By CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
A recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders says new home starts decreased sharply in the fourth quarter of 2007, but remodeling decreased only slightly.
As a result, some builders are moving into remodeling. And kitchen design companies, with fewer new-kitchen jobs, are more willing than in years past to take on small and midsize projects. In other words, more pros are chasing your remodeling dollars.
In Kansas City, the average cost of a minor kitchen remodel is $21,672, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2007 Cost Versus Value Report (read the full report at costvalue.remodelingmagazine .com). A major remodel averages $57,156.
But it’s easy to take thousands off both those numbers, local remodelers and kitchen designers say. Especially if you avoid unnecessary changes to the basic layout of the kitchen and resist the lure of premium features and costly upgrades.
“People get caught up in the magazines. They get caught up in the showrooms,” said builder and remodeler Mark Eddy, co-owner of Gahagan & Eddy Building Co. in Leawood.
But good value doesn’t mean picking the cheapest materials and hiring the lowest-bid contractor. A kitchen that looks low-budget or comes apart at the (flooring and cabinetry) seams is no value.
The best strategy, especially if your remodel is a once-in-a-lifetime expense, is to choose high-quality, classic materials for flooring, counters and cabinetry.
The best-value picks, according to local kitchen experts, are solid oak floors, basic black granite countertops and semi-custom cabinets (engineered wood boxes with solid wood fronts.)
No matter what the budget, you’ll be happier with the results if you splurge on one or two things that are important to you, says Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City. If you really want a pro-style range, get one and make up the savings elsewhere.
“You have to have a few things that are wow-factor focal points,” Higgins said, and you can do it even on the smallest budget. For example, a two-cup Brew Express coffeemaker built into the wall costs just $400 but has the coffee-bar glam of larger plumbed-in systems that cost thousands.
Because homeowners are staying in their homes longer, their kitchen planning is driven more by how they want to live than by how they can recoup the investment, local remodelers say.
“You should never do a project for resale. Do it for yourself,” Eddy said. “But if you do it right, you can get the money back out.”
Cabinets are often the biggest expense in a kitchen project and the first thing people notice.
Linear foot prices for cabinets, including top and bottom boxes but not installation, start at $75 for stock (inexpensive materials and hardware), $225 for semi-custom (better-quality materials and hardware) and $500 for custom (best-quality).
At each of those quality levels, you can easily double or even triple the cost through upgrades. Detailed door trim, glazed finishes and soft-close drawers are potential budget busters.
But savings are possible at all levels, says Randall Sisk, owner of Kitchens by Kleweno in Kansas City. Among his suggestions:
•Limit the number of cabinets by building a pantry to use as a “warehouse.”
•Eliminate specialized spaces. Put the microwave in a regular cabinet instead of building it in.
•If you splurge on solid wood doors, birch and maple are cheaper than walnut or cherry.
•Phase in roll-outs and inserts later. Even if your cabinet line is discontinued, most manufacturers’ inserts work with all their lines.
Kitchen studios put their top-of-the-line cabinetry on display, but often they can order less-expensive lines by the same manufacturers — just ask. That way you get the same good-quality boxes and hardware with less expensive fronts.
How the door attaches to the box and how much trim is on the door can greatly affect the price of a cabinet, says Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City. Overlay doors that completely cover the front of the box are cheaper than inset doors that are flush with the box frame.
Doors with no or little trim are cheaper, as are simple stains compared with distressed or glazed finishes. Glass fronts push up the cost; open (doorless) fronts are cheaper if you like that look.
Home improvement warehouses are beginning to carry more semi-custom cabinets. Lowe’s Mirra line from Venicia by KraftMaid offers sleek Euro styling starting at $225 per linear foot with designer upgrades such as roll-outs and soft-close drawers.
Next to cabinetry, nothing can run up the cost of a kitchen like appliances. Conversely, you can save big if you don’t mind the look of mid-range brands in black or stainless steel. (White finishes are cheapest, but they look it.)
