Are you trying to decide whether to renovate or rebuild?
Answer these 7 questions and decide whether to renovate, or knock down and rebuild a new home.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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).
4. 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!
5. 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!
6. 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?
7. 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.
James Bergman says
I think it all comes down to how much you want to change in the house. Like you said, if you are going to change a lot, then it is better to just tear down the house and start from scratch. However, you might check and see if you can use the existing foundation.
Thanks for your comment.
From experience, I find that the decision-making process can often be more complex than that. Some homeowners are particularly attached to their home, and want to renovate it regardless of whether knocking it down makes more sense or not. There can be a lot of other factors that help people to decide.
I’m interested in what experience you’ve had in reusing existing foundations (I see you’re from a demolition company). My experience is that structural engineers are very resistant to sign off the structural integrity of old foundations for new work, and you end up having to rework and add a lot to create the new home.
It would be great to hear your position on this.
– Amelia, UA
Interesting post, and a debate I’m still having! We have started exploring the Reno route with a building designer and plans. Once we have them costed in detail by a few builders we will be better able to compare I think. We are leaning toward the Reno but I think realistically if the price is close – we will have to reassess. This is a really tough decision! Our sloping block will ^ the rebuild $
Hi Taryn – thanks for your comment!
It sounds like you’re doing all the right things to be able to make the decision in an informed way. Use the same due diligence when assessing the new build option too – often builders and project home companies will provide an upfront price that has a base level of finishes and fixtures, and sometimes does not include floor coverings, a driveway, light fittings etc – and you don’t finalise the package price until well into the process (and then get a nasty surprise!)
Best wishes with making your decision,
– Amelia, UA x
Braden Bills says
I have some significant goals for my remodeling project. It makes sense that I might need to have a portion of my house torn down and rebuilt! I think it would be necessary, considering all the stuff I want to have done.
Thanks for the comment. Yes – often that can be the best strategy to economically and efficiently renovate and extend your home. Best wishes with your project.
– Amelia, UA
Dolores Coleman says
I would like some advise on my 40+ year 5 bedroom home. Needs a lot of TLC. A developer would find this an interesting property for redevelopment and creating units as its a big block. I want to downsize and don’t want to pay unnecessary money on renovating before selling if it’s going to be demolished
I’m unable to comment here on what you should do for your project. It would be worthwhile speaking to your local agents for the advice you’re seeking. I also recommend checking out my online program, Your Reno Roadmap, or the 1:1 Design services available through Design by Amelia Lee.
– Amelia, UA
Taylor Bishop says
I just wanted to thank you for helping me learn more about whether it’s appropriate for renovation or demolition. I hadn’t considered that doing a real estate value and seeing if my area is an area people want to buy in could be beneficial knowledge. This is something I’m going to have to research when the time comes. Thanks again!
Thanks for your comment – it’s my pleasure – I’m glad the blog helped.
– Amelia, UA
Thanks for the advice, this is something we are struggling with at the moment. I love our house and it’s location but it needs some serious changes to add more livable entertaining space. It probably would be more economical to knock out down and rebuild, but I am definitely in the ‘love the history’ camp.
It’s always a tricky balance isn’t it. I hope you found these questions helpful – in particular looking at the orientation and whether the house can be extended / renovated to work for how the sun moves (without having to pull it apart too much). I’m in the ‘love the history’ camp too!
– Amelia, UA
Hi, I have i inherited a 1950s brick house & am planning on only performing a cosmetic renovation (no extensions etc). However, I want to ensure that the house is structurally sound. If not then I will demolish. Is it a Building Engineer informs you off this? Based in Victoria, Australia. Thanks
Yes, a licensed Structural Engineer is the most suitable person for this task – and the only person licensed to advise on structural soundness of a building (as opposed to a builder). The podcast interview I did with Structural Engineer, Josh Neale of Westera Partners, may be useful listening for you. You can check it out here. Best wishes for your project!
