Face to face with the ‘5 Year Plan’

I am unapologetic about not being a planner. Throughout my 40 years of experience on this planet, I have prided myself on my ability to fly through life by the seat of my pants. That was before I simultaneously became a homeowner and new parent four years ago. Those are two big life decisions I willfully put off for years, happening all at once. Barely five years into being a first time home-owner and parent I now find myself face to face with ‘the five year plan’. For someone who has (up until now) moved through life according to the phrase “Life is what’s happening when you’re busy making other plans”, I’ve never been comfortable with the five year plan…

Last night, however, while I was about to drift into sleep, my partner nudged me and quietly asked me if I liked our house. That simple yes or no question switched my brain on faster than a click of a mouse would a computer screen in sleep mode, pushing me into a swirling rabbit hole of latent future scenarios and effectively ending any chance of actually getting a good night’s sleep. When my brain finally landed on solid ground, I was left with the uncomfortably inconclusive answer of “I like my house now, but maybe not in five years?”

Have I reached the final frontier with my home’s layout?

Five years ago we bought a charming 1100 sq. foot character home with an established front garden and screened in front porch. Located in one of the original settler neighbourhoods lined with character homes under a canopy of elms, I was instantly brought back to my childhood spent playing in the streets while our parents planned block parties and borrowed sugar from the neighbours. Front yard interactions with the neighbourhood were part of my everyday life and in my current neighbourhood, fireside drop-ins, over the fence chats and porch breakfasts are a standard. We love our neighbourhood.

Photo Credit: William Kurelek’s ‘Balsam Avenue’

And yet, as we spent the last five years raising babies in our little 1100 square foot ‘gingerbread home’, my original appreciation of the labyrinthine 1900s layout and the closet sized single bathroom are slowly becoming edged out by the constant shouldering into door frames and persistent lack of storage space. We have three bedrooms, two of which by today’s standards could barely qualify as one bedroom, more like a large walk-in closet or studio/office at best. Our two young children share one room and us parents share our office in the next. But I now realize what little space we have managed to carve out for ourselves will have an expiry date within a few years once my eldest son realizes sharing a room with his younger sibling is no longer cool. 

My partner is a musician and collector of all things musical, so his need for storage space has always been a source of frustration for both of us. For myself, a resolved introvert having spent much of my youth travelling, I am a collector of experiences. As a consequence, my possessions are as flighty as I am, so the things I have managed not to lose are few. Though my need for storage space is low, my introverted tendency makes up the difference with a pent up desire for a quiet place that is all my own. So as a result of that simple question, I am now faced with making a decision on whether to expand the house or move to a bigger one!

Build or Sell-3 Major Considerations:

Like anyone facing a difficult decision in the internet age, I have asked the internet for advice. There are a lot of useful blogs on the subject from banks and home improvement sites. I boiled my research down to 3 Three Major Considerations when deciding whether to invest in your current home or move: Emotional Ties, Spatial Logistics and Financial Viability. I’ve always found the ‘Pros and Cons’ list to be a useful decision making tool (good for indecisive types like me!), so I’ve dusted it off to break down the problem further.

Below is a list of questions to ask yourself as you make up your Pros and Cons list. But be sure to write your answers down so you can see where things are out of balance. It’s my hope that my journey toward making this life changing decision might jiggle loose a biggle ball of an idea into your head and help you with yours. So together, we jump into the well- when we come out on the other side, we might just land on making a decision once and for all!

1. Emotional Ties

If money is not a barrier, figuring out or coming to terms with your level of connectedness to your neighbourhood and home can be the only thing you need to consider before making a decision to further invest in your home or sell it. For the rest of us, emotional ties are an important 1st step before further exploring the feasibility and viability of altering your home’s footprint. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you feel relaxed in your home?
  • Do you feel safe in your neighbourhood and have a sense of being connected to your neighbours?
  • Is your neighbourhood in line with your values?
  • Do you feel rooted in your home or do you feel that you can pull up roots easily without any emotional fallout?
  • Do you have kids? If so, ask them how they feel or look at their relationships. Yes, they can make new friends, but if it’s important to you that your children form lifelong bonds, then give this some serious consideration.

2. Spatial Logistics

  • Do you feel like you can move freely through your home?
  • Do you feel like your current layout provides barriers to creating a sense of order?
  • Do you lack storage space? Are there opportunities to create more storage space?
  • If you have children, do you foresee them growing out of their rooms? Do alternative arrangements for creating space exist as your children’s needs change?

*This is where you are really going to see what kind of changes need to be made. Thinking through all the options of how to efficiently make changes to your layout will bring you much closer to a decision. Of course, once you have some options in mind, the real decision making happens once you start pitting the financial viability of expanding or altering your home’s footprint against purchasing a new home with your desired footprint.

Drawing out your current floor plan can really help you begin to map out where changes need to occur. Nowadays there are lots of apps and programs you can download to help you draw out a simple floor plan. If you don’t have the time or desire to do the work, consider enlisting design services from a designer or contractor to help you think it through. As you analyze your measured floor plan, draw out your ideas and try to think of every angle. Condensing your ideas on paper really helps to organize your thought process and helps sort through which ideas make the most effective use of space.

3. Financial Viability

Once you get to this point of your decision making journey, you will need to do some research and compare some numbers. This will put you in a good position to decide whether or not building an addition is a viable option when compared to buying a new home with your desired footprint or square footage:

  • Hire an appraiser to do a walk-through of your home to determine it’s current market value. Compare that number to what you paid for your home, and look at what similar houses in your neighbourhood are selling for. This will get you a hypothetical scenario of your profit in the event of selling your home.
  • Speak with a contractor to get an idea of the costs involved with building a new addition to your home then talk to your bank about the possibility of re-mortgaging to help pay for the addition costs.
  • Look into the housing market at houses that meet your desired spatial requirements & square footage. What are they selling for? This will help you weigh the costs of building an addition against the projected value added to your existing home.

Studies show that nearly all of the cost of a mid-range two-story addition may be recovered at the time of sale. It is typically cheaper to build an addition than to buy a new home that equals the space of your existing house plus an addition.

(From ‘The Spruce’ website)

Stay tuned for an update on my own personal journey toward deciding whether to sell or invest in my own little gingerbread home! If you are left feeling like you are caught up in a dizzying spiral of what ifs and hypotheticals, you’re not alone. My next post will take you through my explorations into building upon my home’s current layout and my (not so highly anticipated) explorations into the financial viability of selling versus building an addition. Until then, happy planning!