How would you update this 1997 kitchen?

lilymilaJune 7, 2013

My dad is retiring this year and my mom will retire in 3 years. They will probably sell their house soon after retirement. What can they do to refresh this kitchen before placing it on the market? My advice to them is to rip out the wall paper and paint the wall a neutral color, change out the gaudy looking gold hardware for brushed nickle, and replace the fluorescent light.

My question is the countertop. Its this awful bluish fleshy laminate that is trying to imitate granite, but it isn't fooling anyone. What are some of the cheap granite that could complement the natural maple cabinets shown in the picture? I am more of a quartz person, but they are going to sell this place in 3 years, so no point in putting in something on the expensive side.

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I would remove the wallpaper, paint in a color that coordinated with the existing countertop and complemented the current wood finish and get rid of everything extraneous, change the light fixture and then take another picture to analyze it.

I am not sure I would even change the hardware, because what's there seems to go with the current cabinet finish.

I would not put granite in this kitchen because I would probably want to change the layout.

But you have to analyze your current local market too.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 6:28AM
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I agree with Pal. What is going on in the neighborhood? For example, in my location, my house would be a complete tear down. Doesn't matter that it is all renovated, people want homes triple the size.
This kitchen looks in great shape. The next owners would probably want to redo, however, it is a plus that it can be lived in and can be addressed down the road.
Yes, strip the wallpaper and when the time comes, price accordingly.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:22AM
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the eating area is the diamond in the rough as far as low cost hi impact to stage...I would -remove wall paper in eating area for starters..get a wrought iron light fixture or at least raise up the existing fixture[but a bold look would be better] so it's centered in the arch of window...I would paint all the walls in the eating area a fairly strong color.Remove the bakers rack and small picture. Get one large dramatic mirror or piece of artwork instead of the picture.Personally I think a round table and chairs will show much better and is more suitable for that area-can you get something faux formal or funky/interesting on Craig's list or a flea market near you? Attention to this spot will grab attention and the kitchen's date/era won't matter-some might see the charm actually and just go get stainless appliances[you could consider that]...Do you have any more floor tiles-because if the eating area is only large enough for a small rectangular table that is a downer for anyone. So the option would be remove the diagonal sink area and re install the sink cabinet up against the wall-but you may need to fill in the gap with tiles. But as mentionned-any layout changes and redo of kitchen itself really is better left alone.Boy-if the 2 wall runs of kitchen were just flush with no peninsula, the visual of the dinette would be great-you can still do something, but it is possibly a little tight with the sink peninsula. But it's really up to the next person how they'll handle the space.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:35AM
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I agree with Pal on the big picture, but covering that laminate with new would be an easy and inexpensive job. The cabinetry and floors look good together, so I'd choose a quiet laminate that goes with them so that people see the entire picture instead of focusing on contrasting plastic counters.

The handles look fine to me too, but if you wanted, maybe 2 weeks before listing you could find out what handle styles are currently "in" and pick an inexpensive version from a big box store that works nicely. Or have fun choosing something now to live with. Whatever, buyers know they can at least have fun changing handles.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:44AM
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Definitely kill the wallpaper and paint in a color or two that goes well with the cabinets and floors. Light maple is steadily acceptible, with short periods of being trendy.

As for granite - I personally wouldn't bother. You say "they are going to sell this place in 3 years, so no point in putting in something on the expensive side. " Unless houses without granite are taking a price beating that is 2x the cost of the change there is no real point in changing the counters.

Sell it as-is, sparkling clean, so the new owner can install the granite of his/her/their dreams.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 10:33AM
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The question on whether granite or not depends on the kitchens of comparables as well as slightly higher- and lower-priced houses. In my area, granite would be worth it because house prices are so high that this kitchen would be most likely not replaced if it had the must-have features, i.e. stainless steel and granite. I would look at prefabricated countertops, probably a light color or black.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 11:15AM
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Holly- Kay

I love their kitchen and I think too that the hardware is fine. I would take the wallpaper down also but would paint the walls a neutral color as it will be easier for someone else to envision what can be done if it isn't over-powered by a bold color.

