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To Move Or Improve – That Is The Question

Spacious Living: a commodity sought by more and more American families! Rather than move from familiar surroundings and purchase a new home, however, more and more Americans are opting to remodel their current abode.

In fact, for the last several years the amount of money Americans spend on home remodeling has risen to the point that it is more than is spent on new home construction. Even during the years when new home construction has seen a significant decline, remodeling has either risen or taken only minor drops.

One reason for this is the increasing reluctance of people to take on the additional trouble and expense of a full-scale relocation when, for substantially less money, they can remodel their homes to fit their current desires and needs.

The median American home is 28 years old, and homes built in 1964 were considerably smaller than they are now, and the design of kitchens, baths, etc. were not as “family friendly.” According to a survey by the Roper Organization, 55 percent of those surveyed used the work “spacious” to describe their dream home. One of the primary attractions of remodeling is that it can enlarge a home, both physically and psychologically (re: taking down a wall, adding a skylight and windows).

A recent survey called USA Remodeling Trends, June 2010, asked 1,900 homeowners who had recently remodeled to list their reasons for doing so. Of those responding, 50 percent listed “wanted to add more amenities,” 47 percent listed “wanted to update” and 33 percent listed “decided to remodel instead of purchasing a new home” as among their most important reasons for remodeling. Consumers are looking for lots of light and sticking to the basic – hardwood or ceramic floors with light, well designed bright spacious feeling.

“Lots of light is accomplished by breaking down walls and creating openings between dining rooms and kitchens, adding skylights or sliding doors” says Chet Basher, CKD?CBD, owner of Sparta Trades Kitchens and Baths.

In “The Cost vs. Value Report” conducted by Remodeling Magazine and Harvard Business School for June 2010, it was reported that a well-planned and executed project continues to pay off as a smart investment. The report, which reflects the ideas of 250 real estate professionals from around the country, estimates costs and payback values for 11 popular remodeling projects in 60 cities. Topping this list is a kitchen remodel! Real estate agents estimate that homeowners will recoup 104% of the money spent on a new kitchen if they sell their house within two years. Another great investment is adding a second bath; that payback nationally is 95%. And the same is true for remodeling a bath in a one- or two-bath home.

There are many factors which come into play when deciding whether to move to a new home or to improve the current home. All these factors fit into three categories: location, current home circumstances, and finances. Following are a number of questions in each of these three categories to help homeowners select the better option.


One thing that remodeling can do nothing about is a home’s location. One of the biggest reasons people decide to improve their current home is comfort; they like their neighborhood and don’t want to leave.A family’s ties to the community as well as the proximity to local services and, especially, the place of employment and schools are factors to be considered.

Location Questions

  1. Do you like your neighborhood and neighbors?
  2. Do you have children enrolled in school?
  3. Does your family have a regular doctor, dentist, house of worship?
  4. Is your workplace a reasonable commute?
  5. Is the value of other homes in your neighborhood rising?

Current Home Circumstances

The condition of the current home is another serious consideration. “Obviously, most people won’t move solely because they don’t like the way the kitchen is set up,” says Sparta Trades’ Chet Basher, “but some homes are more adaptable to improvements and expansion than others. In general, the biggest resale returns come from improvements which bring the house up to the value of other houses in the neighborhood while adding living space. Kitchens, baths, and master bedroom suites are the rooms where personal preference has the most play and, not coincidentally, the rooms where remodeling is most common.”

Current Home Questions

  • Do local building codes allow you to build an addition either up or out?
  • If not, can space be rearranged and used more efficiently inside the existing home?

Many times this is the most do-able design use and dollar investment use. Skilled interior space planners and designers can sometimes work magic with existing spaces. This solution can also eliminate the months of hassle with zoning and planning boards; septic, sewer, and water problems; increased real estate taxes associated with adding on.

  • Is the kitchen, bath or master bedroom one of the first places you want to change?
  • Is a lack of space one of your chief complaints about your current home?
  • Is your current home in the low to middle range of the other homes in your neighborhood?
  • Have you already invested time or money tailoring other parts of your home to fit your tastes and needs?


Finances are, perhaps, the most influential part of the “move vs. improve” decisions. Federal tax laws are still extremely favorable with respect to home ownership and financing. Homeowners may have a nest egg or the home equity to make the necessary changes to transform their current home into their dream house or at least a more comfortable and practical home. One of the biggest attractions of remodeling is that the money that would have been spent on moving expenses, closing costs, and agent’s commission when buying a new home, won’t go down the drain. This can sometimes amount to 15% of the value of the home! In addition, people who are remodeling don’t have to worry about selling their current home. In the different surveys which rank the stress levels of various life experiences, moving always is ranked toward the top.

Financial Questions

  • Is your home undervalued when compared to the assessed value of the lot?
  • Have other houses in your neighborhood stayed on the market for more than 6 months?
  • Would you have to sell your current home before closing on another one?

Sometimes the circumstances will dictate a clear choice. More often than not, however, homeowners need to do their homework and weigh the options. Whatever the decision, it is important to use a professional. Remodeling can often increase a home’s value as well as making it more livable and enjoyable, but no potential buyer will be impressed by poor design, cheap materials, and sloppy craftsmanship. So, when tackling a major project – kitchen, bath remodel or addition, etc. – everything from interior space planning to design and installation is best left to a professional planner/designer/remodeler if you want a first class remodeling job on time and within budget. Visiting a design/remodeling showroom and seeing photos of completed projects and getting names of satisfied clients is important. Feeling comfortable with the firm you are dealing with – i.e., do they have a place of business, showroom, insurance, any Better Business Bureau complaints? Will they fill out necessary permit and all applications necessary for you to visualize and understand what you are getting? “Professional remodeling of your house into your dream home is a good investment, but it must be done by the right firm,” advises Chet.

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