thumb image

One of the biggest obstacles to remodeling for many folks is the expense. Unfortunately, the alternatives can be even more expensive, both short term and long term.

Moving vs. remodeling: Leaving the memories behind

Many of our prospective clients are trying to decide between remodeling and moving to a house that better matches their wants and needs. Remember that the soft costs of moving, as well as the hard costs of moving, can be exorbitant.

Have you seen the cost of moving lately? You might be surprised at what it takes to move a household today even to another neighborhood in College Station or Bryan. Of course, there are other major hard costs involved in moving to a new home. Don’t just think of the closing costs. Remember the costs for refreshes on your current home like new interior paint and landscaping, staging, inspection-related repairs and cleaning. It all adds up.

The soft costs—your time and energy—can be even higher. If you don’t hire a moving company, the cost in your time to pack, unpack, and market your current home for sale is hefty. Add to that the considerable cost of your precious evenings and weekends spent trying to find that “just right” home and your valuable time can be monopolized for many months. Perhaps the largest soft cost, though, is the sentimental cost of leaving a space with so many memories connected to it. Those memories have a significant, yet unquantifiable, value to most people.

DIY vs. remodeling: Everything in moderation

Another alternative is to “do it yourself” (DIY). This is a good alternative if employed in moderation. Just don’t neglect to do a soul-searching reality check on your construction abilities before you begin.

DIY shows on TV are very popular. Those shows and their sponsors (like Lowes and Home Depot) would have you believe that you can remodel virtually anything without any prior experience. Not surprisingly, the big box home improvement stores sell massive amounts of products that are never used because unsuspecting homeowners bite off more than they can chew. Worse than the materials that are never installed are those that are installed poorly. For example, if you have never used a circular saw it might not be a good idea for you to build a multi-level deck. DIY jobs can put safety—not just aesthetics—in jeopardy.

That is not to say that a motivated homeowner with the right attitude, good training, and ample free time can’t do good work. But there is more involved than just craftsmanship. Building science is more complicated than is depicted in home makeover programs and requires knowledge and skills that range from architecture to engineering, from electrical to plumbing, and from heat to moisture management.

 DIY remodeling: a cautionary tale

We are called in to fix DIY project fails frequently. Sally, a client we worked with not long ago, spent much of her time between her college studies refurbishing an old house she had inherited. Sally was a wonderful woman. She was very laid back and patient—just the sort of personality that is often associated with great attention to detail that is the hallmark of good craftsmanship. In fact, Sally had done some beautifully detailed woodwork and we were impressed with her trim work. Sally hired us a few years after college because she noticed a few soft spots in her floor. Sadly, while Sally’s craftsmanship with trim was top quality, she did not understand building science and had made a few errors in moisture-proofing the structures. The rot was not limited to the floor joists, either. This DIY project stands out because Sally was a gifted woodworker.

Very often it is the DIY work of a previous homeowner – or so we are told – that is the cause of our homeowner’s headaches. I’m not sure what it is that makes men feel like they must have competence with construction tools and knowledge of building science without ever having taken a course. Even brilliant men with PhDs express self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy because they cannot build a deck. Few carpenters feel that way if they cannot lecture on differential equations. My advice: Be real with yourself—and your family—about your abilities. Avoid a future headache and the cost of re-doing a DIY project gone bad.

Low-balling your remodeling project: buyer beware

Another alternative to reduce the cost of remodeling is to hire the low bid “contractor.” This is fraught with risk. In Texas, you have to have a license to sell a house or cut hair but not to build or remodel a house. The cost of entry into the construction field is low. Let the buyer beware.

Low-balling your remodeling: another cautionary tale

Mark was like many of our potential clients: He had his bathroom remodeled the year before he called us and now there was mold on the walls, the cabinet drawers were hard to open and shut, and the paint was peeling. He had done what he thought he was supposed to. He had solicited bids from three different remodeling contractors and accepted the low bid. The contractor stopped taking his calls after the second time he called to have the problems fixed. Mark did not hire us but hired someone else to try to fix the problems. After tearing out the tile and opening the walls, his second “contractor” moved to California. Last we heard, Mark had put his house on the market.

Cost to remodel vs. cost to build new

Remodeling often seems expensive when it is compared to the cost per square foot of new home construction. That is not an apples-to-apples or even an apples-to-oranges comparison.

New homes are often built en masse in an assembly line process that results in significant economies of scale. By contrast, remodeling is done to meet a homeowner’s exacting needs and wants within an existing structure. It is much more time consuming but, in the end, the homeowner gets a very personalized and professional product.

So, yes, professional remodeling can be expensive. But it’s much more expensive to move, to try to do it yourself, or to employ a lowball “contractor” to remodel your home—the keeper of so many precious memories.