Remodel or Teardown?
For homeowners who want more space, each option has its pros and cons.
In late 2016, Karl Hartmann and his wife, Kendra, were midway through the approval process for a major remodel of their 2,300-square-foot home near Virginia Hospital Center. They had already hired an architect, submitted plans to the BZA and received permission to proceed with a project that included enclosing an existing carport. “Then we hit some snags,” Hartmann says.
Their original proposal to the BZA had been based on a plat drawn seven years earlier, when they first bought the house. But when they had a surveyor come out to re-draw the plat (as required to determine the amount of land disruption that construction activity would create), the new plat placed their carport six inches closer to their property line, rendering it non-compliant with county setback rules.
“Suddenly, our proposal that had been submitted and approved was problematic,” Hartmann says, “even though nothing had changed.”
Nevertheless, the hiccup called for a follow-up with the BZA, which meant putting the project back in the pipeline and waiting another four to six months for a new hearing date.
In the meantime, the Hartmanns had been watching the progress of a new home that infill developer Dave Springberg was building a few blocks away on a teardown lot. Springberg’s company, Spring Street Development, had bought a small brick Colonial from an older woman who was moving to a retirement community, razed it and was now building a 4,900-square-foot speculative home (meaning the builder didn’t yet have a buyer lined up) in its place.
The Hartmanns started doing the math, comparing the price tag on the new house with the amount they’d been planning to sink into their remodel— including the cost of a temporary move to a rental house during construction. “We had assumed Dave’s house would be out of reach,” Hartmann says, “but it actually wasn’t.” For an additional $75,000, “we got everything we wanted, above and beyond what was possible with the renovation, and we didn’t have to deal with the county stuff.”
Plus, buying new, in this case, was faster. The remodel was looking like it would take at least another year, he says, while the new home was about two months from completion. “We would have been happy remodeling,” he says, “but in the end we concluded the new house was simpler. It meant that we would only be moving once.”
In February 2017, Hartmann’s family of four moved into a new house that had all of the features on their wish list—an open floor plan, 9-foot ceilings, a second-floor laundry room, two home offices (both parents work from home) and a nice front porch—plus a two-car garage, a basement guest suite and a rec room for the kids.
“The old house had some awkward parts of the existing foundation that limited our ability to get an ideal layout, even with the remodel,” he adds. “You can see how this becomes a perfect storm for making a decision that simplifies your life.”