A renter pours herself a cup of coffee in her bright kitchen

A kitchen can make or break a rental. The right upgrades can attract renters and maximize asking rent. So what’s worth it and what’s not? According to rental property brokers, managers and investors, here are five kitchen renovations worth the investment. 

1. Neutral white can brighten and open up the room

White is a popular color choice for kitchen countertops, cabinets and backsplashes, and for good reason. It can make a small kitchen feel more spacious. 

“When you’re trying to put together a rehabbed kitchen that appeals to the most people, you go with white,” says Bill Samuel, a licensed real estate broker in Illinois and the proprietor of Blue Ladder Development. “Generally speaking, it makes the kitchen feel more open.”   

The neutral color also serves as a blank canvas; prospective renters easily imagine personal touches they’d add to the kitchen if they lived in the unit. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard. To avoid the antiseptic, operating room feeling an all-white kitchen can evoke, it’s a good idea to work light, neutral colors into the design scheme. During a recent kitchen renovation, Samuel installed white cabinets along with a white and gray backsplash. 

View of a kitchen's stone countertops

2. Stone countertops evoke luxury 

Stone countertops are on trend for several reasons: They’re durable, long-lasting and look great. Although stone is typically more expensive than counters made from butcher block or laminate materials, the material tends to make a big impression. 

“When people see stone in the kitchen, it's like the same thing as buying a luxury car,” Samuel says. “It's just more desirable.” 

Stone countertops can be made from a variety of materials, including granite, quartz and marble. 

“The thing about stone countertops is that there's a huge range,” Samuel says. “The cheapest option is builder-grade stone. And then there's super high-end granite. The cost of those can vary considerably with quartz being in the middle. Quartz is great for the kitchen because it's super resilient and scratch resistant.” 

3. Stainless steel appliances are practical and appealing

Upgrading kitchen appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers to stainless steel can pay dividends when it comes to adding value to a rental property and increasing asking rent. 

“The two main advantages of stainless-steel appliances are their cosmetic appeal and easiness to clean,” Samuel says. 

Along with calling out any new stainless-steel appliances in listings, Samuel recommends highlighting the appliances’ features. 

“If you have an icemaker in the fridge, it's definitely good to advertise it,” Samuel says. “As random and minuscule as that sounds, it's just a pain to have to fill up those old school ice cube trays and then wait for them. Most people won't even think about that until after the fact, but some people are paying attention.” 

Installing new handles in a kitchen cabinet

4. Replacing cabinet fixtures is a cost-effective refresh

“The cabinets are a great place to start when you want to give your kitchen a revamp, as they can make a huge visual difference without the daunting costs,” says Volodymyr Barabakh, a property manager based in Chicago. Barabakh is the co-founder of the property development and management company Fortress Home, where he serves as project director. 

“There often isn't any need to completely replace the cabinets. Just pick out some fresh new handles and doors and you can make them look brand new at minimal cost,” Baranakh says. “This is a great way to add value to your kitchen with less time and effort used.” 

Plus, if you’re handy, replacing cabinet fixtures is something you can easily do yourself. 

5. Appeal to entertainers with an open layout

Open kitchens, or kitchens that aren’t separated from the living and dining spaces, are trending. The open-concept layout with fewer walls is particularly attractive to renters who like to entertain or just want more space. To minimize costs, Samuel advises property owners work as much as they can with the existing layout and avoid moving plumbing, electrical wiring and HVAC systems. 

“If you're moving the sink, it gets really expensive,” Samuel says. “For a landlord who's trying to maximize their ROI, it just doesn't make any sense.” 

If you can open up the kitchen though, consider adding an island. 

“An island utilizes kitchen space in a functional and efficient way, dividing cooking tasks into separate workspaces so cooking with a partner never feels claustrophobic,” Barabakh says. “When cooking with guests around, an island allows you to […] maintain the conversation and can also double as an appetizer landscape at dinner parties. It creates a focal point of your room to draw attention into the center instead of toward the walls for a better flow of energy.” 


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