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Counters and cabinets enhance design of kitchens and baths.

As fall weather sets in around the country and temperatures begin to drop, residents will start thinking of indoor activities to fill their free time. The hours spent cooling off in the blue waters of swimming pools may be switched over to warming up in a relaxing bath. Barbeques may be cleaned up and put away in favor of kitchen cooking. As residents' attention turns indoors, this is a good time to look over the condition of kitchens and baths.

There are several key elements to consider when evaluating these rooms of an apartment home.

Age and Style

Just as furniture styles and paint colors can grow outdated, so do kitchen and bath cabinetry. While new construction incorporates the latest styles in cabinets and countertops, existing communities seeking to keep pace may opt to upgrade their kitchens to maintain current residents and attract prospects, said Rob Glenn, Director of Marketing for Armstrong Cabinet Products. Although cabinets themselves may last approximately 20 years, the styles change more often, he said.

For example, white laminate doors with wooden pulls on the bottom were very common in the 1970s and 1980s. "Now communities are stepping up to flat panel oak or raised panel oak" to modernize and upgrade, said Michael Johnson, National Cabinet Buyer for Wilmar Industries.

Changes in cabinets and counters modernize a community, but new products also can upgrade multifamily housing. With higher-end products, owners can charge higher rents when a property is in a desirable area, Johnson suggested. In fact, cabinets and counters are as much about style and design as they are about function.

"Interior designers are talking to us about a look with cabinets, countertops, ceiling fans, drawer pulls, etc. on renovations," said Tom Sawyer, Senior Regional Sales Manager, Wilmar Industries. "They are looking for a certain look to stay with the times or upgrade a property." In property renovations, Sawyer said he has seen properties use cabinets to upgrade their overall value, especially in Florida, Texas and California.

The Right Product

Whether buying new cabinetry to modernize, upgrade or replace damaged items, property owners and managers should consider product durability, price and service provided by the cabinet manufacturer, in addition to the style of the product, Glenn suggested.

Product Options. Cabinets and counters are available in an array of materials. Cabinets range from oak to maple. And, counters come in laminates and several types of solids, including Corian and granite. The variety of products offers variety in durability and cost.

Durability. Mike Kurek, Associate Merchant, Maintenance Warehouse/Home Depot, estimated that a laminate countertop could last three to five years and laminate cabinet doors have an average life span of about 10 years. Johnson said that solid counters could last about 10 years. And cabinets could have a life of 20 years, according to Glenn. Ultimately, durability and replacement for cabinets and countertops vary by the community and usage, Kurek said.

Service. From product selection through onsite installation, a supplier can help the process run well. Glenn advised that it is worth checking if "someone will come out [to the site] and measure the unit, deliver counters and cabinets and install them, all at a one stop shop." When the same company can take care of all the steps in the replacement process, counter and cabinet removal and installation should proceed smoothly. Once the cabinets are installed, property maintenance technicians can use maintenance tips that manufacturers provide with their products, Johnson said.

Price. After evaluating the type of community, the average wear and tear on cabinets mad counters, and the necessary level of service, cost and budget come under consideration. Cabinetry varies in price by grade. High-end products might be made of cherry or maple wood; mid-range cabinets could be made of oak, alder, birch or thermofoil; and laminate would be the least expensive option, Glenn explained. Often, the selection is driven by budgetary constraints.

If all the cabinetry is to be updated at an existing property the budget may determine that a few apartment homes are refurbished per month. Other properties that will be completely renovated may be gutted entirely and completed all at once. "Most of the time [the pace] is a budget thing, whether it is an annual budget item or gutting an entire property," Johnson explained.

If full replacement of cabinets and counters is cost prohibitive, refacing--changing the doors and drawers--is a viable, less costly option.

Sawyer said that Wilmar is beginning to see more refacing take place because of the financial savings over full replacement of cabinets and counters. Wilmar started a refacing program about four months ago. Refacing also offers significant time savings which can translate into a shorter time between residents or a shorter period of inconvenience for a current resident.

"You can change a countertop and a door and you have it [the finished product]," Johnson said. Properties benefit from the cost savings of refacing projects, as well as the briefer turnover time.

"Most people will keep the shell [of the cabinet] and do door replacements to upgrade," said Mike Hendel, Director of Industry Management, Maintenance Warehouse/Home Depot. "Less labor is involved in taking off the door and drawer and resurfacing those or ordering new ones and putting on new countertops" than in replacing full cabinetry, he said.

Ultimately, the decision to reface or replace, Johnson said, and "the choice of a cabinet depends on the budget and a desired look, the presentation of a property, and whether this is an upgrade or a turnover to make a property functional."

National Suppliers Council Members Who Provide Cabinets and Countertops

Armstrong Cabinet Products 800/527-5903 Lowes Companies 336/658-5222 Maintenance Warehouse/Home Depot 800/431-3000 Sears Contract Sales 866/252-3981 Wilmar Industries 800/345-3000

Rachel F. Goldberg is NAA's Manager of Communications. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Service Spotlight
Author:Goldberg, Rachel F.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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