7 Kitchen Remodel Mistakes That Will Bust Your Budget
More than two million kitchens will be renovated in 2016. We might even surpass the high of 2.4 million kitchen remodels set in 2007, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. That has manufacturers and retailers salivating at the prospect of record-breaking sales, and general contractors are also raising their profit margins and holding out for the biggest, most expensive jobs.
If you’re thinking about a kitchen remodel, all that activity and competition can make it easy to rush in. But haste makes waste in many ways on a renovation, especially kitchens, with their complicated designs and many moving parts. Here are the seven biggest mistakes to avoid on a kitchen remodel, based on our latest tests, as well as a survey of 300 general contractors nationwide conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Skipping the Background Check
In our survey, almost 20 percent of general contractors lacked a state license or insurance, and 9 percent lacked both. You’ll give up certain protections from your state license board if you hire a contractor who lacks proper credentials. Plus our survey found that accredited contractors are better at holding down costs on remodeling projects when unexpected problems arise.
In addition to reviewing their paperwork, you should check the references of contractors on your shortlist. Ask past clients about their overall experience working with the contractor and also how their work has held up over time. Ideally, you can speak with a recent client as well as one from a few years back.
Changing Your Mind
This is the biggest mistake homeowners make on a kitchen remodel, according to our survey. So-called change orders, or work that is requested after the project is underway, inflates the budget by an average of 10 percent. Given that the average kitchen remodel in this country costs around $28,000, that’s a few thousand bucks worth of indecision per project. So spend however long you need on the design, then stick to the plan no matter what.
Having an Open-Ended Contract
Actually, even worse than this is having no contract at all on a kitchen remodel. But assuming you do enter into a written agreement with your contractor, it’s critical that you document every possible aspect of the project. That includes the start date and end date, including a clause on what the penalty will be if the project goes long because of the contractor (say he or she became overly distracted by another project). Ideally, the contract will also include every product and material that’s going to be installed, right down to the thickness of the drywall and the finish on the kitchen faucet.
Style usually drives a kitchen design. Paint colors and backsplash tiles are definitely more fun than ventilation, lighting, and storage. But the latter elements are going to influence your longterm satisfaction in a major way.
If there’s room in the budget and plan, a range hood will do a far better job of removing smoke and odor than the built-in ventilation in an over-the-range microwave. Undercabinet lighting is essential to efficient food prep. And look for ways to improve the cabinet storage. for example by putting drawers in the base units, instead of pullout shelves.
Getting Hung Up on One Element
Successful kitchen remodeling requires a balanced budget. Spend too much on appliances and your cabinets will suffer. Go for the pricey countertop and you might have to cut back on lighting fixtures. But there are ways to have it all, without having it all.
When it comes to appliances, you might go big on the refrigerator, choosing an impressive built-in model with integrated paneling, and then save on the range by opting for a freestanding slide-in model, which costs thousands less than a true pro-style range from the likes of Wolf or Viking. As for the countertop, you might mix and match materials, choosing inexpensive laminate for the perimeter of the kitchen and luxurious wood for the island countertop.
Relying on Rough Sketches
Don’t settle for two-dimensional drawings, especially on a major project where the layout is being completely reconfigured. Three-dimensional drawings will help you visualize the space so much better than flat elevations. Pay particular attention to traffic flow. For example, is circulation completely blocked when the refrigerator door is ajar? If you’re a two-cook household, is there room for you both to move about the space freely? Virtual reality software goes a step further than 3D drawings by allowing you to immerse yourself in the remodeled space before the actual work begins. If you’re hiring a professional architect or designer, ask if they’re using virtual reality yet.
Overpaying for High-End Materials
Some natural materials, like marble countertops and hardwood floors, deliver a luxurious look. But besides their steep cost, these materials are often susceptible to wear and tear. Instead of marble, consider low-maintenance quartz, which is our top-rated countertop material. Though some versions are as expensive as natural stone, many manufacturers offer entry-level lines that combine looks, durability, and a competitive price tag. On the floor, consider a porcelain tile, like Lumber Liquidators’ Avella Brazilian Cherry. It resembles the real thing, earned near perfect scores in our tests, and costs less than $4 per square foot, which is half what you’ll pay for some solid hardwood floors.