Whether they cook> like Mario Batali or order nightly takeout, Americans invest in their kitchens. Even at the low point of the downturn, in 2009, homeowners spent an average of $27,300 on kitchen remodels, only an 8 percent drop from the peak of the boom, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. Back in the go-go years, contractors say, homeowners going the high-end route sometimes would blow that amount on just a few supersized appliances, or even more on a roomful of sleek marble counters. These days the $12.6 billion kitchen remodeling industry is offering plenty of ways to economize, from volume freebies to remnant countertops.
Some cabinet manufacturers are responding to the fall in demand by reducing or eliminating surcharges for custom-size cabinets, decorative finishes and higher-end wood types.
Homeowners trying to save by sourcing materials directly from a manufacturer could make costly mistakes. If measurements are even a half-inch off, or if homeowners don't understand all the variables, they could pay much morefor return shipping and a redo or face warranty repair problems down the line.
Custom cabinets. Down 20 to 30 percent, thanks to lower material costs and cabinetmaker discounts.
Counters. Down 30 percent, as installation costs have fallen.
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Custom hand-painted tiles. They rarely have backlogs to drive down prices.
Infographics by Emily Cooper for SmartMoney
Americans may be spending 14 percent less on major bathroom projects since the peak of the remodeling boom in 2007, but adding an upscale bath is still among the most popular renovations. And even in a sluggish home market, homeowners recoup 53 percent of their costs come resale time. These days homeowners are shaving costs by shaving square footage by nearly 15 percent since 2008, according to a survey by RemodelOrMove.com. Still, says the report's author, Dan Fritschen, "they haven't lost their taste for high-end design and luxe materials." Luckily, experts say, prices for granite have come down by half since the boom years, thanks in part to increased competition from Asian and Brazilian quarries and to lower labor costs for fabrication and installation.
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Spa showers, with their multiple water streams, can now be installed less expensively with already plumbed "shower tower" kits that require only one hookup to water. A caveat: They're not always adjustable, so while a body spray might hit your shoulders perfectly, it could blast your spouse in the face.
Some dealers, especially those warehousing a glut of granite, may try to justify the porousness and pockmarks of lower-end stone as naturally occurring imperfections that are a stylistic choice, say contractors. Poorer quality granite stains easily.
Granite. Down 50 percent, as inventory backlogs and new foreign competition drive down prices.
Porcelain sinks. Down 50 percent, due to a surge in Chinese imports.
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Copper sinks (high commodity prices), Hand-painted sinks (bespoke, often made-to-order).
With the housing market still anemic, experts say homeowners are continuing to focus upgrades less on recouping their investment than on the enjoyment factor a trend that has more Americans "dining out" at home. While the overall number of barbecue grills shipped in the U.S. may have dropped in recent years, manufacturers of high-end outdoor kitchen products including souped-up grills, hearth-style pizza ovens, fridges, warming drawers, wine chillers and cabana roofs say sales are actually booming. Chicago-based luxury outdoor-kitchen equipment provider Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, for one, says sales soared 46 percent in 2010, while Lynx Professional Grills, of Southern California, saw sales jump 40 percent. Still, rising demand doesn't seem to be driving up prices, which experts say are holding steady.
Look for a gas fire pit instead of a masonry fireplace. Many pits are portable great for when you rearrange the patio furniture and can cost several thousand dollars less than a custom hearth.
To compete with cheap imports,some U.S. grill manufacturers are sending production offshore.That has led to some recalls and ensuing bad patio public relations, although the manufacturers involved say the situation is now under control. Another outdoor problem: Some sustainable woods used in decking have drawn complaints about their lack of durability.
Installation. Down 20 percent or more amid a construction labor glut.
Landscaping.With industry revenue down 60 percent, consumers are finding it easier to haggle.
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Synthetic decking. Plastic prices are at precrash levels, says research firm Freedonia Group.