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The Optimal Renter’s Kitchen

A fresh kitchen is a big selling point for any potential tenant. But you don’t want the renovation costs to break your budget. Ilse Wolfe explains how to nail the optimal renter’s kitchen.

5 July 2022

A grotty-looking kitchen isn’t going to pop out to any potential tenant.

As the social hub of the home, tenants place a high value stake on it – long before they start arguing over who gets which bedroom or where the couches will go in the lounge.

Ilse Wolfe, a property investment coach at Opes Accelerate, says it’s worthwhile making sure your renovation plan includes a rock-solid kitchen set-up.

“It’s where people come together to share breakfast or a glass of wine,” Wolfe says.

“Just because it’s a high-use area of the house doesn’t mean tenants want it to look like it’s well used.”

Wolfe says landlords need to remember that this is a renter’s kitchen, not the kitchen of their own dreams.

This means the final product might be different to what you initially planned.

Here are a few things to consider to get you started.

A DIY spruce-up can go a long way

Salvaging existing elements of a kitchen can go a long way to maintaining parts of the history or personality of the house.

Wolfe says it’s important to make sure whatever surfaces you are going to ‘buff up’ will have an impact on the value of your investment, not just cost a ton in labour to complete.

For landlords constrained by a budget, a good revitalisation of existing cabinetry, Formica benchtops and stainless-steel benches can offer a low-cost but high-impact solution.

Hiring third-party labour will generally cost $60 to $110 per hour, but there is the option to do it yourself.

“Elbow grease combined with a specialist tile paint, such as the Dulux Renovation Range Tiles and Benchtops, can completely rejuvenate the most impactful aspects of a kitchen,” she says.

DIYers can expect materials to cost around NZ$100 to NZ$200, for this option.

Avoid custom-made cabinetry

If you decide to a replace the kitchen, it can be very tempting to retrofit a perfect custom design, but remember, it’s a rental, so you should stick to available modular products.

“Just because this is the kitchen you want, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for your investment,” Wolfe says.

Instead, stay in the correct lane and choose standardised cabinetry colours, materials and finishes that are readily available.

“You’ll want to avoid any custom cabinet sizes or amends that add unnecessary cost and time to the production.”

Custom joinery can add four to six weeks to the manufacture timeline.

If you stretch out the time your renovation takes, you’ll increase your mortgage holding costs and delay occupancy which will hit your rental cash flow.

Be wary of flat-pack kitchens

At first glance, a flat-pack kitchen can appear the best value, but this isn’t always the case, especially if the installation goes wrong or takes longer than expected.

Wolfe says, in her experience, the most efficient new kitchen solution is to order direct from the kitchen manufacturer, at wholesale price, and select from their standard product range and colours.

Even better, use their installers for manufacturer end-to-end accountability of the finished product.

“Make sure it’s at a fixed price, including installation, too,” she adds.

Typically, Wolfe finds a fully equipped kitchen with a 30mm pre-cut stone benchtop sits in the range of NZ$5000 to NZ$7000 including delivery, with installation from final design within two and three weeks.

“I’m yet to see this scenario beaten,” Wolfe says.

Weigh your materials by strength and price

There are a few materials to look out for to increase the longevity of your kitchen.

Remember, kitchens are a high-use room and because you can’t foresee what your future tenants’ knife-wielding skills through an onion will be, you’re going to need to ensure your surfaces are prepared in advance.

For benchtops, common materials are natural bamboo, Formica, and engineered stone.

A bamboo top will not withstand direct knife use well, making it more susceptible to mould and ageing. But the champion for this – the engineered stone top – will still suffer the effects of a red wine spill.

“It’s very much a ‘get what you paid-for’ situation,” Wolfe says.

“Whichever material you opt for, ensure it has a quality finish. Even better, look at installed examples as evidence.”

It’s a similar juggle for cabinetry. Melamine is the most commonly used coating to go around the inside particle board, and it can be from 16mm to 18mm thick.

Wolfe says quotes can vary by several hundred dollars between the two sizes, so review them closely.

An 18mm board might have more of the mettle to stand up to ongoing tenancies, so it could be worth the extra dollars.

Be a diligent landlord

By their nature, kitchens have to withstand a lot of water abuse, and this can cause premature ageing.

“Be religious with pre- and post-tenancy inspection photos to manage any damage that needs replacement due to negligence,” Wolfe says.

“You’re looking for swelling in finishings and cracks in the seals.”

Wolfe says her final advice would be to critically scour the price list when designing a new kitchen and note the variations in price for the essentials versus the nice-to-have conveniences.

“Never include a pull-out bin drawer in a rental kitchen. It’s never a big enough capacity, especially when there are lots of bedrooms. Tenants will get a large standalone council bin.

“Lean towards non-mechanical accessories to reduce ongoing maintenance.”

It’s up to the investor to find the right balance between materials versus cost, and materials versus tenant. This will be unique to each investment.

“Don’t be afraid to design function around price and choose lower-cost shelving or cupboards over higher-cost drawer stacks, to keep the overall design cost down,” Wolfe says.

The bottom line: This is a renter’s kitchen – not yours.

“Be wary of falling into the trap of projecting your own wishes into this kitchen,” Wolfe says.

“Think about who your future tenant is going to be, and then kit it out accordingly.”

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