Upsizing Your Home When More Space Is Needed


We have all seen it, a household busting at the seams. Battles over bathroom time, moody teens yearning for privacy, kid’s toys piling up in every corner, and our own needs for our own little corner. All are the result of a family outgrowing their home.

The fact is, almost every burgeoning household will at some point grow in number and in physical size. How you deal with this imminent increase in need for home space can be challenging. As an agent, I often have these discussions with new and former clients. The list of options is short, but the details are vast.  Let dive in.

Anders and Emily bought their cozy two-bedroom Bungalow just after their wedding. A year and a dog later, they welcome little Jenner to the family and the all seemed perfect. Their 1,100 square foot home had just enough size for the new family to stay close and build memories.  An overstuffed couch wedged in the living room was great for movie night and the queen size bed became snuggle central on weekend mornings.

Cozy is warm, it’s welcoming, it’s fragile and cramped is always lurking. 

Cozy is warm, it’s welcoming, it’s fragile but cramped is always lurking.  Cramped came with the news of twins and our cozy couple knew changes would have to be made to re-establish harmony.

Whether it is a new pair of twins, a pair of teen siblings that need their own space or an aging family member coming to join the brood, upsizing a home happens often in the early stages of a family. 

Few anticipate and plan for it, so managing it when the need arises can be somewhat of an art form. As a Realtor, I often get to share in these challenges with families here in Pasadena. There is a limited list of options to alleviate the pressure but each has nuances in its own.  Some are easier than others, and depending on your specific needs, I am sure you will find a solution for the time when you need to go from cozy to cozier.

By and large, Pasadena is predominantly made up of pre-war homes. It is this amazing collection of early architecture that makes the area so great to be a homeowner in. Unfortunately, the older Pasadena homes just don’t offer a large amount of square footage. 

Sixty five percent of the homes sold in Pasadena last year were three-bedroom or smaller

This is just the nature of pre-war homes. Furnishings were smaller and we had less belongings then so we needed less space. The fact is sixty five percent of the homes sold in Pasadena last year were three-bedroom or smaller homes and these recently sold three-bedroom homes averaged 1,800 square feet. While that sounds large, any growing family will quickly disagree and if you are in less, you know these growing pains all too well.

Most new families will go through this and here are your options:

Adding Square Footage

Adding to the floor plan is something HGTV makes look easy, but unless you are an experienced General Contractor, this option is far from the easiest solution.

Pasadena Real Estate Addition.jpg


Bumping out a wall to make an owner’s suite is often limited by the homes layout, the size of the backyard, pitch orientation of the roof and more.  If by chance, your older home does have the “bones” for an expansion and it hasn’t been done in the almost 100 years of existence, you should explore this by contacting first a general contractor for them to review the possibilities and estimated costs.

Building an addition doesn’t end there though. You need to loop in an architect to create the detailed plans you need as well as file for permits. Pasadena neighborhoods like Bungalow Heaven have very detailed limits on what can be done to the homes that lie within the 40 established Landmark Districts. While most limits relate to the front elevation of the home (what is seen from the street), any addition should reflect the style of the era of the home.  Disregarding the original aesthetics of an older home will only hurt the long-term value.

Hiring the right General Contractor for any project is not for the faint of heart either. You need to make a long list of suggested contractors and properly vet them. Ask any homeowner and most have a horror story of a home improvement project gone wrong. Do the research or pay the price, literally.

The cost of adding an addition that includes a bedroom, closet and full bathroom, could easily start in the range of $100,000. Please note, the increase in home value for additions is generally around $65,000 for an addition, so don’t see this as a way to instantly increase value. 

I have a 30-page report on all of the common home improvements including additions and conversions. This report includes average costs and their effect on home value. It is compiled by people that crunch numbers as a profession. If you want a copy, just email me.  


 More affordable than additions is to go the conversion route. Rethinking how a space is used has been a growing family’s strategy for generations.


If you are lucky enough to have a Southern California home with a full basement, then converting it into another room is a no brainer. Conversion will involve making sure the space is bone dry year-round, meeting ceiling height building code requirements and that the basement has an egress option. Finishing ceilings to hide mechanicals and furring out the walls for drywall are among some of the things that a project like this will include, but the end result could give you the room you need and increase homes value through square footage. Unfortunately, basements are super rare, and most will. Need alternative options.

