How would/did you approach long-term planning for house renovations/improvements

Backstory: I just bought a 1950s one-story 3br/1ba rambler for a decent price (for Seattle) that needs some work done to make it a sound investment and a good age-in-place option for me over the next couple of decades. The most immediate issues I need to address are:

  1. Attic and crawlspace cleanout and reinsulation – there were rodent issues in the past that were never adequately cleaned up, plus insulation is inadequate and (in large sections of the crawlspace) non-existent which is causing moisture issues that may be causing the house to settle significantly in one corner)

  2. Electrical upgrades – current panel is pretty much at capacity and probably can’t support the addition of a master bath (priority) and remodel of the kitchen. Most of the house has ungrounded wiring and old knob and tube stuff that needs to be replaced. Wiring should be brought up to code and lighting/electrical outlets improved to modern standards

  3. Addition of a master bath – current bathroom is small and there is a good space for a master bath in the current layout of the house that hopefully can incorporate everything I want (infloor heating, towel warmers, deep soaker tub and dual sinks). If there is space I will also move the laundry over from where it currently is in the kitchen.

I hope to get all of this work done before the end of June, when the least on my current rental runs out. The way things currently stand I would not be comfortable spending more than $100k on this work (and even that is pushing my limits a bit and will probably end up with me seeking out at least some type of PT employment to pad the financial coffers a bit.

Down the road I will also want to remodel the kitchen, but need to earn/save up more money for that as it might require expensive foundation work. Much further down the road I might want to build an ADU to provide separate living space for my kids or even myself (I could take the smaller unit, they could have the big house).

So, today I met with the designer recommended by my realtor (who I trust) and the principal of a design/build company recommended by another friend who works in the green building space. They are recommending that I start with a whole-house redesign plan that takes into consideration the longer-term needs/wants I have as well as the more immediate needs, so that I don’t end up putting money into projects that then need to be redone later because the space isn’t working right.

This makes sense to me on an intellectual level, but I know it is going to cost more up front and that is making my Inner Bag Lady freak out a bit.

So, that is a very long-winded background story that gets us to the TL/DR gist of this post/thread. How did you approach investing in renovations/improvements to your primary home? What were the pros/cons? And more particularly, did any of you invest in this kind of longer-term planning process at the outset and how did that turn out for you? Or do you have remodel horror stories of spending a lot of money on a project and then finding the space didn’t work in other ways and you had to rip stuff out/redo and wasted money that could have been saved by better planning?

Hope this makes sense. Hard to think coherently when the IBL is screaming at me…

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With my current home I categorized projects as now, asap, and eventually. I couldn’t move in without a bunch of things being done, and some other things made sense to do now in order to lay the groundwork for future work. Other things I have been doing while living here, and there are some things I need to do before I sell.

I would list each thing that needs doing, in as small of steps as make sense. Lay them out in a timeline or flowchart.

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I read about your dilemma in your journal and then this thread. I think the big-picture plan that considers all the changes from the beginning and doing those changes now makes sense in your case. Yes, it will cost more up-front, but you have ready access to the funds to pay for it. You will still have lots of money to fund your expenses in retirement. Plus it will be easiest (and probably cheaper) to do this work while you are not living in the house than after you have moved in. If you feel you need to look for PT work, then doing so now will be easier than 5-10 years down the road. I think it might give you peace of mind to know the house is “done” and you are set knowing how much money you have “post-house-expenses”. It will make it easier for you to plan and make decisions about the possible ADU, etc. Also, for the scope of work that you’re discussing, I’d want to have as much of it done as possible before moving in (you may genuinely feel differently about living in a construction site, but I find it affects my long-term mood).

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I would think that putting together the holistic plan for the house in a single design phase is possible without committing to all of the work this year? For example, knowing that you need to upgrade your electrical panel now and reserve 2 breakers for the additional will save you time and money later but won’t cost that much more?

A counterpoint to doing everything/anything now is that living in a space has a way of changing your wishlist. If you do the essentials now, get some part-time work, and revisit the full house plan in 2-5 years you may end up with a different design than you would put together now.

