By SEAN GANEY
Too many times, I’ve had to deliver the upsetting news to new homebuyers who are ready to renovate that the project they are considering is not feasible with the home they purchased. The situation is unpleasant for both sides, but with a little due diligence, prospective homebuyers’ disappointment can be avoided. Here are some key things to consider when purchasing a home with the intent of remodeling:
- Check the local government’s zoning ordinances. Don’t assume that you have identical building rights as your neighbors. Regulations change, and the particular location of your lot (corner lot example) may be impacted.
- Research any neighborhood association restrictions. If you conduct a title search of the property, you should find the following: architectural design guidelines and review, construction materials requirements and even restrictions on how close you can build on the property line, along with size limits.
- Never assume that an existing structure is adequate for future modifications. For instance, second-floor ceiling structures are often inadequate flooring structures for remodeling attic space. Similarly, deck structures may not be appropriately designed to handle enclosed spaces. Basement ceilings in unfinished areas may be too low to finish and may not meet local building codes. Also, it’s important to remember that all finished spaces require egress, or an exit(s).
- Check system capacities. Most often, systems in the house are designed at best to meet the needs of the existing structure. That means when you increase the size of the house, you’ll likely have to create new capacity for heating and cooling. You may even need to upgrade and enlarge the water supply, as well as the gas and electric supplies.
- Investigate your utilities. There are sometimes hidden costs in upgrading homes to today’s standards. Older homes often have insufficient electrical power, requiring new supply and wiring. Water service may be inadequate or the pipes may need to be replaced. Even the sewer lines should be checked for condition and function.
- Be aware of hazardous materials. Many homes in our area built prior to 1972 have lead paint. And homes throughout the area, particularly those built 40 years ago or more may have asbestos tile. Handling these materials appropriately, as part of a remodeling project, is required by law. So you should plan on the extra cost associated with the safe remediation of these materials.
- Make sure that you understand and appreciate your landscaping. Some trees and plantings are very delicate and may be damaged by construction in close proximity. There are techniques to minimize damage, such as root pruning and liquid fertilization. If you’re considering a remodeling project in an area with a very important tree, you should consult a professional arborist.
- Think through access for construction. One of the most overlooked aspects of a remodeling project is the logistics of transporting materials, equipment and personnel to the construction site. Often, access is restricted by trees, pools, grade, etc., making construction much more costly.
- Be realistic about timing. The permitting process in particular can be a harrowing experience. With new local restrictions particularly in regard to land disturbance, permitting can often take as long as six months. Verify all requirements in your district, and hire a professional expediter to make the process as easy as possible.
- Be realistic about your budget. As with many new purchases, there may be some unanticipated costs, and you may want to do more work than you initially planned. Make sure you’re conservative in developing a budget that will meet your needs, and consult an expert for the particular sort of work you are considering. Remember to find someone who tells you what you need to know, and not what you want to hear.
Sean Ganey is an architect and project leader for BOWA, an award-winning company specializing in the design and construction of luxury renovations and remodeling in the greater Washington, D.C. area. BOWA has 25 years of expertise managing the entire remodeling process. Reach Sean at SeanG@bowa.com or 703-734-9050. For more renovation tips visit bowa.com.