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kitchen upgrade

Uplevel, Don't Remodel, With These 8 Kitchen Upgrades

[Updated: Jan 29, 2021] Mar 03, 2020 by Lena Katz
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According to most vacation rental platforms, a well-outfitted kitchen is one of the top factors that renters look for in a vacation rental property. This is because most people who are booking a vacation rental instead of a hotel plan on cooking "at home." A well-outfitted kitchen is also something that's important to many buyers, so it makes sense to invest in some upgrades -- even though it's always a tricky exercise to determine what features will increase the average daily rate (ADR) for a vacation rental, the rent for a long-term lease, or the resale value if you plan on selling.

Another factor for landlords to consider is the potential bump to your rental pricing versus the cost to you if items get broken or stolen by unscrupulous tenants. Because this risk is always greater with small, portable items, I recommend making upgrades that are built in or too big to transport and raise the perceived value of a kitchen without actually costing much.

1. Garbage disposal

If your plumbing allows it, this is a must-have appliance, especially with double sinks. Its presence signifies to occupants that they don't need to get their hands dirty. No wiping up food scraps with a paper towel and transporting them from the sink to the trash or compost. Also, because most food scraps that wind up in the trash or compost get stinky very quickly, a disposal cuts back on bad food smells.

Cost: About $200 for the appliance and $200 to $300 for installation.

2. Dishwasher

Again, this one's a must if you want your property to have a chance of being categorized as a midlevel unit -- not even luxury, just not low-rent. It's a space-saver, it's modern, and it encourages cleanliness more than an old-school sink-and-drainer setup.

Cost: A budget dishwasher costs around $300, while a midrange one is around $500. Installation is a further $100 to $250.

3. Trash compactor

Even though most people these days are recycling and some are composting at every opportunity, a neat and unobtrusive trash receptacle is still important. The built-in under-counter compactor is the neatest, as it hides the receptacle and reduces the odor. The compactor feature also cuts back on the number of bags that need to be filled and removed, which reduces bag consumption and trips to take the garbage out.

Cost: Built-in compactors are on the higher end for appliances in this list, starting at $850 and averaging around $1,000.

4. Extra refrigerator/wine cooler

An under-counter wine fridge is definitely a luxury, while an extra fridge for the garage or wet bar is just a smart touch. It puts people in the mindset of entertaining, hosting, and really just enjoying living in the home.

Cost: An under-counter wine fridge starts at around $350, while a compact refrigerator will cost you about $450 to $700.

5. Kitchen island

If a kitchen has the space for an island, people love them for the additional countertop and storage space. HGTV and décor magazines fuel the misconception that an island must be an enormous solid wood block, the same width and length as a dining table, but taller. This is not at all the case, especially for smaller kitchens. A smaller island, perhaps even a rolling one, can provide the extra workspace on a smaller budget without occupying excessive kitchen floor space.

Cost: Can range from around $200 for a two-cabinet/two-drawer rolling island cart to $1,500 to $2,000+ for the five-foot-long solid wood islands with granite or metal countertops.

6. Coffee maker

If almost all hotels now offer this amenity, then vacation rental owners need to as well in order to be competitive. While coffee machines run the gamut of pricing and capabilities, both old-school drip coffee machines and single-serve machines are so inexpensive these days, it's not a huge worry that one may get damaged or go missing now and then.

Cost: Starting at $65 for a drip coffee machine, and about $100 for a single-serve Keurig (NYSE: KDP) K-Cup.

7. Refinished/refaced cabinets

Shiny, freshly painted wood cabinetry is one of the most popular -- and most visible -- upgrades that can be made to a kitchen. It's most often done before putting a house on the market. Cabinet replacement can be the most expensive part of a kitchen remodel, according to Home Depot (NYSE: HD).

If you have a moderately luxurious rental or you're flipping on a budget and the kitchen cabinets look dated or dirty, you may opt to get them refinished or refaced instead of replaced. Both refinishing and refacing (where you actually get new doors and drawers) are much less expensive than replacing with entirely new cabinets. However, the cost, especially for solid wood (as opposed to wood veneers) is still significant.

Cost: Depending on the square footage of cabinets, you can expect to pay in the range of $2,000 (for refinishing wood veneers) to $8,000 (for refacing solid wood).

8. Outdoor grill

Does this technically count as part of the kitchen? Perhaps not. But will it add a major bump in desirability to your property? Yes. And that's true whether you're renting the unit to vacationers or selling it. Usable outdoor space, especially if it's set up to entertain, is yet another of the major elements people look for when booking or buying.

Cost: A $400 to $600 gas grill, together with a picnic table for four people, could turn your porch into an "outdoor kitchen."

Level up without a remodel? It can be done!

With kitchen remodel costs ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, it takes a while to ever get a return on this investment...if you ever do. Glamming up the appliances, on the other hand, might cost under $5,000 for everything on this list, or $8,000 if you refinish the cabinets and bring in a gorgeous kitchen island as well. By merely listing them out in your property description, you'll instantly draw the attention of the home-cooking and entertaining niche customer.

Perceived extra value, even if it comes with a relatively low price tag, can drive up numbers across the board: from showings requested to room nights booked, ADR, and asking price.

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Lena Katz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Home Depot. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.