Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Options for the Cherished Bungalow Renovation

For every house we have renovated, I have created an imaginary potential buyer for the house.  Sometimes it's an empty nester, sometimes it's vacationers 'From Away' (a term we use here in Maine that means you're from another state), and sometimes it's a family with young children.  I think about the needs of this imaginary buyer and keep that in mind as we develop and implement the renovation plan.  Many large retail companies do this, as they develop new products for their customers and it seemed like a good way to approach our projects.

But here's the rub. I have NEVER been right.  Seriously, you would think I could get it right once in awhile, but that clearly isn't the case!  So I took a step back and tried to figure out what I've learned with the houses we've done thus far:
-  100% didn't have children (either empty nesters or hadn't started a family yet)
-  67% were downsizing from a larger home
-  50% were single women
So my new strategy is to forget about targeting a specific buyer and think about how to create a house that meets some key interests.  The people I've worked with seem to want 5 key things:
-  Open concept floor plan - people want to move to smaller homes, but they want to maximize the space with a flow that lets them entertain family and friends
-  Antique charm - don't lose what makes the houses quaint and unique.  They aren't looking for new construction.  They want something that has a real history!
-  Modern amenities - but there is a limit to antique charm, particularly when it comes to baths and kitchens (nasty old plumbing will not do!)
-  Closet space -  this can be a tough one with an old house
-  Low maintenance - small yard, low maintenance exterior features

For this house, I was able to get some additional buyer insights.  When we held our 'Before' Open House the other weekend, I asked everyone to look at the 3 options for a new second floor design and to let us know which appealed to them the most.  One quick note - because this is a bungalow, the designs are a bit quirky thanks to the roofline slope and the knee walls.  So there are lots of limitations on what we can do, to make sure there is enough headroom.  What looks reasonable on paper, doesn't always make sense when you're faced with the angle of the roofline.

Option 1 - Leave the current roofline intact and finish the second floor as a large master suite, with 1 full bath.  The spaces you see around the perimeter are all behind the kneewalls - so not useful living space.
Option 2 - We had multiple variants of this (different locations for the bathroom), but they all add a large dormer on one side of the house and provide 2 bedrooms and a large bath.  At the Open House, I asked for input on options 2a and 2b.
Option 2a
Option 2b        

Option 3 - This option adds matching large dormers on either side of the house and includes 3 bedrooms and a full bath.

And the winner from the Open House marketing poll???  Interestingly, most people liked Option 2b.   A big factor was putting a large soaking tub in the dormer - which seems pretty fabulous!  And with two bedrooms on the first floor, they didn't really see the need to add 3 more bedrooms on the 2nd floor.  But a few people said they'd be happy with one large bedroom and liked Option 1.

There are some structural challenges with the dormer options (a structural engineer is helping to work through different approaches) and some city setback rules that may require a building variance - which can be a long, complicated process.  We're actively working through these issues now and hope to have a final approach soon.

But I'm curious - which Option do you prefer??

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  1. I agree that 2B is what I would choose as well. It looks like the space is just better utilized all the way around, and I love the little sitting area (?) by the stairs.

    1. That does seem to be a popular option! I really like the area around the stairs, which includes a skylight so it's nice and bright. We would do an open railing and maybe incorporate bookshelves and a built in desk along the knee wall. Or just leave it open and let the homeowner decide how to utilize the space!

  2. I guess I will be different. I like 2A. I like the nooks in the bedrooms and would prefer a little bit bigger bedroom than the soaking tub and large bathroom.

  3. I like 2A, but that's 'cause I'm not much of a soaking tub kind of gal. The one place I stayed in that had a tub in the master bed was always kind of damp in the summer (like a bathroom) which didn't appeal to me. I'd rather put a small office or library/reading space with a dormer view.

    I'm actually in the neighborhood and in your demographic - single, over 50, no kids. I like having a guest bedroom or two, but no need for three. I do find as someone who is not childless by choice, very kid-specific spaces (nurseries and playrooms) are not a selling point. I always feel drawn to demographic-neutral spaces like craft rooms or libraries or media rooms/dens (which could easily be repurposed as a nursery or child's bedroom if the buyers have kids).

    I do have kind of old school preferences when it comes to open plan spaces; I don't want to see the undone dishes in the kitchen while we're eating, for one!

    The one thing I covet beyond everything (as the resident of a small WWII-era bungalow) is GOOD CLOSETS. I have one built-in linen cabinet and a built-in china hutch but my God the regular closets (all two of them) are PITIFUL. I would gladly give up part of any of these floor plans for a nice big walk-in closet and/or dressing area. And any storage you can build into the knee walls would be awesome too.

    Also on my wishlist would be a proper mudroom; if you can incorporate space to de-mud the dog that would be perfection!

  4. I'm in the Option 2b group for the reasons you mentioned - love the idea of a soaking tub in the dormer (and there's also a free-standing shower in there too, right?)
    Your 'what do buyers want' list is right on - although I'd add one more must-have and that would be lots of natural light. I'm especially partial to kitchens east-facing windows; love walking into a sunny kitchen first thing in the morning.
    Looking forward to seeing this house's transformation!

    1. I totally agree - you can never have enough natural light!

  5. I would do 2a because I don't think you need a 5 bedroom house (unless you needed the downstairs bedroom for something else) and I think it is important to have a master bath attached to the master bedroom - to me this is more important than the soaking tub.

    Here's an idea - what if you did option 3 but instead of the 3rd narrow bedroom on the right you had a large master bath? the proposed bathroom in option 3 could be a very master large closet. I think doing it this way you would have a very nice master suit as well as a second bedroom upstairs.


    1. I love your idea, but if I added a second dormer and a master bath - I'd lose money on the project. I don't make a lot of profit on my projects, but I can't afford to pay someone to buy it! Although I bet it would sell fast!!!

  6. I like #2, I think that size house with 5 total bedrooms would be overwhelming. And yes to making closets work. We live in a Cape in MA and the bedroom closets are under the slope of the house and the bane of our existence.

  7. I actually like option 1.

  8. Our ideal home as empty nesters would have 2 bedrooms and a bath on the second floor...BUT would combine ground floor bedrooms to make a spacious master.

  9. No matter what, I would want a private master bath not a shared one. No need for a soaking tub. A first floor master would be preferred, but may not be possible in this house.

  10. I actually tend to disagree that most buyers are looking for "open concept" per se. I think it's way trendy and that HGTV has convinced everyone that's the only way to go, but in ten-twenty years it's going to really date a place. Who wants to live in a ballroom, after all? Having said that, I think it's useful between a kitchen and dining room or if you have great backyard views, but otherwise I think there is something to be said about discrete (not cramped though) spaces.

  11. As empty nesters looking to buy in Cape Elizabeth. If We build -1# would be our pick. I worship my soaking tub & will never be without one. The bigger the shower the happier my husband is. Would use one bedroom on first floor as guest room other as office. Love to see sliding barn doors on smaller room to be used as office.


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