A Speculative Exercise

February 17, 2016

Been thinking about houses, touched on this earlier with today’s post.  My sister is in the process of buying one and it got me reflecting on my own experience house hunting.  This train of thought got me pondering something that has been in the back of my mind for some time.

Couple summers ago, I was house hunting with my ex.  Nothing really wowed us.  Then, one of her cousins suggested building a house.  I thought it was worth considering and eventually I began to think it was the way to go.  Really the most obvious way to make sure our standards were met.  Anyway, I was in the very early stages of going down this road when all the stuff about her sister moving across the country went down.  This led to the idea of us buying their house.  A bit of a whirlwind situation.  I had been dreaming of a cottage mansion on the edge of the woods, so this little ranch in the middle of a field was a bit of a letdown.

One of the ideas discussed was to make some renovations, specifically in the kitchen.  The idea was to increase counter space and open it up by converting the enclosed back porch into a dining room while moving the fridge to increase the counter space, possibly adding a bar to the middle of the room.  There was also the idea of adding a bathroom to the basement.  Keep in mind, the house had not actually been purchased yet.

The question I have is this:  would it have been more economical to buy the house and do the renovations, or just build a new house?  The obvious answer might be to buy the house and renovate, but I’m not so sure.

The ideas to improve the house were a bit basic.  I believe the suggestion I heard was to “insulate the hell out of the back porch,” but that did not seem like the most effective manner to do that.  The porch itself was on a hill, so there was a gap between it and the ground.  My inclination would be that to work best, the best way to proceed was to tear off the porch and doing an excavation to put in a foundation.  Not a contractor, but that seems like a strong potential option there.  The porch was already an unfinished add-on anyway.  Might have to move the propane tank for the gas stove as well.  From there, add to the heating and electrical to make it useable year round.  Also, replace the fridge and stove.

As for the bathroom idea, I’ve had a couple of people tell me that putting in a bathroom like that is a bit of a pain in the ass.  Makes sense, I suppose.  I don’t know if you could hook it on the septic system or if you’d have to do some serious excavation.  Either way, there would have to be a lot of piping work done, plus getting a toilet, shower, etc…

And that’s before we got to the windows.  One night I was getting ready for bed and the upstairs was freezing.  Going to investigate, I found that the latches were busted up so the top pane slid down and the insulation in the window frame was coming out.  When I pointed this out, I was basically told to prop it shut with a stick.  Long-term, that should be dealt with.

So, that’s the first option on the table.  The build our own option might not appear as nice, but it does have some benefits.  First the obvious.  You can do at least some of the work to cut costs.  More flexibility in location would allow to plan better coverage from wind, maximize sun and potentially increase energy efficiency.  Some new appliances would likely be involved as well, which would create savings later on if they are energy efficient.  Also, new windows and fresh insulation would help the efficiency as well.  And you can actually design the house you want.

So obviously this is a purely speculative exercise with no real numbers involved.  There are any number of expenses and factors that could negate the benefits of either approach.  In general the costs of buying a house as opposed to building are supposed to be about the same, with the benefits really coming in the days or years that follow.  A lot of it would be dependent on dozens of factors, so there would be really no way to be completely certain whether or not the renovations would be the best idea or to start from scratch.

Personally, I’m liking the idea of building a house myself.  It seem like more work, but it is your work and you are in some type of control.  I remember looking at a couple that were close to my dream house, but not quite.  I’m picturing myself right now, coming downstairs in the morning, making myself breakfast before I go in my studio overlooking the woods where I work on a novel or comic book… Drinking a cup of coffee or tea as I finish a page or two before I go see if the wife is up yet… Admittedly, I’ve still got a quite a few pieces to get in place.


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