house vs. home

Stuart and I have been talking quite a lot about Our House lately. Our family of four feels a little cramped in our 900 square feet of living space, especially with only one bathroom. Nearly every morning a line forms outside the door. Stuart will be in the shower, or someone will be in there for, you know, bathroom business, and before you know it a little person is banging on the door yelling that he needs to pee RIGHT NOW. Lately even Anya likes to sit on the toilet, and when she does, she stays there for a long time, doing I-don't-know-what-all since she likes the door closed for privacy. She has a little board book about monkeys she likes to look at, and a few times she has unrolled the entire roll of toilet paper all over the floor; the latter has proved to be a particularly exasperating and tricky parenting situation because one has to find that delicate balance between the positive and negative of praising her for using the toilet and reminding her that ripping up an entire roll of brand-new toilet paper is naughty and wasteful.

So anyway, we only have one bathroom, and as happy as I am that our time with diapers may finally come to an end, it makes the logistics of bathing and toileting (I think I just made up that word) a little more complicated. The other problem is that we have a rather small eat-in kitchen and no dining room. When we moved into this house and it was the two of us, the little kitchen was perfect. In fact, the kitchen part - in other words, the space used to store dishes and prepare food - is just fine (except for a couple of awkwardly placed electric outlets). The problem is that we also have to fit a table in there that regularly seats the four of us, and that gets cramped. The table is sandwiched between the fridge and the back door, so whenever someone needs a drink of milk or the salad dressing, someone on the fridge side has to scoot out of the way, while whoever sits on the other side is likely to have to step around a pile of shoes and keys just to get to his/her seat. But we're used to it. We can deal with it for now.

We are finishing the basement this winter, which will add quite a lot of living space, more privacy for guests, and another bathroom. This solves nearly all of our space issues, with the notable exception of the kitchen/dining area (or lack thereof). The last few days we've entertained the notion of adding on to the back of the house. Just knock out the kitchen wall and extend the room by another 8-10 feet or so (essentially replacing the back deck with more house), and have an open dining space with room for a decent fridge (ours is small and old and not very efficient, but there is absolutely no room for anything bigger) and maybe a coat closet bigger than a postage stamp. (Not having any room by the back door for snow boots in winter gets pretty trying. In fact, we have wondered why anyone would build a house in Wisconsin without significant space allotted for snow gear by the main entrance.) (And dinner guests. It would be nice to have people over for dinner without requiring them to reach over and grab stuff from the fridge for you because it's less rude than making them get up every few minutes.) The back yard is quite big, so there would still be plenty of outside space, and we could build a brick patio next to the addition. What's there now is a big messy patch of weeds where I tried to grow chard a couple of times and failed miserably.

Would this be worth it? We don't know yet how much an addition would cost, and with the basement project coming up, we couldn't afford it now anyway, so there is certainly time to think about it. I know that remodeling is extremely stressful. And I know that most people will tell you that for what you spend on adding to your house, you could just move to a bigger one and save yourself the trouble.


My house is my home. It's not even the house so much as where it's located. Our neighborhood is modest and diverse, the elementary school is, by all accounts, excellent (and within walking distance), and it's easy to get where we need to go, often without a car. If it were just a matter of the house, of getting the most space for our money, then we would move. It's not about having a nice, big house, though. It's about making this one work because we like where we are and we've made our home here. That's worth certain inconveniences.

Who knows, though. Maybe having the basement worked on will disrupt our lives so much we won't be willing to go through it again. Maybe an addition would be so outrageously expensive there's no way we could do it. Maybe by the time we're financially prepared for another remodeling, the real estate market will have bounced back enough that we could find another house in this neighborhood without losing money selling this one. I just hope we figure it out before we have to start eating in shifts.


Jessi said…
I'd like to add on to my bedroom. Of course, it's on the second floor, so that would be ridiculously expensive. I hope the basement remodel goes well, though. And I know what you mean, there is so much more that goes into "home" than the house itself.
Orlandel said…
Before you remodel you need to ask yourself how long you plan to spend in this home. Theoretically you don't want to invest more in your house than you will be able to sell it for. (It's always better to own the cheapest house in the neighborhood rather than the most expensive!) But if you see yourself there forever, then do what you want in order to make your family comfortable and happy. I tend to want to live in the same place longer than forever because it's hard to move a home!!
Suze said…
Orlandel, that's my point exactly! It's not about how much money the house is worth (providing the remodeling is within our means, of course). Adding on would make it possible for us to stay here for a long, long time if we want.
Animal said…
On the other hand, it's sometimes best to just do what makes you happy with the house, and not be overly concerned about future resale value. When Tess & I moved into our first house, it needed LOTS of restoration…which, luckily, I know how to do. We sunk probably $30k into it over 7 years, including major renovations on the kitchen, dining room, stairway and upstairs bedroom. This included replacing all of the knob-&-tube wiring! But, like you, we were using a single bathroom…even when we both had the flu. (A true testament to the strength of marriage: quickly getting your diarrhea-streaked butt off the toilet so your spouse can put her face in there and puke. Good times.)

When we moved last January, we basically sold our house for what we paid for it; which, by one estimation, means we "lost" that $30k. On the other hand, we loved the rooms we'd restored, and lived in them with warm hearts once they were done. Bottom line: by me, you're best off to pretend you'll be living there forever, and do what you want to do with the place. If the time feels right to move, you'll probably still be moving UP anyway, so as long as you can get your downpayment out of the house, it's worth it.

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