[Article courtesy of REALTOR MAG, JANUARY 2014 | BY BARBARA BALLINGER]
Here are seven strategies to help you decide whether to list your home or make renovations that will help make your current house meet your needs.
A New Year ushers in new resolutions, which often includes changes on the home front, but deciding what to do with it can be tough for home owners, financially and emotionally.
As the real estate market rebounds and buyers increase in number, make a well-informed decision on the direction you should take with your home. You no longer need to be torn between selling in order to upgrade and remodeling your current space to add value and meet your needs.
Here are seven key steps to help you arrive at the best solution:
1. What bothers you most about your home, such as the traffic pattern, lack of a certain room, or absence of light?
Analyze how you use your house and determine what features are missing that you want. Changes can often be made within an existing footprint, even without adding square footage. Walls can be taken down, doors removed or changed, and windows enlarged. Home owners who have been in their house for years are often only using certain rooms because of a pattern they established early on.
“Many fail to use 30 to 40 percent of their space,” says contractor Randy Tapper of RHT Design and Construction in Deerfield, Ill. He tries to guide clients toward changing your layout, so you use all spaces, before he suggests adding. Architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want (Taunton Press, 2011) concurs, and says removing walls and adding openings rather than increasing the home’s footprint can tackle a great percentage of challenges.
2. Study how your house is sited.
Analyze the land your house sits on — both the topography and condition — as well as how it’s oriented toward views. If the site always leaks ground water, has absolutely no trees (or terrible ones), or includes hideous views, then remodeling likely won’t fix your issues, Dickinson says, and selling becomes a more viable option.
3. What are your thoughts about your neighborhood?
If you’re very attached to your neighborhood, including the area’s retail, schools, and, perhaps, proximity to major thoroughfares, it may be worthwhile for you to “build your way out of your home or site’s challenges — and stay put,” says Dickinson.
Sometimes, pleasant memories, such as where you raised your children or watched a daughter marry in the backyard, may outweigh the option of moving.
4. Factor in your time frame and family needs.
If you plan to be in your house a long time — at least five to 10 years — making significant changes, such as adding rooms, building a sunroom, or finishing a basement, may provide a worthwhile payback and incentive. If, however, you’re empty nesters and ready to downsize, then remodeling may not be the most prudent financial decision. Here’s where a good financial planner can help you assess your home’s value in relationship to the rest of your assets and needs; a mortgage lender also should be tapped to discuss the costs of a new mortgage, if you need one.
But, exceptions abound, even for empty nesters. Some may decide to stay put. If your children and grandchildren visit regularly, you may decide that remodeling, or even adding on, will be the magic bullet for them to enjoy your home for years into the future.
5. Consult contractors, designers, architects, or structural engineers, and get multiple bids, for a realistic estimate of what changes might cost.
It’s worth paying professionals for an hour of your time; some will even provide it gratis, says Dickinson. These professionals can look at a home owners’ current house, listen to what you want, appraise its condition –—including what an untrained eye may not see — and estimate costs of new work.
In addition, if the house was built more than 30 years ago and hasn’t been updated, it may require new wiring or plumbing, a new HVAC system or roof, and better insulation. A new survey may also be worthwhile depending on what changes might take place, especially if it’s dated.
6. Compare the appraisal and remodeling costs with other neighborhood homes for future resale.
Even though home owners should base decisions in large measure on enjoyment and not wholly on resale value, it’s smart to have an idea of how changes will affect the house compared with others nearby, says real estate attorney and Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss.
It’s never smart to overbuild for an area. The type of improvement can also affect the value. Remodeling changes may add to the house’s worth without changing real estate taxes, while an addition will probably cause an uptick in taxes.
Recent comps for homes of a similar size and quality and in a similar area will help you make that assessment, says Dickinson.
7. Seeing is believing: Besides comps, go and see what’s available in your price range in neighborhoods you like.
A new house may offer a better layout, the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms, an updated kitchen, or a nice yard. But remember that even the home you buy may need some remodeling tweaks, like new paint, carpet, or an overhaul of an outdated master bathroom. Factor in the cost and time of these changes as you weigh your final decision.
Here, too, it might prove worthwhile to bring in a contractor or architect to estimate costs of any big changes such as new insulation, removing some walls, or finishing the basement.
Dara Shlifka and her husband Aric went through these paces when they decided they needed additional space for a home office in their 1968, Colonial-style, 2,400-square-foot suburban Chicago home. Initially, they were convinced they’d move, since remodeling and bids for additions came in sky-high — $250,000 and above. They house-hunted in a broad price range, from $400,000 up to $800,000, Dara says. But before we found a house, we asked one more contractor for ideas. He suggested converting our living room to an office and building a 600-square-foot addition with a bigger kitchen and a new family room, powder room, and laundry and mud rooms, and his bid came in at only $120,000, which convinced them to stay. “We’re almost done, but already I feel I’m living in a different house,” she says.
Bottom line: Make this big decision carefully based on all of the facts. In the end, you’ll be happier.