Ask an Expert

Ask an Expert: Which do buyers want more--a renovated kitchen or renovated bathroom?

Teri Rogers Headshot - Floral
By Teri Karush Rogers  |
December 31, 2013 - 1:52PM

Q. For financial reasons, I need to choose between renovating my bathroom or the galley kitchen of my one-bedroom co-op.  There's a good chance that I will sell within the next two or three years.  

Does a renovated kitchen or renovated bath matter more to buyers?  Which is a better investment?

A.   If you have to choose, your best investment is the kitchen, hands down, say our experts.

"Most buyers see themselves spending more time with family and friends in the kitchen rather than in the, er, bathroom, and that impacts the perception of how much such an area contributes to the overall value to the apartment," says real estate appraiser and market analyst Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel.

According to Miller, an apartment with a gut-renovated kitchen is typically worth 5-10% more than an identical apartment with, say, a 15-year-old kitchen; it may be worth up to 15% more.  Renovated bathrooms, meanwhile, typically boost resale value by 3-5%.

All that said, your smartest move may be to divide and conquer, say the real estate brokers on our expert panel, who offer some practical advice on how to do that:

Gordon Roberts, real estate broker, Warburg Realty:

Since one-bedroom co-op apartments are easy to “comp”--in other words, they tend to sell within a certain price range at any given time because of the plethora of comparable sales--be careful not to overspend renovating your apartment for investment purposes.

Research recent one-bedroom sales in your building--particularly in your line--and in your neighborhood to get an idea of the current selling-price range. Then, whatever you ultimately decide to further invest in the apartment by way of renovation should allow for some profit margin if and when you decide to sell.

After you do your own number crunching and market research, ask some professional stagers for their opinion of where your money might be best spent. You might be surprised by their recommendation. They may suggest changing the hardware and faucets in both the kitchen and bath, changing cupboard doors, new appliances, and other relatively inexpensive upgrades to lift the “look” of your kitchen and bath without a full-scale renovation.

Finally, keep in mind that to have a fancy chef’s kitchen (or miniature spa bath) alone may only serve to make the rest of the apartment look worse – and you could lose money in the process. It may be a good idea to look at the big picture and utilize your budget throughout the space, with attention to maximizing storage space, lighting, paint finishes, or built-ins--items that may be added value to a potential buyer and enhance the overall perception of the apartment. 

Deanna Kory, real estate broker, The Corcoran Group:

A renovated kitchen is the winner here. No question about it. While it's very difficult to stage an older kitchen and make it look "cool," I have found it reasonably easy to stage an older bathroom. 

The first thing is to note what you have to work with and improve it as much as possible: regrout tiles if need be, reglaze tub or sink if they are good, repaint, scrub and clean, get a new toilet seat, repaint.

Repainting should be in coordination with the colors of the apartment.  Is your apartment neutral tones or is it cool blues and greens?  What color are your tiles?  Sometimes painting the walls white and putting in all white accessories work.  Other times, taking a warm tone against a cool color tile can make the tiles look more expensive.

Then you need to coordinate shower curtain (if there is one) and towels and accessories.  This is an art.  There are great shower curtains at West Elm and Pottery Barn and if all else fails, you can use curtains with a plastic liner behind them.  Coordinate the towels with the curtain, place objects or flowers appropriately.  Use a sheer curtain over a window.  Place appropriate artwork on the walls – this can really distract the eye from the tiles and sink etc.
One time I staged the master bathroom of a home that was fully renovated except for the master bath.  It had Formica cabinetry and mediocre fixtures.  There was a blank wall over the toilet when you opened the door.  I got a striking bold color print with a gold frame and pulled in colors from the bedroom. This print filled the wall appropriately. I was pleased that – not only did the apartment sell quickly – but no one complained about the bathroom!

Shirley Hackel, real estate broker, Warburg Realty:

Renovating a bathroom and a kitchen are equally good investments, and each will add to the value of a property, although redoing a kitchen in a one-bedroom apartment generally costs at least twice as much as redoing a bathroom. I’d love to be able to come take a look to advise just how to spend your renovation budget. Ideally you’ll be able to spread the dollars and put some money into each room, if not in a complete facelift then in cosmetics for each.  

Sometimes in a bathroom, you can simply reglaze a bathtub, replace an unattractive vanity sink with a pretty pedestal washbasin, buy a simple shower curtain to soften the impact of poorly grouted wall tile and accessorize with soft plushy towels that you can take to your next home.

If you have the dollars to fully renovate a bathroom, leave the fixtures, especially the tub, in their original positions to minimize plumbing costs.  If you can enlarge the bathroom or just carve out some extra storage from a closet that backs up to an adjoining wall, that will go a long way with buyers, or at the very least hang a large medicine cabinet over the sink and make sure the lighting above is good.  

If your kitchen needs a major redesign, see if you can open a wall into your living area so you can compete with the open kitchens in some of the new development construction.  If your cabinets are old but well crafted, you might just need to reface them with new doors –making some glass fronted to open up the space.  Definitely refinish surfaces, upgrade appliances, and install new light fixtures. When choosing colors, white is always the safest choice.

Trouble at home? Get your NYC apartment-dweller questions answered by an expert! Send us your questions.

See all Ask an Expert.

Related posts:

About time: Now you can insure your renovation

NYC Renovation Chronicles: My bathroom remodel, Part 2

How much does it cost to renovate a NYC bathroom?

How to finance a NYC apartment combination (sponsored)

NYC Renovation Questions: Galley kitchens necessary and not so evil, especially if you get creative

Teri Rogers Headshot - Floral

Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.