Consumer Reports has consistently found that mid-range lines perform just as well as premium brands for a fraction of the cost, and homeowners seem to be getting the message. A recent survey on kitchen and bath trends by American Institute of Architects says demand for high-end appliances is falling.
Choosing a pro-line stove, refrigerator and dishwasher adds $15,000 to $20,000 to the budget. The same appliances from a mid-range brand cost less than $4,000 in stainless steel and less than $2,000 in black. Buying “scratch and dent” models can shave up to 40 percent, but it also requires patience and a little luck.
Some local homeowners interviewed for this story had good experiences buying appliances online at below-retail prices, but others reported headaches and significant delays when items arrived damaged or in the wrong color.
If you find a store selling an appliance for much less than competitors, it’s good to ask questions, says Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City: Is this discontinued? Why was it discontinued? If the reason is cosmetic, it doesn’t make a difference, but if, for example, the controls don’t work as easily as the newer model, it might. Also, there is no warranty on a discontinued item.
Whatever quality level you settle on, take the time to comparison shop. “Don’t assume prices are cheaper through a wholesale club or an outlet,” Higgins said. “Check.”
When you think of economical choices for counters, granite doesn’t leap to mind. But it turns out prices are soaring for rare colors and heavily veined slabs but tumbling for basic blacks, greens and ivories without much variegation.
At $69 or less per square foot installed, it can be cheaper than solid surface (such as Corian), engineered stone (such as Silestone) or premium tile. Granite tiles are an even better deal.
But if having a slab of rare granite is important, you can hold down the cost by using it only on an island, for example, and by choosing a square rather than a bullnose edge.
Laminate is by far the most economical counter choice, at $10 to $20 per square foot. Its only real drawback is that most people don’t like it. But designers say laminate can look stylish if you opt for square edges and dark, slightly mottled colors that hide the dark insides exposed by 90-degree cuts.
Backsplash materials don’t have to be expensive to look great, says Randall Sisk, owner of Kitchens by Kleweno in Kansas City. Smoked mirror is inexpensive but ultra-chic.
Old-fashioned penny tile and plain white tile are classic choices for performance and timeless appeal.
For long-term durability, warmth and practicality, you can’t go wrong with a good hardwood floor, says Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City. Exotic woods and salvaged planks can be pricey, but 2 1/4 -inch oak starts about $10 per square foot installed and can be stained if a darker look is desired.
Vinyl costs less, but don’t get it unless you are sure you can live with the humble look. One show kitchen at Kitchens by Kleweno in Kansas City has large black and white vinyl tiles laid on the diagonal in a checkerboard pattern.
It looks stylish, and owner Randall Sisk says it has held up amazingly well over 10 years. One drawback: Vinyl flooring is not a good choice if there are pets in the house, as claws can tear it.
Architect Kevin Harris, who heads a small projects committee for the American Institute of Architects, warns homeowners against buying discounted flooring. The Baton Rouge-based architect has seen cases where the discounted product turned out to be factory seconds.
“Factory tolerances for prefinished tongue-and-groove flooring are so tight, if they are off just slightly, edges sticking up can feel like a cheese grater on your feet,” Harris said.
Engineered wood flooring is more scratch-resistant than solid wood, but it wears quickly, dents easily and can be almost as pricey, according to Consumer Reports. The biggest drawback, Harris said, is that engineered wood is difficult if not impossible to refinish.
The main way to save money on lighting is to avoid having to open up the ceiling. Track systems can be connected to an existing ceiling box. They cost about $2,000, depending on the type and number of spotlights and pendants.
Undercounter strip lighting systems that run from an existing outlet are another inexpensive option.
If your kitchen has multiple builder-special can lights, don’t despair. Recessed light conversion kits that cost just $40 let you hang pendants from existing cans. There are also covers with faceted lenses that can be fitted over can lights to give them the appearance of modern halogen spots.
