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How Boomers on a budget reduced kitchen remodel costs

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | December 15, 2014

When Warren Blum, a retired law enforcement officer, and his wife Laureen, a school teacher, decided it was time to downsize, they sold their 19th century Vermont farmhouse and bought a 1,200-sq. ft., three-bedroom, two-story attached home on the other side of the country in Reno, Nev.

They didn't make this radical change hastily. They visited the area at different times of the year to experience all four seasons. They thought about what size home would be large enough to accommodate out-of-town guests, yet still be manageable to maintain as they aged. Finally, when they sensed the financial downturn was coming to an end, they made their move, buying a six-year-old home on a short sale at a price well below its original value.

Their new home was a "diamond in the rough," as Laureen puts it. "The backyard was a pile of dirt; the floors and surface areas needed a good cleaning." They did some minor upgrades early on -- landscaping the small yard, for example, with a paver-patio, low-maintenance artificial turf, and a modest wood deck.

They also removed a tiny kitchen island that awkwardly chopped up the main-level's open plan living space and interfered with opening the refrigerator all the way. They replaced the downstairs carpeting with laminate, which unfortunately didn't wear as well as they were told it would. That would be replaced during their kitchen remodel.

Like the time they devoted to buying the house, they wisely spent a couple of years determining exactly what else needed upgrading. Even with the money they saved from the short sale, they did not want to unnecessarily eat into their retirement funds or spend money on products, like the flooring, that didn't meet their expectations and would need replacing too soon.

How the Blums saved on kitchen remodel costs

Warren and Laureen are not planning on moving again. Laureen jokes that when they can't get up the stairs, she'll put in a stair lift so they can ride up and down. For now, however, they wanted to do a minor kitchen remodel, upgrade the main-level flooring with something more durable than the laminate and spruce up the bathrooms. Here's what their kitchen remodel wish list looked like before they started making additional changes to the main level:

  • stainless steel appliances
  • new kitchen ceiling light
  • countertops
  • backsplash
  • under cabinet lighting
  • new kitchen sink
  • new faucet
  • new flooring throughout the main level

In short, with an initial budget of under $10,000 -- clearly a mid-range, minor kitchen remodel -- they wanted "a kitchen area that would be light and bright," as Laureen puts it. Prior to beginning work on the counters, sink, and tile, they replaced the bland ceiling light with a contemporary fixture and changed out the white, builder's-grade appliances one by one with stainless steel.

before kitchen remodel

To stay within budget for the appliances, Laureen says they bought each appliance individually from "...places like the Sears Outlet, Home Depot, and RC Willey. We got some major savings…We did not mind a discount when there was a small dent or scratch that was going to be hidden against a cupboard wall. Our biggest concern was the dishwasher, and we did a lot of homework related to it." The one that came with the house made so much noise they couldn't hear the TV above the racket.

The dishwasher was the last appliance to be replaced, and they had it installed during their downstairs remodel. They decided on a Kitchen Aid, which at 46 decibels was the quietest one they could find. Warren says the contractor added some additional noise-reduction material on either side of it during installation, and now they cannot even tell when the dishwasher is running. It was pricey -- about $1,000 -- but they paid only $700 by scouting for discounts.

Cheap kitchen remodel ideas for quality results

before and after kitchen remodel

With appliances purchased on the cheap, the next big decision was whether to get new cabinets or keep the ones the builder installed, which were real wood. It was a tough choice, Laureen says. "They were in good shape, but not necessarily the style or layout we would have picked had we been building from scratch. However, trying to put our money to the best use we decided to keep them because cabinets -- especially the ones we coveted -- can be a huge expense." Keeping the same layout saved on other kitchen remodel costs, too, like plumbing and wiring.

The next decision was the countertop because it would determine color choices for the remainder of the remodel. "The [existing] counters were the small tiny Spanish tiles with grout that caught every manner of crumb and speck and that seemed to always need major scrubbing," Laureen says. They'd had prior experience with granite and weren't thrilled with it because it stains without regular maintenance. "We decided to try quartz as it never needs treating and has the same beautiful designs available as granite. We visited many, many businesses that offered good choices in granite, but the quartz tops were a bit more of a challenge to find. We opted for a darker countertop as the cabinets are a light birch," and finally found exactly what they wanted at US Granite, a supplier that offered a huge selection of both granite and quartz.

under cabinet lights

With the color of the counters decided, the Blums were ready to play with creative kitchen remodel ideas for the backsplash. They chose subway tiles in white glass "to keep the kitchen light." They also did some accent tiles behind the sink and stove with a herringbone pattern in stainless steel and glass tiles -- easy to clean, shiny and light reflective. They added a whimsical touch with under-cabinet lighting that can fade to 20 different colors at the touch of a remote control, making the kitchen not only bright, but festive for entertaining.

creative backsplash

Laureen insisted on a single-basin, undermount kitchen sink in stainless to match the appliances. Unlike the double sink the builder had installed, the new sink and large-arc faucet with built-in sprayer can accommodate soaking and washing big pots and pans with ease.

kitchen sink ideas

Finally, they searched for the best prices on flooring and ended up back at The Home Depot where they found a great deal on 18-by-18 travertine tiles that they installed throughout the entire main level in an offset diamond pattern to obscure the grout lines.

While Laureen admits they blew their initial budget by about $4,000, she says they fully expected they would go over their original estimates. "We scoured Home Depots, Lowes, local stores, tile stores, kitchen and bath stores, and appliance stores. There were very few home product stores we didn't look into. We chatted with everyone we met and asked for recommendations. We were looking for sales and discounts on good quality products." They purchased most of their materials from The Home Depot and Floor and Decor because, as she says, "They offered the best prices and the materials were solid quality."

kitchen remodel before and after

In the end they were not at all disappointed in the kitchen remodel costs, and they are ecstatic about the results. But they give the lion's share of credit to their contractor -- landscaping, carpentry, and tiling guru Edwin Carreon, owner of EGC Construction in Reno -- who they said has the eye for design and detail that made their project such a success.

All photos credited to Iris Price

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.