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Our new big FIRE adventure
Old 12-14-2015, 05:15 PM   #1
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Our new big FIRE adventure

Bye bye San Francisco, hello (again) Alabama...

The decision has been made. After great five years on the west coast, we will permanently re-establish our primary residence in Alabama starting in 2017, for retirement. I will use this thread to keep interested parties updated, to brainstorm, and ask for advice.

We already own a home in AL. We lived in that home for 8 years, then rented it out for a while when we moved to the Bay Area, then put it up for sale 10 months ago when the tenants moved out. We have had no offers on it as the local market is saturated with new constructions (the city expected a population boom that never really materialized) and we cannot compete with brand new houses ("too much updating needs to be done on the house" is what we keep hearing from prospective buyers).

Our house is a 2,500 sqft, 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath house built in the late 70s. It is in good shape. But:
- it has lots of stairs (not a problem now, but could be later)
- the floor plan is pretty fragmented as is typical in older homes (smaller, darker rooms)
- the windows are facing either SE or NW, so not a lot of natural light (trees and hills on the SE side compound the problem).
- the interior is not horrible but it needs to be freshened up (new flooring, new kitchen/baths, new paint job)

The location is pretty good however:
- the property backs up to a beautifully wooded preserve (it is very quiet).
- Technically a suburban area but it is still close to all the important stuff.
- It is within walking/biking distance to a new shopping district with cafes, restaurants, shops, movie theaters, pharmacies, my doctor's office, etc...).
- The non-HOA neighborhood is older (~40 years old), but generally well maintained and still growing (with some new constructions being added recently)
- best school district in the city (not that it matters to us because we have no kids).

We are thinking about 3 possible plans:

Plan 1: Easy. Keep the house on the market, keep lowering the price (we've already cut the price by 25%) until we sell it, and buy a smaller, already updated house in the same general area (a one story, 1,500 sqft house would fit our needs).
Pros: we could move directly into the new house and be done.
Cons: finding a 1,500 sqft house in this area is going to be tough (most houses are 2,000+ sqft). Also this part of town was developed in the 1970s, and finding a house that has been already renovated, let alone to our taste, is going to be tricky. Plenty of new constructions in the outer suburbs but these suburbs are of no interest to us. And we would lose direct access to the natural preserve out back.

Plan 2: gut the existing house. Open up the floorplan a bit, especially in the living areas, upgrade the plumbing, electric, insulation as needed, cut the trees around the house to bring in more light, replace the windows, install new kitchen/bathrooms, install new flooring, repaint the interior to maximize the natural lighting.
Pros: Freshly updated house.
Cons: Some problems will remain, like the many stairs, the windows facing SE/NW (with fewer trees to block the light, but the hill remains), and the fact that the house is way too big for our needs by a factor of almost 2.

Plan 3: drastic. bulldoze the existing house and build a new, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom 1,500 sqft, single story house. Choose an open floor plan, with windows facing S/SW/W for more natural sunlight, and of course new everything to suit our tastes. Make it energy efficient and low maintenance. Make it accessible for people with limited mobility (for our old age).
Pros: easier to maintain, lower property tax, utility, insurance, upkeep bills in the future. Fewer stairs, more natural light. A "forever" house potentially.
Cons: building a house is not for the faint of heart, I hear. And the higher upfront cost of course.

I like a good project so plan 3 is of particular interest to me (I have started drawing plans ). DW is on board as long as I deal with the contractors. Of course, it is also the costlier plan too.

What do you think?
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Old 12-14-2015, 05:26 PM   #2
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Bye bye San Francisco, hello (again) Alabama...
./.
What do you think?
I think you're going to be busy. In a good way, though. Sweet Home Alabama.
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Old 12-14-2015, 05:27 PM   #3
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Depending upon configuration, you could consider opening up the SW/NE sides by cutting new windows as part of plan 2--I successfully did that on our present full brick home. But, given your other factors, I'd seriously look at plan 3, particularly if you and DW aren't likely to be doing the work yourselves on either 2 or 3. Cost of a gut rehab with removal of loadbearing walls and possible relocation of kitchen is likely going to be within spitting distance of new house that gets you everything you want--and based on the one gut rehab (and one extensive addition/rehab) that I've done, I don't know that you save much heartache by going with number 2.

If costs aren't prohibitive and you like that location, I'd join you in closely examining number 3!
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Old 12-14-2015, 05:29 PM   #4
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I think getting out of CA is the best idea, but you are already doing that. As for house, I would just move in and then try to sell it, option 1. Then you can either build on a new lot, or maybe find one that is single story and will be better fit for you.

