Out with the Ugly, In with the Awesome: Kitchen Renos on a Budget
Ugly/outdated kitchens are the pits! If you have a big budget, you can certainly rip yours out and pay $30,000-$40,000 for a brand new one - and that's pretty modest for a kitchen update! If you want high-end appliances and all new lighting, add $20,000-$30,000 more to that original number. 
 
But what if you don't have a large remodeling budget? If you're getting ready to sell your house, having an unattractive kitchen will likely mean your home will not only take longer to sell, but will almost certainly ensure your home will sell for less. Kitchens sell homes!
 
Not planning to sell your home but need a refresh? Instead of closing your eyes every time you're in your offensive kitchen, go the DIY route! These cost-efficient tips will work wonders for anyone, no matter their renovation budget or plan. 
Paint a Pretty Picture
Paint is one of the cheapest ways to update any room in the home for the smallest investment. When we’re talking about kitchens, painting the walls can certainly have a dramatic impact. In this post, however, we're going to focus primarily on everything inside the kitchen instead because cabinets and countertops are two areas where sellers often feel lost about how to update them without spending a lot of money.
 
Cool Cabinets
There are a variety of ways you can update cabinets ranging from completely replacing, to refacing and refurbishing to repainting the cabinet fronts. If your cabinets are structurally sound but just unattractive, you'll get the most bang for your buck by simply painting them.

I wouldn't recommend you do this yourself, even if you've painted several rooms yourself, as there's a big difference between painting walls and painting cabinets. Professional painters will have spray guns to apply even coats of paint without brush marks. They also know which products to use to give the longest lasting finish best suited for a kitchen environment. Regular wall paint is not conducive for cabinets as the initial clean look will not last long!

Having said all that, If you're on a seriously minimal budget, you CAN paint your cabinets yourself. If you do, be sure to use the proper paint and be sure to have LOTS of patience to get the job done right! I would recommend you use Sherwin-Williams' Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel. It's a water-based urethane paint that has durability similar to an oil-based paint, but much, much easier to apply (oil-based paint is durable, but notoriously difficult to work with, especially for non-professionals).

Go Pro
To find a professional, shop around and you should be able to find someone to repaint your cabinets for a reasonable price. Check with your favorite realtor - we often know the best companies to recommend for this type of work. In Kentucky there's a company called Surface Keepers that does an amazing job repainting cabinets as well as resurfacing countertops (more on countertop resurfacing below). To give you an idea of the cost, to repaint the cabinets on an average size Kitchen in Central Kentucky, Surface Keepers would typically charge about $1,500.
A Real Life Reno
You can see what a drastic difference some paint made to the kitchen shown above! This is actually a home I recently sold which had been listed by three different realtors before me and failed to sell each time. The seller was willing to do some updates but not if it meant selling at the original listing price. Under my guidance, several updates were performed (mostly paint and a few fixtures), and the house ended up selling for $18,000 more than the list price from the last realtor! It goes to show you how some simple improvements can make a BIG difference when selling a home.

In the before picture (left), the homeowner had already replaced the original countertops with a neutral laminate but the cabinets were butter yellow and extremely unappealing.

In the after picture (right), the cabinets were painted white and the outdated pulls were replaced with simple brushed nickel knobs and relocated to the side of the door. Quite a difference, right? Buyers certainly thought so!
What Wood You Do?
Don't be afraid to paint wood cabinets! Especially if they're builder grade oak from 1992! I was called in to stage and list another home that had not sold when previously listed by a different realtor. The house was overall in very good condition but the kitchen was underwhelming, despite the recent installation of granite countertops and new stainless appliances.
The seller was concerned about my recommendation to paint the oak cabinets, but I knew it would make a huge impact. Just look at the difference! This house had languished on the market for more than 6 months with its previous agent. After the minor updates and some aggressive marketing, I got the house under contract within a few short weeks.
Countering Ugly Counters
Now that you know how to update your cabinets, what on earth are you going to do with those countertops? You have many options!
Granite
Granite countertops may not be easy on on the budget, but having them is a major selling point in most price ranges. For an average size kitchen, you're looking at a minimum of $2,000 once you include fabrication, and that's if you find some on sale. If you want a more options but are choosing from the lower tiers, you may be able to get it done for about $3,000. Keep in mind that granite pricing tiers or grades don't denote the quality of the stone, they signify how common that particular stone is. So the most common patterns are the least expensive because of their availability.

So is it worth the investment to put granite in your home if you're just going to turn around and sell it? It depends. If most of the competing homes in your price range have granite and you want to sell your home for a similar price as those homes, it's probably worth the upgrade to granite so buyers won't assume the other homes are superior to yours simply because they have granite countertops.

If most homes in your price range and neighborhood don't have granite but you want to sell your house for more than any other home in your neighborhood has ever sold, granite may be worth it. Keep in mind that having granite countertops is not going to cause buyers to overlook other (possibly major) issues with your home. If your home has foundation issues or a leaky roof, slapping on a new countertop is not going to make up for the fact that your house has some structural issues that need addressing.

Whether to upgrade to granite or not is truly a case-by-case scenario. The best person to advise you on whether it's a good idea is a trusted realtor. Most realtors show hundreds of homes per year and we get firsthand, unfiltered feedback from buyers while showing these homes. This is the kind of perspective you need to help you determine whether expensive countertops are worth it in your situation. On the other hand, if you know someone in the business who can give you a deal, go for it!
Bargain Friendly Options
When most people think of the most cost-effective way to update the look of countertops, laminate is probably the material that comes to mind. The laminates of today are much more attractive than the laminates of 30-40 years ago. For an average size kitchen, you may be able to get away with spending only $400-$500 on the materials for your laminate countertops, but then you're looking at another $300 for installation. Overall, it's a much more affordable option than granite.
 
But there's another option I've been recommending to a lot of my clients lately that's even more affordable and just as nice looking: countertop resurfacing. With this process, countertops are coated with an epoxy resin that's very durable and doesn't require removal of the existing countertops.
 
If you are a DIYer, you may be tempted to buy one of the countertop refinishing kits at your local Big Box store. Please refrain! I've seen about a dozen homes with DIY efforts done this way and it almost always ends up looking horrible. The fumes are toxic while you're working with them and even if you are the one in ten user who actually ends up getting the product to look reasonably good, it doesn't include a waterproof coating to prevent the material from slowly flaking off and seeping into your food. It's just a solid no all around!
 
Your your best option for a completely affordable countertop makeover is to find a company like Surface Keepers in your area. I became aware of Surface Keepers last year and have recommended them to several homeowners.
 
The epoxy they use is the same material that's used to paint tankers and commercial airplanes. It's incredibly durable and waterproof. They have solid colors, but they also can impart a variety of patterns, many of which look like granite. The best part? The cost to resurface all the countertops in an average size kitchen typically runs about $600-$700. That's actually less than the cost to install new laminate countertops AND you have a much wider selection of colors and patterns. On top of that, because you're not having to rip out the old countertops and install new ones, the whole process takes no more than a few hours and your countertops will look like new. Just take a look at the before and after pictures below!
 
Now, your countertops do need to be structurally sound for this process to work. It doesn't matter if they're scratched up or have dents and dings (those types of imperfections will all become invisible with the resurfacing). If they're rotted or falling off, that probably won't work. Luckily, they evaluate each situation as a case-by-case basis. I have no association with Surface Keepers, but I've seen their work firsthand and know they are a reliable and budget-friendly option! Find them on Facebook to book an appointment or reach them at 859-382-1939. (If you're not in Kentucky, search for countertop resurfacing in your area.)