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remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Posted by tjp1913 (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 21, 13 at 12:37

I've been a longtime lurker on GW. We have been contemplating the master plan for our house in California (Bay Area), and I think that I could use some fresh eyes and advice from more experienced home owners / remodelers / designers / builders.

3 years ago we purchased our first home, a small craftsman bungalow in a great neighborhood. The previous owner had owned the house since the 1940's but did not do much improvement other than some basic maintenance. At the time that we purchased it, the house was cosmetically dated, considered a fixer upper, and had a reputation for being the neglected house on a beautiful street. The house is 1,000 sqft on a 3,000 sqft lot, 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom. Since purchasing the house, we've renovated the bathroom and kitchen, upgraded the electrical service and wiring to the kitchen, replaced some of the plumbing, and reconstructed some built-ins like the originals that came with the home and were stripped out by a previous owner. I get tremendous satisfaction from improving our home and we take immense pride in honoring the craftsman heritage of our home.

We've started the conversations about how a larger family can live in our current home. We love our house and feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to live here. We are walking distance to a wealth of shops and transit options, we live on a street lined with mature trees, the local elementary school is excellent, and the list goes on. The rate of turnover of homes in our neighborhood is very low, and even if we were able to find another home that fit all of the tangible benefits that we currently have, I'm not sure that a new place would have the same kind of community that we have with our current home. We know all of our neighbors, they are wonderful, generous people, and our street has a tight-knit and supportive community. In my experience, this is not common in the Bay Area.

With all that said, the location of our home is ideal. Through some creativity, we may be able to make the house larger. However, we can't increase the size of the lot. The challenge for us: can we come up with a plan for developing this house into our "forever house"?

I've attached a picture of the lot and floorplan of the house. The drawing is to scale. I'll include more information in a follow-up to this post.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

The dotted line on the left side is an easement for the driveway that serves our lot and the lot next to ours. The driveway is too narrow for modern cars to be able to comfortably drive back to the garage.

The darker shaded areas on the top and bottom of the house are the rear and front porches (respectively). The rear porch is nothing special. Removing the front porch or enclosing it would probably ruin the character or curb appeal of the house.

The back three rooms of the house (laundry, bonus room, and back bedroom) are part of an addition that was done sometime before the 1940s. The quality of that portion of the house isn't nearly on par with the quality of the front half of the house. We've considered chopping off the old addition and building a new addition with more space. Coming up with a solution that accomplishes this without shading what little yard space we have is quite challenging. The rear portion of the lot is shaded by a sizeable mature redwood in our neighbor's yard.

The back half of the house doesn't flow very well. The laundry room is frustrating: the hallway between the kitchen and the laundry is less than 2 feet wide. The external door from the laundry room won't open fully because it hits the side of the dryer. The bonus room is too small to be a bedroom and the french doors that swing inside take up most of the floor space of the room. Even if we can't do a substantial remodel to the house, finding a way to make the back half of the house more useful would certainly be a big win.

The garage sits on the property line. Converting the garage into living space is a possibility, but increasing its size (especially height) would require a variance from the city (which might be an impossible ordeal).

The setbacks for our zoning are 5ft sides, 15ft rear, 20ft front.

Some other thoughts:

Clearing the house to build a new one simply isn't on the table. We would prefer to not make significant changes to the bathroom and kitchen because we've already put a lot of work into improving those spaces.

Most of the homes in the neighborhood are 3/2 or 4/2, 1500-2250 square feet on ~4000-6000 sqft lots. Most homes have steeper pitched roofs with dormers that allow for bedrooms on the 2nd level. These homes are valued at $200-500k more than our home.

It's common in our neighborhood for houses to be raised with a second story built beneath the original story. This is done because building a second story addition usually requires significant retrofit to the external walls to meet code for supporting a second story. The house raising idea is an interesting one because our roof was replaced in the last 10 years and the foundation may need replacement in the medium to long term. However, we're concerned that raising the house creates an imposing frontage, possibly ruining the character of the house.

The house has a ~2-3ft crawlspace, so we've considered the idea of creating a daylight/lookout basement by raising the house a few feet and building a partially submerged basement below it. Our main concern with this approach is that very few houses in the bay area have basements, and those basements that do exist usually have low ceilings and few windows. I would be concerned that living space in the basement (however nice we could make it) would not be appraised at sufficient value to make that remodel cost effective.

