I spend a bit of time on Houzz (both the international and Australian versions) and one of my favourite sections is the “Design Dilemma” page. Here, Houzz users post questions about their homes … from what colour they should paint them, to asking for advice on floor plans, and everything in between. Occasionally I jump on and offer some advice, and I love seeing what informed (and not-so-well-informed) advice is offered by other users.
Even though (with my time at Mirvac), I’ve designed and overseen the construction of more new homes than renovation projects, and love designing a home from scratch and watching it come to life on site, I am personally passionate about renovating. So, the renovation questions always jump out at me … and this was no exception. User @tracendave11 posted this question:
“Hi there! Not sure if this is the right spot to post this question. We have a 2 bedroom, post war cream brick veneer home in Melbourne which we have outgrown. We are exploring our options, excluding selling as we really like where we live and buying what we want isn’t viable. Renovate to gain a bigger kitchen, extra bedroom, 2nd bathroom. Rebuild and make better use of our block? So where do we start? Has anyone else gone down this path? Look forward to replies…”
So what’s the answer? Do you renovate? Or do you knock down and rebuild? Of course, obvious things like what your budget is, and how much time you have, are some of the first things you need to look at. However, there are some bigger issues at play, and these are the real questions to ask if you’re struggling with this question for your own home.
Is knocking the house down to build a new one even an option in your area?
It may not even be an option for you to demolish your existing home and build something new. In some areas, council planning laws prohibit houses of a certain age, or specific historical importance, from being demolished or significantly changed (especially in their appearance to the street).
How do you work out the age of your home? You can usually determine this from the drainage plan included in your purchase contract, or on council records (sometimes you have to just pay a small fee to get a copy). You can then check with your local council what the rules are in demolishing a home such as yours.
How significant are your renovation requirements?
Another way to put this question is “How much extra room are you actually wanting?” If you’re wanting to significantly expand the home, or make big changes (especially structural ones) to the existing home – so much so that very little of the existing home will be retained, then it is worth questioning whether a renovation is viable or economically the best investment of your money.
Is the orientation of the existing home generally workable?
This leads on from the previous question. Ideally you want to be able to get north-easterly and/or northern sunlight into the living areas of your home. If the home faces completely the wrong direction, and there’s no room left on the block to add a new extension you can design for solar access – or you have to make massive structural modifications to the existing home to open it to northern light – then again, a renovation may not be the best use of your mortgage.
(See below for some concept options debating this very question of renovate or rebuild – this home is north to the street, but there is a lot of room to the rear of the property. In this instance, adding a pavilion extension to the rear would work well to get access to northern light, and minimise the disruption of the existing home, which helps with managing your budget overall, and there are a couple of ways this could be done).
Have you done the real estate value check?
What types of homes sell well in your area? Is your existing home already close in value to the top amount payable in the suburb? Or is your existing home one of the smallest and crappiest in your suburb, with buyers scrambling to buy bigger, renovated homes? Is your area one where brand new homes are actually what people want to buy?
Your home will generally be your biggest asset, so remove the emotion for a minute. Talk to local agents about what your home will be worth now, vs what it would be worth when renovated (as you want to renovate it) vs what a brand new home of that size would sell for.
Speak to several agents and average out the figures. What is that info telling you? What’s in demand in your area and what is it worth in $$?
Now, what’s the difference between that figure, and what your existing home is worth now? Because that will give you a hint in how to set your budget so you don’t overcapitalise regardless of which option you choose!
Are you ready to accept that renovating will always cost more than building from scratch?
This is the unfortunate truth of renovating homes. It relates largely to renovation be a bespoke, unique-to-the-individual-home activity that is time consuming and labour intensive. Brand new homes can be built quickly, using systems and modern materials that maximise efficiency and save time.
There are of course, ways to capitalise on this to create benefit in your renovation. However, this basic truth can undo a lot of home-owners and renovation is a mental game as much as anything else!
Have you done the due diligence with your existing home?
So, you can knock it down, but you really don’t want to. You actually love your home, the character, the features, the location, the way it sits in the street. So how structurally sound is it? What is the access like around the home, and to the home? Where do the services run? What state are they in? Do you know much about the existing state of your home, and what you might have to potentially repair or replace to make your renovation work? Get some advice on how costly will that be, and how much of your renovation budget will need to be dedicated to it (as opposed to creating the new or renovated space you’re chasing). Can that fit in your budget or is the old home really cost prohibitive to save?
What kind of home-lover are you?
In my experience, there are generally two types of home-lovers out there. Home-lover one loves the character of their home, the history and quirks of it, and the story that it tells of its past owners. They love the idea of adding another chapter to that story, and reinvigorating the home to live on. They also love the idea that they can reshape and reinvent something and breathe new life into it. These home-lovers are renovators.
The second type of home-lover is really attracted to the idea of living in a home that no one else has lived in before. They love the idea of ‘brand-new’ … and they love the idea that they can shape something to be exactly how they want it to be. Whilst council rules, budget and building legislation mean this statement isn’t really the case, they see an existing home as a handicap, they struggle to see its merits, and it’s the chain around their neck in creating a home that they can truly love. These home-lovers are the new-home-builders.
This may seem like a dramatic statement … and of course I exaggerate. You can have a foot in both camps, and you can like both types based on where you live and what stage of your life you’re at. But deep down, I think you’ll know which one you predominantly identify with, and which approach will make you happiest in creating the perfect home … for you.
So what was my advice to @tracendave11? Well, whilst I’ve designed and built more new houses than renovated ones, I personally fall into the renovator home-lover camp. Building new homes from scratch is really fun – don’t get me wrong – but personally, I really love the idea of bringing new life to old homes – especially homes such as this one, which has some character and quirk. So unless the existing home is diabolical and too hard to save, I will always explore renovation first.
So, my advice to @tracendave11 was to:
- check the local planning legislation
- do their homework upfront (that’s the due diligence I mentioned)
- get some sketch concepts done for renovation ideas and get some estimates
- compare those estimates to the COMPLETE price of a new build
- consider getting a soil test and survey done, which you’ll need for either avenue (as this will then enable a real understanding of requirements for structure, slab design etc, which can be a grey area that is just ‘allowed’ for in quotes, and can be a nasty surprise when the tests are done later in the new build process).
And finally, I had this to say to @tracendave11…
Your home has character, and homes like yours are part of the fabric of our suburbs. I heard Kevin McCloud once say, that when we demolish old homes, it’s like taking a great book, and gradually tearing out one page at a time. Slowly but surely, the story becomes disjointed and stops making sense. Soon enough, we can’t tell anymore what the book was even about.
So is your home an important page in the story of your street, your suburb and what makes your area special and unique? And what type of home-lover are you really?
And if building a new home is really what you want to do, then in the interest of minimising waste, please explore the options available to you to sensitively demolish the house, remove it for reuse elsewhere, or salvage individual components and materials. Lots of companies will pick your old home to pieces for re-use and recycling elsewhere – rather than the whole thing ending up in landfill.
ps. If you’ve found this blog helpful, please share it … and if you have some experience to share with making the decision to renovate or detonate, please let me know in the comments below.
Other blogs you may find useful …
Building a family home and don’t know where to start? Start here …
How to choose a builder – my #1 tip is here.
Check out the launch season of the UA Podcast, and get started by answering 4 important questions.