Deciding whether to remodel, add on, or move is a big decision. For young families, it’s particularly difficult if they enjoy their neighborhood and schools. But feelings can change about a house as a family grows. Spaces that were once perfect for two become cramped as the family multiplies. Hallways and stairways present safety concerns that were not there for adults. Bedrooms on different levels prevent quick responses to baby’s cries. Clear sightlines—not even an issue before—are now very important, especially in the kitchen.

Deciding to Remodel or Move
An addition or remodeling job requires detailed plans and a firm estimate for construction and finishes to avoid costly add-ons or change orders.

Evaluate Your Space
Gather facts and figures to help clarify your situation. Start with a checklist of your needs and wants. Facts can be gathered in a way that gives homeowners a chance to really think about how they and their family live and how space can enhance their lives. Your checklist could be arranged room by room with features prioritized or even ranked. Be sure to be honest about whether the new space or feature is essential, non-essential, or a hopeful possibility. It is also important to see what spaces certain family members cannot live without.

Next do an honest walkthrough of the house with an open mind to how space is used. “A lot of homes already have enough space. It’s just poorly configured,” says Jim Lapides, communications manager for the Remodelers Council of the National Association of Home Builders.

Consider recapturing space by repurposing rooms. An unused living room or great room might become a needed bedroom. A former office could become a nursery. A basement or attic space could be adapted for use as family or office space. An attached garage or porch could be incorporated for needed space. Non-load-bearing walls can come down to open up space and partition walls can be added to create new rooms, closets, or bathrooms. Write down possibilities and compare them to the needs checklist.

Get a new set of eyes to review the house and how it is apportioned. At the least, have a friend or relative examine the house. At best, consider paying for a design service, perhaps from a residential architect or interior designer. They may offer flat fees for walkthroughs and evaluations.

If you hire a professional, send the checklist in advance to prepare the person for the walkthrough. If needed space can be found, it will be less expensive to reconfigure it than to build an addition. An architect or designer may also be able to advise you on whether an addition is the right move for your house and neighborhood.

Pricing the Project
Once you decide whether to remodel or add on, it’s time to talk with a few construction firms and a lender. Choose two or three firms, preferably through worth-of-mouth referrals from family or friends. Set up house visits with each contractor and provide a copy of your detailed ideas.

Ballpark estimates obtained during site visits should be in line with one another. If there is a large discrepancy, take the time to find out why. It could be that one builder sees a structural fault or potential pitfall while the others are simply opting to overlook it. Paying up front is typically less expensive than adding the service in later.

Deciding to Remodel or Move
Moving is sometimes the best solution when looking for the space your family needs, but take into account the added costs in addition to an increased mortgage.

Next, visit a lender. Several factors need to be considered in addition to the cost of the loan, including whether the project will increase the house value beyond eventual payback. Real estate experts advise that a remodeling project not raise the value of a home to more than 10 to 15 percent above the median sales price in the neighborhood. In addition, those who plan to move in several years— perhaps when their children are teenagers— may want to look at loan payoff times.

Projects, particularly additions, can mean extra costs. Present mechanicals, such as air conditioning and water heater, may be insufficient for the added space. If standard construction equipment cannot access the lot, smaller equipment— with more hours involved— may be needed. In addition, dealing with trees, fences, power lines, and lot lines may involve extra costs. Increasing square footage will also impact property taxes more directly than remodeling.

Cost of Moving
If the space isn’t there, the addition won’t work, or a loan does not make good investment sense, homeowners may consider moving.

A move will use the same needs and wants checklist but a different worksheet to check off existing house layouts and prices. Homeowners should start by visiting open houses and determining which layouts best fit their needs.

A realtor can help determine the present market value of your existing home and give estimates of selling time for comparable homes. Consider getting estimates as variation can be expected.

Selling a house will cost money, so it’s wise to visit a lender to help determine a cost analysis. “Moving is expensive,” says Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowner’s Foundation, a national educational and research organization. He says costs typically include a 6 percent realtor’s commission on the home sale plus another 2 to 4 percent for closing, moving, and other costs. Higher taxes can be expected with a larger home and ending up with two homes at once can be the costliest of all.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac