Renovate or move?

That is the question contemplated by many homeowners who like their houses just fine, except for feeling a bit space constrained. When space constraints become unbearable, the question becomes whether to add more square footage to your current house or to move to a larger one.

Sometimes the answer is easy -- like when you need an extra bedroom and there's a perfect space right over your garage to put one, as many of your neighbors have done. Equally easy is when you realize expansion isn't possible because you're already maxed out on your lot coverage -- or wetland regulations prohibit what you'd like to do.

But other times the decision could go either way.

In this situation, it's best not to plunge head first into a renovation. A better idea is to consult with a real estate professional, who can help you avoid common mistakes such as these:

Converting garage space to living space, without replacing the garage somewhere else.

Reducing the number of bedrooms or bathrooms.

Adding a bedroom away from the other bedrooms, without also adding a full bath.

Adding something very personal to your own needs that another owner would not relate to or find useful.

Adding rooms willy-nilly, without consideration for layout flow or architectural design.

Creating an in-law apartment. Buyers' typical reaction to these is usually "How much would it cost to rip it out?"

Not reflecting current new construction standards (e.g., hardwood floors preferable to carpeting; gas cooking preferable to electric; nickel fixtures preferable to brass).

Using low-cost materials (e.g., laminate floors, fiberglas showers).

Over-improving the house versus the surrounding neighborhood.

The bottom line is that enlarging and renovating your home is a big financial investment that you should consider very carefully. Before embarking on such a project, you need to evaluate whether what you're planning makes sense from a resale perspective. If it does, it's important to think further about how best to implement your renovation with future buyers' wants, needs and tastes in mind in addition to your own.

I see work being done to 1960s colonials in neighborhoods all over town where new construction has sold between $2 million and $3 million. I've spoken to the owners of some of these homes, who figure they're safe investing $2 million or more in their own properties. So they confidently enlarge their houses, often undergoing multiple construction projects, pool installations and expensive landscaping upgrades.

I also see buyers reject these houses when they are listed for sale. That's because the $2 million-plus buyer is looking for features that many, if not most renovated `60s colonials do not have (and many can never have) -- including oversized rooms, two-story entries and nine-to-10-foot ceilings. They also want bedroom suites or Jack & Jill bath configurations, second-floor laundry, lavish lower levels, three-car garages and walk-up attics.

There are similar stories at every price point.

By consulting an experienced real estate professional before renovating, this disconnect need never happen. A professional will help you understand the value of your house pre- and post-renovation, and alert you to any potential pitfalls of what you're planning.

Some houses are worthy of major remodeling expenses. Others are not. Although homeowners are often unable to discern which category their house falls into, the smartest and most creative people in the real estate business will have your answers.

Evi Coghlan's "The Real Deal" appears every other Friday. She is a licensed real estate agent with the Riverside Avenue office of Coldwell Banker and a former marketing consultant to Fortune 100 companies. She may be reached at 203-247-6691, by emailing her at, or visiting