Models for Remodeling

home-remodeling-va-dc-md_0Remodel or move? Fold ‘em or hold ‘em? That depends on a variety of factors, economic as well as noneconomic.

We have completed a number of remodeling projects in the Valley during our 20 years here, and we usually tell people to consider all of the factors prior to investing a lot of money into an older home.

First, I tell them to consider closely the values of homes in the neighborhood, and the value of the neighborhood itself. Is yours an historic district or possibly one? Is the neighborhood gentrifying or deteriorating? Valuing your home highly doesn’t mean your home is highly valued.

Will the amount you put into your remodeling be justified, or will it not be recoverable? Will your home be particularly desirable, especially in a buyer’s market, if the investment is made?

You remember the maxim about installing a swimming pool?  At most, half of the cost of it is recoverable on sale, so before you dive in, make sure you’re staying a few years to swim some laps. Do your homework about your home before you make an appointment with an architect or designer.

Next, inspect the structural, mechanical and electrical soundness of the home you will be remodeling. Will you be able to use parts of the structure such as floor slabs, walls and roofs in the new design? Many of our remodels have retained just the garages; others have incorporated more of the existing space. A structural engineer is a good contact. Some very old homes require extensive structural modifications, such as girdling the entire home, re-centering and reshoring the foundation.

Consider, too, how the existing systems will work with the new project. Will they need to be modified or replaced? New copper lines for the plumbing? Old electrical wiring that is a fire hazard? Termites? Bad basement drainage that would destroy the vintage Cabernet collection that you have planned for your wine grotto?

Make sure your remodel design captures the views and is best oriented for sun exposure. If a window was on a western side, perhaps a rearrangement would capture better views and reduce the heat. Correct the issues not addressed in the original house.

Look as well at ceiling heights. Do all the rooms have adequate ceiling heights? If you want higher ceilings, what’s behind the plaster ceilings now? We enjoy designing high ceilings with underlit soffits, but if the structure doesn’t allow it, expect significant additional costs to make these additions possible.

The proportion and layout of rooms is important. Are they in the right place or should they be moved? Are they the proper size? Older homes tend to have smaller rooms than what we like now. They also tend to demarcate space more rigidly than we like today with our open Arizona lifestyles. How best can we open up the home and the rooms while still maintaining intimacy and warmth?

Consider master suites. Sometimes people try to modify existing master suites instead of simply retaining the existing one, and adding another at the other end of the home. This will create a split floor plan, adding livable area instead of remodeling an existing area without increasing square footage, which, generally, increases value.

Think: Will there be possibilities for growth and change for the project in the future after you have spent money remodeling? Think about the next remodel, too.

To some people finishes are more important than layout of the shell. This is where a good architect comes in. Get the layout right first before spending a fortune on finishes. If the design is properly done, you’ll spend a lot less money than you would trying to cover matters up.

Don’t get lost in the trees: See the big picture. Unify the look of the home inside and out. Avoid, at all costs, the “added-on look,” which is totally self-defeating. The new project should look timeless as though it could have been built yesterday — or a decade or more ago.

Nick Tsontaki B+W_8522Nick Tsontakis, AIA, is the principal of Scottsdale’s Tsontakis Architecture, specializing in innovative residential design. He is also the director and publisher of Arizona Residential Architects magazine. See

To reach him, e-mail nickt@tsontakisarchitecture. com.

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