09 August 2010

How realistic is this $1527 kitchen remodel?

The yahoos at Apartment Therapy were crowing last week about a $1527 kitchen remodel that had been featured on the This Old House website.

Here's the before:

And here's the after:

I have to say that's quite a transformation. And talk about a bargain.

But not so fast. On the last page of the seven page story on This Old House's site, there's a cost breakdown and it reads like this:

Tore out the old cabinets, salvaging the bases. $0
Called in a favor for help upgrading electrical outlets. $0
Replaced the ceiling fan and added task lighting. $300
Patched the walls and ceiling with new drywall. $207
Built six pine cabinet boxes; added medium-density fiberboard doors and drawers to all the cabinets. $200
Resurfaced the laminate counter. $150
Used donated tiles for a new backsplash. $0
Upgraded to new brushed nickel hardware. $170
Built custom window arches and added crown molding. $100
Added a range hood. $140
Replaced the faucet. $110
Brightened the space with 2 gallons of primer and 4 gallons of paint. $150
Total: $1,527
They didn't pay for an electrician to rewire for new lights and a range hood. There's no mention of whether or not the hood vents to the outside or just recirculates. There's also no value assigned to the labor they put in. Granted, they still did everything on a shoestring, but this was not a weekend project and the home owners clearly had some building skills. Obviously too they didn't replace the appliances or the floor.

So despite the fact that they did do a terrific job, is the $1527 price tag being bandied about even close to an accurate accounting? Is this story and isolated incident or can people realistically expect to recreate what they'd done here for the under $2,000 being thrown around?

Is this $1527 renovation fact or fantasy? What do you think?


  1. It's possible. It's all about who you know.

  2. It is possible, I agree. It may even be possible without knowing influential and handy people. But I don't think that this particular job gives people a very good example to try to emulate.

  3. Sorry, it is a fantasy for most homeowners & we are talking 90% plus of them.

    Materials- not including all the donated ones, I noticed nothing in there about the thinset, grout, how did they dispose of the materials, etc... Those are just 3 of the many misc. costs I noticed they did not account for & those can add up quickly.

    Does the Homeowner own a router, tablesaw, tile saw and all the other associated tools required? How about the blades & bits required?

    Hmmm, I wonder if they pulled a permit - yes folks you have to pull one even if you are doing the work...

  4. Thanks Sean. I get it that outfits like This Old House exist to sell renovation supplies, but I think that holding up examples like this gives people a whole lot of false hope and in the end does a disservice.

  5. I totally concur with Sean! They might have been able to do what they 'fessed up to for that low budget price but, in my experience over the years, they omitted quite a few expenses as well!

    I really think this remodel at this price is the exception and definitely NOT the rule! It's infuriating and frustrating when reputable companies such as This Old House suggest to homeowners they can completely transform their space for little to no money. It sets unrealistic expectations for us as professionals working with homeowners; we are then expected to produce stunning transformations on less than an shoe string budget! I see this mind set nearly every day and I always hear "I saw on...", or "I read that this should REALLY only cost"... when the sources consumers are quoting are far removed from reality! (whew! Paul, you fired me up today! Guess I will climb down off of my soap box now!)

  6. I'm with you Sherry. It used to be that people saw high end stuff without price tags on HGTV and it fell to my shoulders to assign price tags to the fantasies HGTV cranked out. Now we have the opposite, where such price tags as there are are unrealistic to the point of absurdity. I'd be hard-pressed to pick which version of reality I dislike most.

  7. Of course if you have things "donated" and know people whom you can call for favors, your project will be artificially cheaper. They should've titled it "Sister of contractor's $1,527 remodel"...

  8. I love the name you're giving this project Julie, brava!

  9. I think it’s a total gimmick. It can only be done by someone who has ALL the necessary skills, and who really does? I have a close friend who’s a licensed general contractor, and we’re constantly teasing back and forth about the difference between carpenters and cabinetmakers. But there IS a difference. And, also, there are huge bodies of knowledge that each of us has that the other does not. If my friend and I worked together on this project, we could achieve a good share of the savings, but even then, it would have to be because I refused to pay him for his work. Here’s the thing, though. He actually has worked on my home many times over the years, and I have ALWAYS paid this man. He works like someone’s holding a gun on him, but even so, I do not see how his part of the job could possibly done in less than a week or two. And that’s assuming that all the stars are aligned, because as you well know, there is a lot that goes into this sort of thing. Another factor to consider, in addition to my having to pay my friend for his knowledge, is the fact that I would have to purchase the items I installed, as would we all. C’mon, now, who the hell knows someone with backsplash tile to give away?

