We haven’t remodeled our kitchen at our current place, but we have remodeled our Frederick property and have learned a few things we’d do again, and a few things we’d do differently. We did almost all the work ourselves, and if you are curious or so inclined, you can do most of it yourself. You would save a lot on material cost, no matter what, so read on. So, here are some ideas in no particular order.
Inflexibility is the Enemy of Frugality
We wanted to have a great kitchen in Frederick, and we did pretty well, I think. One key thing to take to heart is that unless you want to spend $15k- $30k to redo your kitchen and get “exactly” what you want, you could end up spending $15/sq. on tiles, $10k+ on cabinets, $4k+ on appliances, $2.5k + on counters, and $3k+ on flooring. In this case, just call a designer, and you can get exactly what you want. If you only have $3k- $9k to spend, and still want a dream kitchen, then read on. The most important thing to do to attain a kitchen at a low budget is to realize, that the tile for $3.99/sq. ft that is “almost” like the “$15/sq. ft tile, will still give you a beautiful effect. No, I am not suggesting low quality. I only pursue the highest quality items, which are something my family or I would like to use. No, I am not suggesting putting in clashing tiles versus cabinets, either. I am only suggesting the Giorbello 3″ x 6” glass Subway Tile in azure ($17.99) looks a hell of a lot like the Infinity blue tile from Floor and Décor ($5.00). Or the tile from overstock. I am pretty sure that both are silicon glass (like all glass) and that a slightly different blue hue won’t hurt my eyes too much. Also remember, it works in reverse. If you ask a designer for a “simple blue glass” tile, I am sure he or she can find one that cost $25/square.
So, some rules I’d suggest:
- Be Flexible – It is more about having flexibility on style–so you can take a lower cost alternative, which is pretty similar to the “exact” match–if dollars were of no concern.
- Convenience Costs Money – Be Prepared To Do A Bit More – In some cases, you can have the best price and convenience (e.g. appliances bought on Black Friday), and sometimes you may need put in some sweat equity (e.g. buying cabinets at an auction house–you’ll need to arrange transport).
- Figure Out What You Can Do – If you are interested, you can learn just about anything from YouTube these days or just reading the instructions. We put in our own cabinets, floors, dry wall, ceiling fans, faucets, and hardware, thanks to YouTube, and the knowledge that if you really “Screw It Up”, you can get a pro to fix your mess (usually at same or lower cost than having them do it in the first place). So be bold but also be safe, and think twice before doing your electrical or plumbing. Don’t do your own gas work, PLEAAAASSSEE!. Every 2-3 hours that you can do yourself will save you $50 – $120/hour of a pro (it will take you longer).
Our Project – Gut A 1902 Kitchen & Put In an A-/B+ Kitchen
Our Frederick property is a 1902 brick duplex. It has pine and oak flooring. It has hand laid plaster walls, some of which were deteriorating. For the kitchen, which is 16′ x 20′, we decided to gut it, removing all cabinets and re-plastering a few walls. So, by many standards, the kitchen which was large, needed much more work than a standard kitchen remodel. That being said, it cost us about $8000 to fully remodel it. This included:
- Gut floors, cabinets, appliances, plumbing, trim, and lighting.
- Re-floor kitchen space with solid bamboo flooring.
- Sheetrock, mud, and paint wall and ceiling.
- New stainless steel fridge, stove, dishwasher and microwave.
- New sink, garbage disposal, and hardware.
- 25 Feet (upper and lower) maple solid wood cabinets.
- New counters – Decent looking Formica.
- Paint and re-trim kitchen.
Admittedly, a lot of savings were due to doing most the work ourselves. Labor is $100/Hour, so the more you do, the less it costs (and sometimes, the longer it takes).
One other thing to consider is that if you want “bleeding edge” models of appliances (or technology) for that matter, expect to pay a lot more. I normally select items one step back from the latest in feature/functionality. For example, did you know that the newest Samsung fridge, includes a built in LCD display? So that is $5,800. I thought the Samsung model with ice maker and pull out freezer was good enough ($2350/retail, $1100 as a “Scratch & Dent” clearance item).
