What's better buyers? Granite over Oak? Or cheap counters and a lower list price?

Asked by Rob, SF Bay area Thu Jun 19, 2008

Knowing we may potentially move soon and need to sell... Our kitchen has 90's style honey-Oak cathedral cabs (solid wood doors, though) and ultra-cheap (but good condition) sky blue laminate counters. Is it worth it to put better counters (like granite or other "in" stone) over honey-Oak these days? Or leave as-is and set a slightly more attractive listing price? We can't afford to rip them out and put in new cabs. If we did put in granite, we'd likely paint cabs white or espresso first. Just looking for personal opinions from potential buyers, or agents who are seeing any trends. Are buyers going to dish out any extra cash for granite if Oak is underneath? This is California, not the Midwest. Our small Cali kitchen would run about $6-8k for new granite counter/labor. Would the Cali buyers just plan to rip out the new granite because they can't stand the Oak (like me!) ? The rest of the home is updated, so the Oak kitchen is a downer. Will take all opinions - thanks!

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33
Mission Barganista’s answer
Mission Barg…, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Sun Jun 22, 2008
Please please please no more granite. No more cherry cabinets! Please! Don't do this to yourself and to us - the potential buyers. If you want your house to stand out DONT put the same lame-ass kitchen in it that everyone else just had put in. It will instantly date your kitchen, and any smart buyer will know that.

Now sky blue counters, however, sounds about as attractive as having the angel of death taking a nap in the master suite during an open house. I'd keep the cabinets - sure, change the color if you want (sanding and staining would be nicer than just painting over good wood) and put in a neutral counter. I like the suggestions you've already got - bamboo, concrete - something will work with the rest of your house. I personally long for a corian worksurface and perk right up when I see a house with one, but I have no idea if it's worth the $$$.
4 votes
Tman, , 30642
Fri Jun 20, 2008
Rob,

Countertops can make all the difference in the world ... your biggest issue is that 99% of the buyers (California or Florida) can't get a mental picture and envision what a kitchen, bathroom, etc will look like if something is added - or subtracted ..

The very first thing on *their* mind .. "yikes, I hate the blue countertops, so lets move on.." .. it doesn't make them bad buyers, it just makes them normal buyers .. plus, like Jim mentioned, buyers want it now .. it starts out being a negative for you as the seller, because most buyers can only imagine 22 days of pain, dust and flying scraps of metal while they're being installed - instead of the normal 4/6ish hours. .l.o.l..

Forget the cabinets, just use very light colors on the tops .. I've installed granite tops in 7 of the last 12 homes I've purchased and the result and the comments have always been the same:

-- "Wow, those countertops are fantastic, plus you added brand new cabinets..." (nope, those are the original cabinets from 8 years ago) .. "Wow, those countertops are fantastic, and you installed brand new appliances..." (nope, thats the same refrigerator and stove that was here 3 days ago) .. "Wow, those countertops are fantastic, plus you had the room painted.." (nope, thats the same white paint you spattered your spaghetti on 2 years ago)

-- "Wow, those countertops are fantastic, plus you had a new sink and faucet installed ..." (oop's, they got me on that one ...)

In most parts of the country, granite prices have dropped by 30 or 40%, this last kitchen was 65 sq ft and was done for less than $3,000 .. my neighbor just paid $10,200 for Corium and new cabinets, it looks like the kitchen we just threw out - so shop, shop long and shop hard ... if needed, wait until the late fall or winter to get better prices on the material and the labor.

Ideas if nothing else...

http://www.atlantaintowngranite.com/?gclid=CNXBmOX8gpQCFQYds…
http://www.slabcomg.com/

-
4 votes
Years ago the buyer did not have an issue doing projects. Nowadays, certainly in my area in the North East, because buyers don't have the time or inclination, they would sooner make an offer on a house that needs no or little work, than perhaps a better property that requires time and effort. Having said this, you only need one or two purchasers who are like the people who have already answered your question, who would love to redo a kitchen. If you could change the counter top inexpensively so it is not so jarring, that would be the best thing in my opinion, as potential buyers would not focus on the counter top and feel that at some point, they will redo. As for price, that, location and condition may be the most important variables. Get someone to give you an accurate CMA so you know the correct pricing and get help as to how to position your property, price wise.
Flag Sun Oct 26, 2014
Robert J. RA…, Agent, Petaluma, CA
Wed Apr 29, 2015
Paint the cabinets white, then put a dark granite down with a white backsplash. Crisp, clean and simple.

