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How to make the most
money on your home addition
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We all think about how we could change our homes to better
fit our lifestyles. Additions are a popular way. We dont have to move, and can get
more living space suited to our needs, such as a home office, family room, or master
bedroom suite. Additions are expensive, and making sure yours adds as much as possible to
your homes value requires planning and research.
planning - a key to success
I was running late for an appraisal appointment
with Sam and Joan T. I had appraised their home five years ago when it was purchased, and
was looking for the house. I finally found the address, but the house looked very
different. The two bedroom, one bath, 1,000 square foot home had been transformed into a
2-story, 2,500 square foot home.
As I entered the home, I saw why they built the addition. The
two toddlers I met five years ago, Robby and Sue, now needed more space. Sue was playing a
game on the computer in the family room, and Robby was in his bedroom doing homework. The
family had needed more space for privacy, hobbies, and visitors.
Their neighbor, John M., a single parent, had also purchased a
small home five years ago. He completed his second story addition six months ago, just
before his oldest son reached adolescence. His addition was designed so that the master
bedroom had a master bath, and an excellent view. He had taken the time and effort to find
out what buyers wanted by touring a nearby new home development and talking with local
real estate agents.
Unfortunately, Sam and Joan T. did not plan as well. The
new addition gave them the additional space they needed, but it failed to take advantage
of the excellent view of the valley and bay. Also, the owners had not installed a master
bath, a feature that most buyers in their price range wanted. When their children become
teenagers, both the parents and children will want more privacy. Robby and Sue, as they
got older, would spend more time in the bathroom. A master bedroom suite can help.
John M. spent a little more money on his addition than did
Sam and Joan, but his home was worth much more than theirs. John had spent more time
researching how the get the most value from his addition.
When home owners need more living space, often they fail
to consider what type of addition will add the most value to their homes. Instead, they
often focus on getting the most space for the dollars available. With a little more
planning, Sam and Joan could have increased the value of their home much more.
The best buy in a neighborhood is often a small home
needing some work, such as kitchen and bath updating, and that can be easily enlarged.
Sam and Joan T. had wanted to move into the neighborhood
for some time. The schools were the highest rated in the city, and it had a
"rural" feeling often lacking in urban areas. But the homes were above their
price range. Finally they found a home they could afford. When they bought it five years
ago, they saw its potential. Because the house was smaller than the others in the
neighborhood, and needed some work, Sam and Joan were able to purchase the property for a
price well below other nearby homes. Sam had some construction background and could do
part of the work himself. Their two children were toddlers at that time, so they would not
need an addition for five or six years. Joan had started her law practice several years
ago, and her profits were increasing every year, so they could put aside money for the
The land had plenty of space for their children to play,
and good bay and valley views.
Buying in a neighborhood on the upswing is a good way to
increase value over time. This neighborhood had been changing over the past twenty years.
When Sam and Joan T. purchased their home five years ago, two upscale new home
developments had not yet been built. The neighborhood is now the most prestigious in the
city, and still has some of the small pre-1940 homes remaining.
Before Sam and Joan purchased their home, they hired a
structural engineer to tell them if the one-story house was structurally sound enough for
a second-story addition. The floor plan of the original one-story home could easily
accommodate conveniently located stairs to the second floor. After completing the
addition, the floor plan would be similar to homes originally built as two-story homes.
The living room of the original home was very large in
relation to the small home size, and had a high, wood beamed, ceiling, making it appear
even larger. Although the addition more than doubled the size of the home, the living room
was appropriate in size for the larger home. Often, additions are made to homes with small
living rooms, which then look too small in the enlarged home.
The original home did not take advantage of the view. When
it was built in the 1930s, views were not as important as they are today. The neighborhood
had mostly small farms and horse ranches. The living room faced the street, with no view.
When the second story addition was designed, it did not
utilize the view at all. None of the rooms had views. Even worse, windows could not be
added because of the slanting roof line on the view side of the home.
Most of the buyers in this neighborhood and price range
want a master bath. Many will not consider purchasing a home without one. Sam and Joan
only put one bath on the second floor, and left no easy way to install a second bath
Using one bath as both the hall and the master bath is an
excellent cost saving option until enough money is available to add the second bath.
Although the bath was adjacent to the master bedroom, the plumbing was installed in the
wall between the bath and the master bedroom. Installing a second door to the master
bedroom was not possible without a major bath remodel of the new bath.
