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Buying a home you want to remodel? This one had curvy cabinet details the owners didn't love, but now work well with the remodel.

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Ten Things to Consider When Buying a Home You Want to Remodel

What if the new home you’re considering most definitely isn’t your dream home? There’s a lot an architect can do to help you achieve your dreams but not every dream is achievable in every home. Before jumping into a huge investment, check out our top ten things to know before purchasing a home you want to remodel.

June 25, 2020

The general thought is that, when people buy a home, especially one that isn’t their first, it’s an upgrade — an actual dream home. The reality is, we see a lot of people buy homes they don’t even like. Maybe it has a great location or a view, but the new owners commit to the property not because they love what it is, but because they love what it could be. Frequently, we’ll hear something along the lines of, “we can just tear down this wall and do a whole new kitchen!” But costs can be expensive, walls often can’t just be torn down, and things that seem straightforward and easy really do benefit from in-depth study and analysis. That’s where an architect can help you understand your options when you’re considering buying a house you want to remodel.

“We heard we could do all this for $50,000!”

Yikes. When we hear those words, we just feel sick for the homeowner. We sincerely do not believe that anyone giving this advice is trying to take advantage of buyers, and maybe it’s the HGTV factor that makes people believe they can dream up a design and pull it together fast and cheap, but it really doesn’t happen that way. Often, people reach out to us after they’ve found and purchased a property and are super excited about all the ways they want to fix it up. As architects, we love when we can tour a property before a client actually buys it because our involvement can help them make a more informed decision about their purchase. Even helping a buyer out by looking at a property online can save a lot of headaches later. If you can’t get an architect to check things out first, here’s a list of ten things you should be looking for when you’re thinking of buying a fixer-upper, or even a home that’s in good shape, but simply doesn’t meet your needs as-is.

Consult an Architect or Structural Engineer

If your dreams involve taking a wall down, do not buy a property assuming that it will be cheap or easy to do so. This is easily the biggest dream crusher. Before you commit, have an architect or structural engineer review the house to make sure there’s adequate support to move or remove a wall.

Review the Basic Systems

It’s certainly not sexy, but the pipes and plumbing are the the backbone of what your house needs. You don’t want a gorgeous kitchen with a bunch of leaky pipes to deal with. A home inspector should be able to give you a good read on where the plumbing stands and what upgrades might be necessary.

Check Out the Yard

Take a look at your yard and what kind of light you get. You can certainly go the extra mile for a sun and shade study, but you’ll likely not have time. Instead, think carefully about the outdoor spaces and how they’ll be at all times during the day and throughout the year. Is there excessive road noise during certain times of the day that impact how you’d live outside? Is there a giant tree at the neighbor’s house that makes your backyard so shady that nothing that needs sun will grow? Your yard is usually a larger living space than your home and should carefully be considered and evaluated.

Ask What’s Worth Keeping

Is the layout of the home acceptable and you think this is more of an update to the finishes? If you love the layout and it works well, then you have a much easier remodel than if you have to move a bunch of walls. Think carefully about this and don’t let “oh we can just move a few walls” creep into the equation, as that will bump up your budget accordingly.

Ask What’s Already Been Done

Are there additions to your house that are non-conforming with the building or zoning code? It is usually okay to have parts of your new house “grandfathered in” if they wouldn’t be code-compliant currently, but often that isn’t the case, and you should get that evaluated before you start making big decisions.

Check for Environmental Overlays

If you think you’ll need an addition, then carefully look at what sort of environmentally critical overlays apply to your house. You might think that the steep slope in your backyard is pretty far from your house and that you could easily bump out your kitchen, but there will be a buffer zone that you’ll want to understand. You might be okay, but if having the addition is a deciding factor in buying the house then you should get this evaluated as soon as possible.

Don’t Forget the Septic Tank

If your house is on a septic system, verify how big it is and how many bedrooms it is sized for. This is a huge consideration and should be understood before you make any decisions because your septic capacity can determine the size and scope of a potential remodel. If your septic system can’t accommodate the number of rooms you wish to add, you’ll have to choose between not getting exactly what you want or an expensive solution to the septic system.

How Much Work Are You Talking About?

When you look at the house, does every single space have something that needs to be addressed or is it just a few areas? The more areas you add, even for minor things like adding a closet or refreshing the finishes in a bathroom, the more it really starts quickly adding to the scope and cost. If you’re touching more than half the house you’re likely going to be spending far more money than anyone is telling you.

What Are You Willing to Live With?

Are there elements that you may not love right now but that could work with a refreshed finish palette? Often times something may look off — maybe it is some weird cabinetry detail or a cabinet color you don’t like — but that can be salvaged with some minor moves like new drawer pulls, fresh paint, or incorporating the details into something larger. In the Seward Park Gables project, the former dining room was small and closed off and the curved detailing on the built-ins didn’t really look fresh. When we opened up the space, though, the details remained and help provide character anchored to the history of the home.

Throw Away Your Plan

Most importantly, I actually recommend not planning anything. It is human nature to dream, of course, and you should definitely do that. However, live in your house for at least six months (ideally one year) before you plan a remodel. You’ll get a feel for what you love, how the house works in every season, and you’ll really be able to prioritize the things you need done versus want done, and I promise you that list will be different than when you first moved in.

A dream home, especially if you’re going to remodel a house to get there, takes time and effort to do things right. Go into your decision with your eyes wide open and a team that has your back.

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