The Universal Notebook: Renovate or relocate?

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We have lived in this little house in Yarmouth for 32 years now, far longer than either of us ever lived anywhere else. We raised three daughters to adulthood here.

I was able to live in a house with four women and only one bathroom primarily because our yard backs up to woods. Now we’re thinking we’d like a second bathroom.

You’d think that an empty nest would feel spacious, that you’d be able to downsize after the kids flew the coop, but now they come back with boyfriends, husbands and babies, making this little Cape feel smaller than it has ever felt before.

It was kind of snug when there were five of us. Now sometimes there are as many as 11 sleeping under this roof. Between beds, cots, sleeping bags, futons and Pack ‘n’ Plays, everyone has a place to lie down, but we all have to use the same bathroom.

The inevitable discussion about changing our living conditions starts with the desire to have our own bathroom, but it branches out from there into a complex decision tree, the primary fork in which is whether to renovate or relocate. Do we added on to this house, or do we move?

My initial inclination is to renovate, to add maybe a bathroom, full rear dormer and front dormer windows to the second floor, and a mudroom at the back door. Carolyn would like a garage as well, but we can’t have one because of a storm drain easement running down the middle of our driveway.

We could refinance now at a lower rate and get a nice little nest egg to expand the nest, but the renovations we’d like to do would, according to one estimate, cost almost as much as the house is worth. We’d never get our investment back, but then the idea is to make ourselves more comfortable, not more valuable.

While I haven’t given up on remodeling, relocating does have a certain appeal.

We can afford more house now that all three daughters have completed college, but we can’t afford much more house here in Yarmouth, where $250,000 will get you a starter home; what we would like might cost twice that.

So I’ve been keeping my eye on the housing market in more affordable nearby towns. From what I’ve seen, comparable homes in Brunswick and Portland, for instance, are at least $100,000 cheaper than in Yarmouth. For that added value we have Yarmouth’s excellent school system and well-preserved village center to thank.

I have the Maine Listings on my favorites list and when I search for prospective houses online, I look first at price and then for four bedrooms (I need one for an office), two bathrooms, fireplaces, homes where Carolyn can safely walk the dog after dark, where she can garden, and where the grandchildren will play. If a virtual tour of the house and neighborhood look promising, we do a drive-by. So far nothing in our price range has excited either of us.

If we do end up moving, I will probably have to be carried out by the movers. My family moved almost every year until we finally settled in Westbrook when I was 12, and my parents moved another five or six times after that, so I prefer to stay put.

Then, too, I have a propensity to make a virtue of my idiosyncrasies, so I frown on moving as a form of rootlessness. I have never understood people picking up and moving just to get a better job. And the idea of retiring to Florida or Arizona makes no sense to me whatsoever. I sometimes think we’d all be better off if we just stayed where we belong. I guess that makes me a provincial.

And that’s the hard thing about deciding whether to invest in this little house or to buy a better house elsewhere: I feel as though I belong in Yarmouth.

I like being invested in the community, the schools, the parks, the church, the library, the Clam Festival, the people. I take comfort in the familiar. I guess that just makes me a local yokel wherever I am.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.