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Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2004

Calculator helps answer remodel vs. move question

November 7, 2004

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Let's say the old homestead just isn't doing it for you anymore. It's too small or outdated. You'd like the kind of home they're building today, with a glorious foyer, big windows everywhere, a huge kitchen and opulent bathrooms.

Should you upgrade the house you've got or move? It's a common dilemma.

With my early '50s ranch house, my wife and I opted for remodeling. We built a kitchen and family room addition, converted the old kitchen to an office and put skylights everywhere.

By doing a lot of work ourselves, we saved a bundle. And we've stayed in a neighborhood we love, where our son has lots of friends.

On the other hand, we've been at it for seven or eight years and nothing is completely finished. I've lived most of my adult life in construction sites, so I don't particularly care. But lots of people don't want to live this way.

They want the improvements done now. Or they want to move.

How do you properly weigh the pros and cons of the remodel-or-move dilemma?

Ultimately, you'll need to get some contractors to price your proposed improvements. And you'll have to house-hunt to assess the moving option.

But first, take a look at a Web site called RemodelOrMove.com at www.remodelormove.com. It has an intriguing calculator for comparing the cost of the two choices.

The program asks 35 questions, starting with a couple of tough ones: What could you get for your home and what would it cost to buy one with all the features you want?

Questions provide answers

Then it gets to the nitty-gritty:

l How long have you lived there and how long would you stay in it after remodeling, or in the one you might buy?

l If you remodel, would you hire a general contractor or manage the project yourself? How many baths would you redo? What about the kitchen? Would you add a second story?

l If you sell, would you do it yourself or hire a broker? Would you hire a full-service moving company or just rent a truck and move yourself?

The final 10 questions attempt to assess the hard-to-quantify "gut feeling" issues. How do you feel about the neighborhood schools and how important is that? Do you like the neighborhood and is it convenient to your work? Do you need the perfect house, one that's just adequate or something in between?

I tried the calculator with a hypothetical suburban Philadelphia home worth $300,000, assuming that the perfect replacement would cost $400,000.

On the remodeling option, I decided to have pros do just about everything -- adding a bath, remodeling two others and redoing the kitchen. If I sold, I said I'd hire a Realtor and a full-service mover.

But I said I loved the neighborhood I was in.

Result: The machine suggested I stay where I am and remodel at an estimated net cost of about $50,000. This was the cost of the improvements, plus the financing for those improvements for the 10 years I'd stay in the house, minus the value of the improvements that I'd recoup when the house was eventually sold.

Computer-assisted help

The estimated cost of moving was about $89,000. That including about $34,000 for Realtor's commission for selling the current home and moving costs. And it included $55,000 to finance the extra $100,000 I'd need to buy the new home. I wouldn't need the full $100,000 because I said I'd sell in 10 years.

Obviously, a computer's advice has to be taken with a dose of skepticism. The calculator does not let the user modify factors such as the interest rate on any new mortgage. And in real life, you'd need to gather your own figures on things like construction costs and mover's charges rather than rely on the computer's assumption.

But it's good to list the issues to consider when making the remodel-or-move decision, and the program offers a good start with that, as well as some good tips on finding pros to do the remodeling, if that's your choice.

There's a related issue: Some remodeling jobs may turn out to be money losers when you eventually sell, while others will break even or yield a slight profit.

Every year, RemodelingOnline Magazine surveys contractors and Realtors to produce a rough guide called the Cost vs. Value Report.

The most valuable project: a deck addition, which last year recovered 104.2 percent of its cost when the home was sold. In other words, spend $5,000 on a deck and your home's sales price could rise by $5,210.

Following on the list: siding replacement, recovering 98 percent of its cost; a bathroom addition, at 95 percent; and an attic bedroom, at 93 percent.

Down the list: upgrading the master suite recovered just 77 percent of the cost, while many major kitchen jobs recovered just 75 percent.

Keep in mind these figures assume pros do all the work. Skilled do-it-yourselfers can make many projects profitable.

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