Remodel vs. tear down


I’ve been asked on many occasions to remodel existing homes. My line of questioning usually goes something like this, “How’s the foundation? Is there mold? What’s the construction? How’s the roof? Plumbing? Electrical? Are people getting sick in this home? Yadda yadda….”. Now, I say my line of questioning usually goes like that because more times than not, before I can get to that point the potential client will begin the conversation by telling me all of the downfalls of the home. I’ve heard everything including by not limited to: graffiti, cats, dogs, punched in walls, partially/completely destroyed kitchens/bathrooms, blown up toilets, intentional structural damage, and my personal favorite (that prompted me to write this article…just heard it today) a chicken coop left open inside the house! Let’s face it, people that get foreclosed upon want to stick it to the banks. These are unfortunate scenarios all around.

Having said that, there has to come a time when you weigh the options; namely demolish the existing home and start fresh, or put money into something that may easily turn into a never-ending money pit (think Tom Hanks). The first thing I would do is get a full, thorough inspection from a licensed inspector. Tell him that you want the house checked from top to bottom including all of the things I listed above. At the end of the inspection look the inspector in the eyes and ask him this verbatim, “ok…you’ve seen what you’ve seen…if you were me what would you do? Would you: A. remodel B. demolish and start new or C. run?” The inspector has no emotional or financial ties to your home so he will tell it to you straight. Once he’s given you the news, it will be up to you to decide how to proceed.

wrecking ball 2Obviously tearing down and starting new is always more expensive, but the question is, how much more? Is it 20% more or 30% more? Then it may be worth it to investigate that route. Most people underestimate how complicated renovations/additions/remodels are. They tend to think that since it is an existing house and we would just be “fixing” it, it can’t be that expensive. This varies greatly from project to project and the only way to know the full extent of what needs to be done is to first have an inspection. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good homes out there that have some mold in some areas that can be remediated, or need new roofs, or whatever. The problem comes when a house needs EVERYTHING. If a house needs a new foundation, plumbing, electrical, new exterior cladding, new cabinets, new walls, etc., then you need to ask yourself how much you love the house (if you love it at all) and if it is worth the fight.

Another thing to keep in mind with remodels is just the basic idea of whether or not you like the floorplan. Does it flow well? Do you feel good when you’re in the spaces? Are you planning on adding one or two rooms where the existing rooms will remain proportional? Or will the square footage start to make the kitchen originally designed for a 2,000 sf home look ridiculous when you turn the home into a 5,000 sf home? As an architect, dealing with remodels is tricky on many levels, but from a sheer design perspective my goal is always to make it look like you can’t tell where the old starts and the new begins. I’ve been in countless homes where the lines of old/new are conspicuously delineated. One example would be opening the front door to a foyer (that used to be a carport), stepping up into a room (that can’t be furnished because it makes no sense) with the kitchen right in front of you (not what you want your guests to see as soon as they walk in) and then the coup de grace: you have to walk through the dining room to get to a bathroom! These are the things you want to avoid or else you are going to spend a lot of money just to be left with a large home consisting of an overabundance of disjointed rooms.

When you start fresh with new construction you know what is in the ground, the walls, the roof, and everything else. You know that everything is up to code. You know the house is safe. You know that the house is built well (because you hire me!). And then all the fun stuff: you not only get to pick out the color/type of the cabinets…you get to pick everything! The style of the home, the layout of the rooms, the materiality, the FF&E (Furniture Fixtures and Equipment), you even get to pick the doorknobs! How cool is that? When you design and build a house from scratch with my company I will personally hold your hand through the entire process until you are all moved in and settled.

I can be contacted here.