Need more space? Do you move or add on?

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You have a baby on the way and your kids are wedged into their rooms, risking life and limb, in danger of being crushed under an avalanche of mega toys. And your mother-in-law is moving in. You need three more bedrooms, but do you also need more than one bath?

When faced with such space needs, Long Islanders are thinking hard about whether trading up or renovating would be the better investment.

Much of the problem is that many homeowners lost equity in their homes since the Long Island market dipped last year. "They may have had $200,000 in equity, and now they only have $100,000," says Bob Brennan, president of Brennan and Priest Inc., a Stony Brook contractor.

The cost of moving is estimated at about 10 percent of the price you'll pay for your new home, says broker Lisa Lauricella, with Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty in Syosset.

You have to weigh that against the cost of the average expansion or major renovation, which can easily top $100,000, according to several Long Island contractors. Either choice could cost big bucks, but is one way more economical than the other? Is there a way to find the tipping point, where it makes more sense moneywise to move than improve?

To complicate matters further, real estate agents and contractors stress that the factors aren't only economic. It's important to acknowledge the choice to move or stay is also emotional.

If you're happy and content with the neighborhood, the school district, your proximity to the gym or shopping, and you just need an improved kitchen or another bathroom, or a bigger family room, you might opt to stay, says Lauricella.

But, she adds, if it is a matter of needing "another thousand square feet, you might consider moving."

Here are some tips from contractors and real estate agents that may help you decide.

IF YOU DECIDE TO RENOVATE

Look closely at competing properties in your neighborhood to avoid overimproving.

If your home is worth $1 million, and the houses in your neighborhood are worth $1 million, and you add $300,000 in improvements, you may not get the capital back out, experts say. "It has to do with how banks assess the homes in a neighborhood," cautions Nava Mitnick, a broker who works out of Daniel Gale's Port Washington office. "You may face some losses."

Watch your budget.

In a renovation, prices can snowball fast. "A $300,000 renovation could easily become $500,000 or $600,000," says Andi Levine, senior vice president of June Shapiro Laffey Associates in Great Neck. Her advice: "Add an extra cushion in the budget for unforeseen things."

ESTIMATED COSTS OF SELLING

ATTORNEY FEES: Between $500 and 1 percent of sales price

APPRAISAL FEE: $300 to $900

PROPERTY TAX ESCROW ADVANCE: Most lenders require that six to eight months of property taxes be held in escrow, and the lender assumes responsibility for paying the taxes.

MORTGAGE POINTS (IF ANY): Each point equals 1 percent of the mortgage amount

ORIGINATION FEE (IF ANY): This activation fee associated with processing the loan amounts to about 1 percent of the mortgage

BANK ATTORNEY'S FEE: About $600

HOME INSPECTION FEE (optional to the buyer): $500 and up, based on the size of the property

'MANSION TAX' (on purchases of $1 million or more): 1 percent of sales price ($10,000 and up)

NYS TRANSFER TAX (A SELLER'S EXPENSE): .4 percent of the sale price

REAL ESTATE COMMISSION: Usually between 3 percent and 6 percent of the sale

MOVERS' COSTS: $5,000 and up

SOURCE: Marie Montchal, senior vice president of Relocation and Ancillary Services for Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty

ESTIMATED COSTS TO RENOVATE

Master bedroom suite expansion: $75,000 to $150,000 (500-square-foot addition includes exterior finishing, windows, electrical, heating and plumbing, interior finishing, including floors, walls and trims, with high-end shower, tile, quality fixtures and flooring in bath)

Midrange hallway bath: $7,000 to $15,000 (5-by-9-foot room includes plumbing, electrical, fiberglass or ceramic one-piece shower, sink, toilet, vanity, quality fixtures, ceramic or wood floor)

Upgraded hallway bath: $20,000 to $35,000 (5-by-9-foot room, with extras that include glass shower door, upgraded tiled shower, built-in linen closet, electric mat heating in floor, wainscoted walls, as well as upgraded wall tile, upgraded lighting, and plumbing fixtures)

Midrange kitchen renovation: $25,000 to $40,000 and up (includes new cabinets, 10 to 15 feet of granite countertop, electrical upgrades, including new light fixtures, ceramic or wood floor and a midrange appliance package)

SOURCES: Scott Wilson, owner, Scott Wilson Cabinet Maker, Centerport; Matthew Pantofel, president, BJC Contracting Co. Inc., Brookville; Sal Ferro, president, Alure Home Improvements, East Meadow

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

How much more space do you need?

Is it only one bedroom or do you need a master suite, a large family room or extra space in every room?

Are you happy where you are?

Think about your house, your neighborhood, your neighbors, your school district and your proximity to the railroad, parkways, shopping and place of worship.

How much equity do you have in your house?

If you have a lot of equity, you might consider moving, taking advantage of the value offered in lower home prices. If you have little or no equity, you might want or need to stay where you are.

What is your budget?

This will be key in deciding what you can and cannot do.

Do you have property on which to expand?

Check with local zoning requirements to see if the property has the proper setbacks to expand.

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