When Kim Armstrong told a contractor she wanted to spend around $35,000 to renovate the kitchen of her family’s Victorian home near Hanscom Park, he laughed.
Think more in the $90,000 range, Eric Price of Bearded Builders said. Especially because they wanted to take down a load-bearing wall to make a walk-in pantry part of the main kitchen area and move the original sink.
Armstrong was dumbfounded.
“Our house only cost $139,000,” she said. “It feels bad to spend more than half of the value of your house on one room. It feels wasteful.”
But Gitt Construction owner Tim Silknitter wasn’t surprised at all by the steep price tag.
“Ninety thousand dollars is the normal now,” he said. “It used to be $50,000 to $60,000.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Price said, the price of everything has gone up, from materials to labor. When submitting a bid, contractors have to consider the cost of health care, gas and the idea that fewer people have the skills to do the work, so they can demand higher wages.
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The price of copper alone has shot through the roof, Silknitter said. Shipping costs are outrageous.
Price said you still can spend only $30,000 to $50,000 if you have a small kitchen and are not changing the layout. But most of the time, decades-old layouts don’t fit the needs of modern families.
“Often,” he said, “it makes sense to spend more to get what you really want than to spend less and not get what you want.”
There’s a lot to consider — and possibly replace — in a full makeover, which drives up costs. Things like countertops, backsplashes, cabinets, flooring, lighting and even that window over the sink. Some customers want new appliances or may need the plumbing moved.
Simply painting the cupboards can cost $5,000 to $7,000, and new countertops can cost $5,000 to $6,000. Even a sink installation is $3,000 to $4,000.
Libby Pantzlaff of Creative Interiors by Libby said when customers are ready for a makeover, they almost always want the old backsplash, countertops and cabinets to go.
She will break down the cost in each category and see how it all works with the budget.
If $15,000 for new cabinets isn’t available, a customer might decide to have them painted. Instead of a high-end quartz or granite countertop, a lower-priced version might be the way to go.
“You can save money with a designer if you just want a fresh look and maybe don’t have the budget for a whole new kitchen remodel,” she said. “Yes, your budget is enough and we can do a kitchen remodel. Or with the amount of money you want to spend, we can design it. We can paint the cabinets or uplift the counters or redo the backsplash and it’s enough. Just pulling the whole design together with the rest of the house. You don’t want it to feel disconnected to the rest of the house.”
But Pantzlaff cautions that with so many trades involved, from electrician, plumber, tile setter, painter and trim carpenter, it’s never going to be cheap.
Price said 70 to 80% of the people he talks to have the same surprised response as Armstrong.
“I have the joyful privilege of telling them their budget is not going to do it,” he said. “It sucks to tell everybody that. But that’s the way it is.”
Silknitter said he’ll often tell people to wait a year so they can save more money for the project or to consider taking out a home loan. He has had several clients hold off on expensive vacations or large purchases such as a car to put the money toward a new kitchen.
He’s willing to do whatever fits the homeowner’s budget, small or large.
“The kitchen is the most-used space in a home,” he said, “and can add value and joy when completed.”
Price said it’s important for customers to consider how long they will be staying in the house as they try to come up with a sensible budget. If it’s going to be awhile, it makes it easier to consider a big price tag to make a renovation work for the family.
Armstrong said they are considering leaving the pantry as it is, which would drop the bid considerably. They also are going to wait until later in the year to save more money for the project and because they don’t want their kitchen torn up over the kids’ summer vacation.
She’s grateful that Price even gave her a bid. After calling 15 places, only a few actually showed up to give her an estimate.
“Some disappeared after they saw our kitchen,” she said.
The house was built in 1890.
Price cautions that anyone ready to do a makeover should not wait too long to start the process.
“It’s a weird time right now,” he said. “We just can’t get to stuff fast enough, and there’s not enough people to hire because there is hardly anyone to hire. If you called right now, we’re scheduling those appointments for December and January just to come out, which is not fun for anyone.”