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Make-Over

Bungalow Blues

A couple are torn between remodeling their tiny Venice home or moving to a more affordable area.

June 09, 2002|ALLISON B. COHEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Paul and Mary Beth Trautwein have enjoyed walks to the beach and restaurants for the three years they've lived in the arty community of Venice. But with the birth of a daughter two years ago, and with Paul, a Web master and graphic designer, now working full time from home, the Trautweins' 800-square-foot bungalow is no longer quaint. It's cramped.

"We are running out of room here. My office space is now in our bedroom, and that's not conducive for a client meeting," said Paul, 38, who gave up his office to provide a bedroom for daughter Edith.

The couple--who bought their two-bedroom bungalow for $239,000 in 1999--are now torn between undertaking a major remodel to add space or leaving the neighborhood they love. "I'd almost forgo my needs," Paul said, "just so we could stay here."

The couple's fantasy is to add a second story to their existing home that would include a master bedroom, a second bath and an outdoor deck--especially important because the house sits on a lot of only 2,200 square feet. All told, the remodel would add about 500 square feet and cost about $150,000.

A much less costly option would be to convert the bungalow's 200-square-foot garage into office space for Paul. But the city of Los Angeles requires homes built in that era to have at least a one-car usable garage.

A third option--by far, the Trautweins' least favorite--is to move. "We would prefer building another bedroom here," said Mary Beth, a graphic designer who works for the Getty Museum designing exhibitions. "But it feels like it would be beyond our reach."

Alex Khoshnam, president of KEC Financial, a mortgage company based in Tarzana, recommended the couple solve their space problems by moving. "To remodel will be difficult for them," Khoshnam said. "They should sell and buy a new home."

Converting the garage into office space, he said, wouldn't add value to the home, and undergoing a major rebuild could take from four to eight months, during which they would have to rent elsewhere.

"If you have not [undergone major construction before]," said Khoshnam, who also has a contractor's license, "it will not be a picnic."

Even though adding a second story to the property would most likely increase its value, Sandy Berens, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker's Marina del Rey office who specializes in the Venice area, worried that the Trautweins would not be able to resell the bungalow to make a profit.

"They'd have to list the house someday in the $540,000 range to make it worth their while," she said. Instead, Berens recommended the Trautweins sell the bungalow now--listing it at $425,000 or more--and take advantage of the current sellers' market. If so, she said, they could make a nearly $200,000 profit.

"It's against all odds that this house would be worth that," Berens said. "We may never see this kind of market again." Remodeling now and trying to recoup those costs later, when the market may not be so hot, she said, "doesn't make sense to me.... They should move. They've made an incredible profit."

But the Trautweins--who married five years ago after moving to Los Angeles from Philadelphia--appear split on that. "Mary Beth is in favor [of moving]," Paul said, "but I am reluctant. I love this house. I love our neighborhood."

Still, the couple was open to looking at properties in Culver City and, reluctantly, the San Fernando Valley. Based on the Trautweins' excellent credit, Khoshnam, the mortgage broker, pre-approved the couple for a $220,000 loan. That loan, along with an approximate $200,000 they would have in equity from the bungalow, would let them shop for homes in the $350,000 to $450,000 price range while increasing their monthly housing cost by only $300 a month to $1,700.

But as many buyers in the market have found, inventory is tight. Berens was able to find only six homes in the Culver City, Venice and West Los Angeles areas in the Trautweins' price range with three bedrooms.

"It's probably the most sought-after price level in town," Berens said. "First-time buyers are looking at that price level, as are young couples selling their first homes and moving up."

Although most of the homes would increase the Trautweins' living space, none had two baths and many were in poor locations, near freeways or on busy streets.

"They have the extra bedroom," Berens said, "but the space is probably only a couple of hundred of square feet more [than] what they have now."

Instead, Berens suggested what Paul feared the most: that the Trautweins look in the San Fernando Valley.

"It's pretty much a fact that you can get more for your money in the Valley," said Dorene Martin, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker's Studio City office who works frequently with Berens. "We are seeing a lot of Westsiders from Westwood, Brentwood and Santa Monica who are figuring that out now."

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