Should I update my current house, or upgrade to a new one?

Update or upgrade? Fix up or trade up?

Here it is, the question that keeps clients up at night, the one that leads so many clients to seek professional help:

Should I fix up my current house, or move to a new one? How can I know??

We’ve all been there: your house is great. You love it, and it’s given you years of very special memories. Still, more and more you find yourself drawn to the things that aren’t quite ideal about it. Maybe your family’s gotten bigger, and everybody’s starting to feel the crush. Maybe one bathroom isn’t quite enough to accommodate everyone. Maybe you’re not sure you can stand another day on your noisy block!

Financially, it might work. Your financial situation’s certainly improved in the years since you bought the house, and you’ve built up some legitimate equity.  Maybe it’s time to move up.

Then you browse the real estate listings. Uh-oh. Everything seems out of your price range. And the market’s so wild!  Are you really ready to venture into it again?

Ok, so maybe renovating is the answer! But wait – that’s tough, too. It takes time, money, and commitment – three things you haven’t got much of. Your life is busy enough already. Do you really have the space to take on a big project?

And with this, you throw up your hands. What’s a person to do? It’s enough to drive you to the couch, where you sit immobile, binge-watching Downton Abbey for 15 hours straight.

As I said, it’s a common problem!

So how do I help clients sift through these variables?  Here’s an insider’s tip: Before deciding what to do, go through the following exercise, which provides a more objective way to assess your needs and preferences. I’ve also linked it as a downloadable pdf at the end of the article.

Note: If you’re part of a couple, I highly recommend doing this on your own, then comparing your answers to your partner’s.

Update or Upgrade


Make a list of all the things you don’t like about your house, or that you’d change if you could. List everything, no matter how small.

Now go down the list and ask of each item: is it an inherent flaw, or is it modifiable?

Inherent flaws are fixed elements that no amount of renovation can change. Can your house only accommodate a vertical floor plan? Is it a condo, as opposed to a house? Are you stuck on a busy street? Does your house touch other houses? Those are all inherent flaws.

Modifiable features are things that can (potentially) be remedied. Do you love your house’s location, but really need a second bathroom? Would adding a bedroom alleviate the crush?  Do you love to cook, but hate your kitchen as currently configured? All modifiable.


If your list contains mostly inherent flaws, upgrading might be the answer. Go to STEP 4.If your list contains mostly modifiable features, it’s time to think about renovating! Keep on reading

Ok, so renovation might be the answer!

First, however, you want to get a sense of the scope of work, keeping in mind that the bigger the project, the more time, money, and commitment it will require.

So ask yourself: is the project small, medium, or large?

Small projects are easily completed. They include replacing services, updating cabinets, countertops, lighting, or flooring. Smaller projects can be done with over-the-counter permits. You still might want to enlist a designer, but that’s all.

Medium projects produce changes within the house’s structure. These might include adding a bathroom, or building out an attic. Medium projects definitely require a contractor, in addition to an architect or designer, but likely no more than that. A good contractor can oversee the permitting help you plan most of the project out. You may be able to stay in your house while the remodel takes place, though doing so might be mildly inconvenient.

Large projects produce significant changes to your house’s structure: adding a level, or reconfiguring the frame. They require a team of professionals: a contractor, an architect, and often a structural engineer. If it’s outside of the home’s envelope, you’ll have to get your neighbors’ approval to perform the work, and will almost certainly have to move out of your house while the work takes place.


After loosely figuring out the size of your project, ask yourself the following questions, keeping in mind that bigger projects will require more effort on your part.

1) Do you enjoy big projects? Do you have the space in your life to take one on?
2) Are you good at managing teams of professionals?
3) Are you comfortable with disorder? Can you live without access to your kitchen? OR Are you willing to move your family out of your house during the renovation? Can you afford to do so?
4) Do you enjoy making design choices? Do you like choosing finishes? If not, can you afford paying a designer to make these decisions for you?
5) Do you know tradespeople – designers, contractors, architects? Do you have reliable contacts? (If not, I can help!)

If you answer “no” to three or more of these questions, renovation might not be for you. See STEP 4!


If your list contains mostly inherent flaws, or you answered “no” to three or more of the previous questions, you might be ready to move up!

If so, contact me and we’ll start to figure out what your next home might look like.

While the SF market can be tricky to navigate, finding the right home is absolutely doable, especially with good representation. Get in contact with me and we’ll develop a plan.


If these questions still leave you in the dark, it might be time to compare costs. 

I can refer you to a mortgage broker who can help assess your price range. You can also talk to architects & contractors to get estimates on renovation options.


In my years of helping clients assess their situation, I’ve learned that the calculation changes with each client, and that the right decision for one client may not be right for another.

My job is to help you assess your specific situation, and to figure out what the best options for you are.

Of course, after working through these questions, feel free to contact me anytime to figure out what situation best fits your life.

There’s room in everyone’s life for a little guilt free Downton Abbey!

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