Forget the granite idea. To expensive to do it just to turn around and sell in a few years.

I second the idea of getting rid of the baker's rackand a large mirror where the picture is would make the space look bigger.

I would only change the light out if it's a cheapo and even then you could spray paint it black and save the money.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 12:12PM
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The other thing I wonder about comps is what the relative "current" is, in your area. This kitchen says more like 1987 here than 1997. That's not a criticism, but there are huge cultural variations regarding things like this based on location.

It needs to fit your context, because people may still be tearing out things where you live, that others are starting to put back in elsewhere. You need to be in sync with your location.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 12:53PM
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Definitely remove all wallpaper and replace the fluorescent kitchen fixture, but you know that already. I agree with replacing the cabinet hardware, but I hate shiny brass so I'm biased.

The countertop question is more difficult, and I think you need more information. Consider consulting a real estate agent about whether granite would be worth it. Also pay attention houses for sale in the neighborhood--do they have granite? As far as cheap granites go, I often hear Uba Tuba mentioned. If they went with that, they could do dark hardware on the cabinets, such as oil rubbed bronze.

If it sounds like granite would be a worthwhile change, I would go ahead and do it, and do it soon. That way they can enjoy it for a few years themselves. I wouldn't worry about the presence of granite putting off buyers wanting to renovate. I think it's easy to forget that those of us who haunt the kitchen forum are not typical home buyers. Most buyers want to walk into a house and have it be move-in ready.

Along these lines, you could consider changing the appliances to stainless, since they are 16 years old already and will be pushing 20 by the time the house is on the market. Again, I would consult an agent and/or look at other listings to decide on this. But there is lots of time to look for good deals on appliances, and the house could then be marketed as "granite kitchen with new stainless appliances."

I agree with everyone's comments on the eating area--get rid of baker's rack and plants (also the plant in the kitchen), mirror, new light fixture if possible, definitely new table and chairs even if the table is still a rectangle. Also, it looks like there might be furniture to the right of the table? If so, I would consider removing that for staging.

The nice thing about having 3 or more years before selling, is your parents have lots of time to gradually get these things done, and then some time to enjoy the results before the put the house on the market. My parents did the same thing, with about a 5-year timeline, and it allowed them to really purge their stuff thoroughly as well as make a lot of improvements to the house. Their house sold really quickly even as the market was tanking.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 1:11PM
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My parents live in the south. Houses are really cheap there compare to the west and east coast. I am looking at the new builds in their town on zillow and many have terrible color choices, like very dark beige wall with medium brown cabinets, so everything looks muddled. I am convinced that no designers work for builders there and they just use whatever surplus paint and cabinets they can find. You can't think of it with the high standards that people here have where all the cabinets are fully functional and and all the colors are complementary and beautiful together.

They live in a subdivision where almost all the houses were built between 96-00. In fact, there are maybe two other houses in the neighborhood that have the exact same floor plane as their house. The houses in the neighborhood are about average size for the town, from around 1300 sq ft to 2000 sq ft, their house is slightly above 1500 sq ft. My mom is a clean freak, they actually don't cook anything oily in the house. They have a cooktop outdoor where they cook anything fried or sauteed. The cabinets are in great shape, the appliances, except the refrigerator are barely used. I thought it would be cheap to replace hardwares. I can buy Amerock knobs from Amazon for $1 each. What they have now is this cheap gold hardware that is starting to peel and fade and I think its good to change them out.

