Dear Ali: We're renovating our kitchen and want to know: Is now the time to drop $4K on a new stove? We would be happy with basic white appliances, just like Grandma had, but should we be concerned about resale?
A: Good news: updating your kitchen will still help your resale value, even in today's slower housing market. According to the 2008 Cost vs. Value Report, an annual survey of the return on home reno projects by Remodeling Magazine, kitchens consistently turn out to be one of the best investments you can make in your home, usually just ahead of fixing up the bathroom and right behind putting in more energy-efficient windows. For every dollar you put into your kitchen, you should expect to see 75 to 80 cents back at resale. (Hey, it's better than the stock market, and you can make lasagna in it.)
As for the question of how much to improve, that depends. In general, you want to think like a high-schooler, and aspire to the same things everybody else has. So it might be worth it to spend a couple of weekends at open houses in your neighborhood to see whether your neighbors' appliances are Wolf or Kenmore.
You also want to match the standard of your appliances to the expensiveness of your house. A starter home doesn't need a five-figure La Cornue range, while a multi-million dollar mansion probably calls for two ovens, so the owner can at least fantasize about making dinner for 14 people. Either way, don't miss the consumer tips at the National Kitchen and Bath Association website.
If you're gunning for brand names, check with your Realtor about which ones "matter" locally. Here in Manhattan, a seller can get some mileage out of having a Sub-Zero fridge and a "name" dishwasher (Miele/Bosch/Fisher & Paykel). But brand significance differs from area to area.
Also, don't be afraid to ask your contractors what's trendy. This year's gadget is this year's gadget for a reason. And don't discount your personal preference. It is your home, after all. While something like a pot-filler faucet (which will run you a couple hundred bucks) may seem dated when you sell in five years, you may be thrilled to save a lot of kitchen labor in the meantime.
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