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Yes, this is true.

The key issue is really the placement/configuration of the master bath, and how to make that make sense with the rest of the layout of the house. There are things about the current bathroom and the layout/configuration of the existing bedrooms that are not ideal. What the design/build person pointed out was that once you are making changes to walls, etc (as I would be in a minimal way to put in the master bedroom) it doesn’t really cost that much more to rip out and rebuild more walls to make the space make more sense.

The comment I made that they both seemed to agree with was that I shouldn’t let my future plans for the space be too constrained by poor design choices made decades earlier.

I guess I should wait and see what they revised design proposal looks like. I’m just expecting that it will be $$$$$$

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What sticks out to me is this:

I don’t understand how lack of insulation could lead to moisture issues that lead to the house settling significantly in one corner; to me these sounds unrelated. The usual issue is water draining towards the house, instead of away, and causing flooding; and that takes a heck of a lot of water.

House settling is usually caused by shifting of the ground - geological subsidence, perhaps expansion / contraction of clay in times of drought and high rain years; or if on a hill, soil might be slowly sliding down the hill. Maybe you’ve already talked to someone about the foundation issues and are comfortable deferring them, but they scare the crap out of me. I walk away from properties with foundation issues so you likely have a higher risk tolerance than I do. Anyway. I wouldn’t invest in items 2 or 3 until I had a plan for this issue, because foundation issues don’t go away on their own and at some point can put the whole property at risk.

My next concern would be the moisture issues and ensuring there were no mold problems. Mold is another personal dealbreaker for me, because as I understand it, it can be difficult to eliminate and expensive to treat, and continues to get worse until dealt with. While it is important to deal with the condensation caused by inadequate insulation in the attic, I’d want to be sure there was no mold in that area before closing it up. I would do air sealing when you insulate the attic as well.

The next piece I’d look at is your overall financial picture, and what you realistically can afford to finance on what timeline. I think you know more about the various retirement models than I do, but I’d be looking at questions like, if you make the money moves you’ve been talking about, how do your allocations compare to the Trinity study? If you spend a big chunk of money now - how does a 4% (or other chosen withdrawal rate) compare to your projected ongoing expenses? If you need to earn more money, how much and how long do you think you’ll have to work? These things might give you some upper bounds on how much you can / want to invest in the house and still maintain the standard of living that you’ve become accustomed to, or might convince you that money is no object. I’d want this information firmly in place before making any decisions.

Finally, what if your kids don’t choose to live with you? I’m hard pressed to think of a single person on this forum who is living with their parents or holds that as a long term aspiration. I’m not sure if any of your plans hinge on your kids moving back in with you, but I’d be leery of investing any money just so that your kids can move in down the road. They will likely have their own families, jobs and lives and could literally land anywhere in the world.

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I think it’s great to start out with a long-term plan.

We used architects in both of our houses and their clear-eyed logical design approach is invaluable.

The house we’re living in now is a 1941 Cape Cod that was built largely by its owners. So it’s not a professional build. There were odd shortcuts and just some…oddities.

Our architect planned a new room, moved the kitchen on one side of the house to the other, added bathrooms, reversed the staircase, and bumped out dormers. It’s a nicer and more logical flow now while still retaining its
cottage-y origins. We stripped out all of the existing “drywall” which really is not sheet rock, brought everything down to the studs. Rewiring, replumbing, etc.

And unfortunately, we were doing this work during the height of Covid where lumber was three times as much as what it was pre-Covid, but that’s fine, we have the money.

Anyway, I do think a logical long-term plan for where walls will be is to your benefit. Although I can see that one danger in having a long-term plan is that when you turn these things over in your mind over the years, you want to tweak things changing the plan. Ha ha. For our house I pretty much accepted what the architect suggested because why not? I didn’t have time to rethink or question things and besides, I’m putting in enough time choosing finish materials and furnishings.

I would not have them do any plans for an ADU because that is obviously separate— a separate project, and separate financing. You don’t need to spend money on that now and frankly, your idea for an ADU could change in 10 years. If you’re thinking about a one bedroom unit, you might want to change to one bedroom+, or a totally open concept space, or ???

