What does renovating or building cost?

What does renovating or building cost? How how can you work this out for your project?

I get asked this question in a lot of different ways – with different dollar amounts mentioned.

  • Can I afford to build my house?
  • Can I afford to renovate?
  • How much does it cost to renovate my house?
  • How much does it cost to build my house?
  • Can I renovate on a budget?
  • How cheaply can I build a house?
  • Can I extend my home for under $200,000?
  • Can I build a new house for under $300,000?
  • Can I build for $900 per m2?
  • Can I renovate for under $1,500 per m2?

My answer always is – of course … and it depends!

How much does it cost to renovate or build?

Let me say first, architects can get into A LOT of trouble quoting prices for renovating and building. It’s part of the professional obligations of our registration to advise that we are providing only “OPINIONS OF PROBABLE COST” … that’s even the terminology we need to use.

So I talk in square metre rates based on experience with similar projects. However, you can imagine that it doesn’t take a lot to impact those square metre rates. If you’re doing a very small amount of renovating, but including your kitchen and bathrooms, then your square metre rate will be high. If you’re doing a large reno, but mainly adding on bedrooms and living spaces, then your square metre rate will be lower.

Renovating …

Houzz question: Is it possible to build a simple extension for under $2,500 per m2?

Of course … and it depends.

My client renovation work has ranged from $1,000/m2 to $4,000/m2 (and more).

What varies is the standard of finish, the amount the existing home is disrupted, the structural gymnastics being performed, and the methods being used to build it.

My renovation of my own homes has got as low as $350 / m2 – partly because of the amount of work we’ve done ourselves during construction, and partly because of the strategies we’ve used to design the renovation, and then source materials, products and trades also.

Renovation costs – on a rate per square metre – are more expensive than building costs. This often catches homeowners by surprise and is incredibly frustrating.

If you remember that, ultimately, building or renovating involves time to execute, and that time comes at a labour cost, then this makes more sense. Renovating a home is a one-off activity for that home, and that home alone.

There’s also a lot of ‘undoing’ that happens in renovations.

Pulling apart the existing home to ‘put in’ the new. Whether it’s refurbishing existing rooms, adding on a second storey, building in underneath, or extending onto the home … at some point the existing home is impacted.

So how do you save money when building a renovation?

Drumroll please …

Save time.


Reduce or eliminate the risk of unknowns.

It sounds too simple doesn’t it? However, my own methodologies for renovating are based on this, and my work with clients is always based on streamlining the renovation process as much as possible.

You’ll get so caught up about whether you can afford $80/m2 or $50/m2 for your floor tiles. It may seem like a big difference, even when multiplied over your 90m2 living/kitchen/dining space. However, if you haven’t focused on overall strategies to a) save time, and b) reduce or eliminate risks of unknowns – it will be a drop in the ocean in the savings you could achieve.

[Read here to find out where money disappears in a renovation or build – the invisible costs that consistently surprise and annoy homeowners.]

What about building new?

UA Community question: I want a build a home for my family for under $250,000. Is that possible?

Of course … and it depends.

You can (believe it or not) build new homes for around $700 per sqm. Single storey, low (but legal) ceiling heights, inexpensive materials, simply constructed homes.

Project homes and homes built by volume builders, can be delivered for around $1,000 – $1,500 per square metre.

Again, limiting time and unknown risks will help your building costs.

For example …two-storey homes take longer to build than single-storey homes. They also require additional scaffolding and other costs associated with working from heights. So they cost more – even when exactly the same area as a single storey home.

So delivering on a tighter budget means strategising how big your home will be, how it will be built, what it will be built from, and who will be building it.

Architect designed new high-end homes … well these can be more bespoke, only built once, and unique to each project. So their square metre rates can be similar to renovating.

What makes a home great – on any budget?

Design. Great design. Design that makes your life better, more convenient, simpler, more fun, more beautiful. That’s it.

If you read my blog about the difference between architects, building designers and draftspeople, you’ll know that I believe that the design of a home is where it really lives and dies … where you can maximise every opportunity of your investment – however large or small it is.

Great design makes you and your home feel great. [For tips about how to achieve great design, head here]

Why should great design be out of reach to anyone?

It shouldn’t be. And it’s not. As one of my clients said, it costs the same to build the wall, whether you put it in the right place or the wrong place.

Undercover Architect is about helping you get it right when designing, building or renovating – simply and with confidence. 

This is about levelling the playing field – so every homeowner has access to the info they need to make their home great – whoever they’re working with.

And that you can achieve this on ANY budget.

Whatever amount of money you have, spend it in the best place to maximise the outcome. That’s strategic budget management!

So, can you renovate or build inexpensively, on a tight budget?

