Remodel vs Build


So when we were done with the option period , and signed the papers, we found ourselves gearing up for a potential remodel.  The house we bought was a small 1940s’ build and needed a lot of work. We thought the existing foundation could be retained and another floor added on the existing footprint. Thus many scribbles and floor plans followed in umpteen configurations and we thought we were close.
Mind you we were still in Chicago and still oblivious of the very intricate Austin zoning laws!

As we were progressing, our architect and dear friend Samadhi (bless his soul) based in Chicago, was trying to derive something meaningful from my sketches 😄



Once we were close to finalizing the design, a geo-tech survey had to be ordered and that’s when the unpleasant surprises began to unfold! I got in touch with a foundation repair company to get a detailed structural evaluation. We wanted to be sure that the old foundation was sound enough to take the addition of another floor. The report concluded it would be advisable to reinforce or replace the foundation if we wanted to avoid any settling in the structure and that it may not be a good idea to add a floor.

The geo-tech report took 6 weeks and it was not good news. Turns out many parts  of Austin have expansive clay soil. As a result movement of the home is inevitable with simpler foundation systems. Therefore, the suggestion was to go with a less commonly used suspended slab on pier foundation system.

This had a few advantages, but one big drawback is that these foundation systems are more expensive.For more info on foundation systems check out the links below:

It was a tough decision but we were in love with the location and neighborhood,which meant:

  • Going back to the drawing board.
  • Dealing with the City of Austin to obtain a demolition permit. The house had a contributing status in the Old West Austin neighborhood which meant an additional approval from the historical landmark commission. If deemed a historical landmark, then our only option would be a limited renovation.😞
  • Finding a contractor- Austin has a thriving building industry and it is nice that you have a lot to choose from. But it can be quite challenging to find the right temperamental, financial and commitment fit.
  • Engaging with the neighborhood association. All neighborhood associations have a set of guidelines that they would like you to follow as closely as possible. A word of advice, the guidelines are advisory but some people in the neighborhood can be quite ornery. It’s best to appeal to them rationally and have a contractor/architect on board who is familiar with the process.

Here are 9 important steps that will help in moving towards building or remodeling your next home:

  • The geo-tech report. It determines the soil condition and the potential structural work required to maintain or support the construction.
  • I would highly recommend checking if the neighborhood has an association and its guidelines. These may or may not affect how you remodel or build if that’s the path you decide to go down.
  • Checking for home condition and historical status especially if buying an older home. (link below)
  • If remote, it might be a good idea to consult with a permit expeditor- the only caveat being they are very expensive and after a point basically charge you for going and waiting for a signature at the city office-  I took over after the historical piece as had moved to austin by then and was able to save on money and time by being engaged with the process.
  • Getting a contractor on board- that can be a lifesaver as they are way more informed than you and me about the various moving parts of the process.
  • Choosing an architect: austin has a lot of talent so am sure you will find the right fit
  • Having a relatively concrete budget for the house.
  • Familiarize yourself with the City of Austin rule book – good luck with that!
  • Be patient!

What’s your home building story? let’s share.


Before the Move..


Austin had all the compelling reasons to move but before the movers came a knocking, and my husband said yes to his company to relocate, we really wanted to come and feel out the city to get a sense of neighborhoods, schools, and a general lay of the land. It really helped to plan the trip in advance and get in touch with a real estate agent who by the way was a blessing! Being a homegrown Austin gal and a mother of young kids, she shared her wealth of knowledge to guide us and this really helped us in making informed decisions.

The first big decision was whether we should rent or buy?

We really wanted to make a home in Austin and having moved half a dozen times, the idea of living in our own space was definitely a driver to buy a home. Also, browsing through innumerable articles (some links below), I learnt that the Austin housing market has been robust for almost 6 years in a row. Reading about it in the  Austin Relocation Guide , it was reassuring to see that we were moving in the right direction. Also some number crunching and talking to our realtor showed that it would be almost 35% cheaper for us to buy vs rent in the long run!

How long would the commute to and from work be?

Honestly for me it would be kitchen to a work table 😛 but, Siddarth, my  husband was very clear that he would like to keep it under 30 minutes. (Before I go on please let me tell you that he is “obsessed with Walkscore” and that has been a huge deciding factor in all the places we’ve lived.)  Thus we scouted pretty much all the neighborhoods in Austin with a toddler in tow and routed it to work (Thank you iPad mini for being my portable babysitter ♥).

What are the school options?

With a four year old, I really wanted to be sure that we considered all our public and private school options. Ideally buying in a good school district would be nice as it would be a great way to integrate with the community. But I also wanted to check out the private school options if we were unable to buy a home before we got here.

Would this be a forever home or would we eventually outgrow it?

Let me tell you the weather in Austin is so good and there are so many outdoor recreation options that we did not feel the need to invest in a home with sprawling grounds- but we like being out so this is completely a personal preference. If you want ‘big’ you can definitely find it in Austin and the hill country 🙂

What is public transportation like?

Austin does not have the best public transportation when compared to Chicago or New York (of course you always have taxis and Uber). Driving and biking to most places is the norm but I still wanted the option to be able to explore the city without being smack dab in the middle of downtown! So living close to local businesses, restaurants, parks and other amenities was important.  

So here is my list of 7 things to consider when moving :


Here are some links that might be useful as well.

Hope this helps.😀

What’s your moving story?