    Really, Paul, all they’ve done is line up someone with the necessary skills, arranged for as many freebies as possible, and then trumpeted the supposed savings. The idea is that people will now line up to see how they can get a $1527 kitchen remodeling. I think it’s bullshit, and I think they should be ashamed of themselves.

  10. Thanks for saying everything I was thinking Joe!

  11. It is a disservice. When people see this and try to get a bid from a contractor they are missing too many real world costs to expect any estimate they get to be fair in their minds.

  12. This is yet another "unreality" show eposide setting false expectations that put an unnecessary burden on professionals to correct. Will someone please explain what is wrong with being honest?!!

  13. Also the materials that they used for the cabinets are very cheap and will not hold up well over the long run. And most customers want to upgrade their kitchen with cherry and maple woods - not pine and MDF. You get what you pay for - especially with kitchen remodels! Add a 0 to that $1527, and then we are talking about more realistic pricing scenarios for the general public (in my opinion and experience).

  14. Paul, I personally think those responsible for this type of propaganda are targeting Canadian viewers who know everything, well almost everything is much much cheaper in the U.S.A.
    In a nutshell, it is just a conspiracy to promote Canadian immigrants to your country who seek the American Dream of remodeling their kitchen for the grand sum of $1,527.
    Winks -Brenda-

  15. Ann, Anne, Lauren and Brenda: Thanks for chiming in. This sort of thing does make my life harder and I agree with you Anne, what's wrong with telling the truth and setting up some realistic expectations in the process?

    Brenda: You slay me. Everything's cheaper in the US until you have the nerve to get sick.

  16. Slightly off-topic, but--Has anyone seen that new show "Professional Grade"? Three contractors take a look at a project (like a kitchen remodel) and give their opinion on what needs to be done and if they think the homeowner can handle the work. Then the homeowners DIY the project (as much as they can, sometimes they do contract out if they get over their heads), and the contractors come back to evaluate the work ("Homeowner couldn't possibly have done this electrical" or "They obviously poured their own concrete counter, as it's very rough and uneven".)
    The contractors say what they think the work cost, and the homeowners says what it really cost, and if the DIYers came in cheaper, they get the difference in price. So far on the episodes I've seen the homeowners always win--the difference has been as low as $3000 and as high as $9000. The show definitely makes it seem like you don't really need professional help, that you can be a CPA by day and your own GC/designer/plumber/electrician/tile expert by night, and you'll save a ton of money in the process avoiding those obviously 'over-charging' experts....I do wonder how much quality is sacrificed when costs are kept so rock bottom?

  17. Ugh. I have not seen that, what network's it on?

  18. Ooops, just noticed I used the verb 'promote' when I really meant 'tempt'.

    Sorry Paul; no intention to slay you, so please accept my apology. It was just envy talking I swear.

    Re the cost of getting sick, you can partially blame that on all the da*n Canadian Doctors who flocked to your country and opened up private practices. As said, everything up here comes with a big price tag. :)

  19. Let me put a free plumber on my list - that will save me a bunch and oh, yes, MDF everywhere - formaldehyde, yummy in a kitchen!

  20. Professional photography is 90% of the improvement.

  21. Ditto to the above.

    And a new faucet for $110? On what planet?

    Oh, wait. They don't care about quality. Or it came from a salvage yard.

  22. Brenda: Being slain is what I live for. You are an asset to this community, let me tell you.

    Cyra: The free plumber saved them more than the free electrician.

    Kim: Brilliant point. Never underestimate the power of a set designer.

    Wendy: That $110 faucet stuck out at me too. I'd love to see a follow up where they calculate how much this ends up costing every year in replacement parts.

