Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shall We Stay or Shall We Go?

When my husband and I bought our house 11 years ago, it was my dream house. It is much bigger than the house I grew up in, with a bigger kitchen and more than twice as many bathrooms and just so much space. And oh the closets. Our house has lovely closets.

But time changes and expectations change and occupants change. When we moved in as a newly engaged couple, four bedrooms meant we had a master suite for the two of us, a guest room for visiting family, and we each had our own office. So what if my kitchen cabinets were filled not long after we moved in, there was still room at the top of the little pantry cupboard for extra serving platters. And once we bought dining room furniture, our good china could move out of storage and into display.

11 years is a long time, I think. And since then we have added two children and two cats and more dishes and bicycles and a lawn mower and have I mentioned toys? Our two-car garage is really just a two-car garage. Not a two-car plus two bicycle plus lawn mower plus trashcans and power tools garage. Our guest room is now my son's room, and my office is my daughter's bedroom. The dishes that don't fit in the kitchen are stored partially in the basement and partially in our closet. The one unfinished storage room in the basement is bursting at the seams. And I keep running over the wheel of the lawn mower (since it's either that or I hit my husband's car trying to squeeze mine into the garage.

We are at a crossroads. Do we stay where we are at, or do we move to a bigger house?

We have no room to expand. The basement is finished and the lot is too small to add on. I might be able to squeeze a few more square feet of cabinet space into the kitchen, but it will likely never hold the double-oven that I really want for the big family dinners I like to cook. And our house was one of the bigger floorplans in the neighborhood. We are already at the top end of what a buyer in the area might be willing to spend. If we remodel, we will simply be spending our money and not investing it.

But we have friends in the neighborhood, and a subdivision pool, and a quiet little park in walking distance. We are not in a high-traffic area and we are convenient to major highways. We have generous sized rooms and generous-sized closets and we have already painted and re-arranged it all to our liking. (Ok, so we've painted and re-arranged most of it to our liking, sometimes more than once). And planted trees. And built a beautiful deck. And upgraded the kitchen/greatroom floor and replaced a sliding door with a french one.  We have taken care of our house like people expecting to live here forever.

The things we don't have in our house and can't get in our house are easily another part of the metro area. We would have to sell our house and move. Probably move up in cost, a bit, too.

So, we have a decision to make. Our daughter goes to private school, so a move will not uproot her from her friends. It would, in all likelihood, move us closer to them. We would have longer commutes to work. We might position ourselves in the middle of the housing price spectrum instead of at the far end. We might not be able to sell our house.

Thinking about moving is scary. Thinking about staying and doing enough minor remodelling to make do is exhausting.  Adding up the cost of a move or a remodel is not as horrifying as I feared. Either way, I'm hoping that over the next year or so, our housing situation will improve in some form or another. Whether we're just doing massive closet clean-outs or trying to re-purpose the laundry room as a mudroom/pantry, or whether we're spending hours in the car with a realtor, or in various showrooms with a builder or general contractor. It will be an improvement. Won't it?


Kathy G said...

Tough question.

We were in the same situation years ago, but on top of everything else, we wanted to stay in the same parish. (Two of the three kids had already started school there.)

In the end, we upgraded, but moved less than a mile. Are there any subdivisions close to where you are now that have bigger houses you could look at?

Kristi said...

Kathy, that's basically what we're looking at--finding another subdivision that has bigger houses. The difference is that in our (public) school district, we would have to move farther away from our daughter's private school (and from both of our jobs) in order to move up and stay in the current part of town. We're about a 15-minute (mostly highway) drive from school. If we move within a 15-minute drive on the opposite side of school then there are lots of options in the price/size range that would probably work for us.

Its actually kind of nice that we don't have to uproot her (and her brother as of next fall) to move, but it does uproot me and hubby and the house that we signed contracts on the same day we got engaged. And it puts us that much farther away from family who live on the Illinois side of St. Louis.

And, of course, there's the question of whether anyone would make an offer on our house in the current real estate market at all. There are a few for sale in our neighborhood, all of them quite a bit smaller (~1000sq ft smaller) and asking quite a bit less than what we would ask. There is one that is similar to ours that has been on the market for a couple of months already and keeps dropping the price.

Still, we're working on the small steps-fixing some of the small but annoying things that we've been ignoring (like a couple of window screens that we never open with holes from a hail storm a couple of years back). If we decided to stay, then that stuff needs to be done anyway :)

Bethany said...

Good luck with that decision. In the mean time, you could try sifting through the overage and seeing if there's anything to get rid of. Having moved a gazillion times myself, you end up throwing a bunch out instead of moving it anyway.

If you clear out some space you might find you don't really want to move after all, but if you do, you'll be ready for the house showing and moving part of the deal :) Don't forget the showing of the house, keeping it spotless for guests and all...

I remember when you moved into that house it was HUGE. Like the biggest, emptiest house I'd ever seen. Later when I drove through after your son took over the guest room I remember wondering how you guys managed to shrink the house.

It's a very nice house, and comfortable too. Maybe you could just completely redo the floorplan of the main floor?

Kristi said...

We are already sorting through stuff and getting rid of stuff (like large baby gear). The problem isn't actually our closet space (I fear that we'll actually go down in average closet size if we move). Its the lack of garage space and arrangement of the kitchen.

Unfortunately, the options with the garage are to stop using it for cars, or to not own bikes, scooters, lawn mowers, gardening tools, ladders, trash cans, and the like (not talking excessive amounts of things here, but I can't open passenger doors on my car because we have to put the lawnmower somewhere other than the yard while not in use)--bikes are hung from the ceiling, ladder on the walls, hubby has to bump the shelves that hold garden tools in order to close the garage door behind him.

If I could add a shed or another car-bay to our garage in the current house it would help a lot, but neither of those options are possible. The lot size isn't wide enough, and sheds are not allowed (and, you know, there's no space in which to build one anyway).

We didn't realize just how much junk everyone brings in the house until there were 4 people with 4 coats and 4 pairs of shoes and 4 bags and mail walking straight from the garage into the kitchen every day. We have a nice-sized island, but I never see it for the pile of mail and school papers.

If we could take our current square footage and squish it into another arrangement, we would. Except that doing so would cost boucoup $.

We're already concerned that we wouldn't be able to sell the house for what we paid for it (let alone what we paid + what we paid for the deck...and we're trying to forget the outdated idea of "capital gains"). If we spend tens of thousands of dollars to re-arrange walls, then we're there for life, or else making an extremely expensive gift to the next owners. Honestly, that debate isn't quite over yet (fear of moving vs fear of remodeling vs fear of screwing ourselves financially one way or the other).

The house isn't on the market yet. We haven't even called a realtor quite yet (though has a nice Android app that makes it really easy to see what's for sale in the neighborhood, and at what price, and with what features, and boy is it depressing....)