Should I move, remodel or build new?

Grass background, hand holding paper cut out of a home, Buy or Build

In these days of ever-increasing real estate prices, I get asked this question on a weekly basis. Finding a reasonable price on a new home in Silicon Valley is extremely difficult – especially if you don’t want a lengthy commute to work. To be near high-paying tech jobs means you will be paying a small fortune for a home – even if that home needs to be rebuilt.

As home prices in Silicon Valley have risen, so have the cost of building a new home or remodeling.

If you are weighing out your options, here is what you need to consider: 

Do I like my neighbors? This is a very important point. It’s hard to predict how your new neighbors will be compared to your current neighbors and having a bad neighbor can really make your life miserable.

Can I find a new home that I will like?  Finding a home that has all the features you want and custom-designed for you is nearly impossible. If you can find one that meets all your needs and you can afford it, then buy it and avoid the challenges of building or remodeling.

If I buy a not so perfect house, can I afford the improvements I will want to make?  This is a very common issue. As a design-build contractor, I am usually called in after the clients have purchased their new home. When they find out how much their re-build or remodel will cost they are often shocked and experience serious buyers’ remorse. I always encourage people to consult a design-build expert BEFORE they purchase their home for accurate advice. Design-build firms house architects and construction together to give you a more accurate cost for what you want to accomplish. Architects do not build, and although they can design a beautiful home for you, they are not as familiar with building costs, which can lead to beautiful plans you can’t afford to build.

Can I afford to build or remodel? Building a new custom home can cost from $350-600+ per square foot (PSF) plus another 15-20% for design and permitting fees. Remodeling can cost $300-500+ PSF plus design and permitting fees. This includes all affected remodeling areas. Often clients figure they are adding 500 square feet and guess at $400 PSF for a total of $200,000. They will ignore the rest of the 1,500 SF they are remodeling and be off by a factor of 4.

Is my personality compatible with the design and construction process? Building a home is a frustrating experience even for the flexible and light-hearted. Many of our clients are in high-tech and product development. It’s their job to “work out all the bugs” before a product goes to market. They build prototypes, test, and then release. When building a house, the process works differently. Those bugs get worked out during the build (even on a very well designed home). You are building and will be living in the prototype. In addition, most likely you have never built a home before and you will enter with pre-existing expectations (likely from your own industry) that are not reasonable for building. When your expectations are not met, it can be frustrating.  This is why having a builder that you really trust is so important. In my free book Building A Quality Custom Home (free for download at our website, I have a 10-question checklist you should ask yourself before you build.

How long does it take to get a permit?  This is a tough question. There are a lot of regulations that affect building – especially if you want to build a two-story house where neighbor notifications are required. There is an architectural design where you work with your architect to come up with a floor plan and architecture that you like. Then, you have structural engineering, soil engineers, civil engineers, arborists, landscape architects to all contribute to your plan development. Once they are all done, then you have the government agencies to get through. Bottom line permitting can take several months.

How long does it take to build?  Building a custom home takes 9 months to 18 months on average.  If you are building a simple small home without a basement you can build pretty quickly. Building with a basement on a narrow lot, however, requires installing shoring so you don’t undermine your neighbor’s property and will take much longer. There are a lot of special inspections required for a basement including soil engineers, structural engineers, waterproofing consultants, etc. This all slows the building process down and it’s a very necessary disruption to ensure compliance with building plans and provide you with risk reduction. 

Moving, remodeling and building all require your invested time and energy, but all major milestones in life do; whether you are getting married, having a child or making a big career move. Just remember, whatever path you take to reach your dream home, the work you put in is very rewarding and will all be worth it.

Timeline Design+Build is a local home remodeling and building firm in the South Bay, with over 25+ years of experience. From designing your floor plans to building your dream home, we do it all.

Los Altos magazine article