Ask Will: Should I Renovate, or Just Move?

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A  column is written by Will Wiard, Arlington-based real estate broker, voted one of Washington’s Best Realtors of 2015 by Washingtonian. Please submit your questions via email.

Q: I see a lot of houses in Arlington County with room additions. I’m trying to decide whether it’s better to move to a larger house or renovate/add to my existing home. We like our neighborhood and would prefer to stay; however, I don’t know how to determine whether it’s cost effective to renovate. From my understanding of the process, an appraiser won’t give an estimated value until the architectural drawings are complete. But, I’m trying to avoid a situation where I pay for architectural drawings for a job that turns out to be impractical (say only 50 percent of reno costs added to value).

A: This is a great question, and it’s not only common in your circumstance, but for buyers, as well. It’s not always necessary to go through the full process to pay for architecture drawings to reach a final property valuation. There are some other areas to explore that might help you reach a decision before making that investment.

Budget: When contemplating renovating your home or selling for an upgrade, your budget comes first. It’s a good idea to look at other recently updated homes in the area and reach out to the builder or contractor to explore the costs. If any of these homes are on the market, keep an eye out for an open house to get an idea of the finishes and style. If you like the updates and the price, it could make it easier to decide if an addition is right for you. Before taking the next step, make sure to talk to your lender about the different loans available. A home equity loan may be an option and could add a financial boost when making major home improvements.

Timeframe: Before you move forward with the addition its important to consider how long the work will take. It’s also a good idea to plan the addition around a time of year that works well for you and the builder. At minimum, you will want to pick a time of year when weather delays are rare. Keep in mind that projects can be complete within the planned timeframe; however, delays do frequently occur. You’ll want to plan for them in advance. Work in at least 1-2 months for potential unknowns, such as delayed shipments. Further, county-permitting approvals for the project can take some time as well.

Scale of work: What is the level of work you are planning? Will you be living in the home during the updates? If you plan to live in the home, there could be further delays based on having to complete the updates in stages. Depending on the age of the home, there may also be special, time-consuming and expensive precautions taken to ensure your safety. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons, including the costs (or costs savings), of temporarily re-locating during the renovation.

Resale: Consider whether the renovation or addition is going to give you a return on investment when you go to sell. The level of finishes and the market trends will be a deciding element for the end value. In some cases, depending on the lot size and the location, at the end of the day, it might make sense to sell and move to a bigger home.

I’m hoping some readers can share any additional advice they have in comments.

Thank you for this week’s question. Please keep them coming to [email protected]. This is also a great place to reach me for anyone looking to buy or sell a home in the Arlington area.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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