New House! Redo Kitchen Now or Wait?
September 16, 2021 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to buy my first house - yay! The kitchen is pretty new but not very functional. Fix it now or wait a while?

The kitchen is on the smaller side but not tiny, and currently laid out in a long U shape. It was clearly re-done fairly recently, and while it's clean and not unattractive, whoever did it made some baffling decisions. The fridge is outside of the "U" altogether in an unused corner of the room, a couple steps from any counters to load/unload groceries and about as far as it could be from the stove (and is so big there's no other place it can really fit in this configuration). The sink and the dishwasher are on opposite sides of the room from each other as well. There's a section of the counter that hangs over so that you can set up some stools for people to eat and chat, which is the kind of setup I use all the time in my current place, but somebody also put the sink there so there's not enough space to eat a meal and anyone sitting to socialize risks getting splashed by dirty dishwater. There's space for sufficient storage but it's not put to good use - there are empty walls screaming out for cupboards and a random gap in the cabinetry (maybe where the oven used to be?). Obviously none of this is catastrophic, but eventually I'd like to re-do the layout with new cabinets and counters. The flooring and appliances and such are all fine, and none of the changes should require any major adjustments to plumbing or gas lines.

Reasons to make the change now: This seems like a project that would be much easier before move-in, and I'm lucky to be able to stay in my current place indefinitely. If I didn't do a full refresh now I'd still likely invest some money into adding temporary storage to make up for the inefficiencies, which might be better used on a permanent fix. I enjoy cooking and spend significant time on it, so why suffer through a kitchen that doesn't make sense?

Reasons to wait: I expect I'll learn a lot about my preferences for the space after living in it for a while, and that could inform my plans. While I don't mind staying in my current place a few extra weeks after closing (which should be a month from now), I don't know if lining up contractors and procuring material takes longer than 4-6 weeks? Most importantly, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the current kitchen, it IS pretty new, and it seems a waste to just tear it all out.

Added wrinkle: I'll most likely move overseas in 1-2 years and rent the place out for a few (2-6ish) years before returning. My personal dream kitchen might be a draw for some renters, but the house is in an urban area with plenty of restaurant and takeout options, and plenty of potential renters who don't spend most of their evenings cooking might be just as happy with it as is. Worth making the investment now when I'll only get to enjoy it for a fraction of its early lifespan?
posted by exutima to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let the renters fuck up a kitchen you don't care about. Build your dream kitchen when you return.
posted by phunniemee at 3:13 PM on September 16, 2021 [33 favorites]

If you're going overseas soon, possibly for a significant amount of time, it may well make sense to simply wait until you get back to fix this. It's pretty doubtful that you're going to be able to recoup any of the investment in additional rent by reconfiguring the kitchen, so why not save your money for the next 3-8 years and make the changes when you come back? You'll probably be happier having nice new counters and cabinets rather than ones that have been used by renters for a numbers of years.

Maybe you could get something temporary to fill the gap in cabinetry (like a kitchen cart or free standing open shelving)?
posted by ssg at 3:14 PM on September 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

We did a really simple kitchen update (replaced 50's cabinets with ikea and put in some new non-special order countertop and it still took our kitchen out of commission for more than a few weeks and that was in non-COVID times when we could get supplies easily). In your situation, I'd strongly consider leaving it as-is, living with it for the short term and then doing the updates at the end of your time overseas. You don't want to put time and money into a kitchen you're not going to get to enjoy for years of its early life!

For storage by the fridge, you could probably buy something used and interesting, and then resell it for the same money on facebook marketplace when you start renting the place out.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 3:14 PM on September 16, 2021

Buy a smaller fridge and stick it in the gap?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:17 PM on September 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Definitely wait for the rental period to be over! Renters are hell on kitchens. Okay, some renters, but I wouldn't chance it. Also, you're talking about potentially waiting 7 years! That's a lot of changing on the kitchen front, and your dream kitchen might look VERY different at that point than it does today.
posted by nosila at 3:23 PM on September 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

I could have posted this exact question. Well I was contemplating the options, I had an interesting conversation with a contractor who suggested that I don’t have to pull out the whole kitchen. Maybe I could leave some of the kitchen that’s already there, and just add on to it (in my case, one side of the U is pretty much fine and the other side needs a dishwasher and a few cabinets). It would cost much less and be much faster. And I could have some money left for other upgrades to the rest of the place before I move in.
posted by ficbot at 3:31 PM on September 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Nthing to wait until after you're done renting. Seriously. No matter how awesome your tenants are, I guarantee it will be much wiser to redo to your personal taste later on.
posted by ananci at 3:58 PM on September 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Renters that are stoked about a nice newer kitchen are going to use it. They're going to use it and depreciate it harder than you probably would as an owner. I am an avid home cook, and in my renting days rode our kitchens pretty hard. I'm sure there was at least one landlord who was kinda pissed that nothing was wrecked, but it was all certainly dogeared.

