Remodeling: Some Common Sense from Bob Vila

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Photo Gallery: The Cost of Your Dream Kitchen
With a wealth of enticing high-tech and high-design appliances populating the remodeling market, the urge to indulge in a kitchen that will make you look and feel like a culinary master has never been greater. But before outfitting your space with the latest and greatest, you should carefully weigh what functions you or future owners will find practical against what value you are actually adding


Photo Gallery: The Cost of Your Dream Kitchen

With a wealth of enticing high-tech and high-design appliances populating the remodeling market, the urge to indulge in a kitchen that will make you look and feel like a culinary master has never been greater. But before outfitting your space with the latest and greatest, you should carefully weigh what functions you or future owners will find practical against what value you are actually adding to your home.

Ask Bob Vila how much money to invest in your brand-new kitchen and he'll tell you: "Put together a budget for a kitchen remodel, then go to the local real estate broker and ask what you could get for your place…tomorrow. Then have the conversation, 'Does it makes sense for me to put in a $50,000 kitchen?'"

The foremost expert on do-it-yourself remodeling and the longtime host of This Old House and Bob Vila's Home Again, Vila continues to provide info and advice to many folks embarking on large home improvement projects. His Web site, BobVila.com—in its seventh year of operation—hosts a multitude of DIY instructional content, including a video archive of Vila's former shows and a recently developed social network of online DIYers dubbed MyProject.

BUYING LEAP. According to Vila, one of the main factors driving extravagant spending in the remodeling market is borrowed equity: "In the past decade, we've had an economy that allowed many people to pull equity out their homes; consequently, they have had the money to buy the high-end appliances."

A lot of these grand investments are made in haste with the assumption that a valuable, attractive kitchen proportionally boosts resale value and buyer incentive if the house should go on the market some time down the road. In the event that a homeowner invests $40,000 on a high-end kitchen remodel, and then has to sell her home for unexpected reasons, it's possible she might only see $20,000 of her original investment reflected in the closing bid.

Because of this risk factor and others, many choose to upgrade to lower-cost kitchen appliances that still emulate some of the more practical characteristics of their costly counterparts. The Miele MasterChef, a high-speed oven with two compartments, combines high-end functionality with a competitive price tag of $2,349. The model's main competitor, TurboChef's Speedcook Oven, comes on the market for about double that price.

CENTERPIECE STRATEGY. If your lifestyle does demand some of the best in culinary hardware—or if you just can't help from splurging a little—pick the one top-of-the-line appliance you feel will have the most impact on both the kitchen's aesthetic and functionality. In a growing number of remodels done in this country, imported European furnishings like cabinets and counters, though costly, strike a surprising balance between form and function.

"In Germany, people buy cabinets and hang them [on metal bars] to create 'arrays' around a kitchen, and when they move, they can just take them with them," says Vila. "The systems that they've developed are very simple, but very beautiful." Cabinetmakers Allmilmö and Poggenpohl, both based in Germany, distribute these types of cabinets in many parts of the U.S. With a little forethought, homeowners looking to spiff up their living space can achieve that blend of the elegant and practical without breaking the bank.

MacMillan is a reporter at BusinessWeek.com in New York

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