Robert Rapp
Realtor | San Francisco Bay Area
415.272.2391
2 votes
J R, , New York, NY
Sun Jun 22, 2008
Unless you have really really really nice up to date appliances, cabinets, and floors, I would skip the granite. I cringe when I do a home evaluation and the homeowner says "we updated the kitchen" and there's granite over older cabinets, repainted or not. Either update both or neither and adjust the price. And remember if the house isn't the best buy at the price you put on it, it isn't going to sell.
2 votes
Jackalope, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
I'm in agreement with Jed and Cheryl. As a buyer, if I see one more granite countertop I'm going to puke. It's like having avocado green appliances that scream "70s!!".

My strong preference would be to have a slightly lower price so I could do the kitchen the way that I wanted it done, as someone who would live there long term, instead of a 'slap it on and sell' quick fix job. What's to say buyers don't walk in and hate the color/finish of the countertop you've chosen? Or leave it open for negotiation.

I realize agents are saying most people can't imagine what a house would look like other than what's there, but I don't agree with that. If true, entire channels like HGTV wouldn't exist. ;)

Maybe people don't want to change things, but is there really anyone who moves in and keeps everything the same?

Sorry for the strong feelings on granite, but I'm over it.
2 votes
Francis Soms…, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Sat Mar 7, 2015
In San Francisco there is a premium on "move in ready" homes where the new owners don't have to do anything. Any work that needs to be done will shrink your pool of potential buyers. That being said, if you are going to do it, do it right. So, yes, I would recommend upgrading the kitchen if you aren't in a hurry to sell.

You should also go through the house and fix any little problems or unattractive things that you find.

Here is one example of a checklist: http://www.firstam.com/assets/title/asset-uploads/Planning-t…
1 vote
Noah Seidenb…, Agent, Evanston, IL
Tue Mar 3, 2015
It's all opinion. Everyone has their own tastes. Yes you see Granite everywhere but different strokes for different folks. I personally like quartzite countertops.
1 vote
Jim Rudoff, , San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
Jackalope -- you really are the exception, and THAT's the reason HGTV exists. It's to showcase people who can envision the new kitchen to the mass population who can't. If those skills were common, no one would bother watching!

I recently worked with buyers who wanted a fixer, and like you were sick to death of granite. They kept losing bids not to other buyers, but to contractors, flippers, and developers. Most individual buyers really can't see the potential, or really don't want the headache.

P.S. to Janine - Laminates just don't cut it in San Francisco. An alternative, green surface like Richlite is going to go over much better.
Web Reference:  http://www.jimrudoff.com
1 vote
Linda Slocum,…, , Santa Clarita, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
Tman is correct... 99% of the buyers cannot picture anything in a house other than what's there. If the trend in your area is granite counters in earthy colors and yours is skyblue laminate, then you could very likely lose some buyers because of the condition of the kitchen. They'll take one look and walk out, assuming that replacing the kitchen would be too costly and time-consuming.

However, if many of the homes in your area still have these original counters, then you can likely leave them as-is and still sell. If the trend in your area is to move towards granite counters, you'll need to be willing to sell at "fixer" pricing if you want to avoid the out-of-pocket costs of new counters as well as the mess.

The oak cabinets aren't necessarily bad... you can refinish them to an updated color and add new hardware, and they'll probably be just fine.
1 vote
Jed Lane, Agent, Petaluma, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
Rob all you need to do is go to open houses in your area and look at the competition. That's what other open houses are when you're selling. Your goal in apperance, from the curb to the backyard, is to show value when compared to the listed price. You want the potential buyers to see your property as the best of the lot and the first to go off the for sale shelf.
You mention you have a 90's kitchen I'm seeing that there is a change afoot from the 00 (aught) kitchens of granite and cherry wood. The future will be more focused on green, cement counters made from ash, bamboo cabinrts. This will be the 10 kitchen.
Instead of being au courant be competative. If you feel you need to tart up the kitchen look at the details of your competition. I've taken a 20's kitchen and by adding new pulls on the cabinets and a new faucet in the sink made it look retro. Called "updated original".
1 vote
Cheryl Bower, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
Another suggestion is to consider eco-friendly counters such as Richlite or Bamboo. If you're handy, you can install either material since they're easier to work with then stone & also less expensive then stone.

