Rental Kitchen Cabinets: Is it worth it to buy more expensive?

55 Replies

I am remodeling a small kitchen (70 SF) I have on a house I have under contract right now. The kitchen is old and dingy, and I wanted to change it out so that we can add a dishwasher to the space (there currently isn't one, which I know will hurt rents). I had budgeted about $4500 for the kitchen, but early bids have it closer to a $6500-$7000 project (which seems like a ton for such a small kitchen just to change cabinets, countertop, and buy refurbished appliances, but I could be wrong). We're also already about $6k over budget without factoring in anything over $4500 for the kitchen.

My property manager and his contractor have been trying to sell me on using nicer wood cabinets, which we could get for about $2800. I know we can get the cheap stock wood cabinets at Home Depot for closer to $1300. While obviously there is a difference in quality and lifespan, I wonder if it just makes more sense fiscally to buy the stock cabinets? It is a rental property after-all, and at that price I can basically buy those same cabinets twice for the same cost as the nicer ones. However, the contractor thinks it's a bad idea.

Anybody have any experience with cabinet decisions on rental properties? Does it pay to pay up or should I just take the immediate savings using the HD cabinets?

Is this a higher end rental property? That price seems quite high to me. Are you moving any plumbing? Although we have not used them yet, I’ve heard good things about RTA cabinets (you can find several dealers online). For our rental kitchens, we just make sure to get plywood frames (no particle board, as it will be destroyed when it gets wet). Most prices I have seen start around $1k-$1.2k for a standard 10x10 kitchen (not including assembly & install). You could also consider replacing some of the uppers with floating shelves to save some $$. 

The cheap particle-board cabinets do wear out fast in tougher environments. They swell up when wet, and don't take heavy use as well. The drawer slides have plastic parts that break easily, and the doors go all wonky. Also the holes where screws and shelf supports go can get all loose and make parts wiggle. 

If you can, go take a look at the more expensive cabinets and their internal parts, and compare them to the cheap stuff. If they are both particle board with plastic parts inside, you're likely just being upsold. If its much more sturdy with real wood, all-metal parts, etc, I'd strongly consider it.  (At a reasonable price.. Those prices seem really high for me, but I keep close eye on everything and don't have any middlemen) 

If you do go with the cheap cabinets, put a layer of plywood down under the sink pipes to catch drips. That will be the first place to go. Also, I actually remove dishwashers (and disposals) from my rentals, as they do tend to cause a lot of problems with water leaks, plumbing issues and maintenance. 

I'd say the answer is highly dependant on your particular rental market, the location/area, the type of rental you're renovating, and how you're pricing it AKA what kind of renters you're trying to attract.  If its an "executive rental," then obviously you'll want to splurge on higher end finishes overall.  However, if this will have frequent turnover, such as a college rental, higher end cabinets may also be preferable.  Instead of having to replace particleboard boxes every after every other tenant, it may make sense to use cabs that can take more of a beating.

We use IKEA in our rentals. These are typically in A markets, so we pair them with granite countertops and new stainless appliances. They are inexpensive, easy to I stall, look great and have held up well for us.

I would spend more for plywood boxes, real wood drawers with dovetail or similar joinery, and for solid wood frames and doors (usually plywood or MDF inserts). I wouldn't spend more for a better species hardwood, say maple or cherry over oak. 

@Jen R. It's not a high end property, but it'll be a competitive one in a class B market ($1200-$1300 rent range).  We're not moving any plumbing, but we are going to add a dishwasher next to the sink since there currently isn't one. Is the $1100 you said you paid for RTA just for lowers or for uppers as well? What might be a typical range after install?

@Mark S. I forgot about IKEA. Great idea. I will go this weekend.

You might want to put one of those plastic pans under the dishwasher. We do that in all our kitchen renovations

When I did my moms kitchen she bought the cheap home depot cabinets. To extend their lifespan I sealed every surface with polyurethane. That was about 10 years ago and they still look brand new.

In a B class type of rental, I would absolutely suggest going with a nicer set of cabinets that will last for the length of more than one twelve month rental. With this being said, for a kitchen that small, I would suggest shopping around for less expensive cabinets than the $6500-$7000 you have been quoted. Go directly to cabinet and countertop providers to get quotes, not through your GC. Ask your GC how much he would charge you for labor on the install if you can provide the cabinets. There are a couple ways to do it but I would suggest going with a solid cabinet that will last, not the cheapest/poorest quality option.

I would agree with most of the replies here.  I just renovated one of the kitchens in a multi I just purchased and we are now getting $300 more for the unit than the previous owner because we made quality upgrades.  I purchased cabinets (plywood boxes, real wood drawers with dovetail) from our local building supplier and had our GC install them for $500.  We did replace the upper cabinets with open shelves which help cut costs but look awesome.  All in, we replaced our cabinets for under $2K.

how many linear feet of cabinets? I like the plywood boxes for duability and water resistence. You save the most by not getting specialty cabinets or dimensions.e.g. opening on both sides, special pullouts, pantries. Rta is better then lowes IMHO But everyone has thier preference.
Originally posted by @Colleen F. :
how many linear feet of cabinets? I like the plywood boxes for duability and water resistence. You save the most by not getting specialty cabinets or dimensions.e.g. opening on both sides, special pullouts, pantries. Rta is better then lowes IMHO But everyone has thier preference.

 I don't know what the linear footage is. The kitchen as a whole is about 70 SF. Here are the specs my handyman drew up:

ikea is garbage.

Search for local dealers selling Wolf classic cabinetry in your area. The Saginaw series is their basic model that is built decently. That’s a small kitchen and shouldn’t break the bank.

@Dave Shellenberger I’ve installed wolf cabinets. Both the cabinet shop line and the Lowe’s exclusive line. Decent cabinets. Overpriced though.

I’ve picked up built and installed hundreds of Ikea cabinet boxes. They are what they are. Easy to build easy to install, budget friendly cabinets. I’ve put them in low and and high end rentals.

Garbage? Nope.

@Jason L. We've used Ikea for a couple kitchen remodels now. No complaints, durable, easy to clean. Once you've assembled one you've basically got the concept down for the rest. The Euro style hinges and slow-close hardware are great features as well. Sure, it's not as glamorous as custom made woodwork, but for what it is, it serves the purpose well. As @Jen R. mentioned, we also do open shelves instead of uppers. Opens the layout and saves on price - win, win.

@Dave Shellenberger What happened to your cabinets?

@Brian Reiner Do you have pictures of the kitchen where you use shelves? I'm buying this property long distance. It would help if I could show something to my handyman (I also can't assemble any cabinets for myself for obvious reasons).

Designer's opinion here: the kitchen has too many cabinets. The layout looks like condo-spec, ready for a family of five.

I suggest higher quality cabinets and countertops, but less of them so cost is equalized. Going more MODERN will allow the minimalist approach to work.

We used RTA cabinets from JSI - plywood boxes and well constructed. Got them from Millwork City. Our kitchen was under $3000 for all new cabinets - we installed them ourselves.

What’s your target audience? What’s your desired lifespan for these? Is this a multi unit building?

I do suited houses, generally my tenants are in the last 3 years of undergrad or first 5 years of employment in a career. Ikea works (soft close is a great idea for multi unit buildings). I’ve also used pre assembled Lowe’s units that were less impressive. With my demographic, dovetail joinery makes zero sense. Adding a built in cutting board for them to grind stems on is a bigger selling point than any dovetail.

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