– Amelia, UA
Great article Amelia
My wife and I are debating the issue at the moment with our little postwar weatherboard house in Brisbane. We love the character of the house, but to get it to where we want it (i.e 5 bed 3bath), we will likely have to completely gut the house, lift and build in underneath. We also have the added bonus of asbestos sheeting throughout.
The alternative would be a project home, but we don’t really have a feel for what the true cost (as opposed to the advertised prices) would be.
Any advice for the undecided?
Thanks for your comment.
There’s 2 things here. The first is in looking at whether your finished home really needs to be what you have in your thoughts (ie 5 bed, 3 bath) and if there is a renovation strategy that could provide a great outcome, the space you need, and not pull the home completely apart to achieve it. And asbestos removal is not that cost prohibitive if access and removal is quite straight-forward.
The second is that sometimes, the simplest way is to run the two options alongside each other at a concept level. I find if homeowners are willing to invest some funds in testing the feasibility of each approach, they get into a far better (and more informed position) before investing the bigger amount in the reno or new home. Getting ‘real’ pricing on the project home will take teasing out the total costs (including your preferred material / product / fixtures selections), and will require a soil test as well.
The biggest mistake most make is to choose based on limited information and a lot of assumptions – and end up spending more (and not getting what they really wanted when they started). A small investment now in exploring both options may save you lots of heartache and money down the track.
– Amelia, UA
Thank you, this is useful. We purchased a 100 year old house that unfortunately was renovated in the 70s and 80s. We had planned to renovate by knocking off the previous extensions and adding a significant extension to the rear. We would only save the front 4 rooms (all of which are spacious with high ceilings).
While I generally fall into the side of preferring character, we’ve started pondering all of the extra costs under the surface that we cannot see just yet. The old girl needs a new roof, updated plumbing, re-rendering, and so on…And if we were starting from scratch the house would be in a different position on the block.
As you say, it is very hard to separate the emotional and the reality of the financial situation. Thank you for the food for thought!
You’re so welcome, and thanks for your feedback. Your strategy to improve the existing house is a sound one … and preserving its history is certainly something worth considering. You may wish to check out the strategy I use for bolt-on extensions as a means of saving some considerable $$ in the extension you add. You can resolve some of the position / orientation issues with this strategy. There’s an example on this blog, and this one too. I teach this strategy inside my online course “How to Get it Right“.
Best wishes for your project,
Jan crawford says
Im 71 ..and l live in a LOG CABIN … It is about 50 years young and needs the toof off, the ceiling space fully silverpapered , fully reinsulation replaced and the wood board ceilin g replaced with tongue and groove .. while this is all off the logs need lifting and reset..and calking. The cabin is 42feet long and 24 feet wide with kitchen left side and bathroom/toilet/ laundry on the right .. my *bedroom* is behind a ‘wall’ of wardrobes … what ld like to do is build a bedroom on top at one end incorporate a verandah /lean too . Weeell thems the *plans*.
What an exciting project! I can imagine it’ll make a big difference to your lifestyle to have your log cabin better insulated, and with a little more room! Best wishes for making it happen,
– Amelia, UA
Hi we have a shack in Tasmania, build as a summer holiday house, completely unsuited to the cold climate the rest of the year. It’s weatherboard, rotten, needs a new roof, new plumbing, new bathroom and kitchen and laundry. It’s charmign though but cold. Should we start again and rebuild? We joke the house is held together with spider webs.
Team Undercover Architect says
Hi Andrea, thank you for being here on the Undercover Architect website. I would suggest checking out the podcast if you haven’t already. I think that these episodes would really be helpful for you to decide whether you will renovate or knockdown and rebuild (or even sell, which is another possibility too!):
Renovate or Sell >>> https://undercoverarchitect.com/podcast-question-and-answer-do-we-renovate-or-sell/
Renovate or Knock-down-rebuild? >>> https://undercoverarchitect.com/renovate-or-knock-down-rebuild/