What To Consider Before Remodeling

Posted November 5, 2020 at 5:00 am by

Merri Ann Simonson - Contributed photo

By Mer­ri Ann Simon­son, Man­ag­ing Bro­ker, Cold­well Banker San Juan Islands Inc

While show­ing prop­er­ty, I am often asked, if the home could be ren­o­vat­ed or increased in size as the lot is per­fect but the home is too small or too dat­ed for the prospec­tive buyer.

As I have said numer­ous times, it is still more cost-effec­tive to buy exist­ing and remod­el than it is to build new con­struc­tion. With new homes, the cost is $400-$500 per square foot, and it is 20 months before you can walk over the threshold.

If you are buy­ing a home that you intend to remod­el, your fea­si­bil­i­ty study should include some of these items. These tests and research should be done pri­or to clos­ing so you know that your intend­ed remod­el can actu­al­ly be approved.

General Contractors

It is impor­tant to inter­view sev­er­al con­trac­tors as you are look­ing for one that is com­pat­i­ble with your com­mu­ni­ca­tion style, has the time, work­er force and ser­vice providers in place for the size of your remodel.

Check­ing ref­er­ences is very impor­tant. We do not have a func­tion­ing Angie’s list in San Juan Coun­ty, but your real estate agent, neigh­bors, lum­ber yard store or acquain­tances should be a good start­ing point.

Insist on a legal con­tract between the par­ties with pro­ce­dures for change order, punch list items, war­ran­ty, and cost over­runs. Many of the con­trac­tors on the island will not bid a remod­el due to the com­plex­i­ty and unknowns so they offer time and mate­ri­als contracts.

Your con­trac­tor should walk thru the home pri­or to clos­ing with you to ensure that your ideas can be accom­plished with­in your bud­get and time allo­ca­tion. Typ­i­cal­ly, it is not pos­si­ble for the contractor’s inspec­tion to be inva­sive, i.e., remov­ing sid­ing or sheetrock, unless you have con­tract­ed for it in the pur­chase agreement.


Your bud­get is very impor­tant. As men­tioned above, you will most like­ly not get a guar­an­teed bid and cost over­runs and change orders are part of the life of a remod­el. You need to build in a con­tin­gency fund for a remod­el as there are many unknowns and unex­pect­ed items. One rule of thumb I have used is bud­get x 2. An exam­ple is one con­trac­tor friend of mine went out to replace win­dows on a home, he end­ed up hav­ing to replace the entire wall on the front of the home due to wet rot. The prob­lem was not detectable until the sid­ing was removed.

Basi­cal­ly, you can do any­thing you want to change a home, it just depends on how much mon­ey you want to allo­cate for the project.

Septic Systems


Add a Bedroom

The first issue is the size of the cur­rent sep­tic. In order to add a bed­room, the sep­tic must be ade­quate in size for the num­ber of bed­rooms exist­ing and pro­posed. To increase the size of your sep­tic is not as easy as it used to be in the old days. You will need a perc test and the soil con­di­tions must com­ply with cur­rent reg­u­la­tions, not the rules in place with the sys­tem was installed. Sys­tems must now all have reserve areas that would also need to meet the num­ber of bed­rooms ser­viced by the drain field. The exist­ing sys­tem must be non-fail­ing. To evi­dence non-fail­ing to the Coun­ty, on-site sewage sys­tems inspec­tion forms must be sub­mit­ted for the past years.

The design­er will cre­ate the draw­ing for the addi­tion­al lat­er­al line for the increased sewage flow and then apply for the per­mit. The health depart­ment will make a site inspec­tion and then if all is in order, issue a per­mit. Those per­mits are good for 4 years. They take about 4 weeks to process.

If the sys­tem is old or no per­mits are of record, an “after-the-fact” per­mit must be applied for with the “as built” cre­at­ed for the sub­mis­sion. The own­er must expose the ends of each lat­er­al to ver­i­fy length and lay­out, dig a test hole adja­cent to the drain field and two holes in anoth­er loca­tion for the pos­si­ble reserve area.

Often it is best to upgrade the entire sys­tem to one of the pre-treat­ment type sys­tems such as a White­wa­ter or Avantec.


In order to have an addi­tion or remod­el that expands the build­ing foot­print but does not increase the load, (num­ber of bed­rooms) the sep­tic sys­tem must still be proven as non-fail­ing. Even if the expan­sion does not change the foot­print, (adding a sec­ond sto­ry) non-fail­ing must be proven. If you change the foot­print and increase the non-per­me­able sur­face, a stormwa­ter man­age­ment plan must also be submitted.

Expansion on the Waterfront

Water­front lot cov­er­age is 50% on the frontage; how­ev­er, if the home is non-con­form­ing due to the prox­im­i­ty to the shore­line, (less than 110 feet) you may only expand back or up and the foot­print includes over­hangs and decks. You may not expand side­ways as you may not increase the non­con­for­mi­ty of the improve­ments. If there is room on the lot, you can always elect to aban­don the exist­ing foot­print and move back to a con­form­ing set­back or even out of the Shore­line Man­age­ment area entire­ly (200 feet from the shore­line). By relo­cat­ing the struc­ture back, then you have more flex­i­bil­i­ty with the size of the home but must still com­ply with the 50% cov­er­age on the frontage. This change of foot­print is obvi­ous­ly now new con­struc­tion and no longer a remodel.

