When Erich and Amanda Cabe bought their home in Bethesda’s Tulip Hill neighborhood in 2013, it was hardly the house of their dreams. Built in the late 1950s, the midcentury-modern home had a small self-contained kitchen, bedrooms with tiny closets, and too few bathrooms. “We knew when we moved in that we loved the space and loved the neighborhood,” Amanda says. “But the house had some things that we wanted to change.”
Moving from a townhouse in Washington, D.C.’s bustling Mount Pleasant neighborhood with their 6-month-old son in tow, the Cabes had been looking for a suburban starter home in a family-friendly community. Erich Cabe, a real estate agent with Compass, thought Tulip Hill would be ideal for his growing family, but was concerned that the lack of inventory in the popular neighborhood would make it hard to find a property. When a house went on the market shortly after the Cabes made their decision to relocate, the family jumped at the opportunity to move to the neighborhood.
“We had only one child at the time and bought a house suited for a family of four or five, knowing that it needed renovations,” says Erich, who welcomed a second son with his wife shortly after the family moved to Tulip Hill. “We were younger, with growing incomes, and we knew we could spend a lot of money to buy a new construction or fully renovated home done to someone else’s taste and style. Instead, we decided to buy a home that was in good condition, but was dated.”
The Cabes waited—and saved—for several years before they seriously considered executing the remodel they envisioned. But before turning their home into a construction site and moving their two boys, now ages 5 and 7, into temporary housing, the Cabes decided to explore the option of selling their 4,000-square-foot home and finding something new that could better suit the family’s tastes and needs.
According to Erich, his family’s decision was similar to a predicament faced by many of his clients and popularized by the HGTV show Love It or List It: If your home no longer satisfies your needs, should you remodel it to create the house of your dreams or find a new one that might be a better fit for your family?
It’s a complex choice. “You have to be OK with the fact that if you add it up—the acquisition cost of the house plus the renovations—it’s not a good financial decision,” Erich says of remodeling vs. moving. “If, however, you are going to live in the home for a long time and you love where you live, then it’s the best decision.”
In Erich’s experience as a real estate agent, several types of homeowners can find themselves facing such a dilemma, including growing families that may buy an affordable home that needs work and then spend a few years saving for a renovation or a move. Older homeowners who are looking to age in place either by creating a main-level master bedroom or by relocating to a home where one-level living is possible are another type. There are also the homeowners who are seeking a dwelling conducive to multigenerational living that includes a private area for an aging parent or an adult child. Finally, there are the homeowners who are just looking for a change—something Erich sees quite often. These homeowners may want something specific, such as an updated kitchen or a home with the latest design trends. “When people think about their homes, they may be more romantic than pragmatic,” he says.