Most definitely yes. It’s how I’ve done my own renovations. It’s how my mum renovated. It’s how a lot of clients I’ve worked with have built and renovated.

Remember: Your budget isn’t one bucket of money that gets divvied up across your project though, like a shopping list of things you want to buy.

It instead represents an opportunity to invest – and create returns that can do wonderful things for your home, your family and your life.

And that might mean paying for the best advice and having less (for now) for the tiling or bathroom fixtures you want to put in.

The amount of your budget is not a reflection of what you can achieve for your new build or renovation.

How you spend your budget is.

Other blogs you may find useful …

This one will help you stretch your building budget

This one will show you what options are available to you when building a new home – but in a different way

This one will help you to be inspired by design on any budget

If you’re working with an architect, and worried about blowing your budget, here’s 12 tips to avoid it.

Want to get in touch with Undercover Architect?

Wherever you are, whatever your budget, and whether you're designing, building or renovating, Undercover Architect can help. Head here to get in touch now.


  • tina
    November 19, 2015, 1:48 pm  Reply

    Hi Amelia, I loved your sections – “Architects are only for rich people…” and “levelling the playing field”. not long ago I heard a statistic that over 70% of people in sydney who used an architect would never do so again! something is clearly broken! I applaud your desire and commitment to help us mere mortals achieve a well-designed and functional home for our families.

    • Amelia
      November 23, 2015, 9:55 am

      Hi Tina
      Thank you for your comment! That statistic is horrifying! Something is broken … and very disappointing for both the industry and for homeowners. I really appreciate your acknowledgement and support. I’m so excited by what’s possible when homeowners understand how they can achieve a home that works, and makes their life better. We’re all mere mortals … I’m just fortunate I get daily practise at figuring out what works and doesn’t! And I love that technology makes it able for me to share this practise and knowledge to help others.
      – Amelia, UA x

  • February 4, 2016, 2:01 pm  Reply

    Great advice, as a builder I totally agree with pretty much all of your points.

    • Amelia
      February 7, 2016, 2:36 pm

      Hi James the builder!
      Thanks for your comment and your positive feedback!
      – Amelia, UA

  • Rebecca
    February 21, 2016, 3:47 pm  Reply

    Hi Amelia, what relief to read your article. My partner and I have just started investigating the potential of using an architect in Sydney and I have been told by both firms I have spoken too that 400k to renovate a decent 1.1 mil inner west semi is not enough. I felt like a must have been going mad.

    • Amelia
      February 23, 2016, 9:28 am

      Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comment. It can be hard when buying a home that needs renovating, to know what’s viable, and how to budget the cost of that renovation into a purchase budget and know you’ll be able to afford it all.
      It’s all in the definitions isn’t it? Because the asking “generally how much?” is really like asking “how long is a piece of string?” Your definition of decent may be very different to another’s … and your definition of what you see in your finished renovation may be different also.
      Consequently, I find it’s not possible to give set responses to what renovations will cost. However, if you share what you’re seeking to change, or add, or improve … then it can be compared to other similar, recent projects, as a guide of what cost may be involved.
      Each property is different, each project is different, but some consistencies certainly exist. And certain architects only do work of a certain budget also.
      Best wishes with finding your home, and getting what you want all within your budget! I’m glad UA could help you,
      – Amelia, UA x

  • April 6, 2016, 7:37 am  Reply

    Top of the morning Amelia,
    Great article !
    I am a builder in Sydney with all of my work been extensions & renovations.I get so frustrated when i am the big bad wolf that has to inform a client that there renovation is not going to cost $200k but more like $350k as a architect,draughtsman,family friend told them a totally unrealistic costings at the start which the client then works from.

    • Amelia
      April 9, 2016, 12:32 pm

      Hi Ken,
      Thanks so much for your comment and feedback. It’s really challenging isn’t it? That early price a homeowner is told is often the one that will stick in their memory banks and cause a lot of disappointment along the way. A lot of what I do is these things into alignment: 1. what a homeowner wants to achieve for their home and 2. what they want to invest in doing that. It’s always a journey that requires trust and collaboration, and a good dose of honesty!
      Best wishes with your business!
      – Amelia, UA

  • September 2, 2016, 11:25 pm  Reply

    You have wonderful views which are evident from your writings. Keep posting such kind of blogs as they are really informative, wish you good luck for your future blogs and hope they receive as much appraisal as you have got now.

    • Amelia
      September 6, 2016, 11:33 am

      Thanks for your kind feedback. Appreciate your comment,
      – Amelia, UA

  • September 8, 2016, 8:52 pm  Reply

    Thanks for posting such an informative post. Great advice, I am agree with you.

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