6 dated kitchen features that put home buyers off – and how to update them

The kitchen is often called the heart of the home, and for good reason. This space sees a lot of use and wear and tear over the years. As trends come and go, kitchens can start to look outdated and unappealing to potential home buyers. If your kitchen has some dated features that you haven’t updated in a while, it could make your home less desirable and harder to sell.

Luckily, with some strategic upgrades, you can bring your kitchen firmly into the present. Here are six common dated kitchen features that can turn off home buyers, and tips for giving your kitchen a fresh, modern look that will attract buyers.

1. Outdated appliances

Appliances from decades past like harvest gold refrigerators or avocado green ranges can really show the age of your kitchen. Even if they are still functioning fine, old appliances look dated and don’t showcase your home in its best light to potential buyers.

Consider replacing appliances that are more than 10-15 years old. Stainless steel is a modern neutral that pairs well with most kitchen aesthetics. If your budget is tight, just switching out your old range for a sleek stainless steel model can update the look of the whole kitchen.

Tips for updating appliances:

  • Replace your old range/oven, refrigerator, dishwasher with new stainless steel models.
  • For a lower cost refresh, keep newer appliances and just replace front panels with stainless steel.
  • Look for energy efficient models to save on utility bills.
  • Browse sales and specials when shopping for new appliances.

2. Outdated cabinets

Kitchen cabinet styles have changed dramatically over the decades, and old-fashioned cabinets will make your kitchen look stuck in the past. Consider updating cabinet fronts and hardware for a more modern look.

Some telltale signs of outdated cabinets include insets rather than full overlays, ornate carved details, and visible hinges. Oak was very popular in the 80s and 90s, while painted cabinets rose to prominence in the 2000s. Today’s trends lean toward flat panel cabinet fronts in white, gray, navy and wood tones.

Updating cabinet hardware like handles and pulls is an easy upgrade too. Swapping out old brass pulls for matte black or nickel hardware refreshes the look instantly.

Tips for creating a modern cabinet look:

  • Replace cabinet doors with new flat panel options.
  • Paint cabinets white, gray or navy for an updated color scheme.
  • Stain oak cabinets a dark espresso for a more modern vibe.
  • Consider open shelving instead of upper cabinets for an airy look.
  • Install new modern bar pull handles in a matte black, nickel or brass.
  • Add functional storage with roll-out trays and other inserts.

3. Obsolete layout and lacking functionality

Beyond aesthetics, kitchen layout and functionality impact how easily anyone can use the space. Unfortunately, kitchen floorplans have not always prioritized practicality and workflow.

Does your kitchen layout have any of these drawbacks that may turn off buyers?

  • Limited counter space and cabinet storage
  • Appliances are spaced awkwardly far apart
  • Poor lighting over prep and cooking areas
  • Lack of space for trash/recycling bins or food storage
  • An inefficient triangle between sink, refrigerator and range
  • Dead corner space that is hard to access
  • No space for lunch prep, baking or other hobbies
  • Unpractical or lacking ventilation

While you may have adapted to your kitchen’s quirks over the years, buyers want to be able to picture gathering, cooking, baking and cleaning comfortably in the space.

Tips for opening up and updating your layout:

  • Take down a wall to open the kitchen to a dining room if possible.
  • Add a kitchen island with a second sink and counter space.
  • Switch from galley to L-shaped work triangle if space allows.
  • Use glass front cabinets to open up closed floorplans.
  • Increase task lighting, add under-cabinet lighting, pendant lights over islands.
  • Replace some upper cabinets with open shelving.
  • Add pull-out shelving, trays, organizers inside existing cabinets.
  • Consider extending the kitchen into an adjacent room.

4. Dated flooring that shows wear

Floors endure all kinds of drops, spills, tracked-in dirt, and heavy traffic over the years. So it’s no surprise that kitchen floors can start to show their age after some decades of wear. Certain flooring like vinyl and linoleum also fall out of fashion after a while.

Buyers may be turned off by very worn, damaged floors or flooing in a style they see as outdated. Common signs of floors that have seen better days include:

  • Visible cracks, chips, gouges, scratches or discoloration
  • Peeling/curling edges around baseboards
  • Faded colors that look dingy, not vibrant
  • Patterns that evoke the decade installed – like avocado green vinyl
  • Visible old adhesive or patches below newer floors

Luckily, installing new floors can completely transform the look of a kitchen.

Tips for updating worn or outdated kitchen floors:

  • For best resale value, replace with neutral tones like gray or taupe wood-look porcelain.
  • Luxury vinyl plank floors have realistic wood/stone looks at lower cost.
  • Refinish existing hardwoods for a refreshed lighter tone.
  • Replace vinyl sheet floors with more modern tile or high-end vinyl plank.
  • Update linoleum with easy-maintain quartz or porcelain tiles.
  • Disguise less desirable floors with a new matching subfloor below.

5. Poor or harsh lighting

Proper kitchen lighting serves important functional purposes like illuminating tasks and showcasing the space’s best features. Outdated lighting can leave a kitchen looking gloomy and dreary. Missing lighting in key areas can also make the kitchen feel dark and cave-like.

