Move or improve? Make something from what you’ve got or pull up stakes and head off into the wild blue yonder of a new house? This is a question I’ve found myself helping to answer quite a lot over the last few years…
Not that all Architects have always been told that this was the question. There have been many times where I’ve been out helping someone to see what potential their house has – describing how this good thing or that good thing could be done – and I start picking up on a sense of indifference. At that point I usually just wade in and ask: are we looking at this house on its own? Or are we looking at this house against the possibility of a move? And which one is more desirable in your mind? Sometimes at this point I discover that the person I’m talking to is in two minds – or worse, that two halves of a couple have opposing attitudes (always fun). And at that point, quite often I find out that the owner is now looking to reassess their home following a series of lost bidding wars on alternative (preferable) houses.
I have always found, when helping a homeowner to assess the potential of a home, that frame of mind matters. In cases where there is a question about staying or moving, it’s worth deciding whether you would count yourself as being reluctant to stay, or reluctant to move. The description above is of someone reluctantly looking at their own house as a plan B. But equally I often meet people whose home has become unsuitable (or always was), but who still like it, and would prefer to adapt it and stay if they could. There are lots of reasons why this might be the case; it could be the location, the neighborhood or estate, lack of disruption to schools, proximity to work or family, or that you just like the house. Or it could be financially driven – a desire to make a place livable for another few years in order to get a good financial run up to whatever might be coming next; or a desire to keep hold of a tracker for another few years for the same reason.
Where you stand on this spectrum will count a lot for how inventive you might find yourself able to be. If you really want to stay you will be more able to find clever ways around problems and see positives. If you are reluctant to stay, but might have to face it, I would advise just suspending the indifference for a small period of time, to let yourself fully engage with the problem of how to rework the house, and to think as constructively as possible. You can allow yourself get into a positive frame of mind because you’re telling yourself that this is just an exercise, and after it’s done you are free to prefer moving again if that’s what you want. At that point you will be in a clearer position to assess what’s available for you to buy against what you can do with what you’ve got. It is not that hard to put rough figures against this either, so that you can make a more financially informed assessment of a house on the market against a reworking of the place you own now.
There is another thing that you might gain from thinking in this way about the house you’re already in. Even if you do end up seriously going after another house, you need to be careful about blind optimism. It’s the lure of potential– you see all the things that could be done but it’s easy to forget what it’s going to take to get there. No house is ever walk-in perfect for a new owner – there is almost always work to be done to make it suitable. And it can be all too easy to be over-optimistic about what it will take to get that done. Having a proper think about this process for the place you are already in might be a bit of an education that helps counter the blind optimism.
Happy hunting, whether that’s hunting for a new house or hunting out something good from what you’ve got.