2nd story or ground extension

MittySamJanuary 14, 2014

I bought a 2 bed 1 bath 1,250 sqft house with a basement and attic in Nutley, NJ. The house was built in the 1920s and the attic has about 6 feet of head clearance at the highest point and has two dormer windows that I'm currently using as a bedroom.

I want to expand my house into a 4 bed 2 bath. I have 40 feet of space in my backyard (see the picture with the basketball court) and even another 20 feet beyond that. My house is exactly 20 feet wide inside from wall to wall. The lot is over 5,000 sqft.

What is the cheapest way to add 800 sqft to my house? Should I build upon the attic or extend the ground floor back 40 feet?

Has anyone done a project like this and would you care to share your experience? I would ESPECIALLY like to hear from people who have actually done a similar project. *Emphasis added here*

http://s990.photobucket.com/user/escabar08/library/Nutley House

I edited the question by removing "cheapest way to add value to my house."

This post was edited by MittySam on Sat, Jan 18, 14 at 3:08

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additional pic

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 9:45PM
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Going up means a loss of space for the staircase on the first floor, as well as foundation work to be able to support the second floor. It probably also means upgrading the electrical and plumbing for the entire home as well. Tieing old to new is more expensive than building new, so per square foot, this is probably the most expensive choice.

Going back, you have a LOT of dirt that would need to be removed in order to be able to build something that didn't require steps upward and that would cause you drainage issues. It will also require the home upgrades as well, but you wouldn't lose space in the original home for anything other than a doorway. It would probably be the cheapest choice. That doesn't mean much.

It's building a whole new house behind the house. 200-300K would be about average for the addition with a bath.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 10:22PM
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Well, it wouldn't be a whole new house in the back. I would keep everything in the old house the same but add 800 sqft to the back. 800 sqft would cost $200K? I was thinking $50K-$100K. No?

If I build up, yes, I will need to add a bath upstairs (about $30K) + rest. What would this route cost?

This post was edited by MittySam on Tue, Jan 14, 14 at 23:34

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 11:08PM
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The first step is finding out what the building codes will allow. That may solve the either /or question.

Adding a second story would entail some expense to have an engineer determine what foundation changes might need to be made. Adding/strengthening a foundation may be very expensive. Adding an extension would require an architect/engineer blueprint/plan.

Either change requires a change in roof structure---another expense.

That does not include the space costs or the upgrades that may need to be done. So, that $200K estimate is closer to reality, IMHO.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 10:38AM
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Sophie Wheeler

The existing structure might not even be able to support a second story without extensive rework to the existing structure, including foundation and support walls. I'd bet the structure has an 60 amp electrical service? Maybe even some old knob and tube behind the walls? Galvanized plumbing? Little to no insulation? All of that has to be addressed in a remodel situation, and it all costs more than you think to bring up to modern standards. IF it can even be brought up to modern standards.

A teardown and build new might end up costing less than trying to upgrade all of the services without disturbing the old house so much and adding on. If a bunch of structural work is gonna be needed, it probably WILL be cheaper to do the teardown and build all new.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:00AM
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When did you purchase the house? What did the house cost?

Why do you want to add 2 more bedrooms?

How long do you intend to live there?

If you add on - you need to check the zoning codes. In some locales you can only build to a maximum % of the lot size.

There's no way that it's going to cost 50-100k.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 2:19PM
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Geoffrey_B - most of your points are irrelevant. Assume zoning is not a problem and further assume there are no issues with land (a lot of people on my street have done renos). The question then becomes which is more economically cheaper, on average? Again, people who have actually done a project like this, I would like to hear your experiences. Thanks.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 7:54PM
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I"ve done it.
But, before I answer your questions, you need to know Geoffrey_B's questions are not irrelevant.

You first asked "what is the cheapest way to add value to my house?" The answer might be "none of the above" if you answered Geoffrey_B's first and third questions--both very relevant (though you need not answer them on this forum... They definitely need to be part of your internal dialogue and decision making). The answer could very well be, you will "add value" to your home at the expense of your pocketbook (if you do 200K worth of work, but it only adds 75k in home value, you've "added value" but it certainly wasn't an investment).

