Dreaming of a Wolf Stove and a Miele dishwasher? Think recycled

Published: Nov 29, 2021
The Renovation Angel team removing a new-never-used kitchen from a luxury home in Irvine, CA. Recycled kitchens provide an upgrade with more character, and often higher-end appliances, at a fraction of the cost. (Courtesy of Renovation Angel)

By Ariana Speyer

Picture a multimillion dollar mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, getting unceremoniously demolished, its very expensive, very functional contents reduced to rubble.

That’s what Steve Feldman saw on a fateful day in 2001 that would change the direction of his life and give birth to Renovation Angel, a nonprofit he founded that is devoted to salvaging luxury kitchens. Instead of allowing these kitchens to be carted off to the dump, Feldman decided to offer them to savvy buyers for a fraction of their original price.

It’s a virtuous circular economy that benefits the donor, the purchaser and perhaps most significantly, the environment. The company has also gone beyond its environmental mission, and donated $2.3 million to charitable programs for at-risk youth and addiction recovery.

Sure, there’s recycling at the curb. And there is evidence that an environmentally friendly home can save its owner money, and lure tenants and buyers. Then there’s recycling on the scale of Renovation Angel. For the smart, hands-on real estate investor who is willing to think outside the box, using reclaimed materials in a renovation makes sense on multiple levels, from the savings, to the delivery turnaround, to the reduction in a home’s carbon footprint.

Variously called upcycling, reclaimed, recycled, or reused, the result is the same: an upgrade with more character, and often higher-end appliances, than what’s available at big box stores.

Connecting the dots with kitchens and consumers

“Houses have been getting torn down in luxe communities forever,” says Feldman. “At the same time, ultra-high-net people are into sustainability, and consumers are on that bandwagon, too.”

Renovation Angel connects the dots so that luxe kitchens find their way to other homes instead of the trash.

“Our focus is on kitchens, and we’re the only nationwide organization that does this,” Feldman says. “We’ve been working for 2 decades on developing a pipeline for getting the inventory, which is the biggest challenge. These are instant kitchens, you don’t have to wait 6 months, I have supply right now because I’ve aggregated it.”

RA recycles luxury kitchens nationwide and has crews working on high-end homes in Palm Beach, Chicago, Beverly Hills, and beyond. All inquiries are handled by RA’s main office in New Jersey.

The Renovation Angel playbook

“Renovation Angel is a place where you can feel good, spend less money, and do something good for the planet,” notes Feldman. “That’s the formula for the donors, the buyers and the manufacturers.”

From the donor’s perspective, the process starts with a kitchen evaluation that can be submitted online. Once a kitchen qualifies, it’s inspected by an RA specialist, and a Net Value Estimate is issued. That estimate includes the projected tax savings. The last step is free white-glove packing by highly trained professionals, along with a new life for the kitchen.

Mina Greiss, president of the design and build firm Greiss Holdings in New Jersey, who has used RA since 2014, says it’s a “no-brainer” for donors. “This is the one company that will come, remove your kitchen very neatly, give you a tax deduction, and you don’t have to pay a contractor to rip it up or pay for a container.”

From the buyer’s perspective, it all begins with a visit to RA’s New Jersey location or by browsing their website, which is constantly updated with new inventory. Buyers will need the exact dimensions of the renovation area, especially ceiling height.  

“Our team works with the buyer to see if a kitchen will fit their space,” Feldman said. “We’ll do a layout comparison so people can check if there’s enough cabinetry and ceiling height.”

RA advises buyers to purchase a kitchen slightly larger than the projected space so there will be extra cabinetry to work with. Once purchased, RA ships nationwide with fees dependent on the distance from its outlet in Fairfield, NJ, or the location where the kitchen is being removed. Upon delivery, the buyer has 3 days to unpack the trailer and up to 14 days to report any issues, and according to the company’s return policy, must either pay to have it shipped back or bring it back to the showroom, where a 5 percent restocking fee is charged. (This fee is waived if the buyer exchanges the items.)

The buyer’s contractor is responsible for the install.

"All of our pre-owned product is ‘as-is’ with no warranty,” said Feldman. “The steeply discounted price reflects the ‘as-is’ status. Some of our showroom display and new-in-box product carries a limited warranty which is offered through the manufacturer."

This funky upscaled kitchen in a Northern New Jersey estate typifies Renovation Angel's upscaling work. (Courtesy of Renovation Angel) 

How a recycled kitchen helps investors

The kitchen is the heart of any home, and can be the make-or-break factor when consumers are considering a purchase or rental. Outdated appliances, old floors and seen-better-days cabinets and countertops can be red flags that discourage buyers or potential tenants. But an entire kitchen renovation may not provide a worthwhile return on investment. A 2021 report by Remodeling, on the cost versus value for major kitchen remodel, estimates that it recoups just 57 percent of the project’s cost.