Our budget would be in the neighborhood of ~$250k to make this a house we can stay in for a very long time. Our requirements for satisfying this:

* Living space for 4 people (3 bedrooms)
* 2 full bathrooms
* Dedicated room for a guest (this is a requirement, though it could be satisfied by making the garage a guest house)
* Functional backyard space. We're open to losing some backyard space if we can make the overall backyard more efficient. The current house layout splits the yard into three areas: the area in front of the garage, the area in the rear of the property, and the side yard.

So, my questions for those kind souls out there willing to lend some advice:

1. Is the daylight basement a crazy idea given that basements are scarce in this area?

2. If we were to do a multi-story situation, where could we fit a stairway without ruining the usefulness of one of the existing rooms?

3. Do you have any feedback about how to change the floorplan of the house to maximize living space and/or backyard space?

4. I'd love to hear about experiences with choosing to enlarge a house on a small lot rather than finding a larger home or lot.

5. I encourage you to tell me if you think it's just not possible to do a renovation that satisfies all of the requirements and restrictions.

Thank you in advance!


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

I am not a pro.

I'm also in the bay area and in the thinking phases of a house enlargement. I think your budget is too small. :/

Do you have parking? Do you use the garage? Have you checked to see if you can increase the footprint of your house (you know, that code whose name I forgot where you have to have a certain proportion of the yard unbuilt--most cities are adding those if they haven't already)?

Do the neighbors use the easement? If not, perhaps you can get together and plant it or make it kidfriendly so you don't miss the back yard as much.

Would it look weird to rip off the back 3 rooms and build a 2 story addition there? With a well thought-out roofline, it might be doable and not look like an afterthought from the front. A lot of old bungalows look like that--you just have to copy them.

I think a consultation with a local architect is in your future...Good luck!


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

I think you've a priori eliminating your two most logical options: Moving, or tearing down.

Fixing your house to double in size while meeting so many requests and restrictions is going to require massive amounts of fussy work to tie in old and new. You will be paying a huge PITA upcharge to your contractor.

If you added your remodeling budget to the sale price of your now-updated house, would you be able to afford a larger home in your current neighborhood? If so, it's just a waiting game.

Selling at least lets you partially monetize the work that you already did to your house (out of order, unfortunately). Building underneath the first floor will wipe out your kitchen and bath, no? And a new foundation??? Oy.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Great questions and thank you for the follow-up. I'll answer your questions out of order.

This is definitely a project where we will consult an architect. We have referrals for a couple of architects who work in our area, though I'm unsure how to start that process. Is there an expectation that it costs money to speak with an architect from the very beginning, or do they function like contractors where they are "interviewing for the job" in the introductory stage? The right thing to do may be to simply call them and ask how their process works. I'm hoping to have a clearer sense of what we want before starting the architect conversations, but getting that clearer sense through them may be the very reason to hire one. We will think this over some more.

With regard to budget, I should clarify. I can confidently allocate $250k in cash for this project. I'm open to financing additional costs, though I would have concerns about overimproving given that I believe the value of our home is capped by the lot size. We are in Oakland, so construction is bay area expensive, but not as bad as SF.

We have ample street parking. Off street parking would be nice but is not a requirement. If we were doing a major renovation, I don't think it would be unreasonable to re-landscape the front to accommodate a parking pad.

The bulk of the space in the garage is used for storage. When I need to work on projects, I pull the tools out of the garage and use them in the area between the kitchen and garage. Given the size of the easement, I think it's unreasonable to expect to be able to drive a modern car down it comfortably on a regular basis, unless we moved the house closer to the western lot line. I doubt that is a realistic option.

The zoning requirements for our zone state, "lots less than 5,000 square feet may have a lot coverage of up to 2,000 square feet regardless of lot coverage percentage listed in table." That leads me to believe we will be OK with a larger footprint.

The neighbors occasionally park in the easement (on street sweeping days, primarily), but I believe they may be open to landscaping it for a different purpose. Keeping the base of the driveway open for parking for street sweeping days may be sufficient.

Ripping off the back 3 rooms and building a 2 story addition isn't out of the question, I'm confident we can come up with a design that doesn't appear imposing from the street. Some houses in our neighborhood have split level additions in the rear for this purpose. Our main concern with a tall addition in the back is cutting off or overshadowing the backyard. Just because it's a concern doesn't mean it's impossible, though. We will brainstorm some ideas about how that might look.

I appreciate the response and perspective, and good luck with your own house project!


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

marcolo: thank you for the feedback and perspective.

It's entirely possible that our goal is simply unrealistic or impossible with the set of restrictions that we have. I think your point about selling the house and buying a larger one is definitely valid and worth exploring for us.

Looking at recent sale prices in our neighborhood:

Smaller lot sales info for homes sold over the last 3 months, this gives a sense of what our current home's value might be both presently and if improved:

* Four 2/1 houses on 3000-4000 sqft lots have sold for $675-735k.

* Three 3/2 on 3600-4200 sqft lots have sold for $975k-1.2m.

* Three 3/2 fixer-uppers on 3000-4200 sqft lots have sold for $850-900k. All three of these houses are in the process of being gutted.

I admit that this is a small sample size, and there is a substantive difference between 3000 sqft and 4000 sqft lots. Home values may change in the summer when supply is (usually) larger but demand is greater in order to move before registration for the next school year.

As for larger lots, only two houses with more than 4500 sqft lots have sold in the last year in our neighborhood:

* 3/2 fixer-upper on 6500 sqft lot: $1.1m

* 3/1.5 on 5500 sqft, $1.02m

The data suggest, the value of interior square footage for average-sized homes in this neighborhood:

* houses that need significant work (structural or interior gutting) sell for ~$450/sqft

* houses in good condition (renovations in the last 10-15 years) sell for ~$600/sqft

* houses in excellent, recently remodeled condition sell for ~$750/sqft

It's hard to identify the cost of buying a larger lot with such a small sample size.

With all this said, I'm afraid that the reno budget as cash towards a larger house may not even get us to a much larger lot.

Given the values from the above research, it may be better for us to explore a lower-scale reno that will extend the time we can stay in this house. It sure seems that the 3rd bedroom and 2nd bathroom are quite expensive/valuable in this neighborhood.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

A 1000 sq/ft foundation size is too small. Additionally the other room sizes eg. the width of the living room at 10.5 ft is just too small to do anything with.

The lack of a useful garage is also a big negative.

The best advice I can give you is to apply the $250k to another home.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

I don't know what to make of your comps because you're not indicated how the interior s.f. stacks up to yours. Which of those houses would meet your needs? If you're getting a 2 story house do you really need a larger lot?

Every new detail you add presents a new problem. As you describe your driveway I wonder, how will an excavator or cement truck get back there??


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Nope. You don't want to apply it to another home. I'm not saying if the guy across the street puts his bigger house on the market, you shouldn't jump on it, but I understand your neighborhood and why you aren't budging.

Are you required to have a garage? Can you improve on the garage with how close it is to the property line?


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Start from the real beginning here. Talk to a bank about what types of home improvement loans that they are willing to finance. Some will want a set of plans and estimated costs to give you an amount, and some won't even talk to you at all unless you have X amount of equity in the home and the proposed plan creates a much higher appraisal. But if you have a relationship with a bank, a general conversation about how the financial situation might work, and the amounts that could be lent would be the first stop. I'm thinking your project would be in the 700K-1M neighborhood if the back rooms need to be demolished and an entire new addition put on with all of your want list. And that's why most people with your want list wouldn't have already put in the improvements that you did. It will end up costing more to piecemeal your way into a larger home than it would have done had you done a teardown.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Also check out thoroughly the restrictions on building in your area. I know on the peninsula where I live, it can be crazy - some areas do not allow 1-story homes to expand to 2 stories even if they are on a street with many 2 story homes! Historical preservation restrictions can be severe, too - even for 1940's era homes!

I do understand why you want to remodel instead of move, if you have a great location there is no way you can buy a bigger house in a similar location for only $250k more right now, the housing market here is on fire again and it's not just summertime - it is the economy rolling once more.

I do think you should lower your expectations and consider a much smaller addition. You don't want to lose so much yard space, yard space is useable almost year round here.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Do you use the garage? You said that it was not easy to drive cars up the driveway so it sounds like no. Storage doesn't count, you can rent a storage spot and get rid of crap. I don't know how old your kids are - are they teens? Finish and furnish the garage as a rec room, bedrooms for the teens (put in a bathroom) or other living space.

2. Remove the "bonus" room and back porch and replace with a 2 story addition - including a new bathroom and bedroom, keeping a similar footprint to the current room plus porch

3. tear down the garage to make up for lost yard space and then square up the house basically - put in a 2 story addition in the corner between the bonus room and the driveway, down to the kitchen. You'd lose the kitchen window. Or, you could make the addition come down almost to the kitchen but leave a small courtyard area and keep the window, put a herb garden in the little courtyard or something.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Remodeling is effective when you have basically what you want, and there's an obvious way to 'add on' and rearrange things.

What you are talking about is REBUILDING - not remodeling.

Right now your home is saleable at it's price. Once you rebuild it, you may price yourself out of the market.

You may like the neighbors and the location - but things change - new job opportunities, people move, demographics change. Maybe in 5 - 10 years you will want to move. Pouring a ton of money into a 1000 sq/ft home makes no sense to me!


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

We appreciate all of the feedback and advice. We know we are asking a lot, and I think we understand now that we are simply asking for too much.

Recognizing that an addition is probably unrealistic both logistically and financially, we are considering ways to reorganize the space that we have to be more flexible and effective for us. We hope that an approach like this may extend the time we are able to stay in the house while increasing the value of the home slightly. The cost will be lower and we can keep the bulk of the cash available until we truly need a larger place.

Our biggest frustration with the house is working with the back half of the house.

* The hallway to the laundry room is awkward.
* The back bedroom's closet door barely opens with a queen bed in the room.
* It's challenging to put any furniture in the bonus room because much of the floor needs to be left open for the french doors to swing.

So one idea is to simply restructure the back half of the house with some drywall and doorway work, and replumb the laundry area.

* Close off the hallway between the kitchen and the laundry room.

* Turn the resulting "closet" in the kitchen into a stacking laundry.

* Turn the old laundry room into a full bath by closing off the door to the outside, and opening to the bedroom with a pocket door.

* Split the bonus room into two smaller rooms with a wide doorway (french doors?) separating them.

* Remove the french doors between the bonus room and the bedroom.

* Turn the external doors from french doors to an insulated sliding glass door.

The back half would become a master suite with a full bath, 6.5x7 walk-in closet, and a 7x7 flex space for an office, exercise room, sitting area, dressing room, nursery, etc. We can always convert the garage to extra living space if we are desperate for additional space.

We think that when it comes time to sell this house, it will appeal to couples without children who are thinking about having children. They will probably like the idea of having a nursery in the back, but may be sold on the "luxury" of a master suite and walk-in closet. Will a young family realistically consider a house with 1000 sq feet?

We always intended for this home to be our starter home: a small, manageable property where we can learn about what it means to be homeowners and what it means to improve a house a little at a time. We never expected the neighborhood would be as amazing as it is, and we may have gotten ahead of ourselves by thinking that we can stay on this property indefinitely. Leaving the neighborhood may be difficult, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Again, we appreciate all the feedback. Thank you!


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

I suspect you can spend a lot and not price yourself out of the market. A Realtor may be helpful for that sort of information.

Reworking what you have and just watching the local market ready to pounce on a bigger house might be the best choice here.

Have you visited the Small House and Old House forums here on GW? Families DO live in houses that size. Your current layout reminds me of my sister's old NOLA shotgun. They just kept adding on the back until they ran out of room. :)


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

I don't think there is any fear of being "priced out of the market" people saying that must not live in the SF bay area, LOL! People will pay anything here for the location they want.

However you of course have a budget and can only spend so much. Your plan to rework the floor plan sounds very reasonable. A second bathroom will make things so much better.

Have you also considered enclosing the back deck, using it as expended living space?


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

I don't see where you're gaining anything by dividing the bonus room. The resulting small spaces are too small for anything except a closet, or maybe a desk and a crib alone would take up half the space of one of the 'rooms'.
There are many simple changes you could easily spend your money on to make your house more liveable. Like you, I'd find it difficult to live with the laundry room layout and would either move the exterior door (is it really needed?) or buy a stacking W/D. Does the back bedroom really need a queen size bed? If not, a double size, trundle, or bunk beds would work much better in that room. I see no need for 2 sets of french doors in the back BR and would remove the set between the DR and BR and install a single door.

Personally, for safety reasons, I wouldn't want a child's room at the front of the house, so you may want to keep that in mind if you're trying to sell to a young family.