 Cutting corners could very easily ruin a historic property

Attic Conversion

Pasadena Realtor Attic Conversion.jpg

More likely is an attic conversion. However, the style of architecture of your home will tell you what is possible.  Victorians, Four Squares and turn of the century farm houses are great for this due to steep pitches that create tall attics. Spanish and Mediterranean style homes are not prone to this due to their generally feature flat or near flat roofs.

Craftsman Bungalow’s and their gently sloped 4/12 roof also make an attic conversion nearly impossible, but one consideration for the Craftsman owners is converting to an Airplane Bungalow which will literally “pop the top” on the home. Note: this majorly effects the aforementioned front elevation and getting these plans approved will be costly and challenging if your home lies in a designated Landmark District.  Creating an Airplane Bungalow from a Bungalow is significantly more challenging than simply adding an addition so you will need to qualify a very specific type of contractor to properly pull this off. Cutting corners could very easily ruin a historic property and that would upset me and your neighbors greatly.  Don’t be that neighbor.

The challenge with attic conversions will be the battle with heat.  Closed cell foam installation will be a must to battle the extreme heats we have these days. Permanent access stairs and tucking HVAC into corners will be the bigger and more expensive challenges for this type of conversion. My advice is to find a contractor that has done it before.

Garage Conversions:

Of all of these conversion options, garage conversions are probably the most common conversion for the older homes in and around Pasadena and after reading along, we can see why. Garage conversions can be one of two types: a simple bedroom and closet conversion or a more involved full apartment conversion with bathroom and kitchen (more on this type later in the story).

Converting a garage into a basic room will require permits prior to starting work.  Drywall, flooring and temperature control is the bulk of the work while losing storage and parking is the trade-off. 

Converting without permits is highly not recommended because of the challenges it will cause primarily on the day you go to sell the property. In Pasadena, the City Occupancy inspection will flag this and the cost to remove will fall on you. By and large, unpermitted additions anywhere in LA will not add to the homes square footage or value. In addition, if the city gets wind of an illegal conversion they could easily require you to tear it out.

Building a Full Guest Suite

Adding separate living quarters that include a kitchen and bathroom is another option for homeowners in need of more space.  Whether it is a garage conversion or a free-standing guest house, this option is growing in awareness due to the affordable housing shortage we see in Southern California.

Units that are self-sustained are referred to as Accessory Dwelling Units (or ADU) and these have been the focus of some heated battles as of late. City zoning codes in Pasadena and LA County have historically limited where these can legally pop up.  This was done by high permit fees and space requirements like lot size and dedicated additional parking spaces.

While many see the need for extra room for a growing family, enterprising homeowners see the potential for rental income and AirBnB windfalls.

Building an ADU from scratch on your property is incredibly challenging and vastly expensive.  Construction costs can range from $100,000 to $300,000 and permit fees in Pasadena are in the $19,000 range (there is a loophole for a lower cost permit if you are building it to be low-income rental housing). With this in mind, it difficult for me to see how this will make financial sense. However, if you have a free-standing garage and happen to be in Altadena, where the permit fees aren’t as high, this could make sense.

The ADU issue is ever evolving and many factors apply.  Call your local city’s Planner of The Day and run through the options. There are some independent companies that can pursue ADU permits to build or to make a current unit legal, but my I have no personal experience with any of them to date.

Selling and Buying Bigger

Of all of your upsizing options, selling and buying bigger, believe it or not, is the easiest and the one with the most possible financial upswing, and no I am not saying that just because I am a Realtor. After months (or years) of permit denials and expensive contractor quotes, homeowners in need of space see that selling and buying bigger makes a lot of sense. 

If you have owned your home for more than five years in Southern California, you are most likely in a positive value situation and the longer you have owned, the more equity you have built up.  You can cash out this equity and move into something larger.  Sure, you will be buying at today’s values, but there are strategies for competitive buying in today’s market but I will save that topic for another day. 

Your biggest challenge with selling to buy bigger will be the juggling of two real estate transactions. You have a couple options and some are clearly better than others.

