Move one street away or remodel house?
March 4, 2017 4:24 AM   Subscribe

We can't decide whether to take on quite a substantial re-modeling project or to move to a house in the next street. Any advice very welcome.

We love our neighbourhood and our street in particular, but our house - which we've been in for 5 years - needs major work for it to fit our growing family’s needs (ie ground floor extension, re-wiring, new pipes) and some structural work (redo loft conversion so that it meets building regulations, related reinforcements). The plan was always to do it up but 5 years in, we've not made much progress though we now have clear ideas of what we want and an architect working with us that we have confidence in, and who will manage the whole process for us. We will have to move out for about 6months, but that is not difficult to arrange though it will be an upheaval and hard work. We should end up with a lovely, if quirky house, in the street we love (which has particular advantages in terms of light and outlook, and a nice garden that isn’t overlooked). But it's going to be a major project, and require a lot of time and effort.

One street over, a house of similar size has just come on the market, fully refurbished to a good standard. The layout is slightly different, but it works well as a house and we could make some fairly small changes to achieve some of the things we like about our current house. We would end up with a really nice house, less characterful than the current place, but more spacious in some ways (it’s considerably wider than the current house and all the bedrooms would be a generous size, whereas in the current place, one of them would still be fairly small). The garden of the house up for sale is smaller and more overlooked. We would lose the quirkiness of the current house, our lovely immediate neighbours, and also the advantages of light and outlook.

The cost of doing up the current house or upgrading to the new house would end up being roughly similar.

What to do? We go back and forth on the advantages of doing exactly what we want to our current house and the disadvantages of taking on such a big project. We’re not natural fixer-uppers (which is partly why it’s taken us a while to get to this point in terms of plans). However, the prospect of a joint-project does have its appeal and since finding an architect we like working with, we’re feeling more confident and inspired. At the same time, we are pretty daunted by the idea of doing this.

Advantages of current house: characterful, 2 separate living areas, with additional play area for kids, established garden, good light, nice outlook, good neighbours and nice street.
Disadvantages of current house: major work needed, complex build because of structural issues, smaller guest-bedroom/study, narrow throughout, basement kitchen

Advantages of house for sale: very minimal work needed, possible to create separate living areas on two floors, all bedrooms good-size, ground floor kitchen, loft for storage
Disadvantages of house for sale: somewhat bland, somewhat overlooked front and back, smaller garden, less light in garden, less play space for kids

Data point: Our kids are 6 & 8 and we both work pretty much full time in demanding jobs.

We’d welcome advice and suggestions, especially from people who’ve gone through a building project like this.
posted by melisande to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just spotted a confusion in my list of advantages and disadvantages. Current house has two separate living areas on two floors, remodelling would extend one of those creating additional play space. In house for sale, we could create a separation in the existing living area to make two spaces but they would be on the same floor.
posted by melisande at 4:40 AM on March 4, 2017

If you have a loft or other significant rework that has to be done to bring the current house up to code, then I'd be concerned that you may have more issues that will be revealed as you go through the expansion. Are you confident that you have enough contingency set aside? Remodeling can be a ton more expensive if stuff pops up, and there seems to be a correlation between "quirky" and "violates code".

That said, it sure doesn't sound that you're in love with the new place. I'd suggest that moving into a house you don't love is a bad idea.

Why is this an either / or decision? Does it make sense to look around at other properties & consider them instead?
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:52 AM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

No remodeling experience, but personally, I would move, as I think your sentence above should really read:

The cost of doing up the current house as we currently understand and budget for or upgrading to the new house would end up being roughly similar.

Who knows what the remodel would eventually cost in money and time.
posted by carter at 4:53 AM on March 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you love where you live, and that's hard to put a price on.