You could do modification of option 2, just live in bottom floor and make it how you want, and ignore the second story.
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Old 12-14-2015, 05:33 PM   #5
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Were you happy in the house before you moved to CA? If you were, then why do you need to make significant upgrades to live in it now? I would move into the house and do minimal upgrades. The stairs shouldn't be a problem for decades, right. When it gets to be too much house for you then rent it out and move to a condo, or assisted living.
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Old 12-14-2015, 05:35 PM   #6
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Without seeing the existing floor plan and the levels it would be tough to judge whether Option 2 is viable BUT it is an interesting idea to take the basic bones and adjust the interior while keeping as much of the existing house as you can. Unless the house is lots of different levels it would seem you could make some infill adjustments, etc and eliminate many of the stair issues. I just completed a house design that is under construction and we basically did something similar (but not as many levels as you imply your house has).

Other than that Option 3 is a good idea and probably the simplest, although the most expensive (well Option 2 has the potential to be expensive too!).

The downsides to these two options is you have to find place to reside and then move AGAIN after the house is renovated and/or built.
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Old 12-14-2015, 06:02 PM   #7
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I think you're going to be busy. In a good way, though. Sweet Home Alabama.
^ What he said.

Although it sounds like you're leaning heavily towards #3, I think you need to seriously consider option #2. You guys are just kids and barring some sort of early onset illness, stairs shouldn't be a problem for you for two or three decades. A lot can change regarding your tastes, wants and needs over that time period.

Whatever you decide to do, welcome back to the real world...
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Old 12-14-2015, 06:13 PM   #8
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I think getting out of CA is the best idea, but you are already doing that.
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Whatever you decide to do, welcome back to the real world...
+1 to all of the above.


It's hard to tell which would be best. Here are my thoughts:

PLAN 1: The disadvantage I see to plan 1 is that there is no guarantee that you will find the house you want in the neighborhood you want. Something to keep in mind is that real estate markets can change, and don't consider yourself to be stuck there. You could sell the house easily in the right market and that time will come, if not now then perhaps in a year or a few years.

PLAN 2: Lots of older people that I know who have a two story house, make a Master bedroom and bath on the first floor and use the second floor only for guests or storage. Then they have chair lifts installed for the rare occasion when they want to go up there. Since your house is really too big, perhaps you could close off the second floor most of the time to save on energy costs, and install a chair lift when you become too old for the stairs. But do you just have one set of stairs to the second floor, or many different levels, two stairs up to this room and 5 stairs down to that one? If you have many different levels then this option starts sounding more and more difficult.

PLAN 3: I have never built a house, but I always hear that houses take twice as much time and money to build as one is initially told. You sound very enthusiastic about Plan 3, however, and your nestegg might survive any unexpected huge costs.

PLAN 4: (invented by me) Move back into the house just as it is, enjoy it, enjoy life and adjust to the many recent changes in your lives. You loved living there before, maybe you can recapture some of what you originally loved about the house. When real estate in your area picks up, you could always put the house back on the market, pocket the profits, and move on to Plan 1.

Personally I think I'd choose Plan 2. Well, either that or Plan 4. But what will you choose? This is going to be interesting.
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Old 12-14-2015, 06:28 PM   #9
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Depending upon configuration, you could consider opening up the SW/NE sides by cutting new windows as part of plan 2--I successfully did that on our present full brick home. But, given your other factors, I'd seriously look at plan 3, particularly if you and DW aren't likely to be doing the work yourselves on either 2 or 3. Cost of a gut rehab with removal of loadbearing walls and possible relocation of kitchen is likely going to be within spitting distance of new house that gets you everything you want--and based on the one gut rehab (and one extensive addition/rehab) that I've done, I don't know that you save much heartache by going with number 2.

If costs aren't prohibitive and you like that location, I'd join you in closely examining number 3!
I think that it would be possible to cut new windows on the SW side for 2 of the 8 rooms. I don't think that it is feasible on the NE side.
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Old 12-14-2015, 06:39 PM   #10
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My 2 cents worth: Sounds like an incredibly great location, and that *3 is what real estate is about, or so I've heard. DW and I both swore we'd never go through building a house again, yes it is that stressful - and we lived in a renovation project I did before that. Reno's have the calming option of just taking a break and figuring it out. New construction is a 'need your decision yesterday or it's going to cost you more' thing.

Best of luck & congrats on making the excellent decision!
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Old 12-14-2015, 06:50 PM   #11
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since you haven't lived in the house or the neighborhood for at least 5 years, I suggest you go back live in it and see if it is as you remember it. Live in it a awhile and then make a decision based on current facts, local markets and the fact that maybe you won't actually want that area to be your "forever" home.

