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This question recently turned up in a search and it is a good question. When we decide to update our kitchens it is really important to prioritize our updates according to our budget and our needs. If you are thinking of selling your home in the near future that is also a major factor to weigh in on your decision. The biggest expenses are listed below.
Appliances- I'd have to say this is probably where a majority of money would be spent in any thorough renovation. Many homes for sale fail to update appliance and when a buyer sees old appliances they know the price of the home has gone up several thousand dollars. No buyer wants to replace old appliances. Would you? If you are considering updating and renovating your home and your appliances are more than 10 years old, you can not go wrong replacing your appliances. Newer appliance not only sell your home faster, but if you're not selling the newer ones are far more efficient and will save your money on your utility bill. The refrigerator is the big energy elephant in the room and as such you may want to opt for a slightly smaller one, with the freezer on the bottom. Studies indicate these are the most energy efficient of all designs.
Cabinetry- This renovation may be almost as expensive as replacing all appliances depending on how expensive your tastes are and if you are planning on doing a complete tear out and replacement. However, unlike appliances that pretty much have to be replaced, cabinetry is one way you can save money by simply refacing, refinishing or painting. If you are trying to sell, evaluate the overall condition of your cabinetry first and foremost. If they are older solid wood, you may want to refinish, repaint and/or replace hardware and leave it at that and use your money in other areas that are more important like appliances.
Counter Tops- Again, depending on material used, this can be right up there with appliance replacement. If your counter tops are laminate, you may want to opt to replace with an updated granite look laminate. Brands like Wilsonart laminate create some beautiful glossy texturized laminate that have the look of granite at a fraction of the cost for materials and installation. Considering the housing market, this may be the most cost effective improvement with counter tops you can do. Any update is an upgrade to old, dated, worn out counters. There are also products that will allow you to paint and refinish your own counters. The most expensive counter top materials are always going to be your natural solid surfaces like granite, marble, quartz, etc. They will however last a lifetime with proper care.
Flooring- At the risk of sounding like a broken record, again we have to consider the materials used. If you opt for hardwoods and tiles expect to pay much more. Less expensive alternatives may be peel and stick tile that are made to look like stone with bevel edges and texture to mimic solid stone. These tiles are attractive come in a wide variety of colors and you can save money by installing them yourself. The main question is what can you afford and what condition your floors are in. If your floors are damaged, faded, stained or dated, even a fresh new linoleum floor is still an improvement over leaving them as is.
With all renovations it is truly about your budget, and your needs. If you have but one chance to make an impact, your best bet is to replace the big ticket items and then adjust your budget from there, especially if you are going to live in this home for a long time or planning on selling. You may not get a second chance to do it. Good luck and enjoy! Remember regret is the dearest price we pay in the long run.
For more on Interior decorating, see: Dawn's Interior Decorating Solutions.