Questions to Ask Before Adding On(page 1 of 2)

Zoning and cost are some issues to consider before beginning this major home renovation

You've perused showrooms, flipped through home magazines, studied friends' houses—and perhaps even found design inspiration in your own dreams. You have a clear goal, a budget, and perhaps a scrapbook filled with clippings, brochures and back-of-an-envelope sketches. But you're not quite ready to start your addition project—until you ask yourself the following questions:

1) How would you design your house if you were building it new? "It's so hard to see past what's already there, like a bookcase or a doorway or wall," says New York City architect Dennis Wedlick. "So forget about your house. Imagine you're starting from scratch and create the ideal home." That liberates you to get really creative about what you want—and helps to prioritize your goals for the job. Then you can look for ways to turn your building into that dream house, through an addition, a remodeling project or a combination of both.

2) Will the addition add value to your home? Even if you have no plans to sell anytime soon, you (or your family) will sell someday—and you might also refinance or take out a home equity line of credit, for which you'll want the best possible appraisal of your home. So always consider the resale value of your project. It's not that you're going to turn a profit on your investment. So you might as well go into the job with realistic expectations about payback.

Because they're among the costliest home projects, addition jobs often return less than remodels. The Remodeling report pegs the following returns on additions: A two-story addition with a family room downstairs and master suite upstairs (65 percent); master-suite-only addition (63 percent); bathroom addition (53 percent); and sunroom addition (49 percent). To maximize your payback, add amenities that are highly sought after in your area. If your neighbors have master suites and you don't, then that's a good investment, says Omaha appraiser John Bredemeyer, past president of the Appraisal Institute, a standards setting organization. If nobody else on the block has one, your payback will be small.

3) Is there a lower-cost way to get what you want? The downturn in addition payback doesn't mean you shouldn't add on—assuming you're doing the work for your own enjoyment and intend to stay in the home for at least 5 years. But it does mean you might want to look for ways to cut the costs of your project. And the best way to do that is to look for ways to eliminate or minimize the need to add on—by using the attic or basement or by simply reconfiguring existing living space, says Eden Prairie, Minn., design-build contractor Mark Mackmiller.

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