At Renovation Angel, the consumer can save up to 90% off retail pricing. For Greiss, who has purchased close to 50 kitchens for remodels from Renovation Angel, the affordability was the first thing that attracted him.

“When I went to the store for the first time, it was a great luxury outlet, not your typical beat-up kitchen cabinets,” Greiss said. “Renovation Angel is almost like the Nordstrom of thrift shops for kitchens. I bought my first 2 kitchens for about $10,000 combined, with unused showroom cabinets and Wolf and Sub Zero appliances. Originally, they would have been priced at $50,000 to $60,000 for both.”

On their web site recently, RA had a “Wentworth Pre-Owned Authentic Traditional Kitchen” complete with granite countertops, island with seating, solid wood stained cabinetry and a Wolf stove, plus much more, for $7,299. (A Wolf stove starts at about $4,700.) Similarly, a Blomberg stainless steel refrigerator that retails for about $1,700 was available for $834.

It also had a Poggenpohl showroom display in a natural grain for almost $45,000, and a Subzero refrigerator for about $6,999. Bargains, it seems, are in the eyes of the beholder.

Feldman explains that RA aggregates multiple product types that would otherwise meet an early landfill death: preowned, which can mean lightly used or unused; showroom displays; open box product; and new-in box products (canceled orders, discontinued products) from manufacturers, distributors, and showrooms.

Susan Vanech, a Connecticut-based Compass realtor, has taken advantage. “It makes great sense because of the savings,” she said.

Vanech will snap up RA’s kitchens even without having a specific home in mind. “I’ll buy when I see the value even if I don’t have a project ready to go,” she says, and has built a personal warehouse specifically for that purpose.

Recently, Greiss sold a home in Glen Ridge, NJ, for $2 million that had been listed at $1.59 million. He believes the deciding factor was a major feature salvaged from RA.

“You’re getting something that’s quality and it’s 10 times better than Home Depot,” Greiss says. “Most buyers understand what’s quality and what’s not. People latch onto Renovation Angel details in a way they can’t with other homes."

Vanech agrees that RA boosts value both coming and going.

“I’m re-installing a kitchen that I wouldn’t usually be able to afford, at a fraction of the price,” Vanech reported. “Then the buyer is saying, ‘I’m going to pay extra for this house,’ because, thanks to an RA kitchen, there are finishes that normally wouldn’t be present in a house at that price range.”

And since the global supply-chain crisis has delayed the delivery of many appliances, RA savings can also be calculated in speedy installs of in-stock products.

“I just had to wait 4 months for something that usually takes 9 weeks,” Vanech says. “Time is money and it costs us to wait, in something like missed rent. Steve has materials that are ready to go, and there’s value in that alone.”

Measuring the environmental impact

“We have kept 50 million pounds out of landfill,” Feldman boasts. An average kitchen is 7,000 pounds, including the cabinetry, countertops, sinks, etc. according to Feldman, and Renovation Angel has recycled over 7,000 kitchens to date.

Diverting trash from landfills has a number of extremely positive effects on the environment, represented by what that would-be trash is not doing: adding to air and soil pollution, endangering public health, and negatively impacting wildlife and their ecosystems.

Every year, U.S. landfills are filled with 139.6 million tons of waste, according to the E.P.A. Renovation Angel has kept 50 million pounds out of landfills, according to Feldman, including this one in Minnesota. (Credit: Flickr/MPCA Photo)

And that’s something a buyer can feel good about for the duration of a RA kitchen’s life. It’s essentially a badge of environmental responsibility and stewardship, which more and more people are becoming invested in as climate change progresses at an alarming pace.

Vanech sums it up: “Renovation Angel is a best practice for buyers, as well as sellers.”

A how-to shopping guide

Stay on the inventory

Greiss’ #1 tip for would-be RA buyers: “Always check the site for new supply that’s coming in. Just because they don’t have what you need one day, doesn’t mean they won’t have it the next,” he advises. “And talk to the salespeople, they’ll know what’s coming in the following month.”

Act fast

“The big thing is, are you going to be able to buy it before someone else?” says Feldman. “Because they’re one-offs, if you spend too much time deciding, you’ll probably lose it.”

Choose a contractor and installer carefully

Lori Gasgoyne, an interior designer who has purchased 8 RA kitchens to date, says: “You’ve got to have a good contractor and installer. RA kitchens are more work, so you need pros who are flexible and an installer who’s willing to do it.”

Greiss advises: “Choose a contractor who’s a little more experienced.”

Consider other used, high-end appliances

It’s not just entire kitchens from RA that are a big win for investors. High-end, name-brand appliances are known to be a powerful lure for renters and buyers alike. There are local recyclers who specialize in appliances in many parts of the country for investors willing to do their homework.

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