To your main point of "This seems like a project that would be much easier before move-in" You're gonna be moving into it again when you return from overseas.

I'd just wait on it.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:06 PM on September 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was already going to say hold off and learn your preferences and then I got to the bit about having renters for a prolonged period of time. Absolutely wait on this project. The people I've known who did kitchen renos all had them last at least a couple months at minimum, not 4-6 weeks, and that was in pre-COVID times.
posted by anderjen at 5:19 PM on September 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Take a lot of pictures. Make a sketch. Look at where the heavy duty outlets are for stove and fridge. Make of list of what you hate. Go see a kitchen designer. It might be reasonable to move some cupboards and make adjustments that will make the kitchen a lot better. It's worth at least checking.
posted by theora55 at 5:53 PM on September 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also kitchen styles change frequently so by waiting you can renovate with 2026 styles and be there to enjoy the time period when the style is freshest.
posted by slidell at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

There is also the possibility that the baffling decisions in the current layout were made for non-trivial reasons that would be more expensive than you’d like to fix. Like weird plumbing, no outlets where you need them, or flooring issues. Adding to the consensus to wait it out especially if it is likely to be a rental property for a while.

(I had to live with an extremely stupid U shaped kitchen for years because we realised pulling out the cabinetry to make it more functional would have meant we had to redo the floor, and the electrics, plus the only plumbing outlet was located in the middle of the room for some dumb reason.)
posted by arha at 8:22 PM on September 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

we have just begun our kitchen remodel after living in our new apt for about 18 months. we waited until enough time had passed that we were clear on what we did not like about our old kitchen. we figured we needed to know what pain points to address, and could only do that after some time had passed. then we spent 6 months planning how to fix the pain points and we knew what we really important to us - and now, in 8 weeks time, it will be ready.
posted by alchemist at 9:45 PM on September 16, 2021

If you're going overseas, you might come back with some completely fresh ideas about how to arrange kitchen things that seem obvious right now, which is another tick in the "wait" column.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:35 PM on September 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Congrats on the house!
"I enjoy cooking and spend significant time on it, so why suffer through a kitchen that doesn't make sense?"
Agree. So, compromise: make small changes that will give you a kitchen you'll enjoy using in the next 1 - 2 years, at least, and will benefit future renters too. Measure the cabinet gap for a smaller fridge or a pull-out pantry. If you can't move the fridge, get a cart for groceries and additional workspace. Can that counter overhang section be built up to bar height, so the sink proximity is less of an issue?
"...none of the changes should require any major adjustments to plumbing or gas lines." Double check the former, because a sink deliberately placed opposite a dishwasher is odd.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:27 PM on September 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Nthing wait on the renters, but also: you are very likely going to find that you have a Emergency Major Repair Job within the first year or so, and so having extra money around for that is a plus.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:04 AM on September 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Remember that lumber is still expensive (though it has come down from its peak) and anecdotally, contractors for remodeling jobs are booked solid anyhow. You might have a wait before you could get started, and have a more expensive project than normal.
posted by adamrice at 6:35 AM on September 17, 2021

I think your inclination to make minor changes that address the most glaring problems, focusing on functionality rather than surfaces, is probably the way to go, given the likelihood that you'll be leaving in the near future. You know that if you posted a plan view on Ask you would have 379 fully-realized proposals in 24 hours, but it might be more worthwhile, since it seems that you're anticipating having others do the work, to ask a professional in to delve into why things are the way they are and to advise how you might go forward given your short- and long-term plans. Pluck the lower-hanging fruit before you move in, gauge your satisfaction with the results while you live there, let the renters do what they will while you are elsewhere planning your dream kitchen based on what you've learned!
posted by bullatony at 9:17 AM on September 17, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks all - the overwhelming consensus and breadth of well-reasoned arguments are indisputable and really put any doubts I had to rest.
posted by exutima at 10:09 AM on September 17, 2021

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