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inconvenience and hassle factor
I always ask home owners if they would ever do another
major addition. Nine times out of 10 they say "no". Sally and John W. were
typical. I complimented them on their new addition, which blended well with the original
home both inside and outside. Then they told me their story. I had heard it many times
Sally and John had recently purchased their home. They had
been looking for many months in a popular, well-established neighborhood of older homes.
Many families with children were moving into the neighborhood. Finally they found a home
close to what they wanted, a popular, classic, two-story design built in the 1930s with an
old kitchen. The house lacked a family room and a master bedroom suite. They decided to
add a two-story rear addition and remodel the kitchen.
Rear additions and kitchen remodels are popular in the
neighborhood and returned about two-thirds of the construction cost on resale. Demand was
strong for homes with modern features. Many of the homes lacked family rooms and master
After the addition, there would still be plenty of room in
the rear yard for Jimmy and Julie, their three-year old twins, to play. A master bedroom
suite on the second floor and a family room on the first floor would blend in well with
the existing floor plan.
So what was the problem? Their home was well suited for an
addition, which would return at least two-thirds of the cost. But Sally and Jim failed to
consider how much the addition would disrupt their lives.
Both Sally and John had hectic lives. One toddler is a
handful, and some would say that twins are almost the equivalent of three children. On top
of the child care duties, the twins had developed a medical problem requiring special
meals. John would soon be making partner in his law firm, and was working long hours.
One Monday, the contractor arrived and immediately started
gutting the kitchen. Sally had no where to prepare the special food her twins required,
and could not purchase it already prepared.
Construction had begun in July. Summers were very hot
where they lived, so the construction workers started at 6 A.M. Because of their busy
schedules, Sally and John knew they had to set aside "quiet time" where they
could be together. The twins were not early risers, usually sleeping until 7 A.M. Every
morning Sally and John had breakfast together between 6 and 7 AM. They talked about the
twins, Johns current legal cases, and other topics.
Since the construction work pounding started at 6 A.M.,
the twins no longer slept until 7. Sally and Johns "quiet time" was gone.
They did manage to set aside one or two evenings a month for an evening out at one of
their favorite restaurants.
Fortunately, the home had an old laundry tub in the damp,
unfinished basement. Sally was able to set up a makeshift kitchen with a hot plate and
microwave, washing the dishes in the tub. Carrying food and plates up and down the
basement stairs quickly became too much work, so they started eating in the musty
basement. At first Sally worried about the twins falling down the stairs, but they quickly
learned how navigate them safely. They became faster than their parents at going up and
down the stairs.
Keeping the house free of dirt and dust was impossible.
Loss of privacy was a big problem because they were doing a two-story remodel, and could
not retreat to the second floor for privacy. Strange people were coming and going in their
house as construction progressed and different subcontractors were used. The air
conditioning didnt work well because of the construction. And, of course, the
construction took much longer than they had anticipated.
Did they love their new house after it was completed? Yes.
Did Sally and Johns marriage survive? Yes, but barely. Would they do it again?
Sally and John spent lots of time poring over design
books, interviewing architects, and getting construction bids. Unfortunately, they did not
ask other home owners about their experiences and advice when they did their additions.
They could have asked contractors, architects, friends, and neighbors for names and phone
numbers of people they could call. Most people are very willing to talk about their
experiences, as their friends and relatives are tired of hearing about it.
The only way I know to avoid all the hassles of building a
large addition is to live somewhere else temporarily. All the people I know who chose this
option knew about the disruptions and stresses of construction. They had asked people who
had gone through the same experience, or had done a major remodel previously. The option I
see most frequently is renting another home or an apartment while the addition is being
built. Sometimes, owners can stay with relatives, or in the house of a friend who is on an
extended vacation. If John and Sally could have afforded two mortgage payments, they could
have stayed in their old home while the new one was being remodeled.
If living in another location temporarily was not an
option, Sally and John could have eliminated some of the hassles by planning ahead. Lack
of kitchen facilities is always the biggest problem. They could have delayed the kitchen
remodeling as long as possible after construction started.
Setting up a temporary kitchen is very important. The
closer it is to the dining room, the better, so that at least you are still eating in the
same room. Sally and John had an attached garage next to the kitchen. Plumbing was in the
wall between the kitchen and garage, so they could have set up a temporary kitchen with a
sink, microwave, and hot plate. A work bench and shelving could have been installed and
used later for a workshop. They could have purchased or rented a small electric stove
also, as adequate electrical service was available.
