Staying put found to be smart move

Dream Home

Expansion: Their Cape Cod in Owings Mills was too small for the family, but instead of moving the Pauls expanded it.

May 09, 1999|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Bryan and Patricia Paul bought their Cape Cod 16 years ago in Owings Mills, things were different. "It was an affordable area. Many homes were available," she said. "It was very rural. Quiet. We liked that."

Things sure do change.

That quiet, rural area that the Pauls liked so much is now a major suburb. Back roads have been replaced by Interstate 795. The corner store is Owings Mills Town Center. A subway stop is just a few miles away. And surrounding older houses -- such as the Pauls' -- are large developments of new homes, some the size of mansions with "affordable" starting prices in the "high $300,000s."

"All of the farmland is being bought up," Mr. Paul said.

When the Pauls bought their home they were newly married and the house suited their needs.

But like Owings Mills, life for the Pauls changed. With the birth of Michelle, the couple's first child, in 1987, Mrs. Paul decided to be a stay-at-home mom. "I always knew that's what I wanted to do. It was important to me," she said. Later came two more children, Nicholas and then Zachary.

Things were getting cramped in the cozy little Cape Cod. The house had two bedrooms downstairs on the main level and two rooms upstairs. But those rooms weren't too livable, the Pauls said.

For one, the upstairs level was little more than a renovated attic with a sloped ceiling. "It was cold upstairs. You didn't want to put the kids up there," Mr. Paul said. The rooms were also dark, even in the daytime, thanks to wall-to-wall wood paneling.

None of the children wanted to move upstairs, Mrs. Paul said.

"Since our room was downstairs, no one wanted to be up there all alone."

The upper level, according to the children, was "spooky." And of course, parents, being parents, the Pauls worried about things like, "What if there was a fire and one of them was there by themselves," Mrs. Paul said. So the children opted to triple up in the other downstairs bedroom. Michelle and Nicholas slept in bunk beds and Zachary in a crib.

But there's only so long you can do that.

"We knew we had to do something," Mrs. Paul said. "What we wanted to do was make the upstairs livable," Mr. Paul said.

When the Pauls contacted an architect about renovating the house, they were greatly disappointed. "He gave us an astronomical price. Our bubble just burst," she said. "We didn't want to be tied down with payments. We didn't want to give up things like vacations and eating out just to do this."

Then a friend recommended Design Reach in Pikesville. "They really listened to us. What they do is sit down with you and talk about what you need and what you can afford and how you will use your home," she said.

Design Reach came up with a building plan that was affordable and workable for the Pauls. The upper level would be converted into a fully functioning second floor. The Cape Cod would change into a Colonial.

With building plans in hand, the Pauls began looking for a builder to do the work. Again, there were problems. "All of the builders gave us high prices. I thought, `Here we go again.' " she recalled.

But then an aunt told the Pauls that they should contact his cousin, who was in the contracting business -- CBW Home Improvement in Dundalk. "He gave us a great bid on the project, so we went to work," she said.

In all, the Pauls spent $65,000 on the renovation -- $40,000 in loans and $25,000 in savings. The purchase price of the home was $67,500, but it has been reappraised for $225,000.

To save money, the Pauls did the preparation and demolition work. The couple didn't have any experience doing that kind of work, but they did just fine. "We were quite proud of ourselves," he said.

They had just one minor catastrophe.

"I fell through the ceiling," Mrs. Paul said. "I stepped in the wrong place." She was OK, just a few minor bruises. What really made the whole event traumatic was that she fell into the living room right in front of the television.

"The kids were all watching TV and all of a sudden, crash, down came mommy," she said.

After the old second floor was demolished, the builders were ready to get to work.

"The plan was to add the second floor without taking off the roof, so there would never be a time that we would be without shelter," Mr. Paul said, adding that they would build "a house within a house."

The second floor was built around the existing upper level. At one point, one could stand on the new second floor and walk around the original rooftop enclosed under the new roof. After the original roof was removed, the new second floor was turned into a four-bedroom suite with a common area in the center.

Now everyone had their own room, and everyone was together on the same floor.

"The builders put in a lot of extras that we never thought of," she said. These included skylights in the common area and sliding mirrored doors in all the bedroom closets, which soundproofed the rooms. And in 11-year-old Michelle's room, the builders added something no young lady should be without -- her own vanity.

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