Here is an article I wrote kitchen appliances for the January 2012 issue of SF Apartment Magazine. If you’re in the market, I hope you find it handy.
Is the Kitchen Selling your Apartment?
A primer on current trends in the appliance industry
When it comes to apartment hunting, the kitchen and laundry areas are scrutinized by prospective tenants. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are surrounded by Foodies who need the space to cook and the right appliances to do the job. It pays to know what brands offer a professional-style look for a fraction of the price. Buying quality appliances will attract quality tenants, and a modern kitchen will also contribute to a regular return on your investment.
The first thing to consider is capacity. Every week landlords shopping for refrigerators tell me, “It’s good enough for a rental, but I would want something larger.” If you have the space, why not buy the refrigerator with the most capacity your space will allow? Come to the store armed with your measurements, and ask the salesperson two questions: “What is the largest capacity fridge I can fit in this space?” and “Is the door reversible?” Making sure you don’t have a door swinging into a wall or an awkward space is a simple fix that your tenants and your handyman will both appreciate in the long run. And often, you can ask your salesperson if there is an option with more capacity in the same price range, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Another consideration should be icemakers. Do you have a valve behind the fridge that a water line can be connected to? Many people order refrigerators with ice makers and do not have the proper plumbing. Appliance delivery companies can connect a flexible water line to the fridge and the valve, but do not provide plumbing services. Also, the icemaker is often the first part to break on a refrigerator, and it adds at least $100 to the cost of the unit. Providing new ice cube trays might be a better option, or consider an extended warranty plan for peace of mind.
Next, consider the range. Many apartment owners assume that buying a range smaller than the standard 30” wide will save them money because it’s smaller. But due to the odd-size and infrequent demand, 24” ranges will often cost more than its 30” counterpart, and tenants who enjoy baking or need to use more than one pot on the stove at a time may pass your unit by. Whether you have gas or electric, ranges no longer come with their cord or gas connector, so be prepared to spend an extra $15–$20 on parts. Purchasing new parts is critical, as most manufacturers will not honor the one-year warranty if you do not use new connectors, and most delivery companies will not connect your appliance using old parts due to liability issues.
What will you put above that range? Whether you have gas or electric, ventilation is a necessity. Vent hoods remove grease, smoke, heat, steam, and odor from the air. Ventilation is often a confusing subject but there are really only a few main issues to consider, and your salesperson should be able to guide you through this process with ease. First, do you have a vent or do you need a recirculating kit? If you have a duct going up through the cabinets into your ceiling, your system is vented. But most condos and apartments are not vented and need a recirculating kit (often sold separately for a small fee). This is a carbon filter that cleans the air and vents it back into the kitchen. This option is available on both standard vent hoods and microwave vent hoods.
Now it’s time to gauge the power you need. Vent hoods are rated in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFMs) of air they can circulate in a room. I’ve heard all sorts of rules for calculating CFMs, but here is a general rule of thumb: gas needs more power than electric because it generates more heat. Another rule is to match the size of your hood to the size of your range. A 30” range needs a 30” hood, and spending extra on a 36” does nothing for you, and creates visual discontinuity in the kitchen. Most are designed to be mounted 30”–36” above the cooking surface for ultimate capture of airborne particles. Finally, consider your space. Many people want to max out their CFMs. But consider this: if you have a 10’ x 10’ x 10’ room, a 1,000 CFM vent hood will vent all the air in the room in under a minute, and then lose suction unless you have make-up air introduced into the room via your HVAC system or by opening a window. Check with your salesperson on the specifics of the power and installation that will work for you.
Let’s discuss dishwashers, which are a major selling point in an apartment kitchen and practically a requirement to today’s tenant. Almost all dishwashers are standard size of 34” tall by 24” wide, and almost all kitchens are cut to accommodate this space. If you have a building built in the 1950’s–60’s that has not been renovated, you should double check the height of your opening, from the floor to the top of the cabinet space to see if you have 34” in height. If not, I recommend trimming the cabinet to make room for the extra inch. Otherwise, your options will narrow from hundreds to just a handful, and you will pay more.
