To redo or not to redo – that is the question #693

#693 in a series of true experiences in real estate

When we are out looking at houses, I often come to a doorway of a room, most often a kitchen, and I stop for a minute to imagine how it looked when it was new. I’m curious to know how the owners first saw it and if they were happy and pleased with it, or if they were already planning changes. I like to assume that what I’m seeing was exciting for the one who chose the colors, finishes, appliances.

It’s probably the case that most people will have the chance to “do” a kitchen only once in a lifetime, if that. Remodeling, especially of a kitchen, is an expensive, time-demanding and inconvenient affair. It seems that kitchens are made new when families are young and then are left that way from then on. There aren’t so many people to feed at home as the years go by, men often get involved with barbecuing on the patio, there’s a microwave for heating up small portions.

I remember telling my mother when she was in her seventies that she ought to update her kitchen with new paint and flooring, maybe even add a dishwasher. She wasn’t interested, didn’t want to spend the money, thought the kitchen worked fine for her. We hear the same from older people all the time who are thinking they might be selling their houses sometime. At first they ask, “What do I need to do to my house to get it ready?”

And then they get down to it: “Should I redo my kitchen or is someone else just going to want to do it their way?”

Big question, this is, with so many variable answers. When we look at a house we are going to list, we first ask about the owner. Where is the owner going and when? Will the house be empty and is there money and time available to make it fresh?

Before any decisions are made about prep work inspections are done to determine what the underlying condition of the property is at present. How’s the condition of the roof, furnace, foundation, etc.? Often we get bids for replacing and updating any of these that are worn out. It is only after these steps that we can offer the owner a considered plan.

We will of course be taking into consideration myriad factors such as what level of demand we expect there to be for a house of this size, style and vintage in this location. Imaging who the likely buyer will be is also a help. For example, if the rest of the house is attractive and appealing and in good shape and the kitchen is the only “sore spot” it may well be worthwhile to improve further because the buyer will pay to have everything right.

Often buyers prefer houses that are clean and in good repair and that are also true to their roots. The deciding positive factor for a buyer could be a kitchen that still has its original cabinetry, flooring and counters as they were first built. They have not been changed to something discordant with the overall design.

Examples that may disappoint buyers: The old flat-face, painted-wood cabinets have been replaced with dark, unpainted wood with raised trim. While originally there was a free-standing gas stove, there is now a built-in electric cooktop. The floor has been updated with photo-surface vinyl flooring.

What to do, if anything, about any of these? The answers of course depend on very many things. What effect would reversing the changes make? How much will it cost? Will the house likely sell for more? Will the buyer audience be enlarged, and is that important in this particular case?

If, as is true frequently, returning the stove or cooktop to gas is fairly simple, that would probably be our first recommendation. Most buyers in our market area prefer gas cooking. Some will not consider a house with an electric stove. Many cannot imagine how changes will look; they see only what is there now.

From there, installing era-appropriate light fixtures and painting may be enough. Sometimes replacing the old dishwasher with a good new one, or adding one if one has never been a part of the kitchen, may be the best.

Hardly ever is remodeling an entire kitchen going to be worthwhile. It makes sense for an owner to make his spaces the way he will enjoy them while he is there but total redo for a sale rarely returns the investment.

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