Deciding whether to renovate a home or tear it down to build new

While many buyers are looking for a home in move-in condition, others aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and do some much-needed work on a property. They'll look for lower priced listings that promise a reward for "sweat equity" or sternly warn that the home is being sold "as is."

While it is possible to rehabilitate a deteriorating home, some properties are too far gone even for skilled professionals to save. In these cases, it might be preferable to demolish the old home to build a new one on the same lot.

Renovation

If the home is in such poor shape that complete demolition is an option on the table, you'll have to be prepared for some considerable expenses. However, it can easily be  worth it to invest in a major overhaul.

Have a professional assess how structurally sound the home is. If the property has a solid foundation, sturdy walls, and a good roof, it will be easier to remodel.

One advantage to renovating a home is that you can set a more manageable schedule for the project. Lee Wallender, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says you might decide to spread the work out over several years, saving up funds and investing in projects as you go.

Renovating a home won't make much sense if some key structural components are in serious disrepair. Laura Agadoni, writing for the real estate site Trulia, says some of the most concerning issues include foundations in poor condition, sloping walls, and severe water damage.

You may be willing to take on the necessary improvements if they will help preserve some unique architectural elements. Older homes may have stunning features such as wide plank hardwood floors and marble mantles that you would like to preserve.

Depending on how comfortable you are with your home improvement skills, you may be able to do a significant amount of work on your own. You can also potentially reduce costs by working with a contractor to do some demolition work, such as the removal of cabinets, or purchase supplies on your own.

However, certain work might not be feasible within the scope of the renovation. Wallender says that if your upgrades won't fit within the existing footprint of the home, it might be cheaper to tear it down and rebuild than it would be to build an addition. Other work, such as raising ceilings, can also be prohibitively expensive.

The costs for a renovation can easily ramp up beyond the initial expected budget. Mike Sealander, an architect in Ellsworth, Me., says improvements will be needed not only to add the desired home features, but also to bring the property up to modern codes. Hometown Demolition, a demolition resource based in Grand Rapids, Mich., says a renovation can unearth a variety of expensive problems as it proceeds, such as mold and leaking pipes hiding behind the drywall.

Demolition

By getting rid of an unsightly home and starting fresh, you can build a home exactly as you want it. You'll have an opportunity to choose the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, select the features and amenities you'd like to include, and pick out details ranging from window types to preferred faucets. Some features from the old home, such as windows or doors in good condition, can also be reused in the new property.

Demolishing a home and building a new one will also refresh its systems entirely. Wallender says that even if features in the home such as the furnace and roof are still usable, they'll only have a certain amount of time left before they need to be repaired. Rebuilding allows you to acquire longer lasting systems, which can be a big advantage when selling the property.

Older and more decrepit homes are also unlikely to have the most up-to-date technology when it comes to energy efficiency. Hometown Demolition says rebuilding allows you to install more efficient systems and features, resulting in much lower energy bills.

Tearing down and building new can have safety advantages as well. Sealander says you'll be able to add features such as sprinkler systems and windows that are more suitable for egress in the event of a fire.

Weigh the costs of a demolition and rebuild to see how they compare to a renovation. Building a new home often involves costly work that isn't necessary in a remodel, such as clearing the site and setting up new electric, water, and sewer lines. Hometown Demolition says the work to knock down the old structure will cost several thousand dollars, while the cost of building a new home can easily rise into the six-digit range. You'll also need to have a plan for where you will reside during the time when this work is taking place.

Make sure a demolition or the rebuilding work you plan to do will even be possible. If the home is in a historic district, you'll need to get a number of approvals before a demolition can take place. Wallender says zoning restrictions and other rules may also limit what you can do on your lot.

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