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A Kitchen Makeover

Remodeling your kitchen makes dollars and sense.

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Remodeling a kitchen is a bit like cosmetic surgery. You greatly anticipate the end result, but it's the getting there that worries you.

Yet, despite all the concern, planning, and costs involved, there are few investments that will deliver the kind of return that a kitchen remodel will — both in terms of economic return on investment and enjoyment.

According to a 2008 survey of real estate professionals, a kitchen remodel is among the top 10 projects with the greatest payback for the dollars invested. In addition, a minor kitchen makeover that includes new cabinet doors, painting, installing energy-efficient cook top and oven, new countertops and cabinet hardware, wall covering, and vinyl floor covering costs about $22,000 and yields an average payback of about 80 percent.

Plus, kitchens sell houses. Realtors agree that the kitchen is one of the first places a prospective home buyer will look. Often a well-appointed, modern kitchen will sell a house despite minor flaws elsewhere in the home.

Aside from economics, a lot can be said for the effect that a kitchen remodel can have on a homeowner's quality of life. A well-thought-out design with modern energy-efficient appliances, easy-to-care-for finishes, and useful well-managed storage components can make life in the kitchen a pleasure.

Once you have decided to remodel and have set a budget, the next and most important step is planning. Often a home-owner will spend too little time planning, resulting in too much time being spent in the construction phase. Poor planning can result in inferior design, unsatisfactory finishes, construction difficulties, major cost overruns, delays in completion, and disputes with the contractor.

One way to avoid being a victim is by getting help from a professional. An architect, designer, or design-build contractor can assist in the layout and design of the new kitchen. They will be aware of building codes and industry design standards and can assist with the selection of building materials and finishes. The cost for the design and planning phase of a kitchen remodel should run between 5 and 10 percent of the overall cost of the project.

Your design professional or building contractor also should be able to tell you what permits will be required to perform the work.

The next step in planning your kitchen remodel is selecting a professional to perform the work. Get recommendations from friends or neighbors who have had similar work performed. If you live in a state where contractors must be registered or licensed, make sure yours is and has the necessary insurance, such as worker's compensation and general liability.

Don't begin the work until you have everything in writing. Insist on a written contract. The contract should contain a firm price, a payment schedule, start and finish dates, and an accompanying set of plans.

Finally, continue to stay involved after the work has begun. Keeping the lines of communication open will probably do more to ensure a successful result than anything else.

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