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Tuesday, 06 May 2014


I'm not surprised that a different house wins out over remodeling; that's nearly always true for extensive remodels (sometimes trumped by very strong emotional attachment to the house itself or the location).

No chance of building from scratch, so you can get the perfect layout, I presume? Last I looked it was much more expensive, so quite probably not.

I better quit now, before I get too much deeper into solving your problem to my satisfaction.

Dear Mike,

I've been following the TOP office saga with bated breath and best wishes for a satisfactory resolution. There is one aspect of your decision making I don't recall reading about. You state you must work at home. Why?

You are operating a business. Perhaps buying or leasing office space would work. Nearby commercial space may be a better bargain in your area. Your online activities would be available anywhere but you'd have to decide where to locate the pool table.

I hope you can solve your problem.

bd writing from my wall-challenged "office, TV room, library, etc".

[Bob, I just know myself. I could have the nicest office in the world, and I'd never go there. And/or I'd have half the stuff I need at one place and the other half at the other place and nothing I needed would ever be where I was. Moving to a separate office would be the surest way in the world to kill TOP dead as a stone. --Mike]

Buy a 35' fifth wheel and park it in the driveway. When/if you move, your office goes with you. If you left something in the house, Bob's your uncle!

Mike, I agree with Bob above—at least consider a small office space. The advantages are numerous, including not being required to have an employee come to your house. And I don't know how your town is, but if you could find something that's a mile or so from your house, you could walk back and forth most days.

Also, it *could* be an interim solution, something to get your net phase started while you are looking/waiting/fundraising for the new house. If the investment in a small or shared office space can pay itself off over the year or so that you need before you can move, it might keep you from being bottled up / bursting at the seams until then.

And it would solve all of your computer woes, you would have to buy a 15" macbook pro and cart it around from one place to the other.

Maybe there's even a local pool hall with an empty room in the back... ;)

Can you build a second structure on your present property, i.e. an outside office, perhaps with a connecting breezeway?

If you weren't stuck on staying the midwest I'd sell you my old place, two apartments on separate floors, 1200 feet per floor. You could use one to live in and the other as office. I know what it's like to be attached to a place though. As a friend once told me when I asked why he stayed here in NNY after losing his job, "when you put your roots down in the North Country... they freeze."

Is there any special reason you need to stay in Waukesha? Maybe someplace like Madison, Kenosha or Kalamazoo would have better options for you without your having to move too far out of your small midwestern city comfort zone. (I don't mean that to be snarky: We all have needs and preferences and yours are just as valid as anyone else's.)

[My son lives here. He grew up here, it's his home. For the time being, anyway. --Mike]

Build, customized to your needs, with an eye towards resale. That sounds hard, and likely is, but it would give you what you need and none of what you don't (except for the nod towards resale). Find a nice empty lot. Geothermal, lots of insulation, nice light for the interior where you want it, space for a studio, a basement for the pool table (or above the garage, that would be novel!).

I always said the prefect house for me would be a warehouse with attached bedroom.

Have you been looking at Townhouses?

I run my business out of a 4 bedroom townhouse (2 up - 2 down), very nicely and don't have to mow or shovel, oh and it's accessible so it has wide doorways.


Mike: You've lived elsewhere in your life, could you or would you move elsewhere?

I understand your problem having been through similar a year prior. Problem is here in Southern Ontario within the Greater Toronto Area (Basically from Oshawa on the east to Toronto around the west end of Lake Ontario including Oakville Burlington and Hamilton)(GTA)), the average price for a three bedroom bungalow is half a million!

I ended up with a small less than 900 foot
square bungalow in Burlington, ON for C$350,000, a bargain in this area. Spent C$75,000 in renovations; and waiting for furniture that I ordered six months prior.

Can well understand your frustration about
looking for a viable solution.
You'll get what you want as this may well be the last house/home you're going to have into your senior years and perhaps beyond. So look for something simple, one floor perhaps with a basement and room for expansion, beyond your current needs...

Be ready, then have patience :)

My wife and I moved to our current house nearly 20 years ago after my job relocated. The office move was far enough that we had to move (my commute went from 50 miles/1 hour to about 1:45) but close enough that I could do it while we looked for a house (it helped that my company paid a mileage reimbursement, though my original commute was so long that it didn't add up to much).

We set our sights on a town that we like, a little closer to our home town than to my work place. It was a small town and after a few months, we'd looked at every property in our price range and started waiting for new homes to be listed. Everything we liked was about $100,000 too high and everything in our price range was just ... weird. I remember walking through a gorgeous old Victorian with great woodwork and high ceilings, all the while wondering "what's wrong with this picture ?" Turns out the original house was converted into condos, with the "big" unit we looked at plus two small apartments, then additional buildings on the property, and the big unit being responsible for the lion's share of the condo fees ! There was one house on 4-5 acres with a pond that we never got to see after trying for 3 months because the tenants wouldn't cooperate with the owner.
Finally, we just decided to try going north - something that should have been obvious in the first place (since our jobs run east-west); we just weren't familiar with the area. We looked at 4-5 houses and found the right one within a week.
Aside from the frustration of wondering if we would ever find a house we liked, it was generally fun to go looking at houses.
Good luck with your quest.