Some typical lighting issues that turn buyers off include:

  • Few to no ceiling lights, just an oversink window light
  • Harsh, glaring fluorescent tubes as the main light source
  • Dated fluorescent pop-in shades that cast odd shadows
  • Under-cabinet lighting that only covers small sections
  • Outdated flushmount ceiling fixtures that lack spread
  • No task lighting for prep and cooking zones
  • No ambiance lighting to create warmth and glow

Without adequate layered lighting, a kitchen will never show its best face to potential buyers.

Tips to improve kitchen lighting:

  • Add recessed LED lights to brighten up overall space.
  • Install undercabinet lighting along majority of counter space.
  • Use task lighting like pendant lights over key work areas.
  • Layer in accent lighting like strip lighting under shelves.
  • Include ambient lighting like chandeliers or sconces.
  • Swap outdated fluorescent fixtures for new sleek LED’s.

6. Tired wallpaper or dated backsplash

The patterns and colors used on kitchen walls can sometimes scream of the era they were popular in. When wallpaper starts to peel or fade, or a loud 80s geometric backsplash lingers, it’s time for an update.

Some types of wallpaper like flocked, foil and Mylar styles telegraph their decade loudly to buyers. Backsplashes in neon colors, fake brick and geometric shapes can also read as dated.

Simple backsplashes in classic subway tile, marble or stone are usually timeless options, as are painted walls in neutral hues.

Tips for freshening up kitchen walls:

  • Remove wallpaper and paint walls a light neutral shade.
  • Replace loud backsplash tile with basic subway, marble or porcelain.
  • Consider shiplap or beadboard wainscoting for texture over paint.
  • Add a brick or stacked stone backsplash for a classic update.
  • Paint outdated backsplash tiles a neutral color as a temporary fix.
  • Stencil patterns over paint for an on-trend accent wall.

Transforming a dated kitchen into a buyers’ dream

Although renovating a kitchen requires a significant investment of time and money, the payoff when selling your home is worthwhile. By focusing your efforts on areas that realistically show their age, you can make impactful updates within your budget. Concentrate on replacement costs for appliances, cabinets, floors and fixtures to maximize your return.

With strategic upgrades in these common outdated elements, you can take your kitchen from a dusty relic to a contemporary showpiece. Use current trends like crisp whites, gleaming hardware and versatile neutrals as a guide when selecting finishes. Then highlight these choices beautifully with layered, energy-efficient lighting that flatters the whole space.

The end result will attract buyers hunting for a move-in ready kitchen that looks fresh and functions efficiently for years to come. By proactively renovating the most conspicuously dated features, you can make buyers see past the age of your home and envision themselves cooking, baking and living in your versatile, beautiful kitchen.

Frequently Asked Questions About Updating Dated Kitchens

Here are some common questions that homeowners may have when considering kitchen renovations to appeal to buyers.

Should I renovate my kitchen before selling?

In most cases, yes. Renovating your outdated or dysfunctional kitchen can give your home a major value boost. According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report, minor kitchen remodels recoup about 80% of costs at resale, while major remodels recoup about 67%.

Where should I invest most in my kitchen renovation?

Focus first on visible elements buyers notice like cabinetry, appliances, floors, and lighting fixtures. Replacing worn floors and outdated cabinets and appliances will make the biggest visual impact.

What are the most desirable kitchen features for buyers?

Buyers want spacious contemporary kitchens with stainless appliances, lots of storage and prep space, an open-concept layout, and budget for entertaining and hobbies like baking.

How much does a kitchen renovation cost on average?

According to HomeAdvisor, minor kitchen renovations range from $5,000-$25,000, mid-range $25,000-$50,000, and high-end remodels $50,000-$100,000 or more. Prices can vary widely based on layout, finishes, and if structural changes are needed.

Should I stage my newly renovated kitchen?

Yes! Staging allows buyers to picture themselves using the fresh updated space. Add some kitchen linens, stylish dishes and glassware. Buyers will imagine prepping meals and relaxing at home.

Will photos of my old kitchen turn off buyers from touring my home?

Possibly – if the kitchen truly looks very outdated. If it’s mid-range, cleaning and staging it well for photos can help attract more showings so buyers can see upgrades in person. Dramatic before and after photos are great in your listing too!

How long will my kitchen renovation take before listing my home?

Minor cosmetic renovations can take 4-6 weeks, while larger layout changes and installations usually need 8-12 weeks. Have your home inspection done first so you can factor in any needed structural, electrical or plumbing repairs as part of your kitchen remodel timeline.


Dated kitchen features like ancient appliances, worn floors and poor lighting can make any home feel stuck in the past. By replacing outdated elements with fresh, functional and neutral options, you can update your kitchen in ways buyers will appreciate instantly. Focus on the big ticket items like cabinetry, flooring and lighting to maximize your investment. Then enjoy cooking and living in the heart of a home buyers will be eager to own.