“Big kitchen. Spacious, so we can all be in there at once without stepping on each other. Large Island...” She responded to my question thoughtfully, hesitating between the items on the list as if the real answer was hiding between the lines somewhere. “I really want an open concept so I don’t feel like I’m cut off from everyone when I’m cooking.”
I had asked what she was looking for in her next home, but my client wasn’t describing her dream house. What she was describing was her dream kitchen. Rather, what she was trying to articulate is something that dozens of home buyers have labored to put into words in similar conversations. After a pause to gather her thoughts she summed it up perfectly: “I just want a beautiful kitchen where I can bake cookies with my grandkids.”
Home buyers, both those new to the search and those battered by the throes of bidding wars, will almost universally summarize the criteria for their new home in a few rote phrases: “Move-in ready, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, garage...” That is, until they start describing the kitchen. At that point in the conversation their language shifts and they’re no longer taking quantitatively. “Open layout, spacious, gourmet, gas range, ample pantry…” While most rooms in the home simply have to exist in order to check the box, when it comes to the kitchen, details matter.
Factors affecting the saleability and the ultimate sales price of a home are numerous- comparable properties, current market trends, location, age and condition, updates, unique features, etc. While there is no one right answer, homeowners who are considering taking on renovation projects for the purpose of resale frequently find that it makes sense to sell the home as is, factoring the current condition into the list price rather than spending the time, energy, and money on the improvements. Most often, the reduction in price turns out to be significantly less than the estimated cost for the projects.
Kitchen renovations, however, are different. Many studies and surveys have shown kitchen renovations to consistently yield the highest return on investment compared to other home improvements. A well-updated kitchen can sell an otherwise dated house, whereas a dated kitchen could drive away potential home buyers, even if the rest of the home is in great condition. In a real estate market where buyers want move-in-ready, a home could be the perfect fit in every way except for the kitchen, and many buyers would still walk away.
Why do kitchens have such significance? I have two theories. For some people, like myself, I think it’s a bit of both, while for others one theory applies more than the other.
My first theory is that kitchens are a place to escape. In our world of technology and overbooked schedules, opportunities to slow down and have real experiences are few and far between, yet the kitchen is one of the last places where we as adults can be creative, use our senses, and do things with our hands. After receiving my BA in Sociology from UC Denver I became a Realtor not a social scientist, so discussions on human behavior and the primal self are beyond my expertise, but I can share from personal experience that the more time I spend behind a screen, the more I savour those delicious moments frothing milk to pour over freshly brewed espresso in the morning or mincing fragrant garlic cloves for dinner. It makes perfect sense to me that as more of us take on careers in fields of knowledge work and less in tangible, physical labor that trends like the slow food movement or craft brewing would take hold. That time spent in the kitchen kneading, tasting, and creating fulfills a craving that ordering Thai food never could. By this theory, the kitchen is a place for respite and should feel as luxurious and indulgent as vacation.
Secondly, kitchens are time machines. Everyone knows that taste and smell are connected to memory, but I’d suggest that food connects us to the future as well. When shopping for a new kitchen, we’re not only searching for the oven that will bake our grandmother’s apple pie recipe, but also for the countertops that will seat our pajama clad children as they lick the spatulas of future birthday cakes. A dish prepared from a yellowed, passed-down recipe may be your only remaining connection to a deceased loved one, while also serving as an opportunity to tell your child about the grandparent they never got to meet. Food has always been an important way that we pass family and cultural traditions to the next generation, mingling nostalgia for the past with dreams for the future. All of that happens in the kitchen.
I recently held an open house at our listing in Parker with a beautiful, granite topped island approximately the size of a Mini Cooper. “We’d have plenty of space to roll out cookie dough on this island!” said a potential buyer to her husband as she ran her palm over the sparkling stone. Looking at me she explained that her favorite family tradition is getting everyone together on Black Friday to bake thousands of holiday treats for everyone they know, but they need a bigger kitchen to fit everyone. “Everyone has kids now, and everyone wants to be in the kitchen,” she chuckled.
I told her that my own family had the same tradition. She nodded her head while opening up cabinets and peering into the large pantry. “Baking with family is one of the best parts of the holidays. I look forward to it all year!”
What could be better than a place to make delicious food and lifelong memories while connecting with the people we love? People always seems to talk about sweets when they anticipate their new kitchen, mouths watering over the cookies, pies, and cakes they’ll bake there. Perhaps the rest of the home is the meal, while the kitchen is the dessert.