Do you have space in your back yard for a room? I see a lot of manufactured buildings that are sold as storage rooms made to be placed on a concrete slab in a back yard. Some are quite large and are used as a garden room, workshop, or even a garage. With good insulation and electric hookup they would make a great office for a lot less than a remodel.

Good luck! An excellent realtor is worth their weight in gold. I hope for you the best!

Not relevant I supposed in US where large house dominate, but is there no chance you can get a small but nice one close-by instead. A walk to your "office" and back clear your mind as well.

Hi, Mike

I've done construction law for about 35 years and, while I may not know how to build a house properly, I certainly know how not to build one (from both my general technical training way back at MIT and from the many lawsuits that I've seen going both ways). There are a few basics that I've learned along the way.

1. Buying an older house with the intention of significantly remodeling the home after purchase is typically a losing proposition. You'll likely spend twice as much as you planned and still have an older house without the value. I had a friend who was a very competent architect/structural engineer/county public works director who found that to be true even for him, and he did a lot of his own craft work on the carpentry, etc. He swore never to do this again, telling me that the remodel cost him twice as much as if he had built new, up-to-Code construction.

2. Before purchase, do a walk-through of the house with an experienced engineer with structural and civil engineering experience. A lot of the licensed "home inspectors" don't really have the overall competence to properly evaluate the entirety of a structural. It's even better if the engineer is ICBO-certified by the International Council of Building Officials, the group that writes the model building code.

3. In a cold/damp snow climate like Wisconsin ( and here in Alaska, for that matter), lack of proper vapor barriers and roof ventilation are really major issues that most builders did not properly address 20 or 30 years ago. Any such deficiencies can cause major structural, mold/rot, and general condensation problems, particularly in roofs that are not properly vented. Most wooden roof structures are realistically rated for a 30 year life span, but venting and condensation problems can make such problems more severe, costly to repair, and likely to fail sooner than the rated life.

Be sure to check these sorts of structures carefully. If you're serious about the place, then be sure that you can visually inspect any areas that might be prone to condensation-caused rot unless you already plan to replace that structural component. As an example, there's little sense in tearing holes in a roof deck to examine a soft or sagging roof that's 28 years old and has a 30 year expected life span. You know that, realistically, you're going to have to replace the roof anyway.

4. Realistically, you'll most likely save money in the long haul by buying a decent quality house that's 15-20 years old and already adequate for your needs as-is with only minor remodeling.

In the UK the most popular (and cost/investment best option) to your problem would be to build a room in the roof space. Sometimes this includes remodelling the roof line to allow for vertical windows and more head room inside. The awkward sloping spaces remaining can make excellent cupboard storage. Experts at doing this are very ingenious and an extra room always adds a lot of value to your property.
Apologies if you've already considered this or if totally unsuitable for your property - I couldn't find a picture of it.

Hi Mike,
You know what I think about living on the North Pole... it's a waste of life. Grab the chance and move close to a warm coast. You will save on heating and depression.
BTW, Isn't it possible to live in a small apartment and rent a loft space for work, possibly half an hour fast walk one from the other? This way you'd be obliged to move more. Make your walk along the sea...

Like Mandeno, I thought of another building on your present property.This idea may have been suggested the last time the subject came up, but you now have a pot of money to make it happen.

Something like a long, fairly narrow, solidly built office up one side of the garden, with access via a short corridor from one corner of the house. That access could also serve as a separate entrance to the office for visitors and perhaps an employee.

The office could be super insulated so would cost very little to heat, but heating pipes and other services can come in via the access corridor.

You could have another door into the garden with a small patio where you can drink your coffee and watch the garden birds, taking a break from the screen.

The existing office can house your book collection and some of the less used TOP reference materials.

This office could possibly increase the desirability of your existing home and go some way to paying for itself in the end, but you would be able to make at least some of the improvements that you feel TOP needs.

[Hi Roger, we did go through every option for increasing the space here. Every. Single. One. I promise. I've had several experts here to inspect the situation and try to solve the puzzle.

There's no buildable room left on the lot. It was originally the side lot of the house next door. The backyard is smaller than most swimming pools already. And per zoning, since I already have a detached garage, I'd be allowed to build a garden shed but nothing more. A second story over the garage is not allowed (you can't have a 2-story garage next to a 1-story house), and a second story on the house would be prohibitively expensive and incredibly disruptive. I'd probably have to move away while the work was being done. --Mike]

just out of curiosity... have you asked Zander about having to stay where you are? It's unlikely he'll be moving back (at least long term) so he probably doesn't care too much where you relocate.

Have you considered a "modular" home? These are factory-built, usually energy efficient, and if you pick a simple design, and go easy on custom features, can go up quickly. A rancher style might do it. Google search for WI turned up this builder:

You'd need a building lot, of course.

[Building lots are very scarce in my area. There are practically none in town, and those that are available nearby are quite scarce and obviously sort of "the last leftovers" of the land--which is quite obvious when you inspect them. They're mainly the places nobody wanted to build on when there were more attractive alternatives available.

