To Renovate or not to Renovate?

Renovations are often seen an economical alternative to building a new home. Numerous DIY building shows continue to inspire us to renovate when in fact renovating is not always appropriate. It’s never as easy at it looks and people end up spending more and taking longer for results that are often unsatisfactory.
While it does normally cost more to build a new house there is much misconception with how much value there is with renovations. Labour costs in Australia are one of the largest cost considerations, and renovations are more labour intensive. Furthermore there is so much that is unseen and difficult to quantify when trying to rectify old defects or in marrying old structures with new ones. A new build by contrast allows you to see and account for every nail and piece of building material that goes on site. There is the assurance that you are getting what you pay for, where by contrast you could spend $10,000 rewiring a few rooms in an old house and not see the difference. To make things harder there are few building contractors who enjoy renovating because of its fiddly nature. Those that do therefore tend to charge a premium. Knowing what a renovation might cost is another headache because of the unknowns and a minimum contingency of 20% is highly recommended. What logically should only cost $400,000 can easily blow out to $500,000.
At Wolf Architects we always ask our clients to carefully consider the reasons why they might want to renovate. With heritage protected properties a renovation or extension may be the only option but in many instances people just feel they should renovate because they don’t want to waste what still seems to be a perfectly good structure. While we agree that it is wasteful, it’s just not economical to try and expand or enhance existing strictures due to the high labour costs. On top of this there is the difficulty with how the building might end up looking.  With period buildings you either design to match the period or choose a complete contrast to clearly define differences between old and new. Both options tend to be less favorable with buildings from the 1960’s through to present day. Current regulatory requirements must also be considered as they are likely to differ from the the time the original structure was built. In some cases choosing to renovate could be the smarter option if the aim is to maintain features or sizes that would not comply by current guidelines.
Another thing to keep in mind is the long term value of the property. While a renovation may at the time seem like a good solution, it could in the long run devalue your project and limit resale potential. Renovations are always a compromise and can be vulnerable to more criticism than new buildings.  An original un-renovated property or a brand new build is normally more appealing than someone else’s renovation.

So are renovations in this day and age completely out of the question?

If your budget is limited there is probably not a lot of choice but we would encourage you to be very careful and selective with how to invest. Unless you can invest over $350,000, any structural changes should be kept to a minimum. Keep in mind that a new kitchen alone can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $90,000. If you need to extend out or upwards it’s important to understand design and building connections between new and old. This is where it benefits to work with experienced architects, but they will command higher fees for for the same reasons as builders, as it’s extremely fiddly and time consuming. A renovation is often as much work if not more than a new house. As far as our design fees are concerned it’s difficult to charge less for a renovation than a new house and this does not always seem appropriate to clients who imagine renovations as a cheaper alternative.
As a result of this most renovation projects undertaken by WOLF ARCHITECTS are ones in which the budget is between $400,000 and $1000,000. At the upper end we would ask our clients to consider what they might get for a new build if their budgets are flexible. Unless the property is heritage protected or there is some other strong sentimental reason, a new build (if you can afford to stretch your budget) will often represent the best overall value.
Below are some images of award winning WOLF renovation projects from very minor to large and significant. Click the images to enlarge.
Wolf-Architects-Renovation-Project-Front-View Wolf-Architects-Renovation-Project-Living-Room

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