Cosmetic Remodels

Non-struc­tur­al items such as coun­ter­tops, car­pet, and paint gen­er­al­ly do not require a per­mit. How­ev­er, if you relo­cate the oven, sink, wash­er, dry­er or oth­er elec­tri­cal and plumb­ing changes, then a mechan­i­cal per­mit is required. If you change inte­ri­or walls, plans and a per­mit will be required which may include engineering.


You should always com­ply with the reg­u­la­tions and obtain per­mits. I know it is tempt­ing to avoid the process but when it comes time for you to sell and you do not have prop­er per­mits for the changes, it becomes unpleas­ant very quick­ly. Right­ful­ly so, buy­ers expect that the changes you made to the home are safe and the only way to prove that is with per­mits and inspec­tions. Fur­ther, the home­own­er Insur­ance firms may deny a claim if the inci­dent was caused by unsafe con­di­tions built with­out a permit.

Lenders can also become cranky dur­ing the pur­chase or refi­nance process if they find out that the remod­el was processed with­out prop­er per­mits. The most impor­tant part is get­ting the final inspec­tion. Some prop­er­ty own­ers are so excit­ed to move in that they and/or their con­trac­tors fail to call for the final cer­tifi­cate of occupancy.

Own­er Builder

If the home was built after 1988, under the San Juan Coun­ty Own­er Builder Pro­gram, the own­er must
have an Own­er Builder Life Safe­ty Inspec­tion from the Coun­ty with­in 30 days of sell­ing or rent­ing the home. If any defi­cien­cies are iden­ti­fied pur­suant to the inspec­tion, the own­er must rem­e­dy those. Sell­ers must pro­vide writ­ten proof that the home passed the Own­er Builder Life Safe­ty Inspec­tion pri­or to closing.

Buying Materials Online

With the con­ve­nience of online shop­ping, it is very tempt­ing to buy the mate­ri­als and hope that the ser­vice provider can install them in a time­ly and cor­rect man­ner. I rec­om­mend bring­ing in the ser­vice provider upfront before you start pur­chas­ing and con­firm they are famil­iar with the prod­uct line. Often, they have dis­counts that they can offer you with­in the prod­uct line that are eas­i­er to install and well test­ed for this area. The biggest issue is the on-line pur­chas­es may not include all the parts nec­es­sary for the install. You might get the faucet you ordered but the rest of the parts will need to be ordered as well. Leave it to the professionals.

Your Responsibilities

You need to over­see the job. You should not buy a home on the island and expect to return in 90 days and have it remod­eled per­fect­ly. You need to mon­i­tor the progress or lack there­of via Skype, Face­time or sim­i­lar if you are remote. Dai­ly or week­ly site inspec­tions are very impor­tant. Change orders and cost over­runs must be documented.

Finalization of the Project

• Lien waiv­er affi­davits from the con­trac­tors and ser­vice providers upon completion.
• Final Inspec­tions by Coun­ty and/or Labor and Industry.
• Punch list with the con­trac­tor and assigned com­ple­tion dates.

Remodels That Provide Value

For­tu­nate­ly, it is not dif­fi­cult to eval­u­ate the poten­tial resale val­ue. Kitchen and bath­room remod­els, adding a deck, or fin­ish­ing a base­ment or attic are all pop­u­lar ren­o­va­tions because they upgrade the most-used rooms in the house or add liv­ing space.

In terms of resale val­ue, here are some pop­u­lar projects with high pay­backs, accord­ing to Remod­el­ing Mag­a­zine’s Cost ver­sus Val­ue Report:

• Adding an attic bed­room — 83.1 percent
• Adding a wood­en deck — 80.6 percent
• Minor kitchen remod­el — 78.3 percent
• Major kitchen remod­el — 72.1 percent
• Base­ment remod­el — 75.4 percent
• Bath­room remod­el — 71 percent

Even small­er remod­els, while cost­ing less than major jobs, can still have a major impact on how your
home looks and feels. How it will improve your life and if it will enhance your enjoy­ment of the home is
one of the most impor­tant factors.

With some care­ful plan­ning, bud­get­ing, and research you can ensure you reap the most finan­cial and
per­son­al val­ue for what­ev­er ren­o­va­tion you decide to undertake.

As I was mar­ried to a gen­er­al con­trac­tor in the past and have lived through numer­ous remod­el­ing projects, I do wish you the best with your remod­el project. It can be a char­ac­ter-build­ing expe­ri­ence but
very rewarding.

If you need ref­er­ences for design­ers, archi­tects, or gen­er­al con­trac­tors, please be sure to con­tact me at 360–317-8668.

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

One comment...

  1. Don’t for­get CC&Rs and poten­tial HOA approval as well for exter­nal­ly vis­i­ble struc­tur­al remodeling.

    Comment by Shawn Alexander on November 5, 2020 at 7:08 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0