- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The kitchen is a focal point, a place for relaxing with family and friends and enjoying a warm, inviting atmosphere. The dated image of the kitchen as a place used only for slaving over a hot stove has been replaced by the vision of a space with granite counters and hardwood flooring that can be used for entertaining, gathering and taking it easy.

Realtors say that even in the current market, it is a wise investment to upgrade and improve a kitchen, to make this crucial room as appealing as possible for potential buyers.

If sellers expect multiple offers, though, why bother to spend the money and energy needed to give the kitchen a new look?

Susan Pruden, a Realtor with Century 21 in Lanham, points out that when a kitchen is deteriorating, sellers may still receive multiple bids — but the offers might come in below the listing price.

Leaving the kitchen in lackluster condition may also reduce the pool of potential buyers by eliminating those who can’t afford to put in new appliances and other essentials.

“We’re beginning to see some changes — we’re heading back to a market where condition matters,” Ms. Pruden says. “Even in this market, there are buyers who say, ‘I’m not going to hurry.’ Kitchens matter a phenomenal amount.”

She says buyers will ignore other areas in the home that need a face-lift if the kitchen has “good bones.” Sellers, Ms. Pruden says, ultimately will make more money if their kitchen is in top shape.

Other area Realtors agree that the kitchen is a key selling point, although many say there is no guarantee that a fresh new look will lead to higher offers.

“It will add appeal, but whether it will add value in terms of dollars is open to question,” says John Webber, Realtor with RE/MAX Premiere Selections in the District. Mr. Webber says he tells his clients not to make significant upgrades to the kitchen unless they’ll have time to appreciate the enhancements.

“Studies say that kitchen upgrades will give sellers a return of 85 percent, but it is something you want to get enjoyment out of,” Mr. Webber says.

For example, one of his clients wanted to install all-new hardwood floors in the kitchen before selling, and he advised her not to make such a drastic change.

“I told her, ‘Unless you’re going to enjoy it — don’t,’” he says.

When homeowners decide they want to take the plunge and invest in kitchen improvements, the most popular choices include hardwood and ceramic tile for flooring, maple carpentry, and granite or Corian counters.

Realtor Sylvia Jurek with Coldwell Banker in Vienna says she has noticed that another favorite choice for counters is Silestone, a newer product that is less pricey than granite.

“It is comparable to Corian and comes in inviting colors,” Mrs. Jurek says.

Yet, when money is tight, radical changes and replacements aren’t necessary to give a drab kitchen a new exterior, Realtors say. Many believe that simple changes can transform a dreary, old-fashioned kitchen into a brighter, cozier space.

Kitty Sessions, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Bethesda, encourages her sellers not to overspend when renovating this area.

“They are often surprised at how little it takes,” Ms. Sessions says.

She has noticed that painting cabinets or putting in expensive counters that can be bought at Home Depot can make a significant difference.

She also says it is crucial that the colors used in the kitchen are contemporary, not antiquated. “If not, when people walk out of that house, that’s what they will remember — the mustard, olive green or rust,” Ms. Sessions says.

The most important advice Realtors give: If you’re going to upgrade, keep it neutral and moderate.

“Don’t spend tons of money to upgrade and buy things that may be your taste but no one else’s,” Ms. Sessions says. “For example, don’t pick the granite with the pink and silver lines.”

Although area designers agree that the kitchen is the heart of the home, they don’t believe that simple surface changes will add much to its allure.

Jennifer Gilmer, a certified kitchen designer who owns and manages Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath in Chevy Chase, says a new coat of paint is not enough.

“If you just try to fix it up cosmetically, people will notice,” Ms. Gilmer says. “People are looking for good-quality names.”

Ms. Gilmer says her clients crave more visual simplicity and less clutter.

She believes granite is here to stay as a top choice for counters and says 75 percent of her customers are opting for less shiny finishes and going for honed granite, without the polish.

“It just makes it less reflective, and gives it more of a warm feeling,” Ms. Gilmer says.

Another recent trend she has noticed is wood counters, built out of Spekva, a laminated wood product that is soaked in resin, making the wood stronger and durable.

The wood counters are just one example of how her clients are leaning toward creating a natural atmosphere in the kitchen by integrating water features, wood and stone into the mix.

“People want more simple lines and a less formal, more simple, yet tailored, look,” Ms. Gilmer says. Along with the natural look, she says, homeowners are also opting for small bursts of colors, with backsplashes, and accessories.

Shawna Dillon, interior designer and showroom manager of Studio Snaidero in the Kitchen, Bath and Building Design Center at the Washington Design Center, says her clients are savvier and know what they want.

“They have read magazines, have seen ads, and they know they want quality and style — not just surface changes,” Ms. Dillon says.

Snaidero, an Italian company, specializes in high-end cabinetry. Ms. Dillon says the Snaidero products have a furniturelike quality and are “functional pieces of art.”

“We live in our kitchens, and we want to make them more comfortable, to make life easier,” she says.

In addition to attractiveness, functionality is a top priority. Homeowners want a kitchen that is uncluttered and organized.

When upgrading, homeowners are opting for any kind of pull-outs, such as pull-out spice cabinets and drawers, instead of doors, the designers say.

Ms. Dillon says she has observed other trends, too: the addition of islands in the middle of the kitchen so that people can easily gather around, and eliminating a wall, if necessary, to make the space more open and accessible.

After all, she says, if you’re going to create a more stylish, tasteful kitchen, “Why not show it off?”


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