Often the first thing investors turn to when buying a property is to renovate a kitchen or a bathroom.

To renovate a kitchen can be the most expensive part of any renovation - almost on a level with the bathroom because you have lots of fixtures in a bathroom, and lots of appliances (and fixtures) in the kitchen.

It doesn't have to be so, though. With a little creativity and research, you can renovate a kitchen to a high modern standard without having to rip everything out and start again. It just depends on what is already there when you arrive.

Things to check before you buy.

Before you buy a property, if your budget is too tight to start from scratch and completely renovate a kitchen, you should make some basic checks.

  • Just like a bathroom, ignore the colour of the tiles and cabinets.
  • Concentrate on the shape and texture of the tiles. Can they be re-sprayed cheaply, or can you fit a stainless steel or glass splashback over the top of them?
  • is the current layout practical, or will you need to add space, cabinets, and/or remove walls to make it work properly? If the latter is true, you're in for a major renovation, and will need to be prepared.
  • Assess the date and style of the kitchen. Is it 1950s or 1960s? Or is it something from the 1970s or later decades. Remember that a nicely restored retro kitchen from the 1950s can be desirable in some properties, as long as the layout is truly practical and the kitchen is properly fitted. You can renovate a kitchen with a fully-fitted, practical 1950s kitchen to look like new, but you should give up if there are a few random cupboards here and there and the spaces for things like fridges and dishwashers are not practical or easily fixed so that they are. Some 1960s and 1970s kitchens are home-built and not to a standard size. They are also likely to be made entirely of chipboard with laminex only on the doors, so these are the most likely kitchens to need a complete rip-out-and-start-again treatment, especially if they have got wet over the years.
  • Open the cabinets and check them to see if they are sound and free of loose parts and swelling. Check benchtops for swelling as well. If the doors aren't attractive, ignore them for the moment and see if the carcass is okay, then measure the carcass so you can find out if new standard doors can be fitted or made to a modern standard. You can renovate a kitchen without having to gut it completely.
  • Are the cabinet doors sound, but dated? Ask yourself if a coat of paint and a change of handles is enough. It might well be. If the laminex or timber is coming apart, can it be glued, or will you need to start again to get it looking like new?
  • Are the taps a practical, safe and reasonably stylish design? Can large pots fit under the faucett, and do they? If not, then you may need to consider replacing them
  • Check all the appliances from the stove to the range-hood and the extractor fan. Do they work? How old are they? What sort of condition are they in visually and will they clean up to look like new or relatively so? If they are earlier than 1990, you should consider replacing them in any case. Some old electric stoves are a death-traps of grease and bad electrical design and can cause fires very easily.
  • Make sure that there are enough power points when you renovate a kitchen: It's quite common to find a kitchen that has one power point to cover the refrigerator and (if you're lucky) the microwave as well. All kitchens should have at least one, and preferably two double powerpoints as well as the one for the fridge. Remember that you will have to hire an electrician to run the new wires and install them (this is the law in Australia. Not so in the USA and the UK where you are allowed to do wiring yourself), so include this in your budget!

Now that I have figured out what needs doing, what next?

It's surprising how cheaply you can renovate a kitchen if you know how. A simple renovation, involving a coat of laminate paint, a change of door handles and some tap fixtures can cost as little as $500, and the change can bring the space out of the Dark Ages and into the 21st Century.

My parents are a good example of this. They had a beautiful custom kitchen in their home, that had been built in the 1980s. There was nothing wrong with the structure of it. The cabinets were still solid. Even the doors were quite stylish in themselves, being a nice dark timber with routed decorations on them. The letdown was in the flooring (a linoleum that was getting a bit tired and worn), the benchtops (cream laminex with a timber edge) and the tiles on the splashback, which were a sandy colour and very "country style" in a dated way. Handles were also the matching timber knobs that really aren't very inspiring.

With a quick coat of paint, the walls and tiles were sorted out. To quickly renovate a kitchen, you can buy special tile paint from your local hardware store, or have it done by a professional. Because it was a house at the higher end of the market, we replaced the benchtops with a stylish granite (at about $400 per linear metre), and changed all the knobs to a brushed steel at a cost of around $6 each for the whole 30 of them. A quick touch-up to the stain on the kickboards and some new flooring changed a still-lovely and very big kitchen from drab to fab for minimal cost, and because they had already changed all the applianced to steel, they didn't need to do any more than that.