http://www.plyboo.com/
1 vote
Christinemcm…, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Sun Feb 12, 2017
Get new countertops (granite or one of many other upscale options) in a more neutral color and paint the oak. Add updated hardware, if you haven't already. Many buyers like white cabinets now. Sand the cabinets, wash them with TSP, prime, then paint. We did some of our cabinet in cement gray, which is popular now, too. If you are going to rip out any cabinets, take out only some of the uppers (which are the ones with the cathedral tops) and put in open shelving. I haven't had anyone even notice my cathedral cabinets since I painted them and updated everything around them, though, so removal shouldn't be necessary. If the kitchen can handle darker colors, the easiest option is to paint the cabinets with a thin layer of high-gloss chocolate or mahogany paint. Do a light sanding (don't remove all of the finish) and paint the cabinets with one thin layer of paint (not stain--regular opaque paint), following the grain of the wood with your paint brush. Do only one coat. Some of the grain will be visible through the paint and it will transform it into an antique, rich-looking wood. The upshot is that you need to alter both the cabinets and the countertops, though it needn't be a huge ordeal. If you leave a dated kitchen in an otherwise-updated house, you'll not only get a lower price, but a lot of buyers will be turned off altogether and it will take you longer to sell.
0 votes
Arpad Racz, Agent, San Jose, CA
Wed Apr 29, 2015
Hi,

If the rest of the home is updated, I would consider updating the kitchen as well. Don't miss out on the market by going through a project that is too long though.

Kind regards,

Arpad
0 votes
Bonnie Ioele, Home Buyer, Freehold, NJ
Sun Feb 22, 2015
I would love to see an agent respond to this because I am on the East Coast (NJ) and have the same situation. What did you wind up doing? I see this is from 2008.
0 votes
Ruth and Per…, Agent, Los Gatos, CA
Wed Jan 14, 2015
Hi Rob

A more attractive list price will make more sense.

To be sure, go to a few Open House in SF, and check what sellers are doing.

No point going through the hassle, as any home in SF right now is selling quick.

As funds are limited, best to list before more listings show up and sell quickly.

You should get 5-15 offers.

Good luck

Perry


http://www.ruthandperry.com
0 votes
Arpad Racz, Agent, San Jose, CA
Wed Jan 14, 2015
Hi,

If the rest of the property is updated, many would finish up the kitchen with granite over oak, since first impressions matter. I hope it turns out well and you get multiple offers.

Kind regards,

ARpad
0 votes
Joslyn Tatum, Agent, Dallas, TX
Wed Jan 14, 2015
People love granite but you have to understand your market. If everyone is installing granite in your area then it is the best route to get your home sold, but if your area will not price for you to recover your expenses and other homes are going with a less expensive finish make sure you look into other options. There is no one answer, but your agent should be able to help you with this voice by looking at comps in your area.
0 votes
Myersjulie31, Home Buyer, Blakeslee, PA
Tue Jan 13, 2015
I've found that just about everyone loves having granite counters. I have a friend that just put them in, and she said they are super great to have in her kitchen. I would suggest for you to look at different options for granite and decide if any of the options will look good with your kitchen. However, I would definitely be sure that your cabinets match the granite, just to be sure that your kitchen still looks nice! http://starmarblegranite.com/
0 votes
Philip Cabral, Agent, San Jose, CA
Sat Oct 25, 2014
Most owner-occupied buyers would prefer an already remodeled home. I showed a client two homes that were the exact same model, where the remodeled one was asking $100K more than the outdated one. I brought over a contractor who told my client that he can remodel the outdated home to look exactly like the updated home for $40K, saving her $60K. The end result was that my client made an offer on the updated home, foregoing the $60K saving. Go figure.

Also, the three main real wood cabinet types are Oak, Maple, and Cherry. If those are oak cabinets I would leave them alone. I would replace the counters with granite. If your kitchen layout is standard you can probably buy pre-cut granite which will save you 50% over buying custom cut granite.
0 votes
Ryan Rudnick, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Sun Oct 19, 2014
Marble and Caesarstone are very in right now, so I'd definitely suggest one of those over the granite which has been done a lot in the past and is a bit out of style, at least here in SF.

