12 August 2010

Sensible Style Kitchens and Baths for Home Sellers

This is a special edition of Sensible Style, one geared toward the thousands of homeowners wanting - or needing - to sell their average, everyday homes, condos or townhouses, the kind you find scattered through neighborhoods everywhere. (It's not intended for the mansion set!)

It's also a "preview" of a seminar I'll be presenting at the Del Mar Home Show on Friday, October 15, 2010, and of a possible e-book (or printed volume).

You can now also get a Sensible Style consultation for the home you want to sell, either in person in the San Diego area, or electronically in other parts of the country. Contact me at 760-705-8319 or jamie@jgkitchens.com for details.

As a house seller and house hunter myself, as well as a professional kitchen and bath designer, I can share tips from every perspective... How your home looks to a buyer. What reads well and what doesn't. How to boost the perceived value of your place, especially in its crucial kitchen and master bath areas.

My goal for this Sensible Style Kitchens and Baths for Home Sellers post is to help you sell your place quicker, and for more money. The tips here are all low-cost and can improve how your home shows to prospective buyers without a major investment of materials or labor.

In fact, most of the resources included in this post are available through The Home Depot, (except where noted). Most are regularly-stocked items there, too, though what is stocked varies by region.

One note: These tips are geared toward transitional and traditional homes, rather than contemporary. That's because more homes on the market fit into those two categories. There are certainly options like these available for modern homes, and I offer Sensible Style consultations for contemporaries, too.

So, let's get started on getting your home sold sooner, and for more money!

Paint: First, lasting impression

This is one of the first things buyers will notice about your place, and one of the most affordable to change. Realtors always rave about "neutrals throughout," but neutrals aren't the mainstay of the magazines, websites, catalogs and even the model homes buyers look at through the home selection process.

Even neutrals are showing up now in deeper, richer tones - e..g, coffee rather than beige, and new neutral definitions include woodsy greens like sage. The more your rooms resemble current, stylish home images, the quicker your place will sell.

Use color schemes shown in popular magazine spreads or at upscale retailers. Restoration Hardware has a nice, rich palette that I like to work with.

Choose a rich palette, like the Restoration Hardware selections, for an affordable upgrade.

For suggestions on which paints go with which cabinets and countertops, please check out this earlier Winning Color Combinations Sensible Style post.

Lighting: Let there be improvements!

I've replaced hundreds of bare bones light bars in six years of bath remodels. Do yourself a favor and replace yours if it looks like this one. Choose a model that works with the other finishes in the room, but adds some updated style. It's cheap. It's easy. It's one of the simplest improvements you can make to your bathrooms, especially the master!

You wouldn't be seen naked in your bathroom before a prospective buyer; why should your bulbs???

Add style with this World Imports Satin Nickel Bath Bar instead.

Flooring: Potential trouble afoot?

Flooring is often perceived as a big ticket item, and it can be in many instances. I'm currently renting a condo with ugly sheet vinyl flooring in the kitchen. Had I chosen to buy this place, that would have ka-chinged big time in my brain. Will your kitchen and bath floors resonate with your prospective buyers, so they'll be seeing good looks, rather than "gotta change this" when they walk through?

This old school resilient flooring won't resonate with buyers.

These Ceramica Exodus 12 x 12 Resilient Tiles by Trafficmaster would be an easy-install upgrade.

And this budget Marazzi Montagna Lugano 16 x 16 Porcelain Tile is an even better choice.

Bonus: If you opt for ceramic or porcelain tile flooring and add a coordinating backsplash, you'll up the perceived value of your kitchen even more. Many of the trims and mosaics that go with stock porcelain or ceramic tiles are also in stock for an easy, affordable upgrade.

This is one of the in-stock accent tile options that coordinates with the Marazzi porcelain floor tile. It can make a kitchen-enhancing backsplash an easy, affordable option.

Windows: Covering yourself

To me, nothing says cheap like aluminum mini blinds. (They also get bent easily by folks checking out your views.) Buyers look at them and imagine their replacements being a custom - i.e., expensive - change. It doesn't have to be. I like two-inch white faux wood blinds as a reasonable alternative to custom shutters. They'll look like an upgrade when you're selling, but many common sizes can be found in stock at home centers.

Aluminum mini blinds are outdated, unattractive and take away from your views.

Opt for 2" Faux wood blinds instead, like these DesignView Grandwoods in many stock sizes.

Another cheap-looking window treatment is plastic vertical blinds, especially on windows. (I see them all the time on patio doors.) You can use faux woods on windows, as noted above. I'd suggest long, wide fabric window panels as the most affordable option for doors. They're widely available in discount stores like Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Ikea, as are the rods to hang them on. Go simple and solid in a natural fabric like white cotton to offset your richly-colored, newly painted walls.

