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Makeover Mania
Why — and when — a kitchen remodel is right for you


Oct. 2017

A Blackstone International project

Who doesn’t love a dramatic makeover? A boring, dated look gets updated with new hair, makeup, clothes and accessories, and the result is a whole new person. That same kind of dramatic change can happen in your kitchen, and it’s one home improvement project that industry pros agree is a great all-around investment. 

According to Consumer Reports, 53 percent of real estate professionals consider the kitchen the most important room when it comes to selling your house. Mike Ruzicka, president of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors, agrees. “In the industry, people say kitchens and baths sell homes,” he says.

“The kitchen is literally the center of our sanctuary,” explains Kate Shortall, owner of Blackstone International, a slab and tile fabrication shop in Waukesha. “Life can be so hectic; we truly rely on the kitchen as the most used space of our home.”

Remember when people bought fixer-uppers? Those days are over. “Buyers want to start that entertaining in a nice kitchen on day one,” Ruzicka says. “We’re in a seller’s market right now, but you’re not going to get top dollar if your house isn’t in move-in condition — and having a kitchen that’s up-to-date, looks good, and is ready to entertain in is part and parcel of that.”

As with most things, it’s important to approach a kitchen project by looking at the big picture. Jack Golatke, a partner with Story Hill Renovations in Wauwatosa, says clients’ approaches to kitchen projects depend on their long-term plans. “If people are going to be in their homes awhile, they’ll spend a little more money,” he explains. “If they’ll be there less than five years, we’ll put in finishes and products that will appeal to the masses.”

Shortall also urges homeowners to do some self-evaluation before starting a kitchen project. “I advise clients to truly think about themselves, the household, and how their home flows,” she says. “I encourage them to try not to rely on how another person’s kitchen is composed or designed, (but) really focus on their own personal needs.”

With an overall plan in place, the next step is to think about your kitchen’s existing layout: Will it stay or will it go? “The design is where it all starts,” Golatke explains. “If a homeowner is changing the design, we come up with one that best fits the kitchen and the home.” Determining a workable budget is important, but it depends on a variety of factors. Golatke says there is a wide variance in cost for changing the kitchen’s design. “Right now, the budget is $60,000 to $100,000 for a complete remodel,” he adds.

But getting a new look for a kitchen is totally doable on a smaller scale. “If you’re not changing the layout and just want a quick update, depending on the size of the kitchen and the person’s budget, it can (cost) a lot less,” Golatke says. “For new cabinets, (counter)tops, lighting, fixtures and a fresh coat of paint in a small kitchen, it can be in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.”

Milwaukee’s average kitchen renovation project costs are slightly higher than the national averages. A major update on a midrange kitchen costs an average of $64,625 locally, whereas the national average comes in slightly lower at $62,158. For a minor kitchen redo, Milwaukee averages $21,790, which is slightly above the national average of $20,830*. But Diane Welhouse, executive director of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, cautions homeowners to avoid getting caught up in averages. “The variables are tremendous,” she warns. “There is no average-size home or average kitchen.”

Ruzicka offers a prioritized list for kitchen updates, but cautions homeowners to keep the overall look in mind. “Definitely counters, cabinets, appliances then flooring,” he says. “It’s got to go together, and lighting has to fit in there too. Lighting sets the tone and the ambiance for the kitchen. If you’re entertaining, people want lighting that’s dimmable. If you have little kids, you need brighter lighting.”

While talented homeowners may be happy to take on a do-it-yourself kitchen project, it’s important to know when to call in the professionals, no matter what your budget may be. “You can hire someone to design a kitchen for you, (or) ... you can go to the big-box retailers or smaller suppliers and explain what you’re trying to do and they’ll help you,” Ruzicka says.

*Statistics from Remodeling’s 2017 Cost vs. Value Report 

This story ran in the Oct. 2017 issue of: