Advice for Doing a Big Home Addition

Updated on June 03, 2013
J.G. asks from Chicago, IL
8 answers

I am starting to plan out a big home addition --extension out back plus second story. For those of you who have done such projects, what pre-planning advice would you give me? Hubby and I are struggling with details like where to live, etc. we also have water problems in our back yard---6 lots turn into a retention pond when we get 100 year storms about once every 3 years. We plan on doing something about this, putting in tile and piping to drain the water into the storm sewers, etc. Should I contact the city now?

Mostly I'm looking for advice for getting things in order. We will build a garage first, and then put things in it for storage, but what other suggestions do you have for us? Loan type, how much cash on hand, etc. We will plan on cash for the architect, builder, garage, etc. but what else might we need cash for?

Should we plan to go over budget, or should we have a set budget so that we keep things truly under control ---my brother went 30% over! A friend stayed within budget and didn't plan for extras.

I'd love advice on how to pick a builder, general contractor, etc.

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answers from St. Louis on

Get preapproved for the financing first. Then see how much it will cost (if you haven't done this already).

I'd plan to go up to 20% over budget. Just to be safe.

The more cash you can have in hand versus getting a loan, the better!!

I would contact the city NOW...better to plan ahead.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

First of all you need to visit with a Realtor and find out if your addition will devalue your home or make it worth more. Some friends of mine actually lost money on their home when they sold it because they had added on to it.

The Realtor told them she couldn't sell it for what they had in it because it was now more square footage than any other home in the neighborhood and the other homes set the value of the homes in that neighborhood....that doesn't seem to say it right...

If you have one house for sale in a sort of nice neighborhood that is $100K and every other house in that same neighborhood is selling regularly for $75K then that more expensive house really does not have the sale value they are trying to get for it. It will only sell for a few thousand over the regular $75K. So the house only has a value of that amount and not what the home owners may have in the more expensive one.

So check with a Realtor and find out what the value of your home is, make sure that this addition will bring a profit in the future instead of being something you will just be throwing away for convenience.

Then see who she/he recommends to do the contracting.

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answers from New York on

Get lots of plastic bins to store stuff in. If you see them go on sale jump on it and grab them. Anything left in cabinets and closets in the house will get sturated with construction dust and you'll have to take it all out and clean it anyway - so if you can store it away that's best.

As for budget - assuming your house is more than 20 years old you will come across unexpected things to be repaired or that the architect and builder could not have expected. Always give yourselfe a minimum of 10% but it's often more. Part of what happens is stuff that was done 20-40 years ago is no longer to code and needs to be upgraded, or there's water damage or some other kind that could no be seen, or you realize that now that the walls are down, and you're mid-construction you might as well do _________ (fill in the blanks - run duct work for central air, get granite countertops, etc.)

A big construction job like this is tough on the family, your marriage, etc. Expect that you and your husband and kids will have some tough times as you go through this (my brother and SIL who have a rock solid marriage kid that their project should have included a budget for a marriage counselor or divorce lawyer).

Also expect that it will take much longer than the contractor says. Much of the delays are about the timing of getting subcontractors in to do the work when the project is ready for it. <deep sigh>

BUT - the good part is that you will have what seems to feel like a mansion once it's done - with tons of room and closets. (Know right now that those closets fill up before you know it!!!!)

Good luck mama! It will be all worth it one day!

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answers from Minneapolis on

I have done this type of project 3 different ways (what can I say, I am a glutton for punishment):

1) drew my own plans, pulled my own permits and did almost all the work myself (w/ husband)
2) hired a big architectural firm and hired a general contractor (LEAST FAVORITE RESULT)
3) hired a small architectural firm, acted as my own general contractor, hired really good subcontractors to do most of the work, did some work myself (with husband) (THIS WAS MY FAVORITE OPTION)

Are you working with an architect or not? That will determine a lot of my answers. Are you going to be your own general contractor or not? If you are hiring an architect, go with a small firm for a project like this as you will get better quality and better personal service. The architect can give you some good recommendations for builders to interview.

If you are hiring a general contractor, then that person will be responsible for contacting the city for approval of plans and to get permits for all the work. If not hiring a general contractor then you will be responsible for some of that. I have done it both ways. Being your own general is hard work but very rewarding. But I don't recommend doing it if you have a full time job.

Start by making a list of what you MUST have in the project. Then make a list of WOULD BE NICE to have. Think about whether you want to emphasize energy efficiency, matching the existing house style or changing the style (and if so what style do you want), and any other specialty concerns. Then look for a small architectural firm that specializes in remodels and any special needs you have. For example, for our latest project we chose an architect that specialized in super energy efficient building. Interview a couple firms. They can then do a preliminary reality check on general price estimates for you, but the final estimates will be when you take bids on the job from general contractors.

I used Angie's List, Service Magic, and my architect's referrals as a good starting point to find good contractors.

Try to have as many details worked out as possible before taking the bids, including plumbing fixtures, lighting, landscaping, siding, roofing, etc.

Even if you are hiring a general contractor, learn as much as you can about the steps they will undertake. I have seen a lot of decent contractors still cut a lot of corners especially in areas where they don't think anyone will look (insulation, window installs, etc.)

The project will go over budget, but that doesn't mean you have to let it get out of control. The general rule is to plan for 10% over budget, but it can go higher if you make changes or additions later in the process. Make sure you get an itemized budget from any contractor including the bids from all the subcontractors. Read them carefully and/or have your architect look over them to make sure they have including everything that the architect specified for the job. (The spec document from the architect was my best friend).

PM if you want more advice.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Get MULTIPLE quotes and then throw out the lowest and highest bids. Get at least 3 local references and FOLLOW UP ON THEM!!! If possible, go and see the work first hand. Interview each candidate before hiring one. Make sure your contract is rock solid. If there is anything you're unsure about, consult a lawyer. Are you going to pay by the hour, or by the work completed? If there are sub-contractors, who is responsible for hiring them and paying them? Is that included in your quote, or in addition to it?

We used a line of credit. That way, we were only paying the interest on what we used at the time. The framing and wiring/plumbing stages are less expensive than the finishing stage. It helped to save a bit.

Also, shop on-line for as MUCH of your finishing materials as you can - lighting fixtures, appliances, bathroom fixtures, etc. My friend built a house for 30% less than she was quoted by researching her materials on-line. Yes, she was up all hours, but for them saving the extra $$ was worth it.

There are a few factors that may cause you to go over budget. There may be unknown structural/electrical/plumbing problems that need to be fixed before building can proceed. Letting your builder have more control than you will also likely push your budget to the limit - HE doesn't have to pay for the extras and won't put in the time to really research your best options.

I've known people to go on vacation while their house was being worked on. I'm way too much of a control freak to do that, but if your plans are pretty basic and you trust your builder it may be an option. Also, if you have kids plan to stay somewhere else. A construction site is no place for children; it's a major safety issue.

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answers from Philadelphia on

My dad was a mechanical engineer with a professional engineering licenses. When he "retired" he became a general contractor. He is qualified to do his own plans based on what the home owner wants. He just saved a customer $5000 since they did not have to hire an architect to draw up the plans. Find a general contractor who can do their own plans if you already know basically what you want. The contractor will still have to get approval from the township to make sure everything is to code. Good luck!

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answers from Miami on

You HAVE to have a building permit. Your contractor has to get that before any building begins. It will also be his job to get inspections done as he gets the work done, like the electrical.

I'd make REALLY sure that you get this water issue taken care of, even if you have to have a french drain installed and have to reslope your yard.

You might consider talking to the bank about a construction loan.

It is much easier to figure out a budget once you have architectural plans. I'd start with the architect and go from there. The contractor can give you an estimate. I think others can give you more advice about that.

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answers from San Francisco on

I wish you lived here, I had the most wonderful contractor! He's a family friend, and I knew his work well, so I never had to go through the dreaded contractor search. Hopefully you can get some solid local referrals because a good contractor is the key to the whole project. He works with (and usually picks) all the subcontractors and deals with them, handles all the permits and is invaluable at giving all kinds of advice, from little things like light switches all the way up to major issues like drainage.
I will also say that going 30% over budget is totally normal. Unexpected things WILL come up, there's just no getting around it. For example when we took down a wall to push out our kitchen we discovered that the previous owners had done the same thing, but they didn't do proper subflooring or foundation (which is crucial) so we had to fix that, and it was like $3,500 extra.
I can't give you any money advice as my husband is a finance guy so he handled all of that.
Call the city NOW regarding your drainage issues. I think you'll want a structural engineer (?) to look at that, that's a big and serious job that you want done right for sure.
Good luck, as stressful as it is it's worth it in the end!

1 mom found this helpful
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