Jason Robie: Creating kitchen cashflow

By Jason Robie

While remodeling my duplex years ago, there were two primary trouble spots: the bathroom and the kitchen. The previous tenants, I'm sorry to say, were complete and utter slobs. This was one of those houses you walk into and ask yourself how people actually live like this. After ripping out all the fixtures and the entire floor (not just the flooring) in the bathroom, we shifted our attention to the kitchen. Luckily, the cabinets were structurally tolerable but ugly, the 1980s linoleum had to go and we needed to do something to give the room a bit more life.

We all know that kitchens and baths sell homes. But even if you are not selling - these two rooms are great places to aim your DIY energy. Today we're going to talk about a handful of projects you can tackle on your own. The primary goal of all of these upgrades is to keep within a tight budget but get more value out of the property when we're done. The added benefit is you get to enjoy these updates as long as you live in the home. So let's get started.

As I mentioned, my cabinets were in tolerable shape but they were just tired looking. One of the most striking projects you can do in your kitchen that will barely nibble at your wallet is to repaint the cabinets and change out the hardware. This project should be under $500 for paint and hardware combined. You may want to pad the budget a bit for beer and pizza because this is also a job that virtually anyone can help you with.


My alma mater, Alderson Broaddus University, had school colors of blue and yellow. I have a feeling that's why those continue to be my favorite colors (just ask my pottery teacher). I decided that those bright colors would be perfect for the kitchen and painted the cabinets a soft yellow and the walls a nice friendly blue. It gave the kitchen a sunny sky and an oceanic base. Painting the cabinets will truly transform this room so choose those colors wisely and make sure the cabinet hardware matches the tone. In our case, we went with simple, single-pull knobs in white that helped soften the yellow.

I've likely told the story of how the previous tenants completely ruined the hardwood floors in this unit. Our solution was to rip up the layers of carpet and linoleum and paint over the floors. As heart breaking as this was, in this case it was the correct choice. It served my budget well and was suitable for a rental unit. Perhaps another time my priorities would have shifted. This is also a great way to update the kitchen. Re-painting the walls and/or cabinets makes a big statement, but painting the flooring offers another large-scale canvas on which to leave an impression.

You really need to have the right conditions for painting the floors of your kitchen, but whatever you decide to do, changing out the floor will have a big impact and will not (usually) break the bank. There are certainly inexpensive options like manufactured flooring and linoleum, but even choosing ceramic tile or another type of hardwood can be manageable and have a long-lasting impact. Again, this really comes down to your long-term intentions with the home and if you will be the one enjoying this upgrade.

"One of the more often overlooked upgrades to a kitchen is the lighting," Badger Realty agent Edward Ohalloran said. "Assuming there is access above the room, adding new lights for work spaces and highlighting is a simple and inexpensive project that makes a big impact."

Lighting in a kitchen is one of the key ingredients to how welcoming it is for guests and how easy it is to prepare a meal. Once I discovered under-counter lights, my life was changed forever. You've never realized how much counter space you actually have until you can actually see it and make use of it. Cutting vegetables and putting Nutella on a bagel have never looked so good. You can hard wire those if you have the access to the wiring or the plug-in ones will suffice as well. You can get creative with the cords to keep the mess more tolerable.

Lastly, and actually one of the areas I look at first when I'm evaluating a kitchen, is the sink. If you have washed dishes in a deep, ceramic sink before, you know what I'm talking about. Gone are the days of the cheap, shallow, "tinny" stainless sinks. Treat yourself (or your buyers) to a sturdy, deep sink that looks amazing and makes a bit of a statement. Yes, the sinks that are incorporated into the countertop are super cool and chic, but replacing the countertops is likely going to break the budget. Rip out that nasty, old sink you have and replace it with an awesome, useful one that you will love. It won't make doing the dishes any more pleasant, but at least it will help keep your shirt dry.

Kitchens are an awesome place to focus your renovation attention. It is a room that we visit at least twice a day and one that should be welcoming, friendly and useful. Take a peek around your kitchen today and take aim at those projects that you know you can tackle. It will be a rewarding project. It won't break the bank and you'll gain equity in your home since you've just added value in the process. Nice job!