If you close your eyes, you can probably imagine your own kitchens all the way back to your childhood.  Maybe you can still smell dinner cooking while working on your homework after school.  Maybe you can still taste the glass of wine you had on a first date in your first home, or maybe you still remember the first time you finally won a board game played around the kitchen table.  I’m sure you can also remember some of the aggravating things about our kitchens: the hideous vinyl flooring someone picked 20 years ago, the one cabinet door that just never seems to close correctly, the spaghetti sauce stain on the countertop that no amount of scrubbing will ever erase, the corner of the island you always stub your toe on because it was designed too close to the other cabinets, or even just the sheer frustration of seeming to have all these cabinets yet no place to put everything.  In the past month alone, I can remember at least four occasions where I just stood in my current kitchen thinking, “who designed this and WHY did they think it was a good idea??” 

If you’re chuckling and relating, this leads us to the topic at hand: when to renovate your kitchen.  If your kitchen has never been renovated and you live in a standard DMV suburb, you have the “builder’s grade” cookie cutter design that mimics all of your neighbors.  The only way to get a kitchen that perfectly meets the needs of your family is to have it custom built with a designer who has taken the time to get to know you.  As a design consultant with Mayflower, my job is to help homeowners go from a vague idea to a construction plan.  Some have been planning and budgeting for years, some just bought an outdated home, and some have had to pull an insurance claim for an emergency leak that turned in an unplanned renovation.  

By far, the smoothest renovations I’ve participated in are with homeowners who have a clear idea of what they want, a realistic budget that’s been set aside and a realistic timeframe.  They have their “vision boards” ready for me so we’re able to pick materials quickly and we go through very few design revisions.  This in turn keeps their budget realistic to their original estimate and allows them time to wait for custom cabinetry and special-order items without having to make any compromises. 

By contrast, the most frustrating renovations I’ve participated in are with homeowners in a rush to get it done by a “cutting it way too close” deadline or homeowners who’ve waited until their kitchen is literally falling apart to start shopping.  There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a wood flooring you plan to extend throughout the rest of your home only to find out it’s on back order or being limited to a select few cabinet colors on the “quick ship list” because you need your kitchen completed before Thanksgiving and you started planning in October. Even worse, is realizing mid-construction you want your dishwasher in a different location.

With these experiences in mind, I’ve come up with four general rules for when you should renovate:  

  1. When you have a clear idea of what you want
    1. Keep in mind an idea is different than a design.  Leave the physical design to a professional and instead, make a list of everything that bothers you about your current kitchen and what you picture in your dream kitchen.  Look through photos of completed renovations and save those you’re drawn towards.  
  2. When you have a realistic budget available
    1. For some homeowners, it can take years of financial planning to pull off a kitchen renovation.  While you can do quick budget friendly makeovers for under 10% of your home value, a complete redesign or kitchen expansion can be 15-20% of your home value.   I strongly recommend meeting with construction companies before you have the budget.  Designing and estimating your kitchen renovation only takes a few appointments and is a very small financial investment.  Whether you’re planning months or years in advance, your construction company will be able to help you establish a specific and realistic budget.      
  3. When you have time
    1. While you can get a quick facelift using quick ship or next day cabinetry lines, this is normally reserved for rental homes or sprucing up a home you’re putting on sale.  If you’re renovating for your own family, you’ll want something a little more customized.   The average wait time for custom cabinetry lines can be anywhere from two weeks to two months.  The construction itself will likely take 3-6 weeks for smaller jobs and 6-9 weeks for more complex jobs. Multi-room renovations can last 2-3 months.  Clients who schedule their first appointment with me well before they are ready to renovate have the best chance for a successful project. 
  4. When you’ve found the right contractor
    1. The emphasis here should be on the word right rather than contractor.  There are so many to pick from and many come with an alluring price tag.  From your very first phone call to the final day of your warranty, you will have spent about two years with your renovation team.  It’s important to find a company you are ready to build a long-term relationship with. For more on finding the right contractor, please see the blog I’ve written full of helpful advice.

In closing, we’ve all heard the expression, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”  Most of us have at least a little frugality in our bones and the idea of tearing down a kitchen that works but is just ugly may not seem like the best use of money.  This brings me to the main reason homeowners ultimately decide to renovate: quality of life.  What makes a home is not just what it looks like, but how much you enjoy living in it.  I always tell my clients that their quality of life has a budget number that only they can decide.  While you don’t need a beautiful kitchen to make memories, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  Picture your current kitchen renovated.  Would you host more parties?  Would you cook more often?  Would you have less clutter?  Would less food go rotten in your refrigerator if it were a little wider? Would the kids spend more time around the dinner table? Would the pet hair on the floor and countertop spills be easier to clean? Would you do the dishes more often if it overlooked a picture window to your backyard? Would you be proud to have people over instead of being embarrassed?

So, our topic at hand becomes a two-fold question.  When should you start planning for your renovation? Right now.  When should you actually start construction? As soon as you’re ready to improve your quality of life!


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