Can Your Current Home Handle the Renovation?

  1. Introduction
  2. How Do You Want to Live?
  3. Can Your Current Home Handle the Renovation?
  4. What Would Remodeling Cost?
  5. What Would Moving Cost?
  6. Other Considerations for Renovating vs. Moving
  7. The Bottom Line

Now that you’ve determined the characteristics of your ideal home, it’s time to figure out if it’s physically possible to make the desired changes to your current property. In some cases, the answer is obvious: Unless you live in a trailer, you can’t relocate your home to a safer neighborhood or a better school district. But if your primary concerns involve the structure itself, you might want to consult with professionals to see if your desired changes are feasible. 

4 Professionals Who Can Help

• Designers. If your home feels cramped, disorganized and unattractive, designers are good professionals to start with as they may be able to solve your problems without the need for major remodeling or construction. Their expertise and fresh perspective on your home can help develop solutions to make your home feel more spacious, brilliantly organized and appealing to the eye. A designer can help you select the best paint, fabric, furnishings, fixtures and other embellishments to make your home more attractive. He or she can also help you make spaces more functional, efficient and safe through space planning and organization. If you both decide that your home requires more extensive work, a designer can even help create the construction documents for implementing your ideal design. The American Society of Interior Designers website has a search tool that can help you find a qualified residential designer in your area.

• General contractors. These professionals will help you develop, organize and manage a larger home-remodeling project, assisting in scheduling and coordinating the numerous tasks and subcontractors that your project requires. They can also help develop and get approval for any plans and permits that your local building department requires. (For more detailed information, see Home Improvements That Require Permits.) Make sure your general contractor has references that check out, experience with projects like yours, will not be too busy with other projects to dedicate sufficient time to your home and has an established history with his or her subcontractors. For more, see Tips for Dealing with a Renovations Contractor.

• Architects. Big-picture planning and designing for functionality and aesthetic appeal are an architect’s stock in trade. Hiring one may be optional, but some projects require an architect; consult your local planning department to find out. Architects can help coordinate designers, engineers and construction workers and ensure that your project is properly permitted and built to code. You’ll want to choose an architect who shares your design philosophy, has experience with the type of project you want to do and can show you a portfolio and provide references for similar work. An architect should also give you a timeframe and explain the potential challenges for your project. To locate an architect in your area, check here: American Institute of Architects.

• Structural engineers. You may need to hire a structural engineer if your project potentially involves changes to load-bearing beams, columns or walls or other structural components like the roof or foundation. On occasion, a general contractor may be able to handle these issues, but other times you’ll need a structural engineer’s expertise. If you’re planning a complex addition to your house, for example, a structural engineer can make sure it is designed to withstand wind, earthquakes, rain, snow, other forces of nature and its own weight. This professional can also make sure that an addition won’t damage your existing structure. Your local planning department may require a structural engineer for some projects.

Avoid Over-Improving for the Neighborhood

If you have the nicest home in the neighborhood and you decide to sell later, you may have difficulty getting as much for your home as you think it’s worth. Buyers at your price point may prefer to put the extra money toward a better location; they may not even be looking in your neighborhood. A local real estate agent can tell you which home features are considered standard in your area and what prospective buyers of your home will be looking for. With that information, you may still choose to over-improve if you plan to stay in your home for a long time and remodeling is a better choice for you than moving, but at least you’ll understand the long-term financial implications of your decision.

Safety and Health Hazards

Remodeling an older home can create safety and health hazards if it has lead paint or asbestos. Lead may be contained in paint in homes built before 1978, and remodeling can create lead dust and lead paint chips. You don’t want to expose yourself or your family to this toxic metal. It is particularly harmful to young children and can damage the brain, vital organs, nerves and blood as well as cause mental and emotional problems. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that may be present in insulation, textured paint, patching compounds, walls, vinyl flooring and other materials in older homes. When asbestos-containing material is disturbed, the small fibers can be released into the air, where you can inhale them, and in 20 to 30 years you could develop an aggressive lung cancer called mesothelioma or a chronic lung disease called asbestosis that can cause lung-tissue scarring and shortness of breath.

While you can have these issues remediated by specialized professionals, the work can be expensive and, if not performed properly, can put your health at risk. Your best bet may be to leave potentially hazardous materials untouched and either find a way to remodel that avoids disturbing them or move to a property that doesn’t have them.

Next, we’ll consider whether you can afford to remodel.

What Would Remodeling Cost?