In some cases, sconces installed in the backsplash might be cheaper than under-cabinet lighting, says Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City.
A typical contractor’s fee runs 10 percent to 20 percent of the total cost, but that might be the smartest money you spend if the job gets done well and on time.
It may be tempting to try to be your own contractor, but Baton Rouge-based architect Kevin Harris, head of the American Institute of Architects’ small projects group, cautions against it.
“Contractors really do earn their money,” Harris said. “They coerce and cajole and do whatever it takes to get subs to do the work.”
If you hire a contractor, be wary of accepting the lowest bid, says Lloyd Brown, owner of Brown Restoration in Raymore in Cass County. Sometimes the low bidder leaves things out of the bid that will need to be done. By the time you add those costs, you could end up paying more than a bid that included them.
If you want to handle purchasing and hiring subs, but would like a pro to check your plan, some designers sell design-only time.
At Portfolio Kitchen & Home in Kansas City, some clients bring in a rough plan after doing a lot of research. “They want to run it by someone to make sure it’s efficient and workable,” owner Geri Higgins said. The company charges $100 per hour for design time with a minimum of five hours. Designers visit the home and the client receives a report.
Once you have a solid design, hiring a skilled installer is crucial, says Sally Sweeney, owner of Kitchens Only, a design-only business in Bonner Springs. “An expensive kitchen can look like a cheap kitchen if it isn’t installed properly. Good installers are hard to find, and they aren’t cheap. But that’s the last place I would try to save money.”
If you need to trim money off a bid, talk to remodelers about the budget and ask what parts of the job you can do. But make sure your skills and motivation are up to the task, says Mark Eddy, co-owner of Gahagan & Eddy Building Co. in Leawood.
“Sometimes I give people a price and they get sticker shock and think, ‘I can do this. I did construction one summer in college,’ ” Eddy said. “Then they call me three or four months later and say, ‘Now I need you,’ and they end up spending more than if they had just hired me in the first place.”
There’s an even bigger danger of trying to take on too much, Eddy says. “People get so stressed halfway through a project that they get to the point where they don’t care what it looks like, they just want to be finished.”
Doing demolition can save money if you’re sure you won’t break anything that needs to stay and are willing to dispose of the debris.
If you don’t want to do the tear-out, Habitat ReStore crews (shown in photo above) charge $400 to $600 for an average kitchen, generally less than contractors or salvage companies. The not-for-profit group resells recovered materials and fixtures, keeping them out of the landfill.
Besides builder-grade vanities and stock cabinets, the store frequently has premium products as well. Associate director Brian Alferman says he has sold a gently used Bosch gas cooktop for less than $100, a Viking stainless steel fridge in perfect condition for $1,500, as well as fixtures and trim from a Ward Parkway mansion teardown, including doors with glass knobs, marble mantels and crystal chandeliers.
Alferman’s advice for bargain hunters: Bring a notebook with all your home’s measurements. If you discover a great find but don’t buy it because you don’t know if it will fit, it will probably be gone when you return.
Address: 4701 Deramus
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Phone/Web: 816-231-6889, www.restorekc.org
• www.consumerreports.org — click on “home improvement,” then “kitchen remodeling”
• www.mykitchenproject.com — get a cost estimate for your job based on your kitchen’s size and your material choices
•Charles Weil, 913-722-3292
•Driftworks Design, 816-471-1979, www.driftworksdesign.com
•Gahagan & Eddy Building Co., 913-432-3318, www.gahagan-eddy.com
•Kitchens by Kleweno, 816-531-3968, www.kleweno.com
•Kitchens Only, 913-441-4466
•Portfolio Kitchen & Home, 816-363-5300, www.portfolio-home.com
•Habitat ReStore deconstruction services, 816-231-6889, www.restorekc.org
NOTE:The Star does not endorse any products or businesses.