If you do decide to make an offer on the other house, or any other house, have it inspected extremely thoroughly by people who know their shit. It would suck to buy a place because it needed minimal work, only to find out that everything was done on the cheap, or that the only improvements were cosmetic and it still needed new wiring and pipes and structural work.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:04 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

We did the remodel. One thing I loved is that we got to put all the features were wanted into it. We didn't settle on a house that was 90%. We actually lived in here during the work, but we have s finished basement that allowed that, and no work was done on the kitchen. Depending upon how extensive the remodel is, you might not have to pack up everything, whereas a move, you'll definitely purge and pack. No change of address, no utility changes, etc. I'm definitely on side remodel, even after going through it on an older house that had surprizes that delayed us, and cost more money.
posted by kellyblah at 5:14 AM on March 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just going off of the language and tone of the descriptions you provide, it sounds like remodeling your current house will give you a result you are more likely to be happy with in the long term. I share the concern others have mentioned about costs, but then it is also possible that the new place could turn out to need expensive structural work at some point, too.

If the remodel you are planning is within your budget (including the risk of budget overruns), I'd lean that way to get exactly what you want, instead of much but not all of what you want with the new place.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:49 AM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you don't remodel the current house, will you be able to sell it, given it's structural defects?

It also sounds to me, upon reading your explanation, that you really value the quirky charm of your current place, which the nerve one lacks.
posted by sarajane at 6:19 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your remodel will likely take a year and be about 1/3rd more difficult and expensive than expected. I'm concerned about the structural issues and think you should get a 2nd and 3rd opinion on those before breaking any ground. I concur there may be hidden costs and trouble concerning this issue. The way you describe it, your house is a tear down, the type of thing you strip down to one wall standing and completely rebuild in my neighborhood (this is a valid way to go! It's very popular in my neighborhood!)

It sounds like you want to preserve the house you live in, but unless it's architectectually significant, you really really shouldn't. It sounds poorly constructed and not worth saving.

The location and neighbors sound ideal and I urge you to consider my proposal to entirely redesign the house. You could be so, so happy for the same amount of time, effort, and possibly cost depending on how bad the structural issues are. It really sounds like you are trying to save something not worth saving. I've seen these type of houses - someone spends a ton "updating" and expanding the old design, it never looks quite right, use of interior and exterior space is all wrong... then someone comes along and tears that down, rebuilds and puts up something amazing and functional. Memail me and I'll send you some links to examples.

If you sold your house, it seems likely this is exactly what would happen to it anyway, so why don't you be the ones to do this?

The other house does not sound as ideal, your land sounds ideal. That's my 2 cents.
posted by jbenben at 6:23 AM on March 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Team remodel here. I do think the biggest issue you will face is the possible overage costs, but you will end up with the house you want in the place you want. Realistically, barring some sort of life event, you will be living there for what 20 or more years. Living in a different house around the corner, you will always have regrets or wonder what would have been if you had done the work on your old house. I cannot address the hassles of doing a complete reno, but as a young boy, my parents added an entire 2nd floor to the ranch house we had, and I have fond memories of all the mess and construction guys although my mother might say not so fond.

I also think that regardless of which decision you come to, there will be chances for second guessing, but to me, I would rather design the house we want and regret it than move to a house that is close enough (literally and figuratively).

Good luck!
posted by AugustWest at 6:27 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Something to add into your calculations is your tolerance for construction-related frustration. Going WAY over budget, opening one wall unearthed a ton of new issues, the remodel taking twice as long as predicted; these are all things that may happen during a remodel. You need to figure out how much stress this would cause you.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:00 AM on March 4, 2017

Only you can answer this based on the type of family you are, your lifestyle and how you like to spend your time. We're pretty indoorsy and love to cook, so I'd prioritise a kitchen I want to spend time in (i.e. has windows) and would sacrifice a great garden for a ho-hum garden if it meant the interior of my home was light filled and comfortable. You might be keen horticulturalist who loves nude sports, so you'd prefer a big non-overlooked yard, I don't know.

In the immediate term, what's your childcare like? Do you both work office yours with kids in daycare/afterschool? If so, I would not centre long term expensive house decisions around kids current daytime needs. If your jobs are evening jobs or your childcare/after school is in the home, then that's different of course.

