7 Ways to Save Money (and Your Sanity) on a Kitchen Renovation
Life + Money

7 Ways to Save Money (and Your Sanity) on a Kitchen Renovation

As home values continue to climb and the labor market improves, more Americans are feeling comfortable spending money to improve their homes. Consumer spending on residential remodeling increased 4 percent in the first quarter of 2016, representing the strongest quarter since the first quarter of 2014, according to MetroStudy.

Kitchens are the top home renovation project for homeowners, comprising nearly a third of the market. That makes sense, since kitchens have become multi-purpose rooms, where homeowners not only prepare food but also socialize, entertain and even work. Two-thirds of those surveyed by Houzz said that they spent three or more hours a day in their kitchen.

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“The kitchen is the heart of your home, so it gets the most attention for remodeling,” says Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “But they’re also one of the most expensive rooms to redo.”

The average spend on a new kitchen is up 12 percent, with a major renovation averaging $26,400 to $50,700, depending on the size of the kitchen, according to Houzz.

The renovations may take a toll not only on your bank account but also on your mental health. Juggling contractors and having unfinished projects and workers in your home can make for stressful times. With proper planning, though, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Follow these steps to get through a kitchen remodel as painlessly as possible — and without getting ripped off.

1. Make a budget first. As a general rule, you can expect a kitchen remodel to run about 10 percent of your home’s value, but there will be significant variation based on the materials you select and whether or not you’re making a change to your current kitchen’s layout. Add in an extra 10 percent or so to cover unforeseen expenses, more if you have an older home. If you don’t have the cash to cover the costs, you may be able to borrow funds with a home equity loan or line of credit. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re selling the home soon you won’t get a dollar-for-dollar return on your investment, no matter how nice the finished product. 

2. Thoroughly vet your contractor. Get recommendations from friends or family and interview at least three contractors. Look for a local contractor that has been in business for a few years and who specializes in kitchens.

Ask them to be as specific as possible about their plans for the kitchen, how they’ll handle change orders or cost over-runs, and when they realistically expects to start and finish the project. Then ask for references and proof that they’re licensed to perform the work that they’ve promised, and check the Better Business Bureau to make sure there hasn’t been a pattern of complaints or issues with previous clients.

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Most contractors expect homeowners to negotiate, so ask whether there’s any wiggle room on the price. Home renovation is hot right now, however, so good contractors may be picking from multiple projects and less inclined to cut you a deal than they may have been a few years ago. The best contractors will guarantee their work and provide a contract that spells everything out in writing.

3. Don’t go too trendy. Since most homeowners only redo a kitchen once every 15 years or so steer clear of going for an overly trendy design that could look dated before you’re ready to go through the expensive process again. If you’re dying to go hip with your design, look for elements that would be easier to replace down the road, such as the backsplash or fixtures.

For the rest, go classic. Stainless steel appliances are still requested by most homeowners, and granite remains the top choice for countertops, although quartz continues to trend upward, according to Angie’s List. 

4. Don’t over-improve. If you’ve got the room in your budget, it can be tempting to go for the highest-end appliances and materials. However, if you make improvements that go far beyond the character of your neighborhood, you can probably expect a lower return on investment. If you’re planning on remaining in your home for the foreseeable future, the return on investment may be less important, but it’s still worth considering when you’re planning your project. 

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5. Keep your current footprint. If you’ve got a tight budget, one way to keep costs in check is to make only minimal changes to the layout of the kitchen. You’ll pay a lot less to simply replace your cabinets, appliances and floor than to shift the location of your stove or sink, since that requires moving gas lines, pipes and electricity.

6. Stick to the plan. Before the renovations start, work with your contractor to get a general timeline for how the project will progress. Discuss in detail the design that you want, including selecting finishes and materials. It’s worth it to spend more time in the planning stages, in order to minimize potential change orders once the project starts. “One of the main reasons people end up going over budget or beyond their schedule is that they change their mind in the middle about what they want to do,” says Nino Stitchinava, a principal economist with home improvement website Houzz.

7. Have a plan for dining during the renovation. The average kitchen renovation takes five or six weeks, so you’re going to need a plan in place to temporarily prepare meals. “One expense people don’t factor in is that you’re going to have to eat out a lot,” says Debra Cohen of Home Remedies of NY Inc., a contractor referral business.

Your contractor can help you set up a refrigerator and microwave else in your house. Plan ahead by preparing some large, freezable meals ahead of time that you can heat up when you kitchen’s not useable. The beauty of doing a kitchen renovation over the summer is that you may be able to dine al fresco and use a Bar-Be-Cue to prepare some meals. Just remember that you may not have access to a dishwasher, so this might be a good time to invest in paper plates.