It happens suddenly, over a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper, or perhaps as you make your way across the obstacle course of clutter that was once your living room.

Your house doesn’t fit your needs, and you can’t deny it anymore.

It’s time to make a hard decision, one that will undoubtedly involve thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars. Should you move, or should you remodel?

The typical family faces this decision several times in life.

The first milestone tends to be when children arrive. The standard American lifestyle is to buy a modestly-size starter house, which will at some point become too small as the family grows.

Even if you make do while the children are small, children become teens, and suddenly shared accommodations feel more like an invasion of privacy than a slumber party. Additional square feet are required to solve these situations, so a move to a second home (and maybe even a third) is typical.

The years fly by and another challenge hits: college. As children move away for school or into their own apartments, the large, teenager-friendly house suddenly feels too big. It may be time to downsize or perhaps convert Junior’s bedroom into that hobby utopia you’d always dreamed about.

Finally, families often face the prospect of becoming caretakers for an aging relative, or perhaps a spouse falls ill and the home needs to become more accessible. Time for yet another change.

Whichever life circumstance pushes you into the move versus remodel decision mode, the best place to start is by evaluating the physical layout of your existing property.

Many communities put limits on how big a house can be in relation to its plot of land. A number of homes are already being built to the dimensions of what is allowed. If your house is as large as it can be, planning an addition would be out of the question, so you will need to work within your existing footprint, expand up or down, or move.

An architect can help you evaluate the potential of your existing home and give you a ballpark cost estimate of a remodeling scheme.

We also recommend that homeowners faced with the move or remodel question also consult with real estate agents. A Realtor can help determine the value of your current home and the value cap for the area in which your home is located, show you what is available to buy in the marketplace you’re interested in, and estimate the cost of another home with your wish list of features.

Remodeling is not necessarily the less expensive option. Ultimately, the choice to remodel comes down to location. If there is something about your existing lot or house (views, schools, neighbors, sentimental value, character, lot size, etc.) that can’t be duplicated anywhere else, then remodeling may be your best choice.

Most people know that remodeling is stressful, but don’t forget that there are literal and emotional costs inherent in moving as well. This option comes with Realtor fees, mortgage fees, closing costs, and, no doubt, some physical changes that will be required to the new home. Add to that expense/time spent packing and unpacking, as well as hours spent changing your mailing address in about a thousand places (utility companies, magazines, school records, driver’s license, voter registration, etc.), the stress of you and your children having to re-establish yourselves in a new social system, and you can see that moving has costs over and above that of the price of the house itself.

Remodeling costs beyond the basic construction of your project include architectural design fees, structural engineering fees, permit fees, demolition costs, the possible necessity of replacing old wiring or plumbing, the cost of repairing the landscaping, and the general “while-we-are-at-it” factor.

Remodeling is stress-inducing physically (as you either live through the mess or temporarily relocate) and emotionally, especially if you have not prepared well and have a budget that is getting out of control.

You really need to be honest with yourself and do your best to realistically evaluate the pros and cons of each option. The goal in the long run is to reduce stress by improving the way your family functions, and to add pleasure in providing a comfortable, pleasing setting wherein you can gather with your family and friends. Both options are hard, but either can result in a better place to live.

By doing your homework and talking to some experts who can help you evaluate your options, you will feel better qualified to make an intelligent decision. Perhaps the hardest part of all is deciding to decide. The one thing we know for sure is that continuing to ignore the problem will never lead to a successful conclusion.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

Renovation Solutions: Deciding to remodel or move