Should You Replace or Remodel?

Tips for making home improvement decisions

By Jan Soults Walker

Should you take the plunge into a full-fledged home or room remodel, or instead do a simple space makeover? Here's how to decide.

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Cozy Transitional Kitchen by Cheryl Hamilton-Gray
Cheryl Hamilton-Gray

Not sure if you should take your kitchen, bath, or other space down to the studs and make it up-to-date—and yours? Perhaps some new surfaces and a fresh coat of paint are a wiser choice? Maybe you're thinking of packing it in and starting fresh in a new place.

"Replace or remodel? That's a question we get asked often," says Minneapolis architect Petra Schwartze of Tea2 Architects. "Monetary value is only part of the equation." Keep these other factors in mind as you weigh your options:

Project your exit

"How long do you plan to live in the house?" Schwartze asks. "A rule of thumb in the industry says if it is more than five years, a sizable remodel makes sense if the intangible factors such as location, neighbors, schools, etc. are a high priority to you."

Indianapolis interior designer Ashley Fruits agrees: "If you plan to sell your house in less than five years, a 'pull-and-replace' remodel may be the right option. That just means that your appliances, sink, and cabinet footprint don't move or change. If you plan to stay five or more years, you'll be able to enjoy your improved space before selling, and a full remodel would be a worthwhile investment."

Consider these other home investment considerations: Best Interior Upgrades and Best Exterior Upgrades for your buck.

Ask a pro

"As a residential architect, we often help our clients work through these issues by looking at their priorities and the feasibility of renovating versus moving," says Schwartze. "Even if you use an architect for just the basic planning and budgeting work, a well thought-out home is a more pleasant and valuable home."

(Read on: Choosing an Architect.)

If moving is also on the table, Schwartze encourages an honest look at your existing space. "What do you love about your house that you would hate to give up—a great neighborhood, privacy, mature landscaping, character? Do your research and decide if the financial investment of remodeling makes sense, but also look at retaining or losing those intangibles," she says.

Know your budget

Determine how much you can spend and decide if your budget is adequate for the work that needs to be done. "Some kitchens truly need a complete remodel and electrical upgrade," Fruits says. "If you know that significant repair work needs to be done or requires a lot of upgrades but you don't have the budget, this may factor into your decision. If you don't have the right budget, don't take shortcuts. Leave it to the next homeowner."
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