If they preferred to use the basement for a temporary
kitchen, they could have replaced the awkward laundry sink with an inexpensive used
kitchen sink. They could have partitioned off part of their basement for a kitchen and
eating area, using painted and sheet rocked temporary framing or even partitions from a
used office supply store. A portable heater or dehumidifier would make the basement dryer.
An inexpensive rug over the concrete floor would make give the basement a more home-like
John and Sally could have hired a cleaning service on a
regular basis to help keep down the dirt and dust. Putting the twins in preschool for a
few hours a day during the week would also have helped.
Waiting a few years until the twins were in school, and
John was more established in his law practice, could have helped reduce stress levels.
Child care would be greatly reduced. John could have taken time off work to help with the
inevitable problems of managing a household during a very stressful time.
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with the city and your neighbors
Jim R. had just accepted a new job and was moving to
another part of the country. His friends, Stan and Mary T., had long admired his home,
including its location on a lagoon. They wanted to buy Sams house. Because both
parties wanted to be sure the price was fair, they asked me to do an appraisal.
Over the phone, I asked Jim R. which model he had (the
home was in a planned development), whether he was on the lagoon, and what he had done to
his home since he purchased it 10 years ago. I was surprised when Jim said he had just
completed an addition. Additions are unusual in this neighborhood because the homes were
built over the past 15 years, and have small lots.
As I drove up to the house, I saw a second-story addition
that blended in well with the original home. Unfortunately, after inspecting the addition,
I had some bad news for Jim. His new addition had very a poor floor plan returning much
less than the construction cost. Jim was not surprised. Because of the opposition of one
neighbor, it was all he was allowed to build.
Jim is a computer systems analyst. His company allows
their employees to work at home several days a week. Because his commute was becoming more
and more of a hassle, two years ago Jim started working at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
To his surprise, he was much more productive at home because were fewer interruptions and
The home was one of the smallest in the development, with
1,500 square feet. The master bedroom was large, but the other two bedrooms were very
small. Jim was feeling more and more cramped working in one of the small bedrooms, so he
decided to build an addition.
The lot size was small, and there was no room for a first
floor addition, so a second story addition was the only option. Most of the homes in his
development were two-story homes, so it would fit in well. The foyer in the home was large
and could easily accommodate a stairway to the second floor. Home offices were a very
popular feature in the neighborhood. An addition would return about 65% of the
This home was a good candidate for an addition. It was
located on a lagoon with a very good view and was smaller than most of the nearby homes.
The lot was more valuable than other lots because of its lagoon location. The small floor
plan was not very popular with buyers, who prefer larger homes. Also, Sams home had
large two-story homes on both sides, which made his home dark inside and less appealing to
Jim R. hired an architect to design an 800-square foot
second-story addition with a bedroom, bath, and office that could be used as a family
room. The size of his home would increase from 1,500 square feet to 2,300 square feet, the
typical home size in the neighborhood.
The addition conformed with the zoning regulations. His
design was progressing well through the design review process in the city planning
department, until his next door neighbor was notified about the addition, a requirement of
local planning and zoning laws.
His neighbor objected to a two-story home next to his
house because it would "block the light" in his home. Jim had not expected
opposition because the homes on both sides of him had two stories. The home of the
neighbor opposing his addition did not even have any windows on Sams side of his
house. Over 80% of the homes in the development had two stories.
Jim was a very quiet, private person. He knew his
neighbors by sight, and said hello when he saw them outside, but had never been inside
their homes, or even had a conversation with them. He did not subscribe to the local
newspaper and was not active in his home owners association. Jim was not aware of previous
problems in the development with additions. The architect he hired was not local, and was
not familiar with the problems.
Many times I have seen additions approved by planning
departments that didnt even conform to zoning laws. The owner had obtained a
variance. Often, the addition was for a personal reason, such as taking care of an elderly
parent. How did they get the addition approved? They talked with the neighbors, telling
them why they wanted it, and seeking their advice on how to make sure the addition did not
affect their homes. When their application for a zoning variance was voted on by the
planning department, there was no opposition.
Jim should have started subscribing to the local newspaper at
least six months prior to starting work on his addition. He could have attended a few
planning commission meetings to see what the local issues were, or even watched them a the
local cable TV station. By attending meetings of his home owners association he would have
known about other home owners who had similar problems and how they resolved them.
Most important, Jim should have invited his neighbor to
his home for dinner. He could have shown him what he was planning, explaining why he
needed the addition, and asked the neighbor for advice on how to minimize the effect on
Because of the neighbors opposition to Sams
original plan, he was forced to build a smaller addition, which did not make any use of
his excellent lagoon view, had only a half bath, had only two very small windows, and did
not have a usable bedroom, only an open loft area with no privacy.
