Dreaming of the shape of things to come is hard to resist, but before you get too attached to idealized image of your expanded home, it’s best to consider three factors: zoning ordinances, the existing conditions in your home, and finances. Together, these reality checks determine whether the addition you have in mind is feasible.
First, pay a visit to the city hall to find out what the zoning ordinances for your neighborhood allow you to build. Rules vary from place to place, so even if you know what restrictions applied to a friend’s project in another town, don’t assume theyapply equally to your own. What are the legal setbacks for your property? In other words, how close to the side, front, and rear property lines can your house extend? How high can you build? Can a new second story align with the walls below?
Zoning ordinances also determine what percentage of the lot your home’s footprint can cover, as well as your home’s maximum square footage. Typically, finished basement space doesn’t count toward that total, but rules for walkout basements are changing in areas where residents and town planners have grown wary of overbuilding. Until you know these restrictions, it’s foolish to plan.
Can you break the rules? Sometimes, but variances (legal exceptions), take time and money to obtain, and planning commissions may demand a compromise.
The existing condition of your house also affectsthe scope of any addition. Opening up a wall in an old house? That old wiring may need an update, too. And if you’re adding a bath, your water and sewer service might not be adequate (forcing you to trench to the street and run new lines). Planning a new second story? You might have to reinforce the home’s foundation.
Site conditions such as steep slopes also matter. If getting full-size excavating equipment into your yard isn’t possible, smaller and less efficient machines will have to do, and that adds time and often cost—the third item on the reality checklist.
How much can you afford to spend? Moreover, how much should you spend? Unless you don’t care about return on investment, discuss the plans with the local real estate professionals and lenders. Ask local builders and design professionals, too. Find out how much you would pay to buy a house that already has the features you want, and compare that to the price your current home should fetch after changes. If your house is already the nicest property in the neighborhood, it may make sense to move rather than improve.