  23. It’s absurd & again misleads clients! I recently discovered that a local big box company’s was giving literally half the equation in their display price per linear foot. Their price was for wall cabinets only so you’d have to double the price over the same wall to include base cabinets—little marketing strategy to put a lower price on the display. They don't readily mention the increased cost if you purchase taller wall cabinets or anything other than their basic no frills, no options, no moulding, no toe kicks, no hardware, no installation priced project.

    Paul, I love what you did here, and from the comment trail it’s gnawing at us. As Sean and the others said, there are real expenses missing here and each carry an associated cost. They should call this job what it is… charitable donation! ... that'll cost you.

  24. Grr. Don't get me started. This is as misleading as a store advertising $1000 for a full kitchen! (providing you don't order the refer cabinet and panels, crown mold, drawers, rollouts, finished panels, or anything else that would finish the cabinets properly.)

    May I correct a misconception Cyra (and many others) have about MDF?

    It does NOT contain urea-formaldehyde. I did a post on it a long time ago, but the cabinet above would have very little off-gassing. Once any board is sealed with a plastic or paint, it doesn't off-gas. The paint might, but the board won't.

    Non-urea formaldehyde is still used in everything from bamboo flooring to plywood to MDF, but it is labeled a "resin" because there is such a misconception between the different formaldehydes.

    Sorry -- please return to the regularly scheduled programming already in progress.

  25. Grace: I did seem to hit a nerve here. Home centers thrive on that kind of deceit. There is no such thing as a linear foot cost in the way that they use it. Linear feet are how builders estimate cabinetry. Homeowners who follow those misleading signs at home centers are in for a very rude awakening.

  26. Thanks for the clarification Kelly. Formaldehyde's not the boogie man it's made out to be.

  27. I guess I need to put my 2 cents in too... As you can guess this really grinds my gears. I was just chatting with my contractor friend about a difficult client who just doesn't get why she is getting billed "so much" every time she calls on them to come over and tweak something. Labor IS A BIG DEAL! It's not just having the tools, it's the set up, the take down, the clean up... and the SKILL! Good grief! Who wants to work for free?! Calling in favors? What did the homeowner do exactly to garner this one... No don't answer. I don't think I want to know! Geeesh!

  28. I'm going to start calling in favors for medical care and legal work.

  29. Well hate to be left out of the party:) I have been lucky enough to have work feature in scads of magazines and they do not tell the whole truth...ever. Or even get it right when you explain it all to them. I did the Kitchen and Bath Ideas budget vs splurge feature a few months ago...and weeeeel...they did not include labor at all in it and that is a HUGE part of budget. I do not think the mag here should be promoting non licensed subs either...if a diy homeowner wants to do stuff...well, Iwould not want to be the mag that encouraged doing your own elec or plumbing for that matter! (it is not mentioned) This is a gimmick designed to sell mags and make the rest of us cringe!

  30. Well if their gimmick was to get people talking, it worked. I doubt I'll be buying a copy of This Old House anytime soon. Not that I would have bought one before this.

  31. A great client just relayed this joke: A man asks the cabinet installer why do you charge so much to hang one cabinet? The answer: $90 is for the trip charge and $290 for knowing how to hang the cabinet.

  32. My installer tells a variation on the same joke.

  33. Agree with Tonia that its possible, but also agree that it might not be so great in the end. My house has over a century's work of shoddy workmanship and bad DIY to demonstrate- so we're pretty careful about what we take on ourselves. In my old house, I want the experience of someone who's done plenty of work on old houses- and that's not me or most of my friends.

  34. Amy: My place will be 100 years old next year. Some day I'll write a post about 100 years worth of jerry rigs in downtown St. Pete!

  35. Good for them...I think the pictures look great, and I hope the kitchen works for them.
    My first thoughts were:
    1) how did they know how to build cabinets with drawers?
    2) love the line about "called in a favor"
    3) it does showcase how a good design can make a world of difference. Even if this was done professionally, it wouldn't have been a 40K project.
    Makes me curious, for the professionals here, how much do you think this would have cost? (can give round numbers)

  36. Hmmm. Since they reused their cabinets and floors and just relaminated their counter, I'd peg $5K as a reasonable budget to do this and pay for the parts and labor out of pocket.

  37. What leapt out at me was the $140 range hood. Mine must have come from the same source: every time I grill something I set off the fire alarm... which is at the far end of my house.


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