Renovate or Relocate

With housing market prices at all-time highs and inventory at all-time lows, many prospective buyers are floundering in their options: remodel their existing home, make a move, or build new? Though there are no clear answers, local realtors, builders, and remodelers offer advice to help homeowners navigate their concerns and uncertainty and move forward. / BY NATALIE LARSEN

Lately, our feeds are filled with Polaroids of Sold signs. But we don’t all have the blind faith of country songs and wooden plaques declaring, Home is wherever I’m with you, or, Home is where my dog is. Adulting, it turns out, isn’t that simple.

“Our market’s crazy,” says Chris Ames, a local agent with Re/Max Results. “I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and I’ve never been in an environment like this before.” Many homeowners are left wondering if it’s worth sticking a hand in the cookie jar of existing home stock or if they should create their own from scratch instead—or even attempt to reconfigure their existing homes to fit morphing needs and growing (or shrinking) families.Plag ued by unanswerable questions—Will I return to the office next year? Will hybrid and distance learning be a factor? Will proximity to the city and social outings be a factor?—homeowners almost universally find themselves at a crossroads. Local realtors, builders, and remodelers weigh the options: renovate or relocate?


You already know that inventory on existing homes is tight—and what is available is likely at the outer limits of your ideal budget. With material costs at record highs and interminable supply chain issues, “renovation of your current home has some real merit,” says Mike Karlsrud, president of MA Peterson Designbuild. “In reality, you are going to pay a premium with any move you make.” The experts agree that the first ques- tion to answer in the renovate-versus- relocate battle is: Do you like where you live? “Is this your forever home? Do you want to raise your family in this home?” Karlsrud asks. “If the answer is yes to any of these questions, invest in your current home. Your home value will improve, you’ll enjoy the improve- ments every day, and you’ll live where you love—it doesn’t get better than that.”

Gary Knight, president of Knight Construction Design, has a similar ques- tion for homeowners making the pivotal decision: “Do you like your neighbor- hood? … Because if you do, why move?” Dan Vanderheyden, owner of Black Dog Homes, agrees: “If people feel really connected to their neighborhoods, it’s much harder for them to leave.”

An obvious factor is the proximity of your current home to anchor points like schools, dining, shopping, and friends or family. But, Knight says, “you may not know what your neighborhood’s going to be like in your new home. [There] might not be kids for your kids to play with.” Moving can be especially hard for kids, depending on their age.

“Question number two is: What can I do to my home to make it better?” Knight asks. Weigh the costs of upgrading to a home that fits your needs against modify- ing your current home to fit your chang- ing lifestyle. “It [could be] a pretty big jump in cost to get what you want. And a lot of times, even with that jump in cost, a new home still needs work,” he says. And they don’t just say that because renovation is the path of least resistance. “It is more complicated than just build- ing a new house,” Vanderheyden says. “You’re trying to hold on to certain elements of an existing home.” It takes creativity to see solutions within the confines of an existing structure. Bottom line: A remodel can be worth it if you love your locale.


If you don’t dote on your neighborhood, doing the suburb shuffle could be the right move.

Housing stock—houses available for purchase—is at some of the lowest levels the Twin Cities market has seen, and there’s no indication that trend is bot- toming out. “You’re just at the whim of the market,” Ames says.

Any apartment dwellers know that rents are escalating dramatically too, which makes buying that much more enticing—even at the top of the mar- ket. “When I was graduating from college,” Ames says, “a couple of my friends bought together, and I think that’s a trend we’re going to start seeing happening again.” The cost in central neighborhoods can be prohibitive for individuals or couples. “If you want to be in one of these more popular, cool spots, and you want to buy,” he continues “you’re going to see a lot of roommate situ- ations again, where you get two or three friends together and they buy a place.”

As mid-priced existing homes and what we call starter homes (think St. Louis Park– style) fly off the market, young buyers are skipping steps. Ames says he’s seen more 30- and 40-year-olds going big on their homes. “I think a lot of the younger, more affluent buyers are really stepping up and trying to purchase that home that they’re going to stay in long-term,” he says. “We’re not seeing that progression anymore. It’s like they’re coming from their first condo or townhome to two million bucks.”

The benefit of the seller’s market we’re living in, says Holly Connaker, local real- tor at Compass, is that sellers “can get top dollar for their current home.” Conversely, you’re buying at the top of the market as well. “And you might get into a home that, frankly, you’ll want to remodel anyway,” Karlsrud says. “With the elevated prices of homes today, it is becoming a toss-up on building new versus remodeling.”


With a highly competitive (and expensive!) market, building new—on a teardown lot (called infill) or on an undeveloped piece of land—is becoming an increasingly appeal- ing option. “Then you’re able to do exactly what you want versus trying to make some- thing fit that’s existing,” Ames says.

New construction ranges from a custom- designed home to a choice of set options within a community. “If [buyers] are going to pay a premium, they should get exactly what they want and be able to stay in that home for a longer period of time,” Connaker says. At the same time, the end- less options require discernment. “You don’t want to be so unique that it can’t be sold,” Vanderheyden says.

We love a good open-concept floor- plan, but with kids’ e-learning days and both parents posted up in the living room, we’re pining for secluded spaces. “Pre- pandemic, we often heard the concept of working remotely, which had a temporary or ‘mobile’ feel to it,” Karlsrud says. Today, we know “they need all the support, secu- rity, connectivity, and space like they would need in an office environment.” And with WFH here to stay in some capacity, the kitchen counter will no longer suffice. “In a lot of the new construction, we’re doing two offices, believe it or not,” says Ames, who also works with new-build communities. Rising prices of both existing homes and the materials needed forrenovation and new builds are evening the paths to your dream home. “If you are building a home, you may not be competing with another party, and therefore wouldn’t necessarily be paying over the list price,” Connaker says. “There
really is no right or wrong answer.”.

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