This Woolrich Grommet Window Pair from Target is a visual upgrade from plastic vertical blinds for your patio doors. Keep them open during showings.

Hardware: An easy upgrade

Cheap plastic hardware will make your cabinets look cheap themselves. No hardware (except on sleek modern cabinets) can have the same effect. Replacing them can be easy and affordable if you stay with the same spread, (i.e., hole to hole distance), to avoid repairs to the doors and drawer fronts. Or you can choose hardware that covers the old holes if you're changing sizes. I replaced knobs with bin pulls on my last home's kitchen drawers, which achieved the desired result without a drop of wood putty! Nice hardware can really dress up builder grade cabinets; consider it jewelry for your kitchen or bath!

You wouldn't spot these in a Parade of Homes tour home!

Dress up your cabinets with brushed nickel Amerock Inspirations Plain Pulls for a not-so-plain upgrade.

Faucets: Style turn on opportunity

Another turn-off is plastic-handled faucets in your kitchen or bath. They'll be noticed immediately and read low budget to your buyers. Sink faucets are very easy and inexpensive to change out.

They're cheap. They're ugly. And they're in kitchens from coast to coast.

Give your prospective buyers a sleek Delta Cicero pull-out faucet with soap dispenser, too, for an easy, richer-looking faucet impression.

The single-handle plastic knob faucet is in bathrooms everywhere and enhances none of them!

This Kohler Archer faucet easily replaces the abomination above and instantly upgrades your bath!

Tub and shower faucets are not as easy to replace, unless you can get ones that fits the existing valves. One way to tell if this will be possible is to note the manufacturer name on your current faucets, take a photo of them to your nearest home center and look at their special order books. If they show your model, they'll also show its valve and you may be able to find a new set that works with that same one. If so, that's an easy handyman replacement. (I did it at my last house for less than $200, including parts and labor.)

Details: Little ones can make a big difference

Though they won't deter a buyer, there are a couple of small details you can improve that will make your place look a bit richer. One is replacing the white plastic flush valve that comes with just about every builder toilet I've ever seen for one that matches your other hardware.

A decorative flush lever, like this Moen Banbury, will upgrade your bathroom instantly. Consider it for a powder room, and if your toilet is in a highly visible location in the master bath.

Another easy change is replacing those dreadful plastic shower hooks with better-looking metal ones that fit the style of your bath.

Shower Curtain Rings with Bearings or other coordinating styles and finishes, will improve the look for your bathroom.

Topping things off

Changing countertops can be an expensive proposition, but changing what's sitting on them doesn't need to be. Consider stainless steel countertop appliances and limit them to just one or two. Nothing else needs to sit out at all. Plastic drainboards and soap bottles are a definite detractor.

Your budget may not allow for stainless steel appliances, but a stainless steel toaster oven you can take with you can add countertop eye candy to your kitchen. This one by Breville at Williams-Sonoma features convection cooking, as well.

Other upgrades

Fluffy white bath towels and mat will read "spa" to prospective buyers and also contrast richly with your new paint color. So will brushed metal, natural wood (that doesn't clash with your cabinetry) or woven accessories, like bamboo tissue holders or wicker trash can. Remove anything that screams Walmart or Motel 6.

This Bamboo Square Bath Ensemble by simplehuman at Bed, Bath & Beyond will instantly add natural, updated style to your bath.

Final thought

Declutter. Declutter. Declutter. I was looking at an otherwise spacious townhome this week with ridiculously-overstuffed closets. It gave the impression that there wasn't enough storage in the place. Whatever doesn't fit in neatly, allowing both doors to open easily, needs to be stored somewhere else. The same holds true for linen towers, kitchen cabinets and bath vanities.


  1. Dear Jamie, my compliments for the way you show your "tips" in a few clear statements. This year I'll do some changes in my house and in 2 years time I hope to sell my house. Is this just "part 1" or do you save this subject for you seminar and e-book only?

  2. Excellent post, Jamie, and isn't it the truth. We are all too familiar with these "quiet lurkers" detracting value. Thanks for pointing it it out.

  3. wow, beautiful homes and beautiful accessories, i loved the look of the kitchen, so modern and so sleek and stylish, very comfortable looking, wish i had stylish accessories for my kitchen too

  4. Dear Jamie:

    I read this just for fun after the gruesome work I have had cleaning and fixing up my mom's home in Phoenix. Yep, she had all those cheap, plastic handled faucets. But that plain D-ring pull in brushed nickel would be a definitely upgrade from the ornate and ugly bronzed pulls in her kitchen. They just screamed "196=70"!


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