Jim had other options. He could have combined two of his
three bedrooms into one large bedroom. When he sold the property he could have put the
wall back, restoring it to a three bedroom home. He seldom used his living room, and could
have converted it to a separate home office by putting in a wall, removing it later when
he sold the property. Or, he could have used his master bedroom as his office. I have seen
all of these options used effectively.
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A checklist for
home owners planning an addition
As an appraiser I frequently see home additions. Some are
well designed, appropriate for the home and the neighborhood, and add substantial value to
the home. Others should never have been built. Most are somewhere in between. I often feel
sorry for those owners who invested so much money for so little return in value.
The most frequent reason for an addition is, "We
didnt want to move." Most of us dont like to leave the neighbors we like
or put our children in different schools.
Should you build an addition? Unfortunately, few homes are
good candidates for additions.
Planning ahead will let you prepare for any problems and
get the most return for your investment. Listed below are the factors to consider.
- Why do you want the addition? Are other options a better
choice, such as moving to a larger house, or building a smaller addition?
- Can you handle the noise, dust, and disruptions of
construction? Should you wait for a better time? Can you move to an apartment or rental
home temporarily during construction?
- How long do you plan to stay in your home? The longer you
stay, the greater return on your investment. This is particularly important if it is not a
very good investment, but you build it because you really want it. The longer you live
there, the longer you can use your addition.
- How old are your children? If you are enlarging your home for
them, how long will they be living there?
- What lifestyle changes do you see in the future? Will you have
an elderly parent living with you? Will you need a home office or more space for a hobby?
Are you worried you will have difficulty climbing stairs as you get older?
To find the answers to these questions, drive around your
neighborhood and consult with real estate professionals.
- How many nearby homes have additions? What types of additions
were built (rear vs. side, two-story vs. one-story, etc.)? What types of homes look best
- After the addition, how will your home compare in size to
other homes in the neighborhood?
- How much will the addition add to you homes value in
relation to its cost?
- Is your neighborhood changing to more (or fewer) families with
children, retirees, or owners with home offices? What do these buyers want?
- What are the typical home prices? Are they going up or down,
or are they stable?
- Who are your neighbors? Are they long time home owners
resistant to change? Are they building additions and doing other improvements to their
- Do you need a zoning variance to build your addition? Does the
local planning department send letters notifying your neighbors about your plans for an
- How well do you get along with your neighbors? Have you spoken
with them about your plans?
Zoning, planning, and your neighbors
To find out about local zoning and planning regulations,
visit the appropriate city or county department, usually the Planning Department.
- What are the local zoning requirements? Are they being
- What restrictions does your local government have on home
additions? Are they flexible or rigid in enforcing the requirements?
- Is obtaining a variance from the zoning requirements
difficult? What will they usually allow?
- Do you need to hire a local architect and contractor who know
how to deal with the local planning and building departments?
- How strict is the design review process? How long will it take
to get your design approved?
- Do you have a home owners association? Do they have
- How much room will be left in the yard after your addition?
- Do your neighbors have the legal right to oppose your plans?
What are the local yard requirements?
Exterior construction and design
- Is your existing home built to accommodate a second-story
addition without substantial reinforcement?
- Will the exterior design be compatible with the other homes in
- Can you build a one-story instead of a two-story addition.
One-story additions are less expensive to build.
- How much yard area will be left after the one-story addition?
- Will a two-story addition make your yard darker? Do you want
to use it to block the hot sun in the summer?
Interior - floor plans
- How well will the floor plan of the addition blend well with
the existing home? Most additions have floor plan problems.
- What will the traffic flow be like? Will you have to go
through one room to get to another, such as through one bedroom to get to another bedroom
or to the only bathroom on the floor?
- How will the floor plan of your home after the addition
compare with the floor plans of homes similar in size without additions?
The bottom line - money
How much will the addition cost? How much will it add to
value? How many years will it take to "payback" the cost?
Home value after the addition $185,000
Less: value before the addition $150,000
Value of the addition = $ 35,000
Less cost of the addition - $
Unrecovered cost = $ 15,000
Years you expect to remain in your home = 10 Years
Unrecovered cost per year = $1,500 per year
(15,000 divided by 10 years)
The question to be answered is: If you plan to live in
your home 10 more years, is the addition worth $1,500 per year?
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