Have you ever wanted to press “reset” on your home and start over? You’ve watched all the flipper and rehab shows and perhaps you look around knowing your home is a diamond in the rough. Then, maybe you sigh (like I did) at all the work and money that that would take. And perhaps you’ve wondered, is it better to move or rehab? Excellent question! Here’s our story.
We are just wrapping up a significant home remodeling project. And by significant, I mean we gutted and remodeled our whole kitchen and three of our four bathrooms. We also added a transom window in one room and replaced the picture windows in our living room. We put down new flooring in our laundry room and built new cubbies to hold the kids’ school stuff. By the mountain of mess and sawdust, I consider that yes, it was a significant remodeling job!
And we did all that pounding and sawing and mess-making in November and December this year, because why wouldn’t we do it during the holidays? Crazy, I know.
Of course, I had also started a new job in October, so I was “drinking from the firehose” learning a new position, being in a new team, and holding a new role.
Why not bring on all the crazy at once and just get it out of the way? That’s what we intentionally decided to do.
Now that we are on the other side of it, I get questions as to why we chose to remodel instead of move. This is a fair question and we had asked ourselves the same– whether we should remodel or move — for about a year prior to engaging a contractor to help us knock out almost all our walls.
I read an article recently about how Americans are obsessed with remodeling right now and are spending unwisely on superficial changes to their homes. While this may be true for some, that doesn’t represent everyone. We were living in a home built in 1982 that was designed for a middle-aged couple with no children. It was a great home for them, and it worked for us when we moved in in 2006 with our toddler and newly-adopted infant. Fast forward to today, with three middle-schoolers, we were bumping into each other left and right, fighting over who got access to the sink and shower upstairs, and elbowing each other out of the way to open the fridge.
Now, I’m an over-thinker, so this decision to basically gut our beloved but well-worn home was not reached lightly. We knew it had big implications for us financially, and we try to be conservative in our financial decisions.
However, at the end of the day, I needed our home to work for us. I needed it to support the kind of family life I wanted to build. I needed our home to be a haven for us: a safe, comfortable place that worked with the family structure we have right now and for the future.
Full disclosure, we talked about doing nothing, just living in the space as it was. That would certainly have been the cheapest route. Yet, we knew the kids were only getting bigger — and more social. We wanted to be “the” house where they could bring their friends to hang out. And let’s be honest, we also couldn’t handle six more years of listening to quibbling over the sink upstairs. Personally, as a woman with high-intensity career, I needed a tub/shower set up that I could use at the end of a long day. The pre-remodel layout had a soaker tub and retrofitted shower, which meant we had two shower curtains surrounding the shower. This awkward design resulted in a wet, sticky mess both inside and outside the shower. We decided we had to do something, so the discussion became a long one about whether to move or remodel.
Our thought process went something like this:
- It made financial sense.
We spent a lot of time working on our financial numbers as we debated whether we should remodel or move. Ryan and I are very careful with our money and financial resources – with three growing kiddos, we have to be creative and strategic! We looked at our budget, our monthly expenses and charitable contributions (both of which were non-negotiable). We looked at what we had in reserves and what we thought we could pay off. We looked at the impact of moving. Moving to a new home that would meet all our needs would have doubled our mortgage (we locked in a beautiful rate a couple of years ago when rates were crazy-low.) We calculated how much we would lose on realtor fees, which was money right off the top. We knew we had money we had been socking away methodically for either a remodel or down payment, and we calculated what we could put toward a remodeling project home equity loan or increased mortgage rate. In the end, we crunched the numbers and it became glaringly clear to us that it made more sense to stay put and renovate. We were determined to pay off the remodel as quickly as possible, and by using our reserves and tightening our belts, we were able to pay for about ⅔ of the remodel from money we saved and pay off the remaining ⅓ (that we used a home equity line to finance) within nine months of completing the project. A move would have doubled our mortgage rate for the life of the loan, so keeping our current mortgage rate and having no debt from the remodel within one year of completing it was the best financial choice for us.
- We liked our location.
We have a great neighborhood. Our property backs up to a nature preserve, so no one can build behind us. We live on a cul-de-sac with lovely neighbors that we have known for ten years. Our kids can bike or walk to the community center or library. I have a reasonable commute to work (about 20 minutes on a good day.) We have easy shopping nearby (Target and Trader Joe’s). Our daughter’s dance school is a 3-minute drive. We have a good spot here. When I looked at other homes, there wasn’t anything that had all of the benefits of our location. There were some lovely, secluded, wooded lots (which I appreciate), but it meant I would be adding at least 30 minutes a day to my commuting times. I wasn’t willing to give up that extra 2.5 hours per week. Our school district is fantastic so leaving the district was a non-starter. We determined that there really wasn’t a location we liked better than where we were.
- There wasn’t anything we liked better in our price range.
I went to a lot of open houses. I did tons of research. For about a year, I visited at least one open house a weekend (if not more, depending on what was open) and spent countless hours scouring real estate websites. Granted, there were some very interesting and lovely properties, but they were listed at prices more than we were willing to spend. We knew approximately what the remodel would cost, and even when we added that onto the market value of our current home, we couldn’t get into a new house in a similar, comfortable price range. We didn’t want to be “house poor.” We needed to be sure we were saving for college (since we will have three kids in there at the same time!) and retirement. We wanted to have options should something change with our jobs or cash flow. Keeping a low mortgage rate was important to us, and we couldn’t do that with any of the homes we were visiting.
- Our unique family circumstances.
Money was not the only consideration. We needed to do what was right for our kids, too. We could crunch numbers all day and analyze pros and cons, but there were also three other members of the family who had their own perspectives on moving. While their opinions weren’t deal-breakers, we wanted to take them into account. Our girls had known their current house as “home” for over ten years. Our youngest came home from Colombia and spent just one night in our previous home before we moved here. (Yes, we moved from our old home to our current home 48 hours after returning from a six-week adoption trip to Colombia. Another story for another post.) Our girls loved our current home and location. Our son had just arrived in our home about two years before we were deciding whether to move or remodel. Since he came into our family at age 10, he was just settling into his new home, new country (he is from China), and new culture. It didn’t feel right to uproot him from his new home and move him to another house. Was it possible? Yes, of course. But for a 12-year-old boy who is just getting his sea legs in a new family, new house, and new — well — everything, keeping our location steady was a priority. Packing up our home and moving to another would have been infinitely more disruptive than two months of construction. Everyone has their own family circumstances that make what could be a purely financial and objective decision a little more complicated, and the unique circumstances of our family composition influenced our housing decision.
So, in the end, those four big reasons kept us in our current home. We lived through a remodel (more on that in the future). We cooked on a hot plate in the basement and ate around a folding table for two months. We all took showers and brushed our teeth in our teenage daughter’s basement bathroom. It was an adventure, but we all made it through alive!
The remodel was money well-spent. I initially resisted spending it because I don’t really like to spend down our reserves or write big checks. But as soon as we moved back into our kitchen and all five of us could be in the space together without ramming into each other like bumper cars, I knew we had made the right choice. Listening to the two younger kids banter while they both brush their teeth in the same bathroom since we ripped out the stand-up shower and put in dual sinks — that banter is priceless. Ryan and I lay in our bed down the hall and eavesdrop on their brother/sister conversations over face washing and teeth brushing. All the mess and sawdust was worth it.
And I can sit here at the kitchen table, looking out over the our own familiar woods in a peaceful, intentionally designed home, and write to you.