Seeing as the reality is it'd be two years before any project is complete, I'd plan for the home to suit your medium term family, i.e. two tweenagers/teenagers, when kids are more likely to spend time home while you're at work. They'll need less play space but more hangout with friends, study and hobby place. I'd prioritise having equal good size bedrooms and a really separate living area as your kids will want to spend more time hanging out away from you.

I did a remodel while pregnant and we both had two full time demanding jobs. I would not recommend it unless there was some compelling reason and can't even imagine trying to do it with a young family and two full time demanding jobs. It was one of the most stressful things I've ever done. (We did it due to lack of housing stock in our preferred neighbourhood).

In summary, don't compare the houses. Look at your personalities, evolving lifestyle and how you love to spend your time both as a family and individuals. That'll tell you what the better choice is for you.
posted by bimbam at 7:21 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

The cost of doing up the current house or upgrading to the new house would end up being roughly similar.

Does this estimate include time?
posted by aniola at 7:27 AM on March 4, 2017

ignoring the cost issue, do you want to move once or move twice? you are going to have to go somewhere during the probably lengthier-and-more-costly-than-you-think rennovation/rebuild of your current home. and then move back in. after a year, maybe more (seriously, they told you 6 months so at least 9)? have you ever undertaken a construction project before? are you prepared for the time and energy you will have to commit to this, on an ongoing basis, for a length of time you basically cannot control. oh, and almost no one during the entire process will be totally honest with you but they have the expertise so what can you do?

just finished a "minor" kitchen and bath project except we still need to pass a final inspection, total time from signing of a contract to closing of permits is still tbd (13months later) but "hopefully soon" just like it has been for about three months.

/ not bitter, love my new kitchen, but if the apartment above mine had been available with the same set up we got ourselves through the reno, in hindsight id snap it up and let someone else deal with managing a project.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:45 AM on March 4, 2017

Thanks all for really helpful responses and excellent questions for us to think about. It really is an either / or: Houses in this neighbourhood only come up once in a blue moon. But the points about unexpected costs in remodelling but also thinking longer term are really valid. Still don't feel I know what to do (and I suspect I'm more romantic about current house than spouse so need to factor that in) but your answers are really going to help us think it through
posted by melisande at 9:53 AM on March 4, 2017

We will have to move out for about 6months

The cost of doing up the current house or upgrading to the new house would end up being roughly similar.

It might not be a large amount in the grand scheme of the overall project, but did you factor in the costs of renting another place while the construction is going on? If the project takes longer than expected, the amount spent on rent would also go up.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 10:19 AM on March 4, 2017


Have you ever lived through a major remodel? It is a nightmare. Don't expect to have any other topic of conversation, or indeed thought in your head, until it's over. It will over-run, run over budget, stuff will come up that you didn't expect, at least one contractor will either try to con you or just fail to turn up (with a knock on effect on every other contractor)... There are very few things that would induce me to take on a major remodel. I would always move, every time.
posted by tinkletown at 2:02 PM on March 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Move into the new place and five years down the road when your kids are teens, and maybe your work isn't as demanding, you'll have more time and money to do the 10% remodel that your current house requires. Moving is a million times easier than living through remodeling since your possible new house is nearby.
posted by Elsie at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2017

I've done two gut renovations. It was awful. I wanted to tear my hair out. It took twice as long and cost 20% more than it was supposed to. I had two babies in the time it took to finish this latest one. And I'm going to tell you to go ahead and do it (but also talk to your architect about how much a tear down and rebuild would be).

I say this because views (I'm assuming that "overlook" means views) and light are things that cannot be fixed. It's a sentimental decision, but it sounds like you (like me) are a sentimental person, and I think you'll miss the light and the view and regret downgrading if you move.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:27 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've done both - major remodel and moving one street away to avoid a major remodel. If the money situations are truly the same I would move in a heartbeat. I hated remodeling. Some people really enjoy it, but I think if you're the kind of person who loves remodeling you already know that about yourself.
posted by potrzebie at 6:41 PM on March 4, 2017

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