Q: We own a brick home with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and 3 fireplaces on a single level with finished basement. The house is 44 years old and is in very good shape. The location is very good and we couldn’t afford to buy this house if we were shopping around today. The bedrooms and bathrooms are a bit small but the family rooms are very big.

We are deciding on whether to build “out” and increase the size of the bedrooms and add space all around the house or build “up” by add another level to the house.

We plan to live here for a long time so we’d like to make improvements to satisfy our family. I’d like to have a home office and extra bathroom on the first floor that would double as a guest room.

Do you think we should build up or out?

A: I haven’t seen your house or your neighborhood, so I can’t give you specific advice. But, I can help you think this issue through.

Your first step should be to consult with an architect and contractor, because in many cases, ripping off the roof and building up will be more expensive than building out. If money is an issue, figuring out the budget and what can be done for that price will be a primary consideration.

The next issue to think about is how your land is shaped and how big a garden you want. Generally speaking, bumping out the house may be easier and less costly than going up. But, if it means you’ll eat up too much of the green space surrounding your home, that could diminish any appreciation you would see from your renovation.

Next, look to your community. Are the homes mostly ranches or two stories tall? Does there seem to be a trend toward tearing down one story homes and replacing them with much larger homes? Part of your decision should be based on what your neighbors have done and are now doing to their own homes.

I also think you have to talk to a few local real estate agents about other properties in the area. Ask their opinion of whether you’d eventually get more money out of your home by going up or out. It’s easy to get carried away by big home improvement dreams, only to find out you’ve built a white elephant that you can’t sell if you need to.

You should also pay a visit to your local town’s building department. There may be zoning laws or rules that will limit your ability to either bump out your home (because you’ll violate existing side yard requirements) or build up (because of square foot limitations due to the lot on which your home sits).

You will want to make a smart move that meets the needs of your family, but is also smart financially.

July 6, 2004.