Caesarstone tends to be cheaper than marble, but that isn't always the case, so check out your options at various suppliers and see what works best for you in terms of price. Either way, make sure to choose something neutral as bold colors and patters might not appeal to all buyers and therefore remove some people from your potential buyer pool.

If the cabinets are in good condition, I'd suggest either painting or re-staining them, and updating the hardware to something a bit more modern. Kitchens and baths are what sell a house, so to get the best price for your home, an upgrade there is almost always a good idea.

I know some great contractors, cabinet makers and stone suppliers if you'd like suggestions,

Good luck!
0 votes
Ryan Rudnick, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Sep 6, 2013
Hi Rob,

I would avoid granite these days. It's not nearly as popular as it used to be. If you would like to switch out the countertops, use something like CaesarStone or Marble (which, surprisingly, can be cheaper than granite). If you paint the cabinets, I would definitely go with white, but re-staining them a dark natural wood color, and using a white CaesarStone would also look very nice. Try switching up the cabinet pulls and handles as well, as this small and inexpensive change will make a HUGE difference in your kitchen.

On the other hand, if you are in San Francisco, there are MANY investors and developers out there looking for homes that need work. These people are more likely to buy a house with a kitchen that needs an entire overhaul, than one that already has new countertops and old, but painted cabinets. They will see more potential the worse the kitchen looks. Also, if you choose to keep the kitchen as is, many fixers in San Francisco go for far over list price, as there are few available, and lots of buyers looking for them.

All of this advice is from personal experience buying distressed properties and renovating properties in San Francisco. I know some great architects and contractors if you need them, as well as an awesome cabinet maker who will happily paint or refinish old cabinets. Let me know if you'd like me to send them your way, and feel free to contact me for any other questions, or when it comes time to sell.

Hope this helps,
-Ryan Rudnick
Downing & Co. Real Estate Services
818.970.7836
ryan.rudnick@mac.com
0 votes
Bill Eckler, Agent, Venice, FL
Tue Aug 6, 2013
Hi Rob,

Offering advice on anything sight unseen is usually an effort in "guessing." Beyond price, condition, and location, the appeal of a kitchen is one of the premium home considerations. Many buyers will fall in love with a home simply because of this area and how it presents itself.

Your point is right on...the last thing you want to do is throw thousands in an effort to impress buyers, only to find they will just rip it out and start over. Believe me this often happens.

You do have options....do nothing and build a price that reflects the need for kitchen updating. Do a total remodel, or create a partial update in hopes that people will be WOWed by it. Unfortunately, doing a partial remodel, including new stone or granite, could be a huge mistake if not properly supported by making the right supportive changes. To many a sharp eye, painted cabinets will be just painted cabinets and a big turn-off. On the other hand, properly done, this could be a change that sells your home.

For what it's worth, appeal doesn't have to cost thousands, but it needs to be tastefully done and well thought out, taking into consideration the entire space and what it has to offer. I've seen wonderful transformations with resurfaced cupboards, new flooring, under cupboard lighting, and several sheets of copper to cover counters.....but it has to be right for the space and the overall theme of the home.

Think outside the box and be creative....it can be done!

Good luck,

Bill
0 votes
Peterweiss20…, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Tue Aug 6, 2013
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0 votes
Livstone, , Outer Sunset, San Francisco, CA
Mon Nov 2, 2009
just gotta try to find an economic sollution, may be smth like http://www.livingstonesurfaces.com/
0 votes
Mnboy, , Minneapolis, MN
Sun Aug 16, 2009
Rob.
I used to be in the Kitchen Bis. It is all about competition. Hire a Realtor, check out your competition(houses). Then make your decision. Oh, by the way, it is what is done in S.F. that only counts. $6-8k for counters seems way high, you are on the coast, get on the phone/internet and find someone who will do it for $40-60 a square foot. The Chinease produce a 3/4 product with a full bullnose, some colors are quite reasonable. Buy a current popular color. Think about refacing in a current popular wood and stlye. A guy working on his own, not Sears or Home Depot. Check web sites. It is not a good idea to do improvements that buyers will have to change or fix. It will be reflected in the offer.
P.S. Bamboo floors are green, it is all down hill from there. New product, the jury is out.
Web Reference:  http://hansen2hansen.com
0 votes
Jackalope, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Mon Aug 4, 2008
Mission Barganista, congratulations on finding and buying a place! Whether Mission-proper or Mission/Castro, it's a great area to live and buy in - and great weather to boot.