New – Wait for 4th of July, or Black Friday
We bought all the items for Frederick on Black Friday, early in the sales cycle. No, you don’t need to stand in those stupid lines, and rush away from the Thanksgiving table. I had pre viewed items in Best Buy before the sale and noted items/styles I liked (including model numbers) and waited for Black Friday. I then bought all the items on line. They offered free drop off and take away of the old appliances. Also, if your fridge is efficient enough, check your utility company, some will give you $100+ for taking away an old fridge and replacing it with another more efficient model. We bought individual items, all stainless steel, well rated in consumer reports, and mid to top line models (fridge, stove, dishwasher, microwave) for about $2,200. The top savings I saw was about 38% off, if you got your order in, early in the sale cycle. Note that as the day went on, the discounts dropped to 30%, then 25%. So, know what you want before the sale, buy on-line at a Big Box store (who wants to wait in line?). You can also get bundled discounts, where you have less flexibility on the exact models, and get 38% off as well.
Southern Sales Services is an exceptional auction house just outside Baltimore. You can get EVERYTHING (almost, they don’t do furniture) for a house remodel. Appliances, cabinets, vanities, doors, floors, toilets, bathtubs, sinks, lighting, A/C units, hot water heaters and EIEIO are all there. You name it, they got it. And it isn’t the cheap stuff. For example, they auction Viking, Kitchenaid, Samsung, LG. I generally got items for between 40% – 60% off (even after 13% buyer’s premium) of their retail pricing. These are new items or display models. They are new in almost all cases. Plus, it is entertaining, if you like that type of fun (I do).
Scratch & Dents
The other option is to find your Big Box stores (Best Buy, Sears, Home Depot) locations that carry “scratch and dents”. These are items that are either floor models, that have been pawed by the public, have been delivered and returned from a customer, or have been a service return (e.g. it was broken somehow) that is now fixed (with warranty). You can find pretty quickly that not all dents are created equally, although they will be priced equally. For example, we’ve seen models where the dents look like they were made with a steel toed boot, and others where the dents are so faint, that you really need to look for them. One family we know (Harrrrummpphh! CERTAINLY NOT US!! But, … a similar model looks very nice in our kitchen) bought THEIR home fridge at Best Buy’s Germantown store for $1,100 (Retail $2,400). Also, remember, price is negotiable. If you find a bigger dent in another item with the same $1,100 price tag, then ask for another 10% off or so. You’ll probably get it. Some rules:
- Cruise By Scratch & Dents Every Time You Visit – When I go to pick up my light bulbs at Home Depot, I often take a quick cruise by the “scratch & dent” section (for friends of ours). No, it isn’t labeled “scratch & dent” section, as if they have a place where they sell returns or floor models. At my Home Depot, it is unstrategically located right behind the new model section. I saw a $3,900 Samsung model with a very minor blemish going for $800. I didn’t get it–as I wanted to remain married. Do not consider it, if it isn’t at least 40% or more marked down. If it isn’t, ask for it to be 40% or more marked down.
- Find The Sear’s Outlet Store – There seems to be one near every city area. This is where they have their “scratch and dents”.
- Negotiate – Find the lightly dented unit for $1,000 and find the more heavily dented item for $1,000 and ask for a bigger discount. Also remember, dents can be very subjective.
Cabinets – The Battle is Won or Lost With Cabinets
The highest priced item I’ve found are cabinets. It would not be hard to spend $15k+ on cabinets. We spent $2,600 for 25 linear feet (tops and bottoms) of a high quality maple cabinets. In addition to really good doors and drawer fronts, we wanted solid wood/finger jointed drawers, and solid wood sides (e.g. in the industry this means plywood sides, veneered with real wood, versus particle board veneered with printed simulated wood). The shelving is also solid wood (not particle board), with real wood veneer. It has that cool, nudge and automatically close door feature. Equivalent retail pricing for these would be $10k – $13k.
The downside of an auction is that the cabinet set is, the cabinet set. This means, no, you cannot pick and choose the individual cabinets you want. You buy the whole enchilada. In my case, I made sure to buy a lot with a bit more cabinets than I needed and then figured out a kitchen design that could use those cabinets. I ended up with one extra cabinet. The other side of it is, if you don’t have enough cabinets, just verify the cabinet maker, and that they still make that model. You can round out your purchase later, and buy any missing cabinet at a retail store.
We bought these at the Southern Sales Services (SSS) auction house. There is a sale every 4-6 weeks. If you are in the DC area, logistically this could really be a great option. The day we went, they auctioned off about 16 cabinet sets. The challenge is that it is a Do-It-Yourself, endeavor. You need to pay in full that day (13% buyer’s premium), and get it out of there before the end of the week. If you are lucky, maybe you have a friend with a truck and a few strong kids. You can also arrange for delivery by a few wondering entrepreneurs during the auction, who will pick up and deliver for a fee. The auction house doesn’t have this service.
