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Estimating kitchen remodel costs

Estimating kitchen remodel costs

How I estimate and control kitchen remodel costs

Real estate investing is one of my biggest passions, and it’s not hard to see why. Yes, everyone waxes poetic about how nice it is to be able to invest in something tangible. I certainly see the appeal in that. But for me, the real attraction is LEVERAGE. The US government subsidizes 30 year mortgages with ridiculously good terms and numerous tax breaks... you’d have to be dumb not to want to take advantage of it. In just two years, my own investment, fixer-upper condo has returned nearly 30% on an annualized basis, neatly beating even the frenetic pace of the S&P 500.

Fixer uppers aren't for the faint of heart, though. Real estate investing requires a significant amount of capital to do right, and the quickest way to get in trouble is running out of money remodeling.

Can you guess the number one cost that people underestimate on their remodel? That’s right, it’s the kitchen. A kitchen renovation is a rats nest of potential problems that'll make you say “Whoa, that cost $5000 more than I was expecting.” At the same time, it’s the heart of the home. It’s the biggest amenity that renters and buyers and owners will enjoy. So it’s worth the investment for resale value alone. 

How much is the average cost of a kitchen remodel? My ~150 sq. ft. kitchen cost around $20-$25k. A very small kitchen could be done for around $10k… and larger or fancier kitchens can cost $100k+.

That's a wide range, I know. There's a lot more to it than the raw number. This post is my guide to controlling the costs of a kitchen remodel, staying under budget, and maximizing the return from this very large investment. Take a look at the detailed renovation cost estimator that can help you figure out the cost for your own kitchen remodel. As you go through the process remember, the finished product is worth the effort!

 Sneak peak at my condo kitchen remodel, after completion

Sneak peak at my condo kitchen remodel, after completion

The most expensive components of a kitchen remodel - My C.C.C. Model.

I want to try to keep this post as straightforward as possible, so I am going to skip right to the point. Keeping costs under control is as simple as controlling the “C.C.C.” - the most expensive components in any kitchen remodel.

Cabinet cost as part of a kitchen remodeling

Cabinets are RUINOUSLY expensive. The first cabinet quote I received for my relatively modest, 150 sq. ft. condo kitchen remodel was $25,000. $25,000… and that’s without installation. Even shitty Ikea cabinets would have cost me around $4000 (without installation or assembly). I ended up settling somewhere in the middle on some relatively affordable semi-custom cabinetry that cost $5000. I couldn’t choose the color, but it worked well with my other choices, as you can see above.

Countertop cost as part of a kitchen remodeling

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but countertops can be just as exorbitantly priced as cabinets. In my remodel, I went with a middle-of-the-road quartz caesarstone that cost around $75 per square foot. Including a small amount for the bathroom, this ended up being a little less than 100 Sq. Ft., or about $7000. The marble you see on the backsplash is actually tile, and came out to around $1500 total. If I had chosen to go with real carrera marble for the backsplash and for the countertops, I could have easily doubled the cost to $15,000 or $20,000. On the other side of the coin, there are cheaper laminate and tile countertops that can come in closer to $30-$40 per square foot and still look relatively nice. Choice of materials really matters.

Contractor costs in a kitchen remodel

I am not a contractor, so there was no way I was going to do my kitchen remodel myself. In many ways, the contractor is the most important decision you’ll make when remodeling, and I was lucky to find a fantastically knowledgeable, hard working and affordable contractor for my remodel. He charged an additional 10% on top of the materials and labor he subcontracted out, but that quote was for an entire condo. I would imagine that most contractors would charge a higher fee to do just a kitchen, since the cost of the project would be lower overall.

Detailed costs for my condo kitchen remodel

By my estimation, countertops, cabinets and contractor (C.C.C) will amount to anywhere from 50-75% of the total cost. Sure, there are also appliances (another 10%), flooring (5-8%~), and trades (plumbing, electric, etc), but C.C.C. is where the heart of the controllable costs are. It might be possible to shave $200 off a plumbing quote, or $1-2 per square foot off of flooring, but you can easily save thousands if you are smart about C.C.C.

My condo kitchen remodel cost a total of $25,000. Of that I spent $7000 on countertops, $1500 for backsplash tile, $5000 on cabinets, and ~$3000 on contractor fees. That means those four line items alone amounted to $16,500, or exactly 66% of my kitchen remodel.

Controlling and reducing costs

To keep the costs of C.C.C. under control, there is one very important rule I like to follow: less is more. This won’t come as too big of a surprise, but smaller kitchens generally cost less to remodel. That’s all well and good, but how do you actually reduce the size of the cabinets, countertops, and the associated contractor fee? For a visual, here is a quick look at what I would have proposed if I was going to do my kitchen remodel again.

reduce kitchen remodel costs.png
  1. Get rid of the island: As you can see in my remodel, the island is a huge component of the overall countertop cost, and a significant cabinet piece as well. It also had to be wired up by the electrician and installed. I could easily have removed the island and replaced it with a large butchers block, or movable island from Crate and Barrel. That might cost $1-2k, but it would save me $1k in cabinets and $1-2k in countertops.

  2. Shorten the length of the kitchen and keep it in a straight line: Simply by ending the cabinets at the fridge, I might have been able to cut out another $1k in cabinetry. If I had been able to keep the kitchen in a straight line without the L shape that you see, it probably would have saved another $1-3k in labor, cabinetry, and other associated costs. You’ll notice that all new condo and apartment kitchens are a single, straight line, with no island or galley. There’s a reason for this.

Total savings from all of this? I could have reduced my condo kitchen remodel costs by 20%, or around $5k after factoring in the 10% contractor fee.

Financing your kitchen remodel

If you aren’t sure where you are going to come up with the cash for your kitchen remodel, there are a lot of options. You can save up over time, of course, or use a HELOC or cash-out refinance to access the equity in your home to build more equity. If you go the route of a loan, make sure to shop around on a site that gives you access to multiple lenders at one time, like Lending Tree.

How much will your dream kitchen remodel cost? Use my kitchen remodel cost estimator to find out.

Now that you know the easiest way to keep your kitchen remodel costs under control, try out the calculator below to see what your costs may be. This is designed to be used for an entire remodel, but you can easily modify it to look at just a kitchen. Play around and see for yourself.

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