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I have seen this a lot more with the more recent generation.of college grads, especially those in the Bay area and Pacific Northwest where housing prices are beyond outrageous.

It’s not my aspiration (I’m pushing 40) but my cousins who are 12 years younger are thrilled to live in an ADU on their parents property even with good jobs and stable (cohabitating) relationships

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I’m learning that physically large work like walls does not correlate to cost. For my project, interior framing took less than 1 week, albeit for a smaller house. Time and delays (usually from surprises) are the most expensive, especially since you are currently paying rent.

Two other random thoughts:

  • Of all the utilities (electrical, plumbing) HVAC placement is the hardest to change after the fact. Any walls, floors, or ceilings it runs through will have to have space for it. Electric needs almost none; plumbing needs a few inches of height on the way out.
  • Anything related to structure, I would plan to hit pause and reassess after demo. There are always surprises and sometimes re-designing is more efficient than building extensive workarounds to hew to the original plan.

Truth!

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I’d plan for critical structural stuff - foundation, moisture and electrical issues.

And then I’d live there for a year or two and see what I wanted to change in terms of flow. I’ll think you can figure it out on your own and it can wait until you feel comfortable spending on that.

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We had some improvements made prior to moving in (adding forced air heat and A/C, convert from paneling and carpeting to drywall and wood flooring in FR). Then we lived in the (80’s swingers decor) house for 2 years before doing a major remodel including upstairs dormer, kitchen and bath gut job. Lots of windows, walls and major electrical updates were included.

It was helpful to know the pain points after living there for a while, but hard to live through a major remodel while living in the home. If I had unlimited $$ there are some things I would have done differently, but basically stuck to the “how much can we put into this home before it’s ridiculous” $$. Doing the major remodel all at the same time allowed me to decide on trade-offs to keep in budget.

Living in a VHCOL area may give you more leeway in the upper bounds of home price ranges, but for us there was a real risk of over-improving. I am satisfied with what we were able to accomplish with our budget.

Good luck! I trust you will manage the IBL so you can make the wise choices for you.

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Thanks all for the input. I am trying VERY hard to quiet the IBLs spinning by telling her we need to wait and see what the initial design proposal/cost comes back at – supposed to get that on Tuesday. But it is hard.

I do understand the merit/arguments for living in the space before reconfiguring, but right now the house is vacant until next June so now is the time to at least do the basic structural stuff that is needed + put in the master bath that I both really want and that will greatly increase the value of the house. There is space for it, the question is just whether or not it makes sense to reconfigure the overall space so that it is more efficient/makes more sense. Current bathroom is also not ideal so updating that bath as well might be prudent now, especially if I can make it a little bigger (it is very cramped but the space for the master bath next to it is probably larger than it needs to be)

Also, just to clarify – I will NOT be adding an ADU now, or even working on plans. If/when it seems smart to do that it will be a separate project. But I did want the design/build lady to confirm that it is feasible to do so given the percentage of lot coverage I have already + required setbacks. Appears that as long as I incorporate the existing shed/carport/drive in some way, it should be doable. She mentioned that one way of financing such a project, should I be cash constrained when it comes time to do it, would be to condo-ize the property and then the build can be financed/appreciate on its own.

One other thing I am trying to remind myself: this doesn’t HAVE to be my forever home, and if I end up in a situation where I need to sell it down the road I can do that.

I just have to resist the urge to put it back on the market this month :wink:

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We had not been planning to gut the basement at all (for financial reasons) and were going to just do a cosmetic upgrade. The layout was terrible and the bathroom was tiny (literally 7’x7’ including shower and could not shower without water getting everywhere). But then they said that they had to take down the walls for the foundation work, so we ended up completely gutting and redesigning the basement. It’s now an amazing space. It cost a fortune and it was very stressful to spend all that money at the time, but now that it’s all done and I’m enjoying the space, the spending is all in the past.

Will you be able to let go after the money is spent?