Or, if you are so inclined, there is a U-Haul rental place 2 miles down the road who will rent you a truck for $19.99/day + $1.00/mile. We went this route and paid a $25 one way charge, so we didn’t need to drive it back. This was about an $80 expense (and 2-3 hours) for us. It would have cost us $300 otherwise.
Another option, is to find the local Restore store near you. They’ll carry cabinets from someone else’s remodel. That is, they are used. This is run by Habitat For Humanity. I did check this out, and occasionally they’ll have floor models from a retailer. I didn’t find that the condition was good enough or the cost was low enough to go this way.
Flooring – Costco, Floor & Decor or Auction
The SSS auction house has great flooring. So I always check it out. If you want solid 3/4″ nailed flooring, I haven’t seen a better deal than this. Yes, I am always hopeful when I go to Lumber Liquidators, but the high quality stuff is high cost there, and so I have never bought anything.
If you are looking for laminate flooring, wait until Costco puts their flooring on sale. Flooring is already close to wholesale price, and when it is on sale, you’ll get another 25% off. I’ve seen laminate flooring swell at the seams when it gets wet, so unless it is vinyl plank, or advertises high resistance to moisture, I stay away from it. In our case, we did purchase the bamboo 1/4″ solid click flooring. It is easy to install, as long as you know how to use a cut off miter saw (don’t use a hand saw, bamboo is very hard to cut), and you’ll be making a lot of cuts. We were able to floor the 20′ x 16′ kitchen in about 16 – 24 hours of work. Chris, when he was 14, and Peter did most the work (I had to pay them, but they gave me a really good deal!)
Floor & Decor
There are not a lot of these around, but these are way better than Lumber Liquidators. They have about 250k sq. of show room, no pushy salesmen (e.g. they are not commissioned), and a huge near wholesale priced selection. They also sell pre-fab granite counter tops, for between $250 – $475 for an 8′ to 12′ run.
The challenge with an auction, with items like flooring, is that you will probably be buying a bit more than you want. Some of these items are name brands not sold in your local Home Depot, or Lumber Liquidators, so buy a bit more than you think you’ll need. Normally you’d buy 10% more that the square feet you are covering. I’d bump it to 15%. There will be no easy way to find this flooring by going to a retail store afterward. These auctions will have mid end stuff (4″ maple $2.50/Square Foot). They also have some very high end stuff ( 5″ to 6″ wide planks for $5 – $6 per square). In the end, you’ll get about a 50% or more discount. Again, you haul it.
You have a lot of options, depending on your ability, time and budget.
Do It Yourself
Before I hire a professional, I generally check out what it would take to do it by watching a YouTube video (or 5 or 6) to learn how difficult the project would be to do. I am a bit of a do-it-yourself type of guy, so if I have the tools, BELIEVE I have the skills, and can figure out how to fix a mistake if I make one, then I’ll give it a try. Have confidence in knowing, that if you do screw it up, a pro can dig you out, sometimes at lesser cost, since you already completed part of the job. I’ll do this with some car repairs. I’ve only had to tow my car to a service center once, for not getting the job done, at a discount, as I had completed about 75% of the job before hand.
Some of you may know Angie’s List as a way of finding good quality professionals to do everything from painting, and plumbing to air conditioner and flooring installations. They also have pre-paid/discounted services now. You’ll see everything from a painter for $300/day (normally $600), to flooring refinishing for $2.00/square, normally $3.00/square. You get to see their rating and customer reviews. I don’t like to make a lot of phone calls, so this is my go to place for professionals. I got my Frederick roofing guy through here, with great success, and about 35% off.
Be careful with this. These are not necessarily bonded tradesmen, but many are. What I do is check for Angie’s List suppliers of high quality and rank, on Craigslist, in case they offer their services at a lower price point. Or find a great deal on Craigslist, and check out their ranking on Angie’s list, as we did. We had to have all our A/C replaced a year or two back. We found a really exceptional deal on Craigslist. It was a 3.5 Ton 14 SEER Carrier Indoor/Outdoor unit for $3,400 installed. It turns out the same deal was being offered on Angieslist, by the same supplier, for $4,800. We bought through Craigslist, and they did a really great job. Very painless.