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Making the Kitchen Pop... on a Budget

Larry Miller has been a real estate investor for a number of years and has worked with single-family homes as well as condos.

Whether you are getting your home ready for sale or doing a complete gut job, kitchens (and bathrooms) sell the property – but you already knew that. On the other hand, you may just be looking to fix the place up for your own enjoyment, possibly with an eye to the future.

You can do a great job with $50,000, $75,000 or $100,000. What happens if your budget isn't up to those numbers. You can still make the kitchen a cut above the others in your price range. A hundred fifty thousand dollar rehab project doesn't work well with a kitchen taking up one third the budget. So how do you make your project stand out?



Appliances are one of the first things potential buyers see when they walk in the room. If appliances aren't new, they need to be cleaned up to look new – as possible. If you are starting from scratch you can get some pretty inexpensive units at the blue and orange stores. If it is a low end rental, you can even find them at used appliances stores. They are working units that come from kitchen remodels.

But that's not the way to get the best price for your property. Cheap appliances are easy for your buyers to see. But you don't have to spend thousands of dollars for a range or refrigerator. Stainless steel has become pretty much expected in today's new units. Individually, they are only a hundred or two more than similar white or black models. Even with laminate counters, stainless steel makes a nice appearance. Although I have seen some pretty striking installations with white or black appliances. Don't let price scare you away.


If you can afford new cabinets, they make the place look great and are a nice selling point with features like soft close drawers and unique configurations. However, if the cabinets you have are solid, replacing the hardware can give it a fresh look. If the finish has seen better days, a good coat of paint can bring them up to todays look. It can also turn a dark kitchen into a bright and airy room. For a little more, you can replace the door and drawer fronts, This costs more than painting, but is a lot less than new units.

Counters and Back Splash

For entry level homes laminate counters can do nicely, but be careful of getting those nice custom made units... those prices are approaching low to moderate granite and quartz tops. You may want to go up a little for a big jump in the wow factor. However, if the project won't support that, the pre-formed units at the big box stores and look much better than than old worn and stained tops. If you have the skills and equipment to make your own custom tops, go for it, but you may still want to check out granite and quartz. Either makes a long lasting low maintenance counter for nicer rentals as well.

I tend to use subway tiles for back splashes. The are inexpensive and easy to work with. They are easy to clean and look a lot better than spaghetti stained walls. Don't let my preference be yours without checking out the range of materials, The subway tiles run a couple of dollars a square foot, and you can go from there up to fifteen or twenty dollars a foot on up and up, If your budget is on the lower end, the subway tiles, make a really nice look and they do it for a long time and are good even for mid range rentals on up.



Here is where a few hundred dollars can make your place stand out from the competition. A high end faucet package, a unique range hood, or light fixture that is not usually found at your price point can seal the deal for people whose taste runs toward a nicer home than their budget will allow, You are giving them at least part of their dream home at a price they can afford.


Tile is always a good choice, but can be pricey. There is a temptation to put laminate down. It looks good and is relatively inexpensive. Don't do it! Most laminate does not deal well in areas where it can get wet. The layers separate and your buyers or renters will be most unhappy.

There is a new product I have not used but looks like it has potential. It is a thinner tile that is made to be laid on top of existing tile flooring that is solid, but looking like it has seen better days. It is not cheap, but it saves the demo work of removing the old flooring.

A less expensive approach is luxury vinyl. It is just slightly more than laminate AND it is waterproof, It does fine on kitchen floors and looks great. There are even groutable versions that I have had realtors get down on their hands and knees to confirm it wasn't ceramic tile. It is a nice touch and works just as well in bathrooms.

Catch Their Eye

The point of all this is that replacing or fixing up an old kitchen works better if you aren't just removing the tired materials and replacing it with the same thing, only newer. It is an opportunity to make improvements that make the place sparkle – and easier to sell or rent, if that is your inclination,


Lakshmi from Chennai on September 22, 2020:

Hi Larry,It's a very useful and informative article.

Danny from India on September 17, 2020:

Larry you have mentioned some excellent points. The kitchen after the living room is a place where cleanliness need to follow. After all we are due to the Kitchen conditioning.

Nice article Sir.

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