Real estate: Move or improve?
Is it time to move or simply improve your home? Consider these factors before packing up those boxes.
Moving can be a love-hate thing. I’ve moved a dozen times in my life, with no less than seven moves during adulthood alone including the purchase of two houses. So I think it’s fair to say I have a good amount of experience in packing boxes, reassembling furniture and picking out paint colours. Some of the moving process is always fun (picking out paint, for instance), some of it is pure drudgery (packing up the kitchen).
Moving, of course, is expensive. For renters, it’s not too punitive because you need only move your belongings (but still, hiring a moving company can add up). Selling a property to buy a different one is another ball of wax. At a minimum, you have to consider real estate commissions on the sale of your home, downpayments, the cost of mortgaging another property, land transfer taxes and lawyer’s fees.
That’s where “improving” can come in. Renovating, remodelling, adding-on, digging out and building up: Whatever you want to call it, sometimes you can avoid a move entirely with a smart rejigging of space or an addition. So which path should you choose? Here are some situations to consider.
1 Your kitchen is ancient and ugly. Move or improve?
The ugly kitchen is the bane of many a homeowner. But if the footprint of the kitchen is fine, fixing it up may cost less than moving, once you factor in moving expenses and real estate commissions. “Kitchens can really make or break a space,” says Toronto decorator and stylist Laura Collins. “By adding a fresh coat of paint, replacing tile, adding new hardware to cabinetry, this can really improve the overall feeling of a space. Big box stores are now offering really well priced sinks, faucets, etc., for these spaces as well so you don’t need to break the bank,” she says.
2 You don’t have enough bedrooms for your growing family. Move or improve?
“Space is essential in a home,” says Laura. “In the crazy world we live in, one wants to come home and seek solace in his or her surroundings. If you have simply outgrown your home, with kids and/or pets, or want room for an at-home office (so many people work at home these days), then it is probably time to move,” she says. If you live in a condo, you must move as you can’t really gain any space. House owners have a bit more choice. You could build an extension on your house or a multi-storey addition, but this is typically an expensive undertaking and it can be more cost-effective to move, especially if you also want more outdoor space anyway.
3 You live in a cookie-cutter box and you yearn for a character-filled house. Move or improve?
Character-filled houses, especially old ones are charming. But you don’t have to move into one to capture that elegance. (And besides, speaking from experience here, older unrenovated, character-filled houses can have other issues that cost big bucks to fix, such as lack of adequate insulation or electrical issues.) “If you are craving more sophistication, there are so many easy DIY projects on the Internet now demonstrating how to increase home value and aesthetics by adding wall mouldings,” for instance, suggests Laura.
4 You’re waiting for your neighbourhood to “arrive.” Meanwhile, you dream of another neighbourhood that has the amenities you need. Move or improve?
If you’re dreaming of another neighbourhood that’s attainable for you financially (a neighbourhood that exists, not a utopian world of your imagination), then move there. Quite simply: Why spend years of mental energy wishing to live in another location? Having lived in both established neighbourhoods with good amenities and up-and-coming ones that didn’t have grocery shopping within walking distance, in my experience you need many years of patience if you want to play the waiting game.
5 You love your neighbours and your neighbourhood, but your house needs a top-to-bottom renovation. Move or improve?
Anyone who has ever had bad neighbours will tell you, great neighbours should be treasured. If you’re lucky enough to love yours, don’t be too quick to move. “If you are debating moving, but you love your current neighbourhood, schools, and shops, then it might not be a bad idea to budget for those home improvements you have been wanting to do,” says Laura. “Moving is a big job, and you won’t necessarily find the same neighbourhood bliss elsewhere. If you can sit tight, this might be a better option,” she adds.
6 You never bonded with your home. Move or improve?
This phenomenon is real. I’ve experienced it, and I’ve heard many stories of homeowners and renters who have experienced the same thing: the home you don’t ever connect with. People purchase homes that are brand new and they never bond with them. People purchase heritage homes and never bond with them. Same goes for completely renovated homes. Of course there are compromises in nearly every home purchase but if you don’t bond with your home for whatever the reason, again, don’t expend the energy despising it and just move on, literally. If you’re renting, don’t think twice about it, just move at the end of your lease. If you’re an owner, financially speaking this can be costly unless you are downsizing. You can speak to a real estate agent you trust to get the lowdown.
7 Your home is tired and you need a change of scenery. Move or improve?
Some of us are programmed with a kind of shelter wanderlust that triggers a desire to move every few years. If that’s you, you might discover that improving your space fills up that need. And even if it doesn’t, it’s good to prepare your home for the resale market anyway. “The first thing I would always suggest is paint,” Laura says. “A fresh coat of paint can go a long way, and completely revitalize a tired space. Paint out all of the trim, all outdated cabinetry etc, and it will at least be good for a temporary fix.” Outside, work on your house’s curb appeal. “A well-pruned walkway never hurt anyone. Some simple yard work, and easy landscaping can also make a world of difference. Add a few box hedges for instant chic,” she suggests.
8 There’s no more room for your book collections, knickknacks, souvenirs, framed pictures, accessories. Move or improve?
Generally speaking, most of us will fill up a space with our belongings, then when it all feels too tight, we’ll move and fill up yet another space with our belongings. Obviously, this is not ideal because our possessions end up ruling us instead of the other way around. The good news is that you don’t really have to “improve” so much as edit. “We should take some cues from the Swedish and purge all of our unused, unnecessary items,” says Laura. “Sometimes this is all we need to refresh the home,” she says.