The alternative is a housing development, which a) I think are dreadful (no offense to anyone who lives in one--different strokes etc.), and b) can easily cost as much for a lot as my current lot AND house together. I'm not saying this option is out of the question, but it's a tough one. --Mike]

I'd vote for the backyard office. There are a ton of small modular options that would work, and don't cost an arm and a leg. In many places--my town, for instance--you don't even need a permit as long as the structure isn't permanently foundationed; you just build out a gravel pad and have the modular installed on it. Biggest issue is getting electricity over to it.

For instance, a high end 10x16 unit, fully installed, is about US$25,000 from a place like https://www.studio-shed.com/configure/. Here in PA, I can find Amish/Quaker options that are far cheaper than that, though I'd have to wire them myself.

I don't know how big your garden is but would a well insulated shed/outhouse be an idea

I like the idea of renting a small office nearby. millions of small business operate that way and it might make your life simpler. When you are home you can be home doing home things; when at work you can concentrate doing the business. You might become more efficient and there are also tax advantages.

Perhaps you could look into a prefabricated home (and no, I don't mean a trailer park). Some of the designs are actually quite nice and much less expensive than building a house from scratch. Assuming you could find one you like that's suitable for your area, then all you'd need to do is find an empty lot or an easy tear-down in a neighborhood that will tolerate all the activity associated with TOP World Headquarters.

I'm with Mandeno above regarding a second structure. I've had my office in garage-like structures for years. All you need, beside the basic structure is light, power, and heat. Add some storage shelves for all the upcoming print sales and you're good to go! :-)

P.S. If you build the second structure big enough, you can have the d**n pool table in there too!

All I can offer are my sympathies. I'm smack in the middle of a painful sell/move/buy process myself, all in a hurry. I hate it.

I think you will find something. Remember to look for the FSBO's out there, since the real estate agents make no money off of them and might not point them out, and not all of them pay the significant cash required to get listed (they show up on Craigslist, the paper, and sometimes even grocery store bulletin boards).

Thinking outside the box? Loft? Converted warehouse?
Consider this a brainstorm.

Semi long time reader, first time poster, but your situation is quite a bit like what my wife and I were looking at not too long ago.

What about the option of looking for a similar sized house with a larger property, and finding a mid-sized modular office (like used on construction sites, schools and the like, or a similar structure) and doing a permanent installation like you would a manufactured house? Ebay has quite a number of them (searched for "used office trailer") for as little as a couple of thousand dollars. That would give you a large, usable office space...several hundred squre feet...with separation from your living area, at quite possibly a comparably modest cost.

All these people trying to help by thinking "outside the box" when is obvious you need to think INSIDE the box. And yes, we were first with the use of the motto... Keep Austin Weird!


Good Luck Mike!

I noticed that no one suggested that you tear down the detached garage and rebuild it attached, larger (or higher since it's now part of the house), with TOP as part of the design. You would not have to move, but the car would, temporarily, but it would not mind.

Mike, I think it's interesting how you have opened your dilemma to your readership. It's both interesting and informative to read the genuine concern in so many responses.
You've obviously thought through just about every permutation so I won't make any direct suggestions, but will add one cautionary note.

With respect to the basement, (I absolutely don't blame you a bit for not wanting to spend your life below ground)- even though you have no desire to fix it for what it might cost, just be aware that when you go to sell your house, you may find many buyers will stipulate that shch things be fixed, or monies escrowed for repair.
So it could either cut the pool of potential buyers, or cut the proceeds available for the new place.
We see it often here on the east coast, (especially as related to potential Mold issues) and it may also be a requirement of buyer's disclosure .
Laws and conventions vary with geography so it may or may not be an issue for you.
Great good luck with the enterprise.

PS You could also go the giant Winnebago route and spend some time in each state. ; -)) On the Road with.......TOP

It's a common fallacy to think a modest, smallish house is easier to take of. Nor does a largish house have to be luxurious. Hate to say this, Mike, but if you've looked at 300 houses, & still aren't satisfied, you might think of revisiting your own criteria.
With a bigger house you get more choice for storing/utilising your stuff, a more flexible layout to, ahem, expand into.
As well, bigger rooms mean more space between your furniture, so vacuuming etc. is quicker/easier 'cos you're not constantly lifting & moving things.
Many of us sympathise with your dilemma, but 300 houses is an awfully high rejection rate!

Could you build a TOP Command Bunker under your garage?

[How did you find out about that? Now I have to kill you. --Mike]

Probably against your grain: 1)Rent office space; separation between church and state is good. 2) Rent is 100% tax-deductible; 3)It's healthy to get out of the house (speaking from experience); 4)It's really nice to have the luxury of taking a beloved canine to work--they love getting out of the house; 5)Why incur debt on purchasing or remodeling an existing home? Overall cost of ownership will go up for upkeep and maintenance; 5) You are closer to paying off your mortgage now than if you borrow more. 6)You will have the liquidity to rent a nice cottage in Florida for one month during the winter.

When you've saved enough for a new house (2 years, wasn't that your estimate?) very possibly your son will have left the town. Time solves most problems.

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