The counter is truly hideous though. I feel like anyone walk in is going to go "eww" and focus on the countertop. However, granite is not common for houses in that town because houses are so cheap to begin with. Are there any Wilsonart or formica colors that will look good with the cabinets? I think plain black would work, but what about lighter colors? Should I go something whitish or something with a yellow tone?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 1:37PM
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@herbflavor, when you say a strong color for the dining area, what do you mean by that? Like a dark neutral color or something more dramatic?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 1:39PM
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It's a nice kitchen and dining area, with attractive cabinetry. I would just strip the wallpaper and repaint, look at more attractive, warm lighting. I'd ask a real estate agent about whether the counters should be upgraded to stone. As mentioned, unless it's a big hit on resale, let the new owner upgrade to their own taste, which will likely be different than theirs. Older people I know cannot relate to stone countertops! I know I would be very disappointed if someone had just remodeled for a sale and would likely pass on those houses because it would be too wasteful and unnecessary to redo to my own taste.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 1:50PM
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@palimpsest, you are right. I attached a couple of pictures just to give you an idea what the new builds in this town look like in their price range. Can you say dark and drab? The goal here is to make it so most potential buyers can look at this 1997 house and say, its just as good as a new house and I don't have to do any projects when I move in.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 2:04PM
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Here is another 2012 kitchen.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 2:06PM
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Lily, where are those new kitchens located?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 2:18PM
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@suburbanrancher They are located in Arkansas. The builders just love browns over there. This is the kind of kitchen you get in the 150k range. I think my parent's kitchen has the potential to look way better than these brand new kitchens.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 2:41PM
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Those are depressing kitchens.
If the appliances are white and are to stay, I'd go with a lighter laminate. On the other hand, if you can get prefabricated granite counters, it may not be much more expensive and could wow potential buyers. See below for prefab prices. Of course, I've no clue what the quality is like and how much it would be to install.

Here is a link that might be useful: 109.00 for a slab

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 3:30PM
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lily: color for dinette: some shade of aubergine[ apple..a red-what else is in the atmosphere of home? Think colored grotto-with arched passage/curved window/angled wall and change in light fixture/clearing out the small pieces....add large mirror with old frame-this provokes interest ...Get a "MOOD"..even tho someone may change it later-it's are adding ambience-makes the bland feel of 1980's less of a negative. Anyone can use the kitchen and enjoy the space until later on they get ready to remodel-which they will probably do.Nothing wrong with off white after all the work stripping paper but the blond cabinets will take the color contrast beyond really well and it's not going to be fussy to paint as you'll leave the kitchen itself out of it.What exactly is wrong with the counters? besides hideous that is....i could see the aubergine paint and a black mosaic backsplash with white grout if you are leaving appliances-I think the mosaics come in sheets and are easy...and this would be an instant visual and cheaper than counters-even if it gets redone in 2 yrs-not a biggie. Really the kitchen will probably get redone-not necessarily right away-so the big ticket things don't make sense unless you are confident that standard sized appliances work and bite the bullett and put in stainless-they can be used in any remodel. Be attuned to your budget.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 3:47PM
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It already looks better than those kitchens.

Start by getting rid of the wallpaper and repainting ... then see what it looks like.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 3:50PM
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@herbflavor, my parents are not much of a decorator. Everything is neutral except for the outrageous wall papers that came with the house. I do think the eggplant will go well with the natural maple. However, purples and reds are very particular with people. I think maybe just do an accent wall with the purple and use a beige or greige for the rest of the wall?

I wish I have a close up of the countertop and I don't think any backsplash will work with that countertop. It has a little bit of gray, blue, pink, beige, brown in the pattern that try to imitate the movement in natural stones, but failed miserably. I think it looks like a dissection project with the bluish and pinkish patterns. Here is another picture from the window side, but from far away, it doesn't look as bad.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:08PM
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You know your market more than we do. I agree -start out with paint and new hardware and see where that gets you. Right now that wallpaper dominates the whole room. You can always get prices on new laminate/cheap granite/granite tiles and you and your parents can make the decision on if it's worth it.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:46PM
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lilymila, From your description, I can see that the counter top may turn off potential buyers. (OTOH, I could imagine buyers being turned off by the new homes you posted pictures of here, so what do I know?)

I think the idea of removing the wallpaper is obviously a no-brainer. On the one hand, it seems like a good idea to paint and then see whether you need to do more. Then again, if the countertop is as horrible and off-putting as you describe, I can understand why you might want to go ahead and pick that out first and then base your choice of paint color on that.

Given the pictures you posted of new homes, perhaps another laminate countertop would be a good choice. They have some really lovely ones now.

