Want a new kitchen without a full renovation? Make these 3 updates, experts say

There are plenty of ways to update your kitchen without draining your bank account. These three ideas offer the biggest bang for your buck.

A kitchen renovation can bring an outdated kitchen into the 21th century. Will it increase your home’s value? Probably not as much as you’d expect. According to a Remodeling’s Cost vs Value Report, you’re most likely to recoup 57 percent of what you spend on a major kitchen remodel. 

But what does a major remodel entail? “I would define a full reno as: new floors, cabinets, appliances, electrical, plumbing, fixtures, paint, et cetera, explains David Steckel, a home expert at Thumbtack.

On the other hand, a minor remodel provides an estimated 72 percent return on investment. Typically, it would include, among other things, replacing the cooktop/oven range and refrigerator, and adding flooring - and would still cost over $20K.  If that amount still isn’t in your budget, don’t fret.

There are three components of a minor kitchen renovation that our experts recommend most for giving your kitchen a new look without breaking the bank. Keep reading to find out what they are.

Install a new backsplash

Backsplashes do more than keep grease from splattering on the walls. They can also instantly update the look of your kitchen. “Retiling your kitchen backsplash is a relatively easy and cost-effective hack for reviving your kitchen without the huge cost and headache of a total gut renovation,” says Nicholas Oliver, principal broker at HomeDax Real Estate in New York, NY. According to Oliver, if you replace the backsplash and buy new appliances, you can significantly boost resale value prospects. “This is because such changes may result in a prospective purchaser no longer factoring-in the need for a total gut renovation when pricing out an offer.” 

His view is shared by Ellen Schwartz, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in Westchester County, NY, and Fairfield County, CT. “Replacing the old, tired backsplash with a clean, crisp solid tile is an inexpensive way to make everything look new and bright.” In addition, tile isn’t expensive and it’s not hard to install. Schwartz recommends going to a big box store like Home Depot or Lowes since the have an extensive selection of easy-to-install subway tile. Mosaic tiles, especially hexagon and penny shapes, are budget-friendly, but also trendy. 

Update the cabinets 

Another kitchen project that our experts recommend is quite simple: paint the kitchen cabinets. “The most costly portion of a kitchen redo is the kitchen cabinets, which are incredibly expensive to replace and can range from $20,000 to $50,000,” says Daren Herzberg, licensed associate real estate broker and co-founder of the Babst + Herzberg Team at Compass in NYC. “Most people, however, aren’t aware that they can pretty much make the cabinets look new by either repainting them – for $700 to $2500 – or replacing just the cabinet fronts and hardware, which is comparatively cheap.” He projects the cost to update cabinets fronts to be between $5,000 and $10,000 for larger kitchens, but it would be less expensive for a small or mid-size kitchen.

If you’re on a tight budget, paint alone can work wonders. “Paint the cabinets and add new knobs, which makes old cabinets look hip and new and refreshed,” says Schwartz. “A coat of white or grey paint will ensure the cabinets look up-to-date and the new knobs will complete the polished look.” Out of all the surfaces in your kitchen, there’s a reason why it’s so important tackle the cabinets.  “Kitchen cabinets take up a lot of space, and tired cabinets can make a kitchen feel old and depressing, so it’s such an easy way to add life to the kitchen,” Schwartz explains.

Update the countertops

Are you noticing a pattern yet? As Schwartz explained, it’s the surfaces that take up a lot of space that deserve your utmost attention. That’s because when someone enters the kitchen, they’re immediately drawn to these areas. “Replace the countertop if it’s old - doesn’t have to be a crazy expensive stone or quartz,” she says. In fact, Schwartz recommends going to your local stone yard, or research stone yards online to see what’s available. “They may have stone that has been sitting on their lot for a long time that they want to move, and if so, now is the time to make a deal.” 

Regardless of where you decide to get your new countertops from, it’s important to understand the prominent role they play in your kitchen. “Countertops are the largest surface in your kitchen, and they serve many functions in our daily lives, so they should not only be durable but also visually pleasing,” advises Lanna Ali-Hassan, owner and principal designer of Beyond the Box Interiors in Washington, DC.

She advises against laminate, ceramic tile, and solid surfaces, warning they can instantly date a kitchen.

“Quartz is the most popular choice at the moment due to its low maintenance and broad selection,” Ali-Hassan explains. “It is nonporous, resistant to bacteria and stains, easy to maintain, and available in a multitude of colors and patterns, so it fits within any aesthetic.” 

Our home expert, Steckel, agrees with all three choices. “If you want a big change but don’t have the budget to do a reno, changing out the countertops, installing or changing the backsplash, painting the cabinets and changing the hardware is the next best thing.” He says it will make a massive difference in the appearance of your kitchen, without making a massive dent in your pocket.

Terri Williams

Terri Williams is a journalist with real estate, home improvement, and product review bylines at Architectural Digest, Real Simple, Realtor.com, Bob Vila, Yahoo, MSN, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Houston Chronicle, and Apartment Therapy. She also covers business topics, with bylines at USA Today, The Economist, US New & World Report, Verizon, and several other brands that you’ve probably heard of. Follow her adventures on Twitter