Renovate or Demolish

Published : 24 June 2015

So you've found the perfect block of land in the perfect location. There's a really old house on the block so your first thought is to simply demolish and rebuild. But is that really the best option?

Cheaper doesn't mean better

True, demolition is usually cheaper than renovation but that doesn't mean it's the best choice. Before you decide, have a really good look at the house, and a really good think.

There are really three options here: try and do up the existing house, knock it down or, and here's the smart move, retain some parts of the original house and completely rebuild others.

If the existing house is in a really bad way structurally, completely demolishing it and building afresh will be a lot cheaper and easier. This is especially true if it's a heritage home and you need to source specialist building materials.

Just a facelift

However, if you’re completely in love with the existing house - or you’re certain that most of the work is cosmetic - then a major overhaul can be a really rewarding way to go. It's also a very environmentally-friendly solution.
Maybe you've been down this path before. If you haven't, read up on it and talk to others who have done it. Renovation is certainly fun and very rewarding, but it's also hard work, dirty and exhausting. And yes, there will be arguments along the way. And it's quite likely you'll uncover more things to fix as you go along.
One of the first things to check is whether the property is covered by any form of heritage listing. If it is, you can expect to add extra time, extra cost and probably extra headaches to the whole process.

It's all worth it

However, the pay-back is that you end up with a gorgeous and valuable heritage home that is all the more special because you restored it.

Houses that appear on your state or territory’s heritage register are likely to be protected by law, and any planned changes will need to pass stringent examination to ensure that they don’t interfere in any significant way with the character of the house.

You may discover it has a ‘heritage overlay’. These are areas defined by the local council in which particular rules apply about the kinds of changes you can make to existing buildings - and what you can and can’t build. Local councils define heritage overlays to help preserve the charm and character of a given area.

If you’re planning any changes at all to a heritage home - even something really simple like a fresh coat of paint - check the rules first.

Check and double check

In fact, checking with your local authority is the way to go whatever you decide to do. For example, if you do decide to demolish, the boundary regulations may have changed and you may not be allowed to build afresh in the exact same position. The regulations that determine how far from the boundary of a property you can build may have changed since the original house went up many years ago.

If you decide to go down that middle road of retained some features and re-building others, which features should you keep? Generally speaking, it's better to replace those areas that are dated and impractical. A lovely new kitchen and bathroom will add value to the property if you decide to sell.

Opening up or extending living spaces is always a good idea, too. But before you start knocking out walls check with an expert. Some walls are load-bearing and demolishing those could be the end of all your plans!

Some people swear by renewing all the windows but take your time here. If they can be repaired, the original windows will add charm and character to the property and could well catch the eye of a potential buyer in the future. If the windows are small, you can always add a skylight, or a set of sliding doors.

If the property is structurally sound, you could actually get away with very little work. A fresh coat of paint, new flooring and tap ware will go a long way towards creating a fresh new look. And rendering a boring old brick wall will give the house a more modern feel.

One of the big advantages of renovating rather than demolishing and building from scratch is that in some cases you can do it in stages – and still have a roof over your head for most of that time. And remember, you may be able to recover at least some of your costs through salvage and recycling, too.