Remodel or Rebuild


Renovating your home could be just the thing you need to make it truly yours. But be careful: This decision could lead you down a never-ending (and stealthily expensive) home improvement rabbit hole. Once you’ve turned your kitchen from drab to fab, for example, your family room now seems out of place, the living room looks dated, and so on. In many cases, tearing down an old home is more affordable than a top-to-bottom remodel, with or without an addition. But not always. It really depends on the home, your location, and your situation. Here are five factors to consider when weighing your options, plus advice on how to make this costly financial decision.

1. Does your older home have a lot of character?

Solid-core doors, marble window sills, crown molding, pocket doors, arched doorways — who could get rid of these features? “Some older houses are made with higher-quality wood and have finishing touches that you can’t replicate today. If you want to keep your home’s original details, you’ll probably want to renovate.

But don’t feel bad if a historical charmer isn’t your thing. Besides, not all old homes are worth saving. “While there are many homes and historical buildings that are 100, 200, or more years old and still in sound condition, typically homes more than 75 years old or so need a critical eye. If the utilities, plumbing, and heating systems are in poor condition, you might want to rebuild. A teardown will allow you to build with modern materials, and your home will likely be much more energy-efficient

2. Is your home structurally unsound?

If your home has structural issues, I would recommend a teardown. Your walls, when looked at from the outside, should be straight. There should be no water in your basement or crawl space, no cracks on your interior walls, and your windows should easily open and close. A structural engineer can be a big asset in helping you decide. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, having the home’s foundation checked becomes even more important. A home designed and built prior to new earthquake laws can have significant structural damage after an earthquake occurs. In those cases, it is often more economical to start from scratch.

3. Does your town have restrictive regulations?

The decision on whether to renovate or rebuild might not be completely yours to make. If your jurisdiction has tough regulations, it might be easier to play by its rules. In places where you’ve got a lot of rules, it may be easier to tear down. It can be faster to get city approval for a project that involves leaving a portion of the existing house.

4. Finally, how much money do you want to spend?

Sometimes you just need to crunch the numbers to determine which path to take: Renovation or teardown? Once you start renovating you will likely discover some unwelcome surprises. There are always unexpected costs such as excavating surprises, unseen rot and mold, electrical issues, structural inadequacies, etc. Remodeling and renovation only make sense if you believe the costs and schedule will be considerably less than new construction. A teardown and complete rebuild is typically a more predictable process.

So, whether to renovate or tear down and rebuild really comes down to a case-by-case decision. Call in the proper professionals for quotes to help you decide. Renovation experts, builders, structural engineers, and architects can all help you make this decision based on what you want to do, the type of home you have, its condition, and your local zoning rules.