Wednesday, March 10, 2010

To Stay or To Go? Some Pros and Cons of Remodeling

We love working with families who are trying to figure out the next step in their living situation. Maybe the house was fine when it was just a couple or the kids were young, but now everyone and their stuff is taking up more space, and more privacy is needed for everyone's sanity.

Many people choose to remodel, if they have room on their lot. Others will chose to look for a larger house. If you are considering whether to move or remodel, here are some pros and cons to consider:

Remodeling Pro/Moving Con:
  • You have already invested in a home and made it your own. In our transient culture where so many people move around constantly, trade up for larger homes, and view homes as just another investment, there is something so innate about owning a piece of dirt, watching a tree you planted 20 years ago mature, marking the kid's growth on a wall. This goes beyond just a sentimental attachment.
  • You know what you want, and there is freedom (within the parameters of your property lines and zoning codes) to make this happen. Unless you build new custom, there may not be another house on the market that fits your needs.
Moving Pro/Remodeling Con:
  • Buying a home is a known quantity. You get approved for your mortgage, you know exactly what you can afford, with professional and visual inspection you know what you want to improve upon and what is move-in ready.
  • Remodeling is not a known quantity. I recently spoke with a woman who is pricing out adding a dormer to her cape cod and received bids ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. The contractor does not know what he is going to find until the walls are actually opened or what the building inspector is going to require in terms of bringing the rest of the building up to code.
Both moving and remodeling can be equally unpleasant. It is best to be armed with as much information as possible before beginning a remodel, to avoid surprises down the line. Have a designer and a structural engineer visit you home. Have the designer prepare a code review of what will have to brought up to current code during the remodel, and what type of permit will be required (Seattle, for example, has different levels of inspections and costs depending on the extent of the remodel). Check the accuracy of the most current survey of your lot if this is available, or have a surveyor or or city official visit your lot if expansion is questionable. The structural engineer or designer should make note of the current framing and support situation. Make note of the electrical system and if this will need to be brought up to current code. If you have a septic tank, make sure your system will work for any new bedrooms you would like to add.

Armed with this information, you should be able to gain somewhat accurate bids from a contractor. Again, remodeling entails a lot of unknowns, and the contractor needs to make sure they are covering all their bases.

None of this is meant to sway anyone either way, but to provide more fodder for discussion. Of course, I am biased towards remodeling, for many reasons: yes, I am sentimental, and there is such a comfort in having the constant of my grandparent's and parent's houses in my above mentioned transient life. As a designer, I love the challenge and problem solving involved in a remodel, and who does not appreciate a great before and after, especially when the "after" is a home where a family can share a lifetime of memories.

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