Email Answer: Know When To Hold ‘Em

Q: Do you ever wonder if you’re pricing your house out of the neighborhood? There are so many things I’d like to do with our cute little house but then I think, “don’t do it, you’ll spend too much and never get your money back.” And it’s definitely too small to stay here forever. For instance, does a full kitchen reno make any sense for someone who might be moving into a bigger and better home in a year or two. Or, do you just bite the bullet and spend the money so you can fully enjoy what you have now? Sorry, I’m probably rambling but I have a love/hate relationship with our home. One day I love it and want to stay and make it better. The next day I’m looking on real estate sites for a new one. -Molly

A: Good question Molly! Our little home is a modest 1350 square feet and we’re hoping to stay here forever… even if we have a gaggle of little ones someday. We’re just confident we can make it work. I think different people have different ideas about what big is and how much space you really need (I can’t imagine cleaning a bigger house so I’m very happy about the quaint casa we settled on). And coming from Manhattan where I had a closet sized room for a jaw-dropping $1200 a month (here’s a funny old video tour) our little ranch is a palace by comparison! I mean even the fancy people in the Upper East Side don’t usually have over 1000 square feet- and plenty of families live in NY, so that really helps me to keep things in perspective. Here’s my cute & tiny NYC apartment (circa 2005) that couldn’t even accommodate a couch. Guests had to sit on the full-sized bed to watch VHS movies with me on my 13″ TV. Cringe. Sidenote: look, there’s my little egg-crate-turned-jewelry-organizer on the makeshift side table! In a small space you only have room for the things you love, right?

sherrysapt2

As for the pricing-your-house-out-of-your-neighborhood concern, the usual recommendation is to get the worst house in a great neighborhood if you plan to do a lot of work on it (since getting the best house in a terrible neighborhood doesn’t help you when it comes to renovating – you’ll end up with an even nicer house surrounded by unappealing properties that look even worse by comparison). We were sure to get a total beater of a house (in case our before pictures didn’t make that obvious enough- hehe) so we would be able to do some major upgrades without feeling like we went overboard.

For example, every other house on our street was set back from the road with a spacious and lush front lawn while ours was set back just as far but had a curb-to-house mulch bed and a veritable forest out front. This was the first of many signs that there was some room for improvement when it came to our property. In short: Our house was a giant zit on our sweet neighborhood’s otherwise beautiful face, so anyone else with this affliction has permission to get to work. Of course you want to consider the purchase price of your home (ours was around 35K cheaper than all the other houses we looked at of the same size and in the same general area, which helped us determine how much we could “put into” it without feeling guilty).

final-exterior-before

On the other hand, if you already think your house is nicer than all the neighbors’ homes I would definitely pull the plug on any additional renovations (especially major ones like a kitchen redo). And of course you can always befriend your neighbors and take them a pie to check out their digs- or even call on a realtor to come over and tell you about the comps in the area and suggest what you should and shouldn’t do to maximize your profit when you sell in a year or two (they might veto a pricey kitchen remodel off the bat, which would be nice to know before whipping out your wallet).

That being said, our point of view is a little different than most when it comes to our own house (since we want to live here til we’re old and gray, we wouldn’t care if a realitor recommended against certain switcheroos, like trading our formal dining room for a third bedroom). We affectionately call Casa Petersik our “forever house” so we hardly think about resale value and all that when we pick up a hammer or a roller. But if you’re planning to sell in a year or two it’s a totally different ballgame (especially in this sluggish economy) so anything major would definitely be a lot more of a risk than the smaller projects that you can take on for less loot and effort.

The verdict: we would suggest making as many inexpensive upgrades as you can (switching out light fixtures, installing a programmable thermostat, getting a new bathroom vanity or painting the dated one you have, changing out kitchen and bathroom hardware and upgrading all of your home’s doorknobs from brass to chrome or nickel). And of course we can’t forget the number one way to freshen up your home in an afternoon on the cheap… why it’s paint of course! Here’s our dark and dated den before paint:

final-den-before-1

And here’s the same space after a few gallons of creamy goodness:

final-den-after-1

It’s almost unbelievable, eh? The paint really made the room. We didn’t drywall the paneling, we just left it and rolled right over it- and even though two walls are painted brick and two walls are painted paneling the whole room feels light and cohesive. Oh and the entire transformation only took about seven hours total and we did it with under $100 worth of paint. The lesson? A few cheap tweaks may be all that it takes to have Molly falling in love with her house all over again- without having to worry about paying the price.

What do you guys think? Can you think of anything else that might help Molly with her property predicament? Any other inexpensive upgrades that you’ve done on your just-for-now house that made it feel more like a forever-home? Any tales of hating your house and wanting to sell only to fall deeply and inexplicably in love with it (and ten years later you’re still there)? Do tell.

 

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