Ask an Architect, Custom Residential
Does It Make Sense To Add a Second Story to My House?
In this crazy Seattle real estate market, we get a lot of questions about whether or not it makes sense to add a second story to a house. It's not a simple “yes or no” answer, but we’ve found that considering these several factors can help you decide if adding up is right for you.
April 16, 2015
This post is periodically updated to reflect current market trends for construction cost. Last Update: May 2019.
I first wrote this post back in 2014. Every now and then I come back to it to update it and the first sentence remains as true as ever; The current Seattle real estate market is crazy. Things have dialed back a tiny bit but Seattle is still a desirable place to live and 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.
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 the first meetings with a different recollection.
“Hello, I’m Jeff, and I’m here to crush your dreams.”
- Jeff Pelletier, Dream Crusher In Chief
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, and we can help you get that dream back and feel hopeful again.
Here‘s what to think about when debating whether to add a second story to your house.
Do you love your location?
This is easily the biggest factor in the current real estate market. Quite simply, there are so few desirable properties 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 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. (Or, if you actually don’t love your location and want to move, we're happy to refer you to a real estate broker.)
Is your budget realistic?
This one is tough, since no one has any clue what a second 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 one: Location. Seattle is a desirable location and things just cost more here (like a lot more). There are a zillion different factors, but a good rule of thumb is that you’ll need at least $400,000 to add a 3-bed/2-bath second story and have it look decent. More than likely, budgeting $500,000 to $550,000 is safer when you include all the incidental costs. That’s usually around 750-1,000 square feet worth of work. 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). These numbers are big. In fact, they're almost double from when I first wrote this blog post. Seattle is a place people want to live and that doesn't come for free.
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 it was done with 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 wrong might be the deciding factor why your house appraises for tens of thousands of dollars lower than expected. A well-designed second story addition to a home will live better, and appraise higher, than one slapped together for the lowest cost.
How much space do you need?
This is a weird question, as people often ask me why things cost so much when they only want a new floor for a master suite. Shouldn’t one bedroom and one bathroom cost less than three bedrooms and two bathrooms? Yup, it will. But the additional cost to add those two extra bedrooms and one bathroom will be so relatively small that you may want to rethink your strategy. Adding up is costly, and whether you’re adding one master suite or three bedrooms and two 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 usually advocate to aim for the 3-bed/2-bath second floor. It is a solid investment as it is so desirable, and helps ensure the value of your investment.
What is your desired architectural style?
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 when considering whether you want to add up or not.
What is your timeline?
From the day an architect is hired to when you start construction is approximately six to nine months (this used to be four to six but you can thank the overheated Seattle market and the backlogged permitting process here), or longer, depending on a variety of factors often not in anyone’s control. Then, there is at least seven to twelve months (this used to be five months but all of the sub-contractors are super busy and causing lots of delays) for construction.
All of this considered, you should be able to decide how to best move forward. Building a second story addition is incredibly exciting. You get to reimagine 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 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.
With careful consideration, you can go from this bungalow, to this beautiful home! Quite a drastic change for the better, isn't it?
See, I told you we would build your dream back up after crushing it! As always, if you're wondering about adding onto your house, or if you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask us! Board & Vellum is your advocate, and we're happy to help.
Finding all this useful? Awesome! If you're contemplating a remodel, and you're still full of questions, you may also enjoy these posts:
How Long Should My Remodel Process Take?
The Stages of Architectural Design
How Do I Design My Project with an Architect?
What to Expect at the First Design Meeting with an Architect