I'm happy to hear you are indeed making your living by your pen. Your angel of death comment was too good; I figured you had to be a pro - and/or have a very active imagination. Great visual imagery!

I did end up finding a place but my budget was very, very low. One income, first-time buyer, you know the drill. It basically came down to two options: 1. Place in/near the city that was crappy but great location. 2. Place not in/near the city but great living space/neighborhood with the trade-off of a craptastic commute.

Of course, I ended up choosing the latter and purchased the lower unit of a duplex near the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland/a block from Piedmont. Built in 1914, Craftsman/Prairie style, box beam ceilings, beautiful garden, huge backyard for my yellow Lab, two bedrooms, and a sunroom.

Good luck on your new place! Have you closed yet?
0 votes
Melissa T, , Lexington (and Northern VA)
Fri Aug 1, 2008
I guess I'm an annoying superficial buyer, but I definitely knew the types of countertops in each of the homes I was considering. I have a theory that buyers need one "wow" to take away from your home - maybe it's that sunroom you added, or the amazing master bathroom or the stone fireplace ... but I cared about kitchens (size, countertops, counter space, light), and I think most buyers do care. I'd probably suggest doing something with your countertops, not necessarily granite, and do what you can with the cabinets (paint and new hardware - the hardware is one of those easy investments that can make buyers stop and look).
0 votes
Mission Barg…, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Fri Aug 1, 2008
Jackalope,
I do indeed make a living by my pen. And I did just find a place, actually! I leveraged some long-term relational goodwill (i.e. got my parents to buy with me) and landed a triplex that was in forclosure. Sadly, though, it's not exactly in the Mission - more along the Mission/Castro border. Maybe I gotta change my name now!
What about you? I remember answering your Q about finding a first-time homebuyer agent a few months ago. Any luck?
0 votes
Jackalope, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Wed Jun 25, 2008
Mission Bargainista, you are my new hero. Your answer cracked me up, and finally, finally!!, someone who also feels that granite is less than inspiring.

Angel of death?! I hope you are a writer; you crack me up.

Thanks for the laugh, and good luck finding your place - have you located anything yet?
0 votes
Janine Ricca…, , Palm Coast, FL
Fri Jun 20, 2008
To keep your investment down consider a laminate in a neutral tone.
Web Reference:  http://www.lovepalmcoast.com
0 votes
Melanie Nard…, , San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
When putting your home on the market you want it to look its very best, minimize distractions -- such as your dated kitchen, and outshine the competition. Buyers expectations are of a "model" home. You have control over the condition of your property and the price, not the market. When I put my last home on the market I had a designer/stager do a complimentary walk through the home with me and then got to work with her suggestions which included a granite counter top. I'd say that a granite counter top and refreshed cabinets will help your home show better and get buyers excited.
0 votes
Cheryl Bower, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
Hi Rob,

The $6-8K is a small, worthwhile investment for these upgrades. The ideal is that a property appeals to the largest number & variety of buyers. If you think your kitchen is such a downer, very likely there will be buyers out there who feel the same way. Some first time buyers are overwhelmed with the buying process let alone having the possibility of immediately having to do a kitchen remodel.

I say go for it!
Web Reference:  http://www.cbower.com
0 votes
Jim Rudoff, , San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 20, 2008
To me, the answer is in the last sentence of your description. Given that the rest of the home is updated, it probably makes sense to update the kitchen. The way you described sounds about perfect -- keep it as inexpensive as possible.

The reasoning behind my answer is that it seems like the majority of buyers at the moment are looking for a home that is in move-in condition. If the kitchen is that much of a downer, then you're not going to attract these types of buyers.

If you would like any other tips, I'd be happy to talk to you, and even visit your home -- no strings or expectations.

Good luck!
Web Reference:  http://www.jimrudoff.com
0 votes
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