Do I stay or do I go?

Whether to renovate, rebuild or move in Beaufort County, South Carolina

The skills and expertise of your architect can help you in your decision to renovate, rebuilt or move. There are some great properties in Beaufort County with houses that are way past their prime and require such decisions. These houses often include; dated kitchens, small non-functional bathrooms with ugly tile, mean little windows overlooking a great view and rooms built below FEMA’s base flood elevation. Maybe you own one of these properties or are considering buying one for the view. Homeowners of older properties often come to the point where they have three options:

1. Renovate and/or add an addition to the existing house (and this might include raising the house),

2. Tear the existing house down and build a new house on the same property, or

3. Move.

     To help you decide whether you should stay or go, consider the following:

  •      Do you love the location?
  •      Do you have a great view?
  •      Is the house built above FEMAs base flood elevation requirements? If it is below you are  limited to spending 50% of the value of the house on the renovation or the          house has to be raised.
  •      Is the house built behind the current OCRM coastal or municipality river buffer setbacks? If your house is in the setback, you are not allowed to add any additional          square footage in the setback but you can keep what is there, which might be an advantage.
  •      Will current zoning laws allow you to add onto your house?
  •      Will you over-build for the neighborhood?

A few years ago, we had clients who owned a beach front house in Port Royal Plantation.  The property was in foreclosure when they purchased it at a great price, but it needed a lot of work. The question was should they tear the house down and build new or renovate the existing?

We listened to what they like about the house: besides the great location, they liked the feel of the spaces, the flow of the rooms and the relationship of the rooms to the ocean. Two other positive conditions were the first floor was above the required base flood elevation and the zoning allowed us to add the needed square footage. It was apparent that renovating the existing house and adding a small amount of square footage was the right approach. The project turned out beautifully.

Tearing down a house and starting over is a big step. The cost analysis of what is salvageable compared to the desired result is a good place to begin. Sometimes it is not obvious what the best path is at the beginning of a project or the conditions might change. For example, current Port Royal Plantation clients’ initial project was redesigning the windows in the great room. While documenting the existing conditions we discovered some structural beams in failure. In consultation with our clients and structural engineer we decided to reinforce the foundation.

Then Hurricane Matthew hit. There was water damage throughout the house; and the roof and foundation were compromised. After considering the amount of work to repair and renovate compared to starting over, our clients decided to build new. A big advantage in this project is the new house is placed to enhance the views of the Sound.

 


Fripp Island Renovation

Fripp Island Renovation

Our clients needed major renovations at their Fripp Island home, but because their house is below flood elevation, the scope of work is limited to less than 50% of the value of the house (read more about the 50% rule on our blog, here) So, up it goes! Wolfe house movers raised the house so it is safely above flood elevation and ready for renovations.

Check out the video, shot and edited by Benjie Morillo.

Below are our drawings of the house, post-renovation. We will keep you posted as this project progresses!


What is the 50% Rule?

 Photo by Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images
Photo by Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Thoughts of hurricanes are starting early this year with the potential tropical storm forming off of our coast. In the past, I have written about protecting your existing house and best practices for new construction (March 2013 and December 2011, respectively). The area with some confusion are the rules for repairing and/or improving your existing house which I will address today.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. Buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceed 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only, not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  •  Plans and specifications  
  • Surveys  
  • Permit fees  
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules when renovated or repaired.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50% rule. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule.

Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% value. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

When purchasing an existing house it is prudent to do the homework to determine if the house is built above the flood plain. A local surveyor can provide a flood elevation certificate that shows the flood zone, the required first floor elevation, and the actual first floor elevation. That fixer upper might seem like a good deal until you realize the cost of raising the first floor and meeting the NFIP requirements.