You have to know all of the other questions above to know your ballpark. If the structure can't do this that or the other without a lot of structural upgrades, your cost will be much higher than you think (or even a contractor might "guess"). We certainly can't tell you that from pictures online.

Whether or not it is money well spent, whatever the final figure, has a lot to do with your future plans, what your house cost, and at what point in your local real estate's environment you bought. If you bought at the top of the market, and you hope to recoup any costs by adding on, you are dreaming in every sense of the word. If you bought it 25 years ago, and plan to live there 25 more, what it cost then, or what it will cost to buy it when it is done doesn't much matter. In that case, you should do what you want to do.

As for which is cheaper--in what condition is your foundation? What local codes apply? Will you need to allocate more space for stairs under current codes than what your current stairs have? Do you have legal head room upstairs (no)?

Do you have a means of getting an excavator behind your house to prep for a new foundation? Do you have a means of getting a concrete truck back there to pour the foundation, or will you need to hire a concrete pumper truck?

etc, etc, etc

As I said, we did it. 800sq ft. About 175k when all said and done, with us doing some work ourselves to finish it off. Unless you are in a low cost of living area, with depressed construction market, you probably won't be doing this for 50-100k.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 9:51PM
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Thank you! The reason why I'm skeptical is that for 800 sqft, a price of $200K comes out to $250 per sqft. Isn't that high? I remember back in 2009, contractors were charging around $105 per sqft for new construction. So, even with a bit of inflation for commodity prices, wouldn't $120-150 per sqft be adequate? Thanks again for sharing your experience.

This post was edited by MittySam on Wed, Jan 15, 14 at 23:10

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:09PM
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Compare the data yourself at the link below. Add in the cost of the service upgrades and code upgrades that will be required in addition to just the gross square footage. Multiply that by the difficulty of the site and the difficulty of dealing with the bureaucracy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Remodeling Magazine Cost Comparison Chart

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:39PM
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I can add more later...but we started with a similar looking house. Ours already had a 9ft 1 story addition at the back. We extended that another 6 feet and then put a full two story over the entire 1 story area. We left the 1.5 story alone. We also expanded an entryway on the side. The added SF was about 750 sf. What it gave us was a larger master bedroom and bath on the rear 2nd floor. The lower part of the 2 story expanded the kitchen. The rest of the 1.5 story stayed the same. We are very happy with it. We had someone build the addition (framing and closing it in) and we did all the interior work DIY.

edit to quickly add: we also added a staircase at the rear to the new bedroom.

This post was edited by debrak2008 on Thu, Jan 16, 14 at 8:12

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 8:10AM
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The reason why I'm skeptical is that for 800 sqft, a price of $200K comes out to $250 per sqft. Isn't that high? I remember back in 2009, contractors were charging around $105 per sqft for new construction. So, even with a bit of inflation for commodity prices, wouldn't $120-150 per sqft be adequate?

You cannot compare pricing for new construction with renovation costs like you are trying to do. You are tying into an existing structure. How you go about doing that will more than likely mean you have to make changes to the existing structure, so you cannot just say you are adding 800 sq ft - you will also need to pay the costs associated with the changes to the existing structure. These costs, electrical, plumbing, foundation, etc. can be very expensive.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 11:32AM
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Go to the building department and ask for the file for your address. Look through it for any information about the structure, especially the foundation. Previous permits, drawings and surveys might show the lot size, setbacks and the zoning district.

Ask the inspector for the zoning district for your address and how to find the city zoning ordinance online. In it you will need to find the side and rear setback/yard dimensions as well as any Floor Areas Ratio, height and open space requirements. The inspector might help you find it or give you a handout summarizing some of that information.

