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August 29, 2022

Should You Retool or Replace in a Changing Market?

The market is changing, and you want to modify your line up of houses to respond. But how? Where do you start? Should you retool some of your existing plans or replace them? We define retooling as staying within the existing building footprint. Replacement may be the same width but has more structural changes.

If you have houses that aren’t selling, it could be that they are too expensive. It could also be the design is dated and no longer matches buyers’ wants and needs. Evaluation of existing plans means looking at your plans both analytically and emotionally.

The analytics:

This starts with evaluating your costs. Many builders stop at the cost per square foot without really taking a deeper dive. What is driving the costs – making this house too expensive compared to others in the lineup or your competition? Would alleviating these costs require a retool or a replacement? Let’s have a look.

Building Envelope

Let’s start with the building envelope. Is it cut up or is it relatively compact? The more compact the building including fewer corners impacts the amount of exterior wall. If you build in a four-sided brick market, you really want to pay attention to this. Compare the perimeter of a square and a rectangle of identical square footage. The square will always have less perimeter. In other words, the 40’ by 40’ square will be cheaper to build than the 20’ by 80’ rectangle. If the building envelope is not compact, you should probably look at replacement.

Snout Garages

What about the garage? Does it stick out like a snout or is it integrated into the building envelope? Snout garages are more expensive to build – more perimeter (exterior walls) and they take up valuable lot depth. Ridding your line up of snout garages will lower your cost per square foot costs and will improve curb appeal. A front entry garage that is flush with the front of your house or setback is the most efficient solution from a cost consideration. However, check that this configuration is allowable in your current or future neighborhoods. Changing the configuration of your garage means replacement.


These can be necessary evils – needed to hold up the second floor but expensive. Often, adding square footage to eliminate beams is a win-win. You lower your sticks and bricks cost while adding something that buyers value. A 20’ long beam spanning the width of the garage is a pet peeve of mine. I believe given the choice of the beam or putting that cost towards upgrading the countertops – the buyer will always choose the countertops. It is up to your architect to deliver a great looking elevation without the beam over the garage. Getting rid of beams could be a retooling exercise, depending upon your plan.

Track the components

Tracking the “stuff” you put inside is critical. Too many or not enough kitchen cabinets can kill an otherwise great house. Does your smallest house have too many cabinets for its size? Does your biggest house lack adequate cabinets because you were trying to add rooms while only adding minimal square footage? The smallest house ends up too expensive and the largest house ends up lacking in desirability. You could retool the small house to right-size the kitchen cabinets, but you may need to replace the big house if you don’t have enough room to add adequate cabinetry. Use this approach to track windows and closet hanging. You need to track windows for their cost. You need to track closet hanging – not because too many wire shelves are going to make a house too expensive, but because not enough will make it undesirable.

Emotions and the New Necessities

Now more than ever, buyers need to be moved emotionally to be motivated to move physically. The same old tired floor plans aren’t going to entice them to make the leap. Buyers wants and needs have changed recently. Are you offering the things that will make them want to move? Here are a few of the new necessities that buyers are looking for.

Two Work from Homes Spaces

Maybe it is two pocket offices or it could be two full-sized offices in different parts of the home. Sorry – but showing one office in your model with the “partner” desk didn’t work before the pandemic. Now with virtual meetings? Forget it! If you can take one large office and can make it two, then this could be a retool plan.

Parcel Delivery Vestibule

Americans have changed the way they shop. Deliveries are now an everyday occurrence. Having a safe, secure places for your packages to be delivered while you’re not away is no longer a luxury but a necessity. But now we’re having groceries and diners delivered. Having an air conditioned (or heated) space to receive these deliveries is essential. If you have a deep entry foyer, you could retool your foyer by using some of that space for the Parcel Delivery Vestibule.

Pet provisions

Pets have always been apart of the American households. But too often our homes are ill suited for these pets. Where does the dog’s food and water bowl go that is both convenient for the dog and not in the way for humans? Capturing space under the stairs for a dog’s bed is an easy retool. Where is the best place for that stinky cat pan that is both convenient to change and where the odors won’t make the house unlivable? Perhaps you can retool the laundry room and remove a cabinet to make room for the cat’s pan – but don’t forget to add an exhaust fan! And let’s not forget, dogs can get stinky and need baths. Creating a convenient and practical place to bathe the dog is sure to be a hit with dog lovers. If you have plumbing backing to a garage wall, you could easily retool the plan and add a dog shower to the garage – affordably. Just make sure your buyers go into the garage to see it.

Current Kitchens

Finally, let’s talk about making the kitchen work for today’s buyers. For me, there are three kitchen necessities: the walk-in pantry, the messy kitchen, and the gathering island. Buyers always say they want storage, and the walk-in pantry adds the storage our open kitchens desperately need. If you can make a 5’ by 5’ room work, that is great. If you can go larger, consider making room for a second refrigerator!

If you only have a 4’ by 4’ pantry with the 45-degree door, you might need to replace the plan to find the additional square footage needed. And since our kitchens are entertaining spaces, consider a “messy kitchen” to house the commonly used counter clutter. Finding room for this jewel might require a replacement. And speaking of entertaining, can your kitchen island comfortable seat 4 or more? Is it conversational where participants are seating at 90 degrees to one another? If you’re still building a bat wing island, see if you can retool the kitchen to make a new three-sided island work.

There are various ways to objectively analyze whether a plan is as efficient as possible. It’s important to also look at the more emotional side of the home to win buyers over. If you can accomplish both, you can deliver the best house on the market. Call us – we can help!

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This post was written by Housing Design Matters