A real estate agent and I were talking a few days ago about the state of the market. In our area, the price of real estate is almost exponentially growing. The thirst for space and 'enough' room to live is outstripping the actual space available (or allowable) in the area. This has caused a crunch on those of us who like the area we live but can no longer afford to grow with our lives.
The conversation rambled, but we hit on a point that many overlook. What if you just made what you currently have work? We discussed and came up with two alternatives to feeling forced to move.
The Gut Rehab
This is the classic that, as an architect, I really enjoy. Taking a structure down to its bare minimum, finding better patterns of organization and space proportioning and then inserting this updated plan into/onto an existing home is the reason I got into this line of work in the first place. Renovations can take an existing 'less than ideal' home and with slight to major modifications, make it exactly what you want and need. The transformation of place and space is almost always dramatic and satisfying to all.
The Gut Check
And while I am a large proponent of the major renovation (a man has got to make a living, you know!) there is a step that is often overlooked in getting to the renovation. The gut check is the step of asking yourself, what do I really need to have to make life work? Unfortunately, this is usually only done after step one is planned and priced. "Whoa, HOW much for that 100 extra square feet???" The sticker shock of the cost of renovation is almost universal. Even to professionals in the design side of the world, it often seems to be higher than expected. This causes a round of asking what do we REALLY need? In turn, superfluous items and square footage are often discarded in favor of what is 'practical' or 'realistic'. Hard decisions are often made that get rid of things once thought to be non-negotiable. The dreams and collections of ideas get pared down to what really matters to you.
Instead of waiting until this point, a better approach is to do the gut check early. With the threat of costing a lot of money, this is simple. But often, the fantasy of thinking you will get a deal delays the necessary questions and decisions from being asked and made. But in the end, this will need to be done. And to save yourself the cost and delay of redesign, look around you to see what is superfluous in what you have.
Three main things to look for are the following
Step 1. Do you have space being used to store things that you will/may never use again? Old items that no longer serve a purpose in your life, but are just forgotten often take up a good portion of the space we live in. A good test that I learned to determine this is to pack all of your things away. Then as you need to use something, you unpack it, use it and find a place to store it. After a certain amount of time, you may come to realize that there are still 8 boxes of stuff that you never even thought about. That is your addition by subtraction right there. If however, you unpacked everything, then you move to step two.
Step 2. Is your stuff organized in the best possible manner? Are your closets organized and easily accessible? Can you find something when you want it? If not, what may happen is you will not hunt forever, but instead will go get another one (this is one of two main culprits of the problem in step one). Organization of what you have and need to have is also a good indicator of if you need to expand. Sometimes, you have only what you need, and when you have it organized in a fashion that maximizes the space and accessibility and now you can eliminate the need to build/renovate/move. Other times, even after completing steps one and two, there is still not enough space.
Step 3. Work with a design professional to determine the requirements of your addition/renovation. You have pared down. You have organized. But you still cannot live the life you need to live due to space/planning constraints. If this is the case, and you have done the previous steps, you will be able to sit with a professional and have them find the sweet spot for your life. Every case varies. But a professional armed with an honest assessment of your needs can work to create only the space required to get your life to where you want it to be. They can minimize the 'what if' scenarios of the less organized client and hone in on maximizing your value.
If you follow these three steps, when you do get that number for your addition, you will be comfortable in knowing, yes, this is truly only what is needed and not a penny more because you have done the gut check.