"Is it Worth the Cost and Trouble?"

Steven Clipp, Architect | June 2015 Issue

We live in a high information, instant gratification world.  Sometimes this gets us into trouble.  Specifically when we make the fateful decision to update, remodel or expand our home.

We have all leafed through Southern Living, gone on Houzz and watched HGTV.  It is painfully obvious to us how much nicer other people’s homes are, and how much nicer our home could be with seemingly little effort and money.  We take the plunge and contact that Architect, Interior Designer or Kitchen Designer for a consult.

The consult is the first step.  In an hour and a half you describe your goals and dreams.  Then the design expert lays out the range of possible solutions, with special emphasis on the cost of each option.  In effect he/she gives you an ala carte menu of projects that will make you the envy of the neighborhood and give you peace on earth.

Maybe not instant peace because the costs and time frames are disturbing.  A simple bath make-over runs 15K, a master bath starts at 30K and many whole kitchens top 50K.  Nothing seems possible in under four months and complex projects take six to eight. 

I lately am confronting the concept that our home is like our body.  As it ages the parts all go bad together.  The bathrooms are as dated as the kitchen and the new ideal is to gather the family together rather than give everyone their separate kingdoms.  A thirty year old house often needs multiple interconnected fixes to bring it up to current standards.  The combined costs for all can run two hundred thousand or more.

If you already own the home these updates can be staged over several years as money is available; the master bedroom / bath this year, the kitchen / familyroom in two years, the screenporch in four.  My children grew up thinking the workmen were just a part of our extended family.  Each project feels worth the cost if the total is still astounding.

 

Lately though, I often consult with a new buyer, who wants to be in Chapel Hill or Hillsborough, in an established neighborhood.  They are purchasing a 30 to 50 year old property with few updated features.  Hopefully they bought the house at a discount that reflects these needs.  They can live in the house as is, but at some point every aspect of the home will have to be brought up to current standards.  Otherwise they in turn will be selling an even more dated, discounted home.  

These multi-faceted renovation / additions almost always cost more than the Owner anticipated, often 200 to 300 thousand dollars, quite a number.  But if you do the work up front you get to enjoy all the fruits of your labor, and if you do it before you move in you get to avoid all the mess.  Even so, making the leap is really tough.  Almost everyone has a gut check.  The smart ones go forward.