Contingent Sale

Custom Compass Collection

Custom Compass Collection

You could start shopping for a new house and when you find one, have your agent submit an offer with the “contingency” of you having to sell your current home first.  This does happen, it helps if your agent has a good relationship with the Listing Agent of the property you wish to buy.  Unfortunately, if there are multiple offers (which is often the case around here) and the others are non-contingent, you will most likely lose out. Home sellers want as simple a transaction as possible even if the more complicated offer is higher.

Lease Back

Your second option for buying to upsize is to sell your property and arrange with the new owners a lease back. This is an formal and documented agreement that states the new owners will rent your old home back to you for a set period of time while you look and purchase another. Some buyers cringe at the thought of buying a home and not being able to move in right away but it will depend on the situation. Note: If you properly price your home your odds of multiple offers are good and stipulating a lease back is even more likely.

Cross Collateral

Your third option is to carry two mortgages at once.  While you may not openly qualify to own two homes at once, some lenders have a special program that will allow you to wrap two mortgages in one for brief amount of time.  Called a Cross Collateral loan, it is designed specifically for those selling none and buying another. 

For those that will embark on selling a property, I strongly urge you to do the proper prep work to ease the common hurdles of selling. Included in this is hiring the right agent. Realtors earn their keep by bringing homes to market, and it is more involved than just cleaning the kitchen and making the bed. A good agent will have access to everything from talented home décor stagers and professional packers to contractors and inspectors.  Selling for top dollar and in a time efficient manner isn’t something that just happens.

I penned a whole guide on how to prepare an older Pasadena house for sale. It’s free and full of proven advice. Get it here.   

Note: You can avoid the increase of your property tax rate base when buying another home if you or your spouse is over 55 years of age. California Proposition 60 & 90 allow you to transfer rate bases. This is highly advantageous for people that have owned for a long time and/or buying a larger home. You can read more about Prop 60 here.


As a Southern California homeowner, you are all too familiar with how much more house you can buy in other parts of the country. As a realtor, we hate to see people leave the state, but it happens. In fact, 1,090,000 people have left the state in the ten-year span between 2006 and 2016. Housing prices, not high taxes are in fact the number one culprit, and if your home is busting at the seams and you can’t buy into a larger home, pay for costly additions, then relocating is a viable option.

Telecommuting and home offices can take some of the pain out of relocating but unfortunately the kids take the biggest hit with losing their network of childhood pals. If relocation works for your family, check out my guide on the best cities to take your Pasadena home sales dollars to, you will be surprised how much house $700K can buy you in some very up and coming cities.

The Cost-Effective Ways to Gains Space

If selling, relocating or building out are just not in the cards, then you need to just use your space better.  With a finite amount of square footage, you just need to get smart on what is taking up space.  For the living spaces you could downsize giant couches, seldom used cabinets and that piano you swore the family would start playing ten years ago (face it, the kids hated those lessons). Moving a TV to wall mounting and multi-purposing that dining room table into a home office are space savings moves that Europeans have been doing for years. Another viable option for the older homes we so often in Pasadena is to blow out a wall or expand an opening.  Open floors plans are not just a hot trend, they make better use of limited space. Just please don’t destroy those original built-ins.

For kid’s rooms, there have been great advancements in smart space-saving furniture that goes well beyond just Murphy beds.  US based Resource Furniture has been revolutionizing space saving furniture with a commitment to sustainable methods.  While not cheap, you could get some great space saving ideas by reviewing their product line up or beds, desks and seating.  

As a Realtor that takes great pride in caring for his clients, I love in-depth problem-solving discussions with homeowners and buyers. I envision myself a resource for clients as I have been for the twenty-five years of my sales and consulting career.

If you are feeling the squeeze and would like to schedule a time to discuss your real estate needs now or in the future, you can reach out to me by filling out this form or contacting me direct via my information below.


Michael Robleto

REALTOR®-Compass Real Estate


Michael Robleto is a Pasadena based REALTOR®. His analytical and open approach to sales and representation have served his clients well in his twenty years of sales experience. Michael is a staunch homeowner advocate that blends compassion with a highly advanced technology-driven approach to the buying and selling of real estate in and around Los Angeles.  His client accolades of insight, integrity and hard work support the fact that he is not your average agent.