This Old House Redux – Value vs. Price

Casey Fleming

One of the most popular series of articles I did when I sent out a paper newsletter (seems quaint now, doesn’t it?) was This Old House. I chronicled the journey I took restoring my 1926 Craftsman-style bungalow to period (as much as possible; I never was able to find a genuine 1926 microwave.)

Well, I am still in that house, and I still love the way it turned out. Since then, however, I did buy some investment property and have had to rehab several units. I’ve learned some lessons along the way, and I’m starting a new total rehab on a two bedroom apartment in Albuquerque. Although the project will be much less expensive and much faster, I thought it might be interesting to chronicle the project like I did for my home.

There are some differences between the projects. First, I’m not trying to live there while I do the rehab – that’s a darn good thing. Seriously, don’t ever do that. Second, the old tenant really destroyed the place. It literally had to be gutted. We might be able to salvage the tub/ shower and the kitchen sink, but that’s it.

I’ve already had all the cabinets, flooring, baseboards and trim removed. The sheetrock was badly damaged or very poorly patched throughout, so the entire apartment had to be cleaned up, patched and re-floated.

My contractor is priming the sheetrock over the next two days, and paint follows. I’ve already ordered new cabinets. Here is where the first quandary arose – value versus price.

Most landlords buy the cheapest possible cabinets for rental properties, because tenants tend to destroy them pretty quickly. However, it turns out that composite (particle board) cabinets fall apart a lot faster than hardwood cabinets, so that may exacerbate the problem. Real hardwood cabinets, however, are a lot more expensive.

Being a typical landlord, I want to have it all – low price, great-looking cabinets, durability, etc. In fact, as I started my search, I decided that my needs (in order of priority) were:

  • Durable, which indicates hardwood cabinets.
  • Easily patched or repaired – they need to come from an established, stable manufacturer that will be around for a while, and who will sell pieces, like drawers and doors and hinges in the future.
  • Price – given the limits of the first two requirements, I wanted the best price possible.
  • Easy to install, so that my installation cost is manageable.
  • Appearance – it needs to look reasonably good so I can rent out my unit.

I figured the most direct way to do this was to find the least expensive supplier of a factory-made hardwood cabinet. I believe I succeeded, although I will know more after I take delivery. If it turns out to be as good as I think I’ll share details. In the meantime, the particulars are:

Value versus price
These are my new cabinets.
  • 6 upper cabinets, 4 lower cabinets.
  • ½ inch plywood box, birch
  • Finish panel on both sides for all cabinets
  • Drawers are 5/8” solid hardwood, dovetail construction
  • Interior and exterior are factory-finished, UV-resistant

I also purchased the bath vanity at the same time with the same style for simplicity and cost savings, as it saved on shipping. The total price, delivered but unassembled, was $1,463.70, unassembled.

The assembly video looks easy, but then don’t they all? I’ll report on that next week. I still have to buy counters, appliances, plumbing and light fixtures, flooring and trim. Phew! I’ll report at least once a week until it’s done.

So we come back to the quandary of value versus price. I was taught growing up never overpay, but don’t skimp on quality, either. If the cabinets are of the quality I think, I was able to spend only about 10% more than, say, Ikea cabinets, for cabinets that should last a lot longer and require fewer repairs every time I turn an apartment over.

I’m realistic – tenants are rough on everything. But composite cabinets just can’t take any abuse at all. Plus, I’m hoping that a higher quality apartment will attract a higher quality tenant. It will be a long time before I know that, but I’m optimistic.

The lesson, if I am correct, is find the best deal for materials that meet at least a minimum standard of quality, rather than simply buy disposable.

Wish me luck!

Next time – Kitchen cabinets and paint.

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Comments (2)

  1. Wishing you luck Casey. Remodelling of our house was…still is a nightmare. The contractor started in Jan and it is still not done. Its come to the point where he does not respond to our e-mails, text messages and phone calls.

    1. Hi Watiri, I just saw this. I’m so sorry you’re having that experience. I hope you’ve solved it by now. My reno took longer than expected (by a little) and cost more than expected (by a little) but came out very nice.

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