Buyers will swoon over a state-of-the-art kitchen. And they will often walk away from a house where the kitchen isn’t what they hoped for.

You don’t want to be trying to sell a home with a deal-breaker kitchen. But you don’t want to (cha-ching!) spring for a total kitchen remodel either.

The good news is that there are ways to make a less-than-perfect kitchen look lots better without spending lots of money. The secret is to put your dollars where they’ll do the most good.

Bright lighting

Good illumination is important for a clean, modern look and it signals that your kitchen is a serious, functioning space. Get the maximum wattage you can into both your task lighting and your over-all lighting, and make sure your Realtor knows where the switches are.

Budget tip: A statement ceiling fixture, even an inexpensive knockoff or DIY project that started at Habitat, is a plus if your kitchen can accommodate it.

A fabulous faucet

Here’s another place where an investment returns itself. An impressive faucet can make an old kitchen look much newer. It doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, but it should be big. Expect to spend between $150 and $300.

Budget tip: Do your homework, be patient, and scoop up one on sale.
A gleaming faucet like this one 
will set you back about $100.

Newish cabinets

When it comes to fix-up costs, most of us already know that paint gives you the most bang for your buck. If your cabinets cry out for a quality boost, paint them.

Leave the doors hanging. Clean them with TSP and sand them smooth. Brush around the hinges and paint the rest with a small roller.

Skip the cabinet interiors but add new white shelf liners. With the right paint and prep, even laminates can be painted.

Budget tip: Primer is cheaper than semi-gloss paint. So, make your first coat a stain-blocking, quality primer, then sand lightly again, and top coat with a good semi-gloss acrylic. The primer will save you money and give you better coverage in the end.

Handsome hardware

If you’ve had the same knobs and pulls in your kitchen for 20 years, maybe it’s time for a makeover. Hardware is part of the kitchen’s jewelry. Bring home one sample and see what it looks like before committing to a full count. Browse online to see what’s trending and perfect for your kitchen’s style. If the present ones are top quality, remove them, clean them and replace.

Budget tip: If you have visible hinges that don’t make a style statement, a good carpenter can install hidden hinges to create a sleeker appearance. The visible holes for old hinge screws will have to be patched, so replacing hinges works only if you’re painting your cabinets.
Older cabinets were often custom-built on site
of solid wood. Updating quality workmanship 
isn't always necessary. Photo: Sotheby's

Statement countertops

Yes, countertops are a major investment, but buyers can be fussy about them.

Check what your competition has and try to match the quality in your own kitchen. If the standard is granite and you have old laminate, you could be losing serious buyers.

If the idea of spending money on new counters bothers you, consider the impact it will have on your home’s desirability, and factor into your decision what it costs each month to maintain your home while it’s on the market.

Get prices for granite, quartz, solid surface, concrete and even wood. Some countertop suppliers will throw in a complimentary sink to sweeten the deal.

Budget tip: Put a high-end surface on just an island or just the sink area and call it “custom styling.”

Matching appliances

Although you might get away with unmatched counters, major kitchen appliances that match will give a lackluster kitchen some credibility. Stainless steel is nice -- as in the top photo from Better Homes and Gardens -- but it isn’t always a requirement. Depending on your market, functioning appliances that look new and match could be “good enough.”

Budget tip: Some appliances can be painted with epoxy paints (refrigerators) or have a reversible front panel (dishwashers).

Gourmet touches 

A kitchen island -- even if it is a non-stationary one --
is the perfect place to stage some 
serious cooking props. Photo: Crate and Barrel
These are less important than the other upgrades I’ve listed. But they will definitely earn you extra credit. 

If you own a big, bright KitchenAid mixer or a fancy espresso machine, don’t hide them away unless your kitchen is so tiny they would add visual clutter. 

Other touches might be a stocked wine rack (Fill your emptied wine bottles with water, and cork them.), a beautiful cutting board, or a retro blender.

Budget tip: Visit a restaurant supply house and buy some pots or other cooking essentials that have that popular commercial look. Even second-hand items look good because those things are built to last!

Make selling your home a priority

If your kitchen is functional but leans too much towards builder grade or old-fashioned, it could be preventing you from getting offers. These upgrades will add that touch of luxury buyers expect.

Sure, a fancy range hood, a trash compactor, custom tiled backsplash, wine chiller, roll-out shelving and other wish-list perks would be nice, but unless they are already in place, adding them probably means you’re over-fixing. Just budget your costs so you meet or beat what homes in your price range are offering.

Of course, maintaining your home’s major systems –electrical, plumbing, roofing, flooring – is more important than cosmetic additions to the kitchen. I am going to assume that your home is already safe and sound. Having a home inspection done before listing your home is a wise move.

Although you may have to spend some cash to check off all items on this list, money spent on a minor remodel in a kitchen typically returns 80 to 100% -- a better return than money spent in other areas of the home. So, go ahead, gussy up that kitchen!

You can get more DIY tips for selling your home in my eBooks. Follow the link to learn more about the books. You are just 2 clicks away from starting your staging today.