Friday, July 20th, 2018

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The Kitchen Chronicle Continues: Breaking up is Harder than Granite

Selecting granite for counters is much easier with slabs than viewing small samples, but may be harder than finding the right contractor. (Photographs by Sarah Jaquay)

Selecting granite for counters is much easier with slabs than viewing small samples, but may be harder than finding the right contractor. (Photographs by Sarah Jaquay)




Second of a series




As the old song says, “Breaking up is Hard to Do;” but starting over’s tricky too. I know because I’m in the midst of selecting a new contractor for a major kitchen remodel (MKR) in our vintage Shaker home.

A brief update: My husband and I were flabbergasted at the pricing meeting we had with our long-standing general contractor(GC) and his custom cabinetmaker/kitchen designer (I’ll call him “cupboard king.”) The bid was twice what we’d budgeted and way out of proportion to what we believed neighbors recently paid for similar jobs: down to the studs with everything new.

The meeting was short. My husband absconded to the den to watch his high school alma mater win their division’s state basketball championship (at least something went right that day!) And after I stopped hyperventilating, I wrote them checks and sent them away.

But what now? It was April. We really want the work done during nice weather so we can grill outside and use paper plates while dining on our patio. Contractors are busily scheduling good-weather jobs now.

Luckily, we’d interviewed two architects last fall. I called the one my lovely next-door neighbor used in 2011. His firm also has a construction side. He drafted new rough drawings based on the cupboard king’s and presented a budget about half of our GC’s.

I expressed my shock and awe to almost everyone I know east of the Cuyahoga River (and two west). We’re so much more about experiences than stuff. All I could envision if I wrote that check were the places we’d never visit. After getting the detailed costs of two neighbors’ recent MKRs, I knew we could get what we wanted without “staycating” the rest of our lives.

One sweet neighbor volunteered the cost of her MKR completed in January, 2015. She stated in her e-mail that the total equaled approximately 20 percent of the value of their home. That got me wondering:  Is there a generally accepted accounting standard (not necessarily rising to the level of GAAP standards but a rule-of-thumb) for what percentage of a home’s fair market value an MKR should be?

I couldn’t find any accounting rule of thumb, but it’s easy to find return on investment (ROI) figures for home remodeling projects. New kitchens and bathrooms typically have some of the highest ROIs upon resale. So I went about answering the question that way.


On the Web site Cost vs. Value (, I looked up averages for Cleveland MKRs in 2015: $57,115 for midrange projects and $113,674 for upscale projects. We’re midrange so $57,000 was my numerator for the fraction that would determine the appropriate percentage. Next I went to, and to look up their estimates of our home’s current worth. Those estimates ranged widely so I chose an average and came up with the answer that $57,000 is about 21 percent of our home’s value. My neighbor was right on the money—not to mention her kitchen is beautiful. I’ll be contacting the firm who made her cabinets.

We will never know why our GC and the cupboard king were so uncompetitive for what we want and where we live. But we have our theories. Perhaps he wasn’t that into us? My practical engineer neighbor said sometimes contractors present ridiculous bids in an attempt to show interest but not give up more lucrative work for the same time frame.

Had our GC hooked a bigger fish this summer? Who knows?

All I know is: I’ll be spending the next few weeks in appliance stores. My new architect says, “Start looking for appliances first. Those measurements determine how much counter top to order.” Here’s hoping I don’t need to break up with him. That’s harder than selecting granite counter tops.

Cost vs. Value for Cleveland Major Kitchen Remodels*

Job Cost                      Resale Value                           Cost Recouped

Midrange:       $57,115                       $38,985                                   68.3%

Upscale:          $113,674                     $71,526                                   62.9%


Source: Cost vs. Value|National|Remodeling (


*This Web Site defines a Major Kitchen Remodel project as updating an outmoded 200-square-foot kitchen with a functional layout of 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, including a 3-by-5-foot island; laminate countertops; and standard double-tub stainless-steel sink with standard single-lever faucet; includes an energy-efficient wall oven, cooktop, ventilation system, built-in microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and custom lighting. Add new resilient flooring. Finish with painted walls, trim, and ceiling.


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