How do your parents feel? Are they just thinking in terms of resale? Or would they enjoy sprucing up the kitchen for themselves for the next few years prior to selling?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:56PM
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Just wandering in here to offer my non pro 2 cents. I agree with the comments to start with the obvious wallpaper distractions. The latest photo with the teal covering underneath the bar makes it even more important (well, at least it is not brown)

But I do echo talking with your parents about what types of improvements would improve it for their usage, since they will be there for 3+ years. Quite possibly (after painting), improved lighting, like undercabinet lighting and/or a new overhead fixture would really help aging eyes (is that a junction box or can over the sink?). Improved lighting in the model homes is the only other difference not being cited.

Knobs are an easy cosmetic fix, and a new faucet can bring much more utility to a space.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 8:24PM
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realistically, the fridge adds nothing,in fact a buyer might ask to have it removed. My mom has that style fridge which she thinks is okay "just for the 2 of us" I'm trying to talk her into a newer bottom freezer drawer at least/if not french doors atop so she can have a few years to enjoy it before they will have to move due to their age. And if purchased now, that fridge will be a current model and help as a feature for a buyer I believe. The other thing is the lighting-you might get a quote for cans in the ceiling.....people will view what you have as dated and it is a little bit problematic as the ceiling is not high.A lighting upgrade is infrastructure improvement and worth it. Wallpaper stripping/paint /counters is much more superficial and many people expect they will have to do it/want to do it themselves and they do it periodically anywhere they live/moving or not..... it's expected as part of home ownership. So you have to calculate.... is it just looks or a bit of actual improvement...[or targeted bits of both] and what the budget is for this.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 8:00AM
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When it comes to wallpaper like this though, I think there is an additional implication. The real estate shows all pose a scenario and it goes like this;; "The buyer is going to wonder...if they homeowner can't even be bothered to take down wallpaper like this...what More Serious maintenance issues are they ignoring?"

Of course they try to make it sound like the septic system, the electrical system and the roof are all on the brink of collapse and the wallpaper is a just a "sign".

It used to be that it meant the homeowner liked old fashioned wallpaper.

This might seem kind of silly, but I have heard people walking through open houses that as far as I can see are otherwise well-cared-for and make statements just like this. (And conversely wall through carefully staged houses and ignore obvious problems)

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 8:46AM
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I'm not sure how much additional money the property would go for in making changes...but sometimes, making changes even if it doesn't net additional money is worth it in the fact that it makes the property more desirable in a sea of others that are a similar price, so that has to be factored in.

This house appears to be more in the lines of what a young-family would be looking to get, maybe first time home-buyers? If so, what they usually want is something that is move-in ready...something that they need to do very little with at the start to get into the house - they usually have just managed to get enough to get their downpayment and they often have a little one (or a 2nd little one) on the, "heavy lifting" isn't high on their list. They usually have a high wish-list without a ton of money to back it. Understanding who the potential home buyer might be helps in making decisions on what to do.

Removing the wallpaper is a no-brainer. It HAS to be done. While it's not a tough thing to do, people walk into a house and envision wallpaper removal as a gargantuan task and it terrifies them! :)

Ideally, you replace the fluorescent with can lights. You mentioned that you can replace the door pulls for $1 ea - I think at that price, it's a good change out - looks like that would be $30-40.

I would probably replace the countertops if it can be done relatively inexpensively. If you do granite though, you'll probably want to replace the sink as well to be an undermount. Some granite fabricators we talked with in our area included a "builder grade" stainless steel sink that you could pay to upgrade. And if you're replacing the sink, you'll probably want to replace the faucet...see where this is going? BUT, you can keep your eyes open for a good Craigslist/Ebay find for a nice faucet. For a backsplash, I'd probably stick with simple white subway tiles - they are, for the most part, a timeless classic that can help to update things a bit as well.

Unless your parents need new appliances, I probably wouldn't worry about replacing those if they are functional. Many people *want* stainless appliances, but I'd consider putting in an appliance allowance with the house rather than changing them since a lot of people like to pick their own appliances anyway.

