, I understand the urge for keeping up the appearance. When it comes time to sell your house all that will matter is price and can they get a mortgage. Make your house/kitchen as cost effective as you can for as least money as possible. Get off the house trap.

Do you know how many people in America don't even have a kitchen? Let alone fight over the decorating of it?

Good luck.

Janette said...

If you are sold on granite- go to granite tiles. They are large tiles of thinner granite. My sister has it. Looks excellent.
We are struggling over the bath ourselves. is difficult to justify since our house has also lost about $100,000. We are saving bit by bit. It is something we want for ourselves. We really need an accessible bathroom for the future.
We are thinking of having a family gathering and doing it all ourselves. Between the kids and my bil- we have every skill that we need for a good finish.
Maybe next spring.

Bob Lowry said...

My wife and I have a tiny kitchen, not much bigger than a galley on a boat. We bump into each other when cooking. There isn't much counter space. The refrigerator is small by HGTV standards. The cabinets are from the 80s..makes sense since the house was built in '83.

We aren't changing a thing. When something breaks we'll replace it. But, we'd rather spend our money on things that improve the quality of our life, not simply its appearance.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

Many things need doing at our house. We have decided it will be a handyman's special when it is sold. if you don't have the $$ you don't have the $$. Dianne

PS this is going to work, Hooray!!

Sightings said...

Thank you all for your encouragement, discouragement & understanding regarding my kitchen. Esp. Dianne who apparently has had troubles making any comment on my site. Blogger does have its eccentricities.

Anyway, now I know that I'm not crazy -- or, at least, the fact that I'm looking askance at this kitchen redo doesn't prove I'm crazy. Guess the jury's still out on all other matters.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Ahh, the "kitchen remodel" debate. My husband and I had that conversation for ten years before we made the change (translation-- I won the argument). The kitchen is the heart of our home so it was money well spent.

But... it's expensive and there are always "extras" that pop up with a remodel so good luck if you decide to go for it. It's a big investment.


x said...

Do it for yourself! I redid the tile backsplash in my kitchen last year and it made a huge improvement in my mood and everything I've cooked since! Stainless steel appliances (which came with my apartment) are a pain to keep clean, every fingerprint shows...totally not worth it.
As for the granite, I love it, drop glasses and jars on it, they break, I curse and clean it up. If you go that route, forget the granite tiles. Cleaning between grout lines is not fun.
Don't forget about the lighting!

Anonymous said...

Here's what my kitchen looks like:

I have maple cabinets, a formica countertop and all my appliances are white on white, which are standard floor models. WE painted the walls with a sunny yellow and gave it an Italian, Tuscan feel. I did replace the linoleum floor with bamboo flooring (For $750) which made the room look better. I also extended the flooring into the adjoining living room for another $750 and only updated that room with a brown leather chair.

My husband and I are gourmet cooks and use our kitchen to make 3 meals a day plus snacks/bakery stuff/appetizers. We host many family get-to-gethers and parties (kitchen opens up to a deck).

Nobody once complained or even noted we didn't have granite countertops or stainless steel appliances. All that mattered was the quality of the food and attitude of the attendees. In other words, everyone is happy and well fed. My husband and I don't have to impress anyone.

Anonymous said...

Kitchen countertops created of granite tiles are an extremely excellent solution for anyone who wants to have a sophisticated and elegant atmosphere in their kitchen while still having privacy and warmth.

Lucie said...

Ahhh well I am with B... if you "live" in the kitchen make it over but do it yourself when you can. I was sold on granite as well until I heard you had to seal it. I switched to quartz where it really is maintenance free.

I have to admit, I would have a hard time with linoleum. Reminds me of leaving the plastic on the lampshades to "keep the dust off".

Dick Klade said...

My beautiful wife thoroughly researched granite vs. quartz, and went with quartz. We started our kitchen remodel a year ago. It's about 90 percent done. So is my bank account.

Terry said...

Lol! I so understand your wife! DH and I recently visited two acquaintances that had kitchens to die for. I left their homes feeling....poor.

We actually have Formica countertops, white appliances and thermafoil cabinets. The Formica is supposed to look like granite, but it's not fooling anyone.

Everything in our kitchen works perfectly fine and nothing needs replacing. I catch myself looking at kitchen upgrades with lust. But when a new nickel faucet costs over $200. The lust disappears. I also grew up with Formica, avocado green appliances and linoleum and we are all fine. Most of my friends who couldn't live without the upgrades are heavily in debt. I agree with the others, if everything works, don't replace it, save your money, I don't think we've seen bottom yet.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a house and the kitchen was remodeled with new appliances and granite countertops. It looks so good, but that is what sold me on the house.

Robbie Marinero said...

Kitchen remodeling may take quite some time, and it can be costly. However, it can be a fun and challenging experience at the same time. Moreover, using granite for your kitchen can definitely add to its beauty. =)

Paul said...

Granite countertops are a great way to attract buyers if you are remodeling to sell. They have a timeless quality that is unmatched. Anyway that you can help your property standout will give you an advantage.

Anonymous said...

We're looking in to doing over our 70s kitchen. We have learned that we don't need granite, quartz is very durable and costs less. For cabinets, all wood construction, but within that, you can buy mid-range quality. Save money by not moving any major plumbing, etc. I don't understand why people love tile--everything you drop breaks, or else the tile cracks, or both. Some of the high quality vinyl/linoleums look beautiful, and they're much more forgiving.

Beware of faucets from big box stores--many look like the high end faucet from the same manufacturers, but the innards are plastic. A plumber refused to install one we had bought, and sent me to the plumbing supply store. They had the exact same faucet, but all brass, etc., that plumbers would buy. And it cost less than the one we purchased at Home Depot!

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I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

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