Should You Remodel or Move?

If you’re feeling like you’ve outgrown your current home, you might be considering a move. And with housing markets around the country heating up with the weather, it’s peak house hunting season.

But what if the idea of moving stresses you out? What if you like your yard and your neighborhood, but just not your house? In that case, you may want to consider an alternative option. Moving isn’t the only way to get a larger home or upgrade your living space, after all. You could also remodel what you have — a move that has become increasingly popular as housing prices continue to surge and available inventory remains surprisingly low.

Moving vs. Remodeling: Pros and Cons

Remodeling may not be as exciting as buying a new home, but it could be a more cost-effective move in the end. This is partly because moving itself is costly — as is selling your existing home.

But it’s also because home prices have been rising dramatically. Real estate data firm CoreLogic’s  shows that, nationwide, housing prices were up 6.9% in April 2018 compared to the year before, and they’re expected to climb another 5.2% through May 2019.

Obviously, rising prices are a huge consideration for anyone considering moving. Sellers may receive a higher sales price for their home, but they’ll likely pay more when they go to take out a mortgage for a new property. Plus, there are other costs to be aware of. Surging sales prices can also mean higher prices for other essentials, such as homeowners insurance and property taxes. All of those expenses can and will add up over time.

Should you move, or should you remodel? Experts we spoke to say you should consider the pros and cons of both options before you take steps in either direction. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to consider:

Advantages of Moving:

  • You can physically move your location. John Bodrozic of says one of the biggest advantages of moving is the fact that you get to select a new location to call home. This can mean looking for a considerably larger or smaller home based on your preferences, but it can also mean choosing a better neighborhood or a lot in the country if that’s what you want. You could even move to an area with better schools, which is something you don’t get when you remodel your existing home.
  • You don’t have to live in a construction zone. If remodeling your home would require an invasive project like a bathroom or kitchen remodel, moving could save you from dealing with the mess and the stress. A major kitchen overhaul could leave you without a place to prepare food for months, after all. This can be inconvenient and costly.
  • You don’t have to deal with contractors. While remodeling your home could seem ideal, dealing with contractors is rarely stress-free. There are always hiccups when you remodel or build, and not everyone wants to deal with the drama or the expense.
  • You can purchase a home that’s 100% turnkey. Earl Correll, president of Texas-based , says that moving gives you the option to buy a home that’s been remodeled and upgraded to your specifications. If you buy a home that’s in great condition already, you can pack up your stuff and move right in after closing.

Disadvantages of Moving:

  • You may not get exactly what you want. One major reason home prices have been rising is the lack of inventory – and that means you may not have a ton of options in your desired area. According to Correll, it’s pretty common to find homes that check off some of the boxes you want — but not all of them. “This means you’ll probably have to compromise on a few wish list items,” he says.
  • You may have to leave an area you love. If you love your current neighborhood and can’t find something bigger in your area, leaving the area to get what you want can be a major disadvantage. You may love your new house, but what if you don’t love your new neighborhood or your child doesn’t like their new school?
  • Buying a home and moving can be time-consuming and stressful. Bodrozic says that dealing with finding a new home, getting financing, and closing on the new home while selling your current home can be a huge hassle. Timing can be especially tricky with homes flying off the market in an average of 34 days — the fastest rate in years, .
  • Moving is expensive. While you might find a “deal” on a new home that brings it within your price range, don’t forget the costs of selling your home and moving. You’ll likely need to pay around 5% to 6% of the sales price in real estate agent commissions when you sell your existing home. You may also have closing costs on both homes, moving costs, and the costs of upgrades (paint, new carpet, etc.) for your new home.

Advantages of Remodeling:

  • You can plan a remodel to meet your exact specifications. Ethan Vickery of in Manhattan says that remodeling lets you choose exactly how everything is created and finished to suit your needs and tastes. This is a big contrast to selling your home and moving since your new home won’t be designed just for you.
  • You may be able to use home equity to pay for the renovation. If you have a lot of home equity, a home equity loan or HELOC would allow you to use your home as collateral and borrow against its value to pay for the remodel. Borrowing against home equity can be less costly and less of a hassle than taking out a new home mortgage as well.
  • If you love your neighborhood, you don’t have to move. Remodeling lets you stay where you’re at, which can be a huge advantage if you love the local schools, your neighborhood, or the area in general.
  • You can avoid the costs of moving and selling your home. While remodeling isn’t cheap, you can avoid the realtor commissions, moving costs, and the money you’d likely spend getting your new home exactly how you want it.

Disadvantages of Remodeling:

  • You’ll probably face some surprise expenses. Correll says it’s extremely common to run into unexpected issues during a remodeling project. “This is especially true if you are taking on a large-scale project that includes tearing down walls, moving plumbing, adding gas lines and so forth,” he says. Unfortunately, these surprise expenses can cause your remodeling budget to surge.
  • Remodeling can be a pain. Bodrozic says that the home improvement process can be mentally tough, especially when you’re dealing with budgets, contracts, contractors, product selections, and potential delays. Depending on how intrusive the remodel is, you might have to live in a construction zone for months or even stay with family or in a hotel during the worst of it.
  • You may not get your money back out of your remodel. While remodeling your home can be cost efficient, most remodeling projects cannot offer a 100% return on your money. According to the , a minor kitchen model brought an 81.1% return on average nationally last year — meaning a $20,000 kitchen remodel would only increase a home’s value by about $16,220. However, those who paid for a major kitchen remodel only recouped 59% of their costs during resale.

Other Issues to Think Through

In addition to the considerations above, there are financial implications that come with both choices. Bozrodic says you really have to run the numbers on how much equity you have in your current house, the price point of what a new house will cost, and whether either option will leave you better off financially.

It also makes a difference whether you got a great deal on your existing home or not. If you bought low and housing prices are currently high where you live, you may not want to start over with a bigger house and a bigger mortgage. You may have lots of equity in your current home, but you’ll deplete it if you sell and buy a home at a much higher sales price.

On the flip side, there are times when you don’t have much of a choice in terms of what to do. Vickery notes that remodeling isn’t always an option, since there are times when even a full remodeling project won’t address the biggest problems with your home. If you live in a condo, for example, you probably can’t just add a room for more space.

Finally, don’t forget that moving may have tax consequences that could be either good or bad. For that reason, it may be wise to consult your financial advisor or accountant to see how selling your home or moving could impact your bottom line.

Move or Stay Put? Here’s How to Decide

While there are no hard and fast rules to determine whether you should sell your home or stay put, realtor Don Cramer of in Las Vegas says there are plenty of questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide.

For starters, you should ask yourself what your housing goals will be in the next five to 10 years. If you like your home and it works for your job and your family, then it can make sense to remodel and work with what you have. If you plan to move in a few years anyway, then you may want to consider staying where you are and not remodeling, on the other hand. Since it’s unlikely you’ll get all your money back out of a remodel when you sell, spending a ton of cash on a huge project may not make financial sense.

Also consider how your lifestyle will come into play — both today and tomorrow, says Cramer. Are the kids now out of college and starting families on their own? If they are or soon will be, you may not need a larger home at all and could benefit from a simple remodeling project to improve your home’s flow or make it more comfortable.

Also consider your finances. Moving can be extremely expensive, but so can remodeling. Before you choose either option, make sure you can truly afford it. Money you borrow will ultimately need to be paid back, so you should be prepared to pay for your dream home for the long haul.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of . Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at .

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Have you ever had to decide between remodeling and moving? What criteria did you consider? What did you decide to do in the end?

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