Five ways to cut costs, not corners, on a kitchen remodel

Consumer Reports News: May 30, 2013 01:38 PM

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The average cost of a kitchen remodel is $19,802, according to a Consumer Reports survey of more than 5,000 readers nationwide. If you're planning on custom cabinets, professional appliances, and other high-end features, the price tag will certainly go higher. Whatever your budget, it pays to avoid costly overruns, or you could be forced to make unwanted compromises. Here are the five surest ways to save on a kitchen remodel.

Choose your contractor wisely. While most contractors are reputable, the industry has its share of bad apples. Indeed, about 10 percent of our survey respondents said they were disappointed by their remodeler's cost management. Our advice: Don't chase the lowball bids, check references, insist on a written contract, and always pay by check or credit card, as opposed to cash.

Do some of the work yourself. If you can swing a sledgehammer or wield a paintbrush, you might be able to trim a thousand bucks or more off your budget. Look for a contractor who won't mind turning over the demo and finish work to you. But stay away from complicated electrical and plumbing work.

Reuse, don't replace. If the layout of your cabinets works and they're in good condition (no warped drawers or water-stained cabinet boxes), you can save thousands by refurbishing them. Refinishing or repainting is the cheapest option, though it's messy and labor-intensive. Paying a pro to reface the cabinets, replacing the doors and drawer fronts, might cost about $150 per unit.

Go faux. You'll be amazed at some of the vinyl floors and laminate countertops that are out there, mimicking the look of stone, hardwood, and other natural materials. Or you can let the surfaces celebrate their synthetic-ness by choosing bold patterns or bright colors. Either way, your floors and countertops will cost a fraction of what they would if you choose pricey granite and solid wood. See our countertop and flooring reports for more details.

Stick to the plan. This last tip may be the most essential. Nothing blows a budget faster than making changes after the work is underway. We've seen cost overruns exceeding $1,500. For a major kitchen remodel, you should spend several weeks to a few months perusing magazines, meeting with pros, and visiting showrooms.

Find more kitchen remodeling ideas in our special report, "Get the kitchen you've always wanted," which covers the latest trends and best products. And for the results of three successful kitchen remodeling projects, see the before and after photos in "Magnificent kitchen makeovers."

Daniel DiClerico

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