I never regret spending more to do things the way I want. I may agonize over the decision but if the work needs to be done anyway, I want it done nicely and not with compromises. For example, in my condo I could have done carpet on the stair but I did hardwood. Every time I walked on it I was like “this is so nice, I’m glad I didn’t do carpet”.

I had sunk several thousands of dollars of work into starting to update the basement bathroom that could not be recouped. Very relieved we didn’t spend $6K having the chimney mortar pintucked (some of the mortar was crumbling and because it’s on a steep hill it would have needed expensive scaffolding), because we ended up just removing the chimney entirely! But I had spent $5K on a fireplace gas insert that then lived for 7 months in pieces in our living room waiting to be reinstalled, and then I found out during install that it could only go in a masonry fireplace and I needed a different one since the chimney was now removed. I ended up giving it to an acquaintance because it had been in our living room for so long and I couldn’t deal with trying to find a buyer, but that was $5K down the drain. There’s probably more, those are the ones that jump to mind.

So it could be tens of thousands of extra dollars because of things that have already been done, and that is so frustrating and could have been avoided if I knew what was going to happen later. Don’t be like me :slight_smile:

Also, listen to yourself and do the work while the place is empty. Not needing to do renovations while you’re living there is in itself worth some cost upfront!

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This is my default after living 33 years in a Victorian gut rehab. Unfortunately, the rooms we started 33 years ago that were fresh, were old and dingy by the time we sold that house.

And now—I am living in a gut rehab that absolutely CANNOT take 33 years because I will be dead, long dead, before that is finished.

As much as I would like to write a check to pay someone to finish this house, there aren’t people to do that. Our fabulous contractor does the big work but subs out finish work. He couldn’t get drywall there so his own guys did the drywall. He couldn’t get his usual electrician so his guys did the electrical work which DH had to resolve in a couple of places.

So DH, who is an excellent finish carpenter, is installing all of the woodwork, painting, and will install the finished staircase. At the rate he’s going it’s a 2 1/2 year job to finish.

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long term folks may recall I have a kitchen reno in mind. While I say ‘kitchen reno’, I have this sliding scale of ideas. In some ways I’d like to break it into smaller logical parts, but I don’t have a final vision, so smaller logical parts are a challenge.

I know I probably want to put in a big sliding door into the back, or at least move the door from where it is to swap it with the window.

I know I want to remove the hallway wall for the middle room. But do I want to open that up to the kitchen? If not, do I want to open it up to the front room? If I knew I was just opening up the front and middle room and not to the kitchen, we could just do that now. But it makes no sense if we’re taking down the kitchen wall later.

And, I want to be intelligent about how we fund this from a tax perspective. We will need to sell some investments to do it. Some will be non-registered investments the shadowy one holds. It also makes some sense to start melting down their RRSP. It makes no sense for me to do anything because the money I’m getting from the gig puts me into a higher tax bracket. I think we do it over 2 years (2023/2024), though there is a part of me saying to do 2025 because then I can put off scary decisions a bit longer.

I also have fear about finding very bad things when we open up the wall and going over budget when our number is pretty set. (This is why I was supposed to do this before quitting my job, but then covid and burnout.) I can probably make more money (and the advisor says we have more buffer than I thought), but the past year of this gig has emphasized that I really don’t want to if I don’t need to.

We did a bathroom remodel about 8 years ago which also included some work on my closet, and I still regret what happened there (it would be about 4k to fix it and I haven’t been able to justify that to myself yet), so I really want to make sure I’m confident in the big decisions about the walls and kitchen layout before I get going.

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Thank you for these stories – they are helpful.

I spent a bit of time poking around more on the design/build company website this morning. I really like their philosophy/approach.

I am also putting quite a bit of weight on the fact that my friend – who knows the green building space well – highly recommended them. They are already working with the designer my realtor recommended on another project – that also is a very good sign. These are the kinds of businesses I WANT to put my money behind. Engaging them is an investment in my community as well as in my own house.

At least that is what I was pysching myself up with this morning. Still having major anxiety about the whole thing but I can’t/won’t do anything concrete until I get the design proposal/estimate back on Tuesday so trying not to let it freak me out too much.

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