The current Seattle real estate market is crazy. Many of you out there are having to bid up mediocre homes as there’s so little available to purchase. To make matters worse, you may actually love your current house and don’t want to leave, but you’re maxed out with space. I get a lot of questions about whether or not it makes sense to add a second story to a client’s house.
One of our earliest second story additions shows how you can gracefully go up and respect the neighborhood
It certainly isn’t a simple yes or no answer, but I’ve found that considering several factors can help you decide which path to take. While I like to think that a big part of my job is making dreams come true, it seems that when second story additions come up, I invariably leave first meetings with a different recollection.
Hello, I’m Jeff and I’m here to crush your dreams.
Well, that is a bit dramatic, but I’ve found that getting a big bite of reality helps reset expectations so you can start working on a feasible path forward. Expanding up isn’t cheap, it isn’t straight-forward, and it takes a lot of time to get it right. Luckily, that’s what we do.
Here are the considerations to think about when debating whether to add that second story or not.
1) Do you love your location?
This is easily the biggest factor in the current real estate market. Quite simply there is nothing for sale. Being in a location you love or one that is a desirable long-term option will be really hard to recreate. Real estate brokers (who we’re happy to refer you to if you actually don’t love your location and want to move) always say “location, location, location” and we second that notion. A house doesn’t exist in a bubble and getting that first piece of the puzzle right is almost priceless. So if you love where you live and want more space, move on to the next factor to consider.
2) Is your budget realistic?
This one is tough since no one has any clue what a 2nd story costs. Someone’s cousin in a small town told them they hired “a guy” and they did it for under $100,000 and they just love their house. Let’s refer back to point number 1: location. Seattle is a desirable location and things just cost more here (often a lot more). There are a zillion different factors but a good rule of thumb is that you’ll need at least $250,000 to add a 3 bed/2 bath second story and have it look decent. More than likely budgeting $350,000 is safer when you include all the incidental costs. That’s usually around 750-1,000 square feet. The costs can go up from there depending on what you do on the main floor (it will be impacted by the new stair at the very least). Yes, there are probably stories of actual people who built a second story in Seattle for far less than that. Usually it is a simple box on top of a craftsman bungalow or lower-quality materials and installation. I understand as a consumer myself that sometimes you are more tempted by quantity than quality, but I would advise you to think carefully about this. This is a very big long-term investment and getting it right can be the deciding factor when your house appraises for tens of thousands of dollars lower than expected. A well-designed second story home will live better and appraise higher than one slapped together for the lowest cost.
3) How much space do you need?
Board & Vellum will help you navigate the costs of a remodel with collaborative meetings and lots of handy spreadsheets
This is a weird question as I’ll often be asked why things cost so much when they only want a new floor for a master bathroom. Shouldn’t 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom cost less than 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms? Yup, they will. But the incremental cost to add those 2 extra bedrooms and 1 bathroom will be so small that you may want to re-think your strategy. Adding up is costly and whether you’re adding 1 master suite or 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms you still have all of the associated costs that go along with that; structural, heating, roofing, a new stair, etc. etc. The list is long. I always advocate to aim for the 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom second floor. It is a solid investment as it is so desirable and helps ensure the value of your investment.
4) What is your desired architectural style?
A second floor plan is always specific to your house and is impacted by many factors such as stair locations and the width of your house.
It seems that second story additions are one of the easiest remodels to screw up. Quite frankly, it is a challenging design problem and it takes a lot of care to get it right. Sometimes (OK, usually), it isn’t as simple as just adding a dormer. Some homes have a shape that just wasn’t meant for another story. This is where a lot of designs fall apart. You can see that someone tried, but the problem is that it looks like two forms slammed together. Often it makes more sense to reconsider the whole house and give it a new direction that looks like it was always intended to be that way. Additionally, if you’re more into modern architecture I would caution you to look around your neighborhood (how will this blend in and work with your neighbors) and how will the first floor of your house work with a new addition? Going in a more modern direction CAN be the right decision but it should be carefully considered. Too often homes are forced into that role and it just doesn’t work. Ranch houses can handle this transition well, but a bungalow has much more trouble. Be true to your house and neighborhood in considering whether you want to add up or not
5) The final bit to consider is what your timeline is.
Here are two second story options for the same house. You can see how they go in very different directions but are both consistent with appropriate architectural styles for their neighborhood
From the day an Architect is hired to when you start construction is approximately 4-6 months (or longer depending on a variety of factors often not in anyone’s control) and then at least 5 months for construction.
We build a project schedule for you so the project timeline is mapped out and you can follow along in the process
All of this considered, you should be able to decide how to best move forward. Adding on a second story addition is incredibly exciting. You get to re-imagine a small home you love into a larger one that better suits your needs. If you do it right you’ll have something you can proudly reside in and the knowledge that you made a wise investment. I personally love the challenge of designing a second story addition. There’s an art to it and it feels tremendously rewarding when you crack the solution and the plan just “sings”. It may be a slog, but our job is to help advocate for you the entire way and ensure that you get to the finish line with a gorgeous home that blows away your now fully real expectations.
You can go from this bungalow to this beautiful home with careful consideration.
Quite a drastic change for the better, isn’t it?
See, I told you we would build your dream back up after crushing it!