Something else that I would consider doing and I don't think anyone else has mentioned so far is placing some inexpensive under cabinet lights. Lighting makes such a difference when people are looking at a house. Just having that extra light makes people feel all warm and fuzzy. And it can read as more expense than what it really is. You can get something inexpensive at one of the big box stores. I just purchased some LED strips from IKEA for my parents house - they work reasonably well for $70-ish (it's not what we're putting in our kitchen remodel, but for the price and ease of install, it was well worth it). They use an existing plug...there's a cord hanging down then since they aren't hardwired and there isn't a plug up high, but it makes a big difference in the overall look of a kitchen. Well-lit is always a big factor in how someone views a home.

If your parents are planning on being there for 3-ish more years, it would be nice for them to do the upgrades now and enjoy a bit of their labors.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 9:31AM
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Agree with the above comments that entry-level house buyers look for a house that's ready to move in. I always thought (and still think) that a lot of what HGTV buyers say is scripted. However, having looked recently at entry level properties, I was amazed how many of the open house visitors would seriously consider minor things like paint color or light fixtures in their purchase decisions. Granite was at the top of the list, even the cheapest as were SS appliances. In fact, a SS Frigidaire would be considered more desirable than a white Gaggenau or Miele.
Still, I wouldn't replace the appliances if they are still in good shape.
It sounds like the counters are not a top selling feature, so perhaps they should be replaced. How much would a laminate cost compared to a granite?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 10:51AM
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Updating the laminate to a more neutral color than pink, blue and beige is probably a good and reasonable update. That would not go over with most people. I wouldn't do black though. Maybe you could include the cost of that in the selling price, so they can choose to apply it to stone if they want. It might be a perk for entry level buyers.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 12:10PM
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As Snookums says. There'd be no reason for your parents to go to the expense of "replacing countertops." A handyman could come in and cover what's there with something they liked without interfering with breakfast or dinner. And as long as your parents were happy with fake stone patterns, they'd have plenty of choices in the possible color range. Something a little different (there aren't many) might require special ordering and waiting a week or two. Now or 3 years from now. Big whoop. :)

But, is that "their" wallpaper? If they like it, maybe waiting until the week before listing and replacing it with fresh paint would be in order? As an older person, all my favorite old looks are always in style for me, merely temporally displaced.

BTW, my daughter lives in north Arkansas these days. She took me on a charity house tour when I was there, and I enjoyed it, but for what it said about local culture, not for interesting decor. Almost her entire area is new (Bentonville--center for Walmart and other corporate headquarters), so this tour was entirely upper middle class newish tract homes, all but one (the most interesting) with interior decorators involved. I know most of these people don't expect to spend their lives there, but really! Every house was a post-2000 traditional two-story tract home, every interior was some variation of traditional golds-browns-green-reds, with most sunshine blocked by expensive window treatments (large houses, small lots, privacy in short supply). The local checkbook-look.

Newer and more expensive, Lilymila, but just a variation on the look you describe for your parents' area. BTW, my daughter's home is also a modern-traditional fusion but much nicer and more individual. SIL is from Arkansas, though, so they're not just en passant.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 1:22PM
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Remove the wallpaper add fresh paint, remove the clutter and clean everything well. I hate gold hardware too so I'd probably change that at most , but I would not waste $ changing the countertop. Anyone buying will probably just live with it as is, accessorize and remodel it in their own taste when they can.
When looking at houses to buy I was always turned off by new granite over old cabinets because I felt like they were trying to dupe the buyer into thinking it was "upgraded" and figured they also upcharged the selling price because of it and I didn't want to pay for something I'd probably want to tear out soon as I could afford it. But in the end it depends on he neighborhood or area.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 4:34PM
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@ andreak100, we haven't talk to a realestate agent, but I envision the buyer to be in the late 20s or early 30s. Maybe not necessarily, first time buyer because there are other subdivisions in the town where the houses are smaller and go for 100k range. I think when people have small kids, it makes DIY pretty much impossible unless grandparents come to the rescue, so it make sense when young couples with small kids want to find something that is move in ready.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I think the under cabinet light would be great and something my dad can easily install by himself.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 4:36PM
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