Do kitchens and bathrooms sell houses?

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “you know what they say, kitchens and bathrooms sell houses”, I would be a rich man. I have met many people who have been tempted to pour good money into a kitchen or bathroom before they go to market. Here’s a tip; there are usually other places where that money is better-spent first. 

Let me put that in context. Obviously, a kitchen and bathroom renovation will add value to a property, and decent value at that, but unless you are a builder or have the ability to complete the work yourself, I don’t believe a full and extensive refurbishment (especially once you start relocating fixtures and fittings) will, on average, make you money and here’s why:

There are normally a number of factors that are higher on the priority list than a newly renovated bathroom and kitchen.

One of the most important factors in our current hot market is whether the house actually fits their budget. Trust me, the majority of buyers I deal with would happily live with a kitchen or bathroom that isn’t brand new for the privilege of owning a home. I will elaborate on this point under heading number four. Also, location trumps a lot. The right school zone or suburb is a huge tick in the right box. What about topography, layout and general construction? I know for myself and most of the general public these are a lot more important and much harder to change if they are not right.

People actually like being able to add value and stamp their own mark on a home

The process of buying a home is very emotive and vastly different from shopping around for a vacuum cleaner or even a car. If there is one thing I have learned in my 36 ½ years on this earth is that everyone is different (and unpredictable but that’s a blog for another day). Your idea of a kitchen that is perfect is no doubt different from someone else’s. People will often resent paying a premium for the ideas and dreams of someone else when it is not necessarily the way they would have completed the work. People like to buy the dream and having the ability to renovate the way or to the quality, they would like feeds into that.

I think some owners have a fear that if kitchens and bathrooms aren’t renovated, potential buyers will get put off, but I haven’t found this to necessarily be the case.

Kitchens and bathrooms are expensive

It goes without saying that compared to other potential upgrades this kind of renovation is not cheap. Therefore commonsense says that it is always going to be harder to get your money back. I have read that a kitchen or bathroom renovation may net you on average 80-85% of what it cost when it comes to the sale. I am not sure how accurate those figures are, as I think it is a hard thing to quantify, but my instinct tells me it is a lot harder to create a return on kitchens and bathrooms compared to other improvements.

I have always said that people pay too much for houses that need work

This statement may not make sense off the bat, but let me give you three recent (in the last week or two) examples that might help clarify. I have had two different groups of friends offer on properties recently and miss out. One was three bedrooms and one bathroom and one was four-five bedrooms and two bathrooms. Both properties were what I would consider good real estate. Solid 60/70’s construction and both properties were in a similar condition which was cared for but had been lived in by owners for decades and internally everything was original or near to it.

The three-bedroom, one-bathroom home sold in the $720,000’s. Doing a basic three-bedroom sales search of properties sold within a 700m radius in the last 6 months this ranked 4th highest out of 22 sales in the area. My gut feeling, if this house was done up it would be pushing to achieve over the mid $700,000’s. If the owner had gone ahead and renovated they would almost certainly have come out on the negative side of the ledger.

The four-five bed property sold for circa $870,000. The research I did for my friend showed that the level where that style and size of property were topping out was around the $920,000-930,000 mark. You must have cheaper tradesmen than me if you could complete the renovations on a near original 260 sqm property for $50-60,000.

When I say “people pay too much for houses that need work” what I mean is that people won’t work out exactly what it will cost to do the renovations and subtract that from what it might be worth when done. The benefit of owning the home they can live in from the get-go will be worth more than that to them.

The third example is a property I sold last week. It was a lovely home in a lovely location but the kitchen was by no means renovated. See a photo below:

This property had 13 offers and sold for a price higher than anything else had ever sold for in the street despite the kitchen being decades old.

A kitchen or bathroom renovation could actually highlight other areas of the home that need work. 

Yes, the kitchen or bathroom is tired but the rest of the home isn’t quite a 5-star hotel either. Bringing a kitchen into 2019 may highlight to buyers that the rest of the home is still partying like it’s 1999. However, if a bathroom is in 1999 and the rest of the home is in 2019 it may pay to do some work as further explained below.

So when should I do work on these areas of the home?

This is a very good question. There are always times when renovating is going to be beneficial. Off the top of my head, three occasions that could warrant renovations could be: 

1) The kitchen or bathroom had degraded to a point where it is not functional (although even this is dependant on the condition of the rest of the home).

2) The home may be immaculate in all areas but a bathroom and spending a little on this renovation could definitely be a positive. 

3) Are you a tradesman or have the sought after skills to renovate at cost? If you have a bit of time up your sleeve and the impetus to do the work you could be rewarded for your efforts.

Now, I am going to talk counterintuitive to the main body of the blog. We have talked about why renovating kitchens and bathrooms may not be your best option but there is a real benefit in choosing select areas to change/to fix/renovate that won’t cost you the earth and provide great value for money. This could be door handles on kitchen cupboards, new cupboard doors, creating more storage space via a hook board, paintwork, rearranging the appliances, a cost-effective countertop change, etc. 

Different houses deserve different levels of renovation before a sale and if you decide on a kitchen and bathroom upgrade all power to you. But I hope that reading this has made you realize that it is not always absolutely essential.

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Country kid turned city inhabitanat. I enjoy working out, living in the vibrant city of Wellington, helping people with property, and spending time with my beautiful wife.