Stainless steel interiors are far superior to plastic when it comes to dishwashers. The plastic interior makes for a louder wash and rinse cycle compared to stainless steel, which dampens the sound of the water. I’ve also had many clients experience leaks in a plastic-interior dishwasher because a dropped chef’s knife or a curious mouse created a hole in the plastic. Spending perhaps $50 more up front can save you hundreds in water damage down the road.
While we’re on the subject of clean-up, garbage disposers really are mandatory for today’s apartment hunter, and they will also save you hundreds in plumbing issues as well. There is simply no reason not to invest in a one-horsepower garbage disposal. Usually retailing around $300–$350, they will chop up nearly anything and are a much better deal than the ½ and ¾ horsepower units, when you consider dollars versus performance.
A word about curb appeal: when it comes to kitchen appliance colors, stainless steel is king, and will be for the foreseeable future. It is easy to clean, easy to match when you need to replace a unit, and gives the kitchen a professional look. What many apartment owners do not realize is that for the same price as white, they can purchase a kitchen package with a stainless-steel look for the same pri
A great example is Frigidaire, an entry-level brand that caters to the apartment market. Frigidaire packages (side-by-side refrigerator, gas or electric range, microwave/vent hood, and dishwasher) often list for $2,500-$3,000, but with frequent rebates and promotions at independent dealers, you can get a stainless steel kitchen for $1,799–$1,999.
If you have a higher-end apartment or condo complex, the appliances should match the style. GE for example, offers its regular line, but also GE Profile and GE Café, which include counter-depth refrigerators, slide-in ranges with true convection and baking drawers, and dishwashers with sanitizing modes and extremely quiet decibel ratings. The features are competitive with professional brands at a fraction of the cost.
You may also have special needs that require a unique solution. This is where working with an appliance expert can really save you time and money. For example, if your condo has a great room that combines the kitchen and living area and views of the bay, you do not want that view obstructed by a vent hood. Best by Broan has a unique solution: the Cirrus vent hood. The Cirrus is designed to fit flush with your ceiling and work several feet away from the cooking surface with efficient results. The result is a hood that you hardly see or hear and is activated with a remote control.
The Best by Broan Sorpresa Collection was introduced fall 2010 and includes the Cirrus, an in-ceiling hood that offers a clean, modern look and four-speed remote control. UMRP $2059 with internal blower, an external blower can be added for an additional fee.
Or suppose your client likes to cook with multiple methods, and can’t decide between gas, electric, or induction? Miéle, a company that designs all their products to last 20 years, offers combisets: two burner gas, electric, induction, and even tepan yaki options, designed to work side-by-side to create a versatile cooking surface.
Miele offers combisets for flexible cooking spaces, including deep fryer/boiler, Tepan Yaki, induction burners, barbecues, gas woks, and more.
Stepping out of the kitchen, having in-unit laundry is a considerable bonus for prospective tenants. Before you shop, it’s important to know if you have gas or electric-powered dryers, and if you have a three or four-prong connection for an electrical cord, as these must be purchased separately. A standard washer and dryer are each 27” wide, but when you have limited space, compact laundry is available. GE offers a reasonably-priced option for a stackable, compact set that is ideal for condos at 23.5” wide. When venting the dryer isn’t an option, condenser units (captures the hot air and lets it condense into water, which is then emptied from a cup) offer another option for condos and apartments, allowing laundry to be used anywhere a water line is available.
Finally, I’d like to include a word about reliability. In the past decade, a major shift has occurred in the appliance industry, placing a greater focus on water and energy efficiency, sometimes at the expense of durability. While this is fabulous for the environment and your energy bill, washing machines that last 30 years are a thing of the past. For peace of mind, everyone purchasing appliances should consider an extended warranty plan, but always read the fine print. You should also compare the cost of the store’s warranty with what the manufacturer would charge. Any salesperson should be happy to show you the manufacturer’s charges and coverages and compare them to their extended warranty plan. Your goal should be to find the broadest coverage for the lowest price.
Of course, when it comes to anything involving gas, water, electronics, and your money, working with a salesperson who specializes in appliances (in an appliance store, not an aisle), will provide you with a wealth of information, a customized shopping experience, and service beyond comparison.