Is It Worth Remodeling?

Index

  • When one installs a new window in a new construction then it is usually possible to control costs and save money. The rough opening for the window can be framed to measure. The window can often be ordered in advance and arrive at the construction site on time. The window can be installed after the the exterior sheathing and house-wrap have been installed but before the siding, drywall and trim.

    When installing a new window into an existing home none of the above benefits are likely. The same is usually true for most other building components. On a per unit basis,remodeling tends to cost more than new construction. How much more? In my opinion at least 1.5 times more and more likely twice as much or even more.

    None of this suggests that one should not remodel or that all remodels cost more than new construction. Quite the opposite, most remodels help save money, time and materials. But if most of a structure needs to be repaired or replaced then it may cost more to remodel then to build new.

  • I like to think about 3 levels of remodels:

    The Cosmetic Fixer - This is the house with "good bones" and some good systems but in need of a limited number of major deficits. For example: it has a good foundation and framing, the electrical system needs some minor repairs and a few upgrades, it needs new paint and carpet and new kitchen cabinets and a 2nd bathroom.

    In this case, the portions of the home that are in good condition still have a lot of value. Most areas might need some TLC and a select few need some significant upgrades.

    Bulldozer Fodder - Tha's the other extreme end of the scale. The poorly built home or the home that has been mismanaged and used as a rental for the last 30 years. In reviewing the inspection report on this home it is hard to find a single system that can be left "as is".

    It also lacks any "wonderful old charm". Whatever old trim might still exist has been damaged and painted over with many coats of paint. The electrical, plumbing, heating, roofing siding systems... are all in need of major rehabilitation or replacement.

    It was not George Washington's home and he didn't sleep there. Its existence does not provide for some special zoning benefits.

    It would be great if some of the material in the home could be salvaged. This might save some money and reduce global warming. But don't expect to make a lot of money on salvage.

    The demolition costs could be high if some of structure contains hazardous material such as asbestos, an underground oil tank...

    And then there are the ones in-between - and those are the projects that require a lot more analysis and planing and a lot of discipline - See A Building and Remodeling Checklist.

    The devil is in the details. And possible the easiest way to convert a $100K project into a $750K project is to make a whole bunch of "small" changes. The light fixture that was going to cost $75 and ended up costing $400 and similarly a few hundred other like decisions.

    The Bottom Line: Remodeling can save money if it is possible to save a significant portion of the existing structure. But if more than 1/2 of what is there now needs major rehabilitation or replacement then it might be less expensive to build new.

  • There are some situations when it makes sense to undertake the rehabilitating a seriously deteriorated structure. One example is in a situation when taking on such a major project is one of the only ways to enter the housing market.

    Here are some suggested guidelines:

    • Make sure that your have a good understanding of the scope of the work. Hire experts to help you evaluate the whole project and don't allow emotions to cloud your decisions.
    • Planing out the details for such a p