I would recommend going up, moving or tearing it down because eliminating useable outdoor space is likely to reduce the value of the property as much as the addition increases it.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 11:46AM
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I don't know anything about the area you live in.

The reason I asked why do you want to add two more bedrooms: Do you want to rent out rooms? If so it have to be zoned for that.

Also looking at the photo, and home along side your home, the neighborhood doesn't look (to me) like it's going to appreciate - basically inexpensive starter homes from 1950.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 1:30PM
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cute house!

SO & his son added a master suite (with full bath)
and office area to second story of son's home.

first things they did were to determine if house
could support a second floor. not sure what all it
entailed, but basement & ceiling joists were a part of it.

code for the area also came into play.

once all was ok'd they got to work. opened out part of
the roof for double dormer, installed windows,framed walls.
electrical & plumbing. a/c/heating vents sheetrock. painting. plumbing fixtures. light fixtures. finish work.
insulation for attic, attic walls shared with second floor
air sealed & insulated.
They ended up foam insulating the roof line to make
all air leakage sites in first & second floors non-issues.

I don't like to tell folks they can't do something.
but at some point...you have to realize that you
are limited to what can reasonably be done.
IF the house can support a second floor...
then it is cheaper to build UP than OUT.

first it has to be determined that the load
can be carried.
IMO...that is where you are.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 7:45PM
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@ live_wire_oak
That website was very helpful. My next step is to talk to a contractor.

@ debrak2008
Do you live in the Northeast? How much did this run you total or per sqft?

@ Geoffrey_B
I made the mistake of asking the original question with a very generic "...add value" component. My question should have been, "How much would it cost to add 800 sqft?"

But yes, my plan is to rent the property for a few years and then sell it. The rents in Nutley are relatively high because of the school district so the people that live there are mostly families with children. This house, with 2 beds, 1 bath, and a makeshift bedroom in the attic is not going to obtain the rents of the comps without the modifications that I want to do. And believe it or not, this house was bad before I started. The improvements I've already made, including eliminating the large bushes in the front have already been received well by the neighbors. I don't think they're going to mind me adding value to the house, even with a basic addition in the back, which is not going to be visible from the street.

For those of you not in the Northeast, access to school districts seems to be a very important issue in high population density areas (more so than in general).

@ energy_rater_la
How much did this run you because that is exactly what I am trying to decide on. I'm currently living in the attic in the dormer window areas. I have my bed, tables, and wardrobe up here and it seems to be holding up just fine. I think the previous owner was using it as his daughter's room.

Here is a link that might be useful: Nutley to NYC

This post was edited by MittySam on Thu, Jan 16, 14 at 22:25

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 10:14PM
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Hopefully, your big takeaway from the website (other than the much greater cost of projects than you anticipated) was that there is NO project that "adds value" to a home dollar for dollar for what is spent on the project. Even the projects that do the best in that regard, you end up losing 30% of the dollars that you spend. And that is in an ideal situation where someone isn't over improving for the market in which the home is located. I fear that you may be thinking of sinking 200K into a project that you will end up losing, and it will add very little actual value in the real world value because of the location of the home will not support even a 100K increase in value.

You should talk with a real estate agent first, to see if what you are proposing is financially smart for the market. Then talk with contractors.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 10:09AM
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I live in Western New York. The project began about 9 years ago just after there was a big jump in lumber prices. The contractor put in a crawlspace for the addition. Framed and closed everything in. Siding, roofing, windows and doors (just on the new parts of the house). That bill was about $30,000. We then over the next 9 years bought out of pocket as time and budget allowed everything else. Insulation, drywall, flooring, electrical, ductwork, tile, bathroom and kitchen cabinets and fixtures, etc. I can give you prices on the kitchen cabinets and things like that but not stuff like drywall. If I had to give a reasonable guess, it was about another $30,000+.

We could never have down this project without it being DIY. Thankfully my DH is very skilled in everything that was needed. He is also the type that will research and learn how to do something new and will do it well.

If I can find some photos of the outside of the house I will post them.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:32PM
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