The Appliance Question
Are high-end machines worth the price? It depends on what you're looking for.
By Bryan Miller

(MONEY Magazine) – Prestige appliances from Sub-Zero, Bosch and the like come at a premium, sometimes more than 50% above their workaday cousins. Worth it? Not if you just want a utilitarian machine. But if you see an appliance as an investment that could pay for itself when you sell, it may be worth the extra cash now. "When I see a Sub-Zero or a Viking in a house at the top of the market, it usually justifies the money the owners put in," says Tom Yorke of Realty Appraisal Services in Raleigh, N.C.

The key is, the appliance should be as posh as the house and neighborhood. "In today's market, if you invest $15,000 in top-of-the-line appliances in a high-end house, you'll get that money back--definitely," says Dawn Tsien of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy in New York City. Buyers of homes priced in the lower range of a market tend not to be brand-obsessed, she says, but looks still count.

It's good to know, then, that the sleek look pioneered by brands like Sub-Zero has trickled down. End result: There are options for any budget. Most appliances have a few dominant brands, but lower-rung names often perform just as well for a fraction of the cost. Virtually all fridges, for example, are made by four manufacturers (Electrolux, GE, Maytag and Whirlpool) under various brand names. Their innards are basically identical, yet you can pay anywhere from $600 for a Frigidaire to $2,600 for a flashy brand.

We talked to appliance dealers, chefs, home cooks and real estate pros to guide three types of kitchen user: the gourmand, whose top interest is quality; the frantic family, which just needs a workhorse; and the aesthete, who wants, above all, a great-looking kitchen. Bottom Line Status brands add value in markets that appreciate that sort of thing, but if you can't stomach the prices, use the starter list on the right to explore options. --BRYAN MILLER