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Move-Up Or Remodel? How Do You Decide?

05/17/2013 10:41 am ET | Updated Jul 17, 2013

The signs have been there for a while. You walk in the house and a flood of toys clutters your path or your kids are wedged like sardines into a single bedroom. Your home office is more like a home closet. At odd moments, you catch yourself dreaming wistfully of another bathroom or find yourself watching marathons of "Love It or List It." Maybe it's time to move, but you aren't sure if it is time to leap.

With all the talk of a seller's market many people are considering listing their homes. March data from realtor.com showed that many of the 146 markets monitored have experienced an increase in list price year over year. Spring homebuying season is in full swing and while getting a loan is still a challenge, there are some signs that banks are easing their requirements just a bit. The New York Times reported that some credit unions are offering 100 percent financing in areas where home values have stabilized or are rising and overall those with an average or even slightly below average credit situation have a better shot than they have in years.

Things are also changing on the remodeling side. People are far more prudent today than they were during the housing bubble where extravagant renovations were more the norm. Today's remodel is a different from the luxury remodels of a few years ago. Homeowners still want to renovate but they are often smarter about it with an eye toward finding a balance between livability and resale value. A recent Marketwatch story on the rise in remodeling projects noted that owners are often choosing more simple projects, doing mini-remodels rather than expensive total renovations.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider the remodel or move conundrum.

1) Do you love your neighborhood?
It's important to think about your house frustrations and your neighborhood as two separate things. Take the house out of the equation for a moment. How do you feel about the neighborhood? Is it convenient to your job and places you like to go? If you have kids do they love their school, do they have a lot of friends nearby? Do you have lots of ties to this particular neighborhood? How long have you lived here? Are you ready for a change? If you remodel your house it should be a decision based on the fact that you plan to spend a lot more time in the home rather than planning to move soon.

2) What needs to be changed?
How drastic a remodel would it take for you to be happy in your home? Is there room to add on or to reutilize existing space such as finishing a basement, attic, or screened-in porch? If you are looking at adding on a room that is generally a significant expense and one that may not be worth it in the long run. In Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report for 2013, an attic bedroom costs an average of $47,919 and has a 72.9 percent return on investment whereas a master suite addition costs $101,873 and offers only a 63.2 percent return on investment. A bathroom addition with an average cost of $37,501 only brings $20,569 in returns.

3) Will you need even more space soon?
Are you planning to expand your family? Is it your dream to work from home? Is a family member taking up a hobby that needs a lot of room? It's impossible to predict the future but if you think you may need even more space in a year or two it may be time to start looking for something that will accommodate your upcoming needs rather than attempting a remodel. This is a good conversation to have with the whole family.

4) How's the market in your area?

If you were to sell now would you be able to make money that you could put toward the purchase of another home? How much equity do you have in the home? One reason that many people are facing this decision currently is that interest rates are still low making now a good time to buy a home. You may want to bring in a realtor to do a market analysis. The realtor can tell you what your home should be listed for and can let you know about other homes on the market in the area. Right now some markets are experiencing low inventory so it can be a good time to list.

Low inventory also means that good homes that list at a fair price are snapped up quickly so if you decide to list you need to be aware that your home might sell quickly and that as a buyer you could be facing potential multiple offer situations. You can use the realtor.com data portal to check out what the median price, total listings, and age of inventory in 146 markets. This can give you an idea of what you might be facing if you put your home on the market.

Making this decision requires a lot of number-crunching. Bringing in a contractor to advise you on the cost of your potential remodel and working with a realtor on a potential sale will give you the data you need to decide whether it's time to stay or go.

Read more real estate advice from realtor.com.

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