I think you should first look at how people enter the home and how each area is now used.The problem I'd have with the house is that there is no access to the backyard without going thru a bedroom. For that reason, I would push the bedroom back into the bonus room, and then rearrange the laundry so that it becomes the main access to the outside. You could even put a small deck along that area for grilling, etc. I would then move the W/D to a closet (in the now open area) between the DR and BR.

That's just one option........and of course it doesn't allow for where load bearing walls may be. I don't know what the dark dividing line is between the kitchen and DR and assumed it can be moved.
I've included a very rough drawing of what I'm trying to describe......hope it helps visually.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

On that note, it wouldn't kill ya to do laundry in the garage. :) Connect it to the house with a covered thingamajigger (breezeway?) for the rare rainy day if you must, but our weather does permit detached garage laundry facilities!


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

Greetings all,

Thank you all for the input and ideas.

Some notes and answers to questions:

* The bonus room is actually 11 x 8 feet , not 11 x 7. This makes it moderately more useful, but still an awkward space.

* The black box between the dining area and kitchen is the fireplace. It oozes craftsman charm and we are hesitant to remove it.

* Laundry in the garage is certainly a possibility, though we tend to do laundry at night. The idea of walking back and forth from the garage in the dark, especially with the exterior doors that we have, is not particularly appealing. A lighted breezeway is a possibility.

* Enclosing the rear porch is a possibility, though the space is only 5.5 feet wide and there are a pair of steps from the bonus room to the porch floor. It would take quite a bit of work to enclose that area and incorporate it with the interior of the house, and I'm not sure how we could make that a useful space once enclosed.

* Due to the odd roof configuration for the addition, all walls in the rear are loadbearing except the wall that separates the laundry with the bedroom, and the wall that separates the bedroom with the bonus room. I believe the wall between the bedroom and the living room is also loadbearing, because of the shape of the roof.

I've attached a diagram of the latest iteration of our potential remodeling plan. The way it changes our current floorplan:

* The hall between the laundry and kitchen is closed off.

* The resulting closet in the kitchen becomes a pantry.

* The old laundry room becomes a bathroom. The exterior laundry room door is enclosed.

* The bedroom connects to the bathroom via a pocket door.

* The bonus room is divided into two rooms, a walk-in closet on the right and a laundry space on the left.

* The walk-in closet addresses our current problem of having very little functional closet space.

The laundry room in this plan is intended to serve multiple roles.

The floor would have some kind of resilient material: we have marmoleum in the kitchen and we think it's fantastic. The resilient floor allows this back room to be a nice transition room to and from the backyard.

The laundry wall, which is 8 feet wide, has enough room for a linen closet, and a long counter with a sink over a compact washer + dryer. This layout gives us a linen closet, a place to fold clothes (the countertop), and a clothes bar to hang clothes to dry. These are all features we miss having in our current laundry room.

For entertaining, we can use the countertop and sink as a buffet area or bar. We do a lot of entertaining in the summer, particularly backyard barbecues, and having the sink and counterspace in the backroom might minimize the amount of foot traffic between the kitchen and the backyard. Right now, most of that foot traffic goes through the laundry room which is, as you might imagine, quite uncomfortable.

This plan is more in the direction of making the back of the house functional and comfortable, as opposed to trying to make the space work for a family with kids. We aren't sure a 2 bedroom house will ever appeal to a family with kids.

The laundry + closet idea for the bonus room may not be the best solution, but I honestly can't think of a good use for that space. The 8 foot dimension makes it narrow, and the sheer number of windows and doorways is overwhelming. There's almost no empty wall space to work with. I don't know why the addition designer did not simply skip the rear porch and extend the house out the extra 5.5 feet.

We really wish that we had a better way to get from the kitchen to the backyard. The ~3 foot wall between the kitchen and laundry has a considerable amount of electricity and plumbing in it; removing that small section of wall would be quite expensive. When we were designing the kitchen for the remodel we tried to include a direct door to the backyard, but we couldn't come up with a plan that didn't otherwise kill the efficiency of the space. We love to cook, so reducing the effectiveness of the kitchen to gain access to the backyard wasn't a compromise we were willing to make.


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RE: remodel: enlarging house on a small lot

A side view of what the bonus-room-as-laundry-room could look like.


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