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Need a bigger house? More opt to raise roof

Special to The Seattle Times

Addition potential

Buyers in the market for homes with potential for second-story additions should keep a few important things in mind, experts say.

Look for homes built after 1940. "Postwar boxes" or "Roman brick houses" generally have great foundations and can be easy to add onto.

Homes with poor foundations can be difficult to add onto, but it's not impossible. Work with a contractor who specializes in remodeling older homes. Expect to spend more of your construction budget to update the foundation.

Source: Thomas Lawrence, American Institute of Architects

Want to be the general contractor?

Here are five tips from Carl Anselmi, a Kirkland homeowner who learned a thing or two by managing his home-construction project, and Dan Klusman, communications director for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties:

Hire a good architect: When you add onto your house, the addition should tie in seamlessly, Anselmi said. When the project is complete, the home should look like it belongs in the neighborhood.

Create a timeline: Get books at the library or do online research to determine how long each step of a construction project should take, Anselmi said. Map out the project.

Move your stuff out of the house: Rent a storage unit. Even rooms that are not part of the project are likely to be messy. "Sheetrock dust permeates everything," Anselmi said.

Hire an interior designer: If you need help matching the space with the rest of the house, call a professional. "There are a million choices you have to make during a project like this," Anselmi said. "It's great to have someone to help you tie it all together."

Keep a detailed phone log: Subcontractors, says Anselmi, are notorious for not returning calls and not showing up. "You have to constantly stay on them, and give them advance warning," she says. A detailed phone log helps you refer back to your past conversations for confirmation of verbal agreements.

Check out the companies you hire:

• Check with the state Department of Labor and Industries ( to make sure the contractor is licensed and bonded. Working with an unlicensed contractor is risky, Klusman said, because homeowners can be held liable in case of accidents.

• Ask for references — especially names of people who have had similar work done — and check them. Ask to see the work; if you can't, ask to see pictures of it.

• Make sure you get a written estimate or proposal; don't work with a contractor who won't give you one.

• Don't hire anyone who wants you to pay for the entire job up front, Klusman said. Half down is standard.

When Lynn Anselmi and her husband, Carl, moved into their 1,800-square-foot Kirkland home in 1998, they had two young sons in bunk beds. Built in the early 1980s, the tri-level home with an upper-floor master bedroom was spacious enough for a small family.

Then a few years passed. Another child was born, and their boys were approaching their teen years. The family decided it had two choices: move to a new house or raise the roof on their home and add a second story.

At first, moving elsewhere seemed like the best decision, but the couple didn't like the idea of making their children change schools or moving out of Kirkland's sought-after Houghton neighborhood.

"Once you get hooked into a neighborhood, it's hard to uproot and move elsewhere," Anselmi said.

Plus, it was 2002, and housing prices had skyrocketed to well beyond the $267,000 they paid for their home six years ago.

"There were million-dollar homes going up everywhere in Kirkland," Anselmi said. "We knew we couldn't afford that."

In the pricey Puget Sound area real-estate market, such a project makes sense, says Thomas Lawrence, director for public awareness for the American Institute of Architects in Seattle.

"Second-story additions have become increasingly popular in the Seattle area as house prices have gone up," Lawrence said.

Remodeling magazine's most recent Cost vs. Value Report says second-story additions are among the most valuable home improvements, sometimes returning more than they cost.

So by spring 2003, the family had hired an architect, moved into an apartment, and braced for months of construction on their home.

In most cases, when homeowners have plenty of equity to draw from, such additions are "no brainers," said Lawrence, who added a second story to his own home in 2001.

Acting as contractor

For the Anselmis' addition, hiring a general contractor was an option, but they decided to try their hand at managing the project themselves.

"We knew we could save money that way," Anselmi said.

The couple set a budget of $250,000, developed a project-tracking spreadsheet and timeline, and hired subcontractors. Whenever they could, they took advantage of opportunities to save money. For example, rather than hire a crew to tear off the roof, they did it themselves.

"We sunk the $4,000 we saved from that into an air-conditioning system," Anselmi said.

A project like this isn't for the faint of heart. The Anselmis spent evenings, weekends and sometimes workday lunch hours dealing with house-project issues — cleaning up after subcontractors, removing renegade nails from the yard, using a jackhammer to break up discarded concrete, among others.

After six months of hard work, the family moved into their updated home in December 2003.

Anselmi says she's pleased with the final product.

"It was an excellent investment," she said.

Valued at more than $800,000, the couple's house now has 2,900 square feet, three new bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, an updated kitchen and eating area, and a bonus sunroom.

An "instant" addition

Moving out of your home isn't the only option for a second-story project.

Maxim Hessels, a Dutch carpenter, moved to Seattle from Holland two years ago with his American wife.

The couple spent $255,000 on a small 1926 home in Shoreline.

The house had two stories, but the upstairs space was mostly unusable, Hessels said.

"It had a very steep roof, so you have to adjust your head in places upstairs," he said.

Plus, the exterior didn't have loads of street appeal.

"All you saw from the street was roof — it was 80 percent shingles," said Hessels. "It looked like a small house. It needed a dormer."

Hessels wasn't thrilled with the idea of tearing open his roof for months on end.

He decided to build the dormer first. He bought a 10-foot-by-20-foot party tent, attached it to a plywood base in his backyard, and began construction on the dormer.

In Europe, Hessels said, the practice is quite common. Custom dormers are often made in a factory and delivered to your doorstep.

"You don't have carpenters in your house, and it is much more efficient than bringing up lumber and tools," he said. "Plus, there's less mess in the house."

After six months of construction on the 11-foot-by-17-foot dormer, which would serve as a new master bedroom, Hessels was ready to marry the house and the addition.

He cut the roof open May 11, and the crane came the following day to hoist the dormer onto the house. Two people stood on the roof to help guide it into place.

"I measured it 20 or 30 times to make sure the angles fit," he said. "It fit perfectly. It was level and plumb, and everything fit."

Hessels says his neighbors were shocked with the seemingly instant addition.

"They left for work in the morning and came back in the evening, and I had this big addition on the house," he said.

Because he did all of the work, the project cost $8,000. Hiring a contractor for such a project, Hessels estimated, would cost $25,000 or more.

His advice: Hire an architect to draw the plans. Adhere to city codes and regulations and get a permit.

Finding a company that has experience with dormers constructed off site can be difficult, he said, because the idea is new to the Seattle area.

But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Just make sure to remind contractors of an important thing:

"Don't use framing nails. Use bolts because when you pick up the dormer, it could collapse under its own weight."

Now valued at more than $380,000, Hessels says he's pleased with his home's new look — especially the view from the street.

But most important, he says, "My wife loves it."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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