It might be a good location but plan 3 turns the house into a teardown. I'd make sure none of the over supply of new construction isn't acceptable to you first.
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Old 12-14-2015, 07:23 PM   #12
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Were you happy in the house before you moved to CA? If you were, then why do you need to make significant upgrades to live in it now? I would move into the house and do minimal upgrades. The stairs shouldn't be a problem for decades, right. When it gets to be too much house for you then rent it out and move to a condo, or assisted living.
We were pretty happy in the house before moving to CA. I thought that it was a nice house at the time and I was pretty proud of it.

But to put this in context, when we moved to Alabama the first time, we had a hell of a time finding a house in decent condition because, in our target neighborhood, we had to choose mostly from 30-40 year old housing stock. This one was by far the cleanest, best maintained house we could find and it actually felt like an upgrade from our previous home. So we tolerated its obvious shortcomings -older fixtures, fragmented floor plan, etc- and were able to make it a nice home despite of it all.

But for the past 5 years, we have been living in a modern condo, with plenty of natural light, good looking and well appointed bathrooms and kitchen. So we now look at the house with completely new eyes, and we like what we see even less than we did before.

But the original plan always called for the house to be renovated upon our return from California, using the rents collected while we were away. Honestly, new floorings and a fresh coat of paint would go a pretty long way to make the house look pretty nice again. The kitchen and bathrooms are 40 years old but they are functional and have been "refreshed" once already.
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Old 12-14-2015, 07:31 PM   #13
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I don't think it is usually a good idea to tear down and then build fewer square feet.

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Old 12-14-2015, 07:44 PM   #14
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Real estate is all about location. Since the location of your house seems to be very desirable, I recommend eliminating Option #1. Option #3, tear down and rebuild, may yield an excellent result, but may be a money pit.

In your shoes, I would do some minimal upgrades such as painting, and move back home. Settle into the neighborhood again. Meet with a couple of architects. They have amazing creative ideas and may be able to come up with a renovation that will blow you away. Let a plan evolve over a year. Proceed at your own pace. There is no rush.
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Old 12-14-2015, 07:49 PM   #15
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Without seeing the existing floor plan and the levels it would be tough to judge whether Option 2 is viable BUT it is an interesting idea to take the basic bones and adjust the interior while keeping as much of the existing house as you can. Unless the house is lots of different levels it would seem you could make some infill adjustments, etc and eliminate many of the stair issues. I just completed a house design that is under construction and we basically did something similar (but not as many levels as you imply your house has).

Other than that Option 3 is a good idea and probably the simplest, although the most expensive (well Option 2 has the potential to be expensive too!).

The downsides to these two options is you have to find place to reside and then move AGAIN after the house is renovated and/or built.

The modifications to the floor plans would be relatively minimal, no moving walls or anything. I would like to create an opening between the kitchen and family room (load-bearing wall), and another opening between the dining room and family room (load-bearing wall), to create a large kitchen/living room/dining room space with plenty of (existing) windows. Then the master bathroom is currently divided by a wall into 2 parts (vanity and shower/toilet) and I would like to remove that small, non-load bearing wall to create a larger bathroom.
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Old 12-14-2015, 08:17 PM   #16
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I second the suggestion to consult with an architect or residential designer (less expensive than architect and focused on homes).
I got to believe you have an option between option 2 & 3 which might include enlarging the footprint and modifying/removing the second floor to provide guest/hobby space. Say turn upper floor into half the size and create a larger footprint on first floor for a master suite. Gotta to be less expensive than a tear down and rebuild.
Just my 2 cents
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Old 12-14-2015, 10:45 PM   #17
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Based on what you wrote I would agree, find a local Architect there and see what they can come up with. We can be pretty creative if I say so myself! But taking a few walls out is a lot cheaper than building a new house. A old classmate of mine (who is an excellent designer) lives in Alabama but I am not sure if he has a practice there but even if he doesn't I can get the names of a few good Architects from him (if you have any interest in that)
Just send me a private message. Good luck either way you go!
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Old 12-14-2015, 10:47 PM   #18
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I vote option 2 or 4.

Location sounds ideal for you guys. Load bearing walls can be removed if you put in appropriate structure (beams and possibly posts) to span and carry the load.

Here's my modification to W2R's option 4... Redo the flooring and paint, then move back and live in it for a while.

We're slowly making changes to our 1960's home. Lots of what we're doing sounds similar to what you're doing... moving some windows, redoing bathrooms, upgrading flooring.
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Old 12-15-2015, 08:59 AM   #19
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You are still basically young and can probably handle steps for quite a few years so I would suggest moving back into your house & making some modifications until a house appears that you love . Maybe you'll find a vacant lot that you can build on ?
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Old 12-15-2015, 09:03 AM   #20
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We just had a Solatube installed in one room which due to zero lot line restrictions had no windows. It is amazing how much natural light the Solatube adds.
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