Remember that when you renovate a kitchen, it's better to spend a little bit more to get fittings that look closer to a high contemporary standard. Brushed or matte textured steel handles in clean and stylish lines are what you should be going for. Plastic handles are a complete no-no.

Another thing you can renovate a kitchen with is light.

If you're keeping the costs down with the coat of paint and handle-change idea, you can also consider changing the light fixture to something stylish and modern (steel with halogens is very smart), and put some task lighting under the cabinets to help with lighting the worktops. This modern touch will bring out the glamour in your rental property kitchen.

Failing all of the above...

... you may need to rip out the kitchen and start again. At the low to middle end of the property market, it pays to shop around for flat-packed modular kitchens that can be fitted to the space you have with minimal cost.

We did this with a small apartment where the kitchen was a disaster. Full of damp and disintegrating, it hadn't been well cleaned for years either and the tops of the cabinets were covered in half a centimetre of grease and dust from the lack of a range hood over the stove. The sink was dented and the floor was covered in grimy, worn lino tiles that had somehow been varnished over at some point. Perhaps they thought it would make it look better. It didn't.

It had to go

For a total materials cost of $2,000, we were able to renovate a kitchen with new floating timber floor, new cabinets, sink, lights, a new coat of paint and a good-as-new rangehood and stove. The difference was staggering! We even managed to improve the layout, space and storage by putting extra wall cabinets above the counters, and doing away the breakfast bar that had taken up one entire wall of the galley-style room, was obviously never used, and had caused a cleaning nightmare. In its place, anyone could have installed a little drop-leaf breakfast table on the wall and still had space to move.

Higher up the market, it doesn't have to cost the earth to renovate a kitchen either. If you are prepared to do it yourself, it's possible to install a modular kitchen with a nicer grade of doors and countertops for between $8,000-$12,000. Many showrooms offer timber and glass or aluminium or steel doors instead of the plain white melamine fronts we used in the apartment, and the result is a state of the art kitchen for a much lower price.

In the case of a really high-end or special heritage home, it does pay to have a professional designer come through and have a fully-fitted kitchen made. These can range in price from $10,000 to $30,000 or even higher, but when you are talking about a house priced over $700,000, that expense is generally worth it to get the exact look you need.

Watch points when you renovate a kitchen:

  • Make sure that, if possible, you lay out your kitchen design with a "work triangle". That means that the lines between the sink, the stove and the refrigerator should form a triangle that helps you to work more efficiently. This isn't always possible, but there are ways around it. If your kitchen is a galley with only one side to it, placing the fridge at one end, the oven at the other and the sink/workspace in the middle tends to work best because it creates a kind of "production line" for you to work in from collecting, to cleaning and preparing, to cooking.
  • In any kitchen, the standard practical walking space needs to be 1.2m (120cm) between benches and other benches (such as an island bench or breakfast bar), or benches and the opposite wall for single-sided galleys. This will allow the user to walk around freely with trays and pans, or to move around things like open doors and dishwashers if you are working with cupboards and dirty or clean dishes.
  • Room lighting is important, so fit the ceiling with good fluorescet lights or for extra style, with eco-halogen style lights set into the ceiling.
  • Task lighting is also important. Lights under wall-mounted cabinets not only make it easier to work in darker corners (when you are standing between the ceiling light and your work), but also increase the feeling of space in a kitchen and make it feel more modern, even if the kitchen is just an update of an old one.

    That's quite a bit to think about!

    Renovating a kitchen can mean the difference between getting what you want (in rent and sale-price) for an investment property. I have actually seen it (combined with a few other things) add up to 50% more to the weekly rent, so i cannot stress enough that it the kitchen is terrible, you should do at least something to improve it.

    Just make sure that when you buy a rental property, you have enough in your budget to renovate the kitchen if it is going to need it.

    Do you have a question about Kitchen Renovations?

    So... ask away!

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    Just remember, we're not financial advisers, so you should use the information we give here as a guide only (in relation to your personal circumstances) and see an accountant or financial adviser before proceeding further.

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    Fridge next to stove. 
    I have a kitchen where the fridge and stove are side by side. How much it cost to change the layout of kitchen?

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