Neither is fun, but at least one is necessary for finally living in your dream home.

By Lauren Phillips
June 28, 2019
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To renovate or to move: Isn’t that the age-old question for homeowners across the country? You may have found your dream home, but it can become your nightmare home without warning if your family grows, the kitchen falls out of style, or the home otherwise stops meeting your needs as your household shifts and changes. At this point, it may be time to start considering the cost to remodel a house or searching for a new dream home—but how can you possibly decide which is better for you?

As with any choice, it comes down to cost, convenience, and time. A new survey from New York City–based real estate site StreetEasy and renovation matchmaking service Sweeten reveals how a renovation and a move compare, and the findings may surprise you, especially if you assume that cutting ties with a current home and moving into a fresh, new one is easy. The survey findings are based on a survey of New York City homeowners (predominantly apartment-owners), but it reveals some interesting arguments for staying put and renovating or moving that anyone can use, wherever they live.

To help anyone and everyone decide between renovating and moving, we’ve broken down the survey’s findings—and helpful advice from StreetEasy and Sweeten—into the aforementioned considerations: cost vs. convenience and time. If you’re trying to figure out your next steps, read through each, weigh the pros and cons, and make the decision that works best for you—just be prepared to put a lot of time, energy, and money into either option. (No one ever said getting that dream home was easy.)

Cost

In New York City (admittedly one of the most expensive cities in the world), moving—including the search process, basic home prep costs such as repainting and cleaning or replacing floors, agent commissions, taxes, moving fees, and more—costs an average of $60,000, according to StreetEasy’s survey. A full apartment renovation, though, costs $77,818 on average, meaning moving to a brand-new, perfect-for-you apartment would cost less than turning your current space into your perfect home.

Moving and renovating aren’t quite as expensive in the rest of the country as they are in New York City, but the cost of selling a house is shockingly high—and remodeling costs are expensive wherever you live. The kitchen renovation cost alone will set you back around $20,000 for a small kitchen or $33,000 for a larger kitchen for a complete re-do, according to data from Houzz. (For New Yorkers, it’s $40,800, on average.)

The deciding factor here is what kind of renovation your home needs to make it more comfortable for your household. Is the only complaint that the bathroom is outdated? That’s a relatively easy fix that will cost much less than moving—around $24,570 for New Yorkers, and likely less for people in other parts of the country.

But are there not enough bathrooms, or do you not have enough bedrooms for everyone, and the kids are over bunking together? It might be time to move—additions are notoriously tricky and nearly impossible if you’re in an apartment, townhome, or have a small lot. You may be able to get creative with your current space to carve a small bedroom, office, or nursery out of a large living room with new walls, but that just gets you one extra room—if you need more than that, it might be better to move.

Convenience and time

Taking convenience into account is no small thing, especially if you want a new kitchen and will have to go months without access to an oven in order to renovate your current one. According to data from Sweeten, a full-apartment renovation takes around four months, and it could take longer if permits and approvals are difficult to get. Moving, on the other hand, can take around five months to complete the entire process, including the home search, making an offer, and moving.

The convenience factor there is how uncomfortable your household will be during the process. During a renovation, especially if it’s a whole-home update, you’re almost certain to be very uncomfortable as the kitchen, bathrooms, and other much-used spaces are make unavailable for days or weeks at a time. During a move, you’re only truly uncomfortable during the actually packing, moving, and unpacking process, though working through a moving checklist (and selling a house) is incredibly stressful. Still, at least then you’ll have access to a bathroom the whole time.

Again, though, if you just need a better equipped bathroom, that would mean a shorter period during which you’d be inconvenienced—between three and six weeks, according to StreetEasy and Sweeten—and you’d be able to skip the stress of moving.

Should you renovate or move? It depends. Renovating a kitchen or a bathroom—or another room in the home—definitely outweighs the hassle of moving, but moving can get you everything you need in a home, including more space, all-new bathrooms and kitchen, and more. Before you make the decision, think about how your current home works for your current life stage and for where you’d like to be in five to ten years. You want a home that can grow and change with you—or you want to be prepared to move.

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