I have designed quite a number of residential projects for buyers who love the location but not the house in the last of couple years. In these cases one of the first questions that people will ask their architect is “do you think I should remodel it or should I tear it down and start over”. This is not an easy question to answer and it is very project specific, but there are a few starting points that I use.
Is the building structurally sound? Some structural fixes are easy but some aren’t worth the effort. If the building is going to require a lot of work to make it safe to remodel then that tends to push the needle towards tearing it down.
Does the structure have historic value, is it on a historic register, in a historic district? If you answered yes, then you most likely have to look at a remodel or a serious amount of paperwork and meetings. There have been a few purchases that have fallen through for this reason.
Do you like the style of the existing house? Again, if you like the aesthetic of the house then remodeling may make sense. It might also make sense if the house has an expensive exterior that might be hard to rebuild within your budget. We did a remodel in Bonnie Brae where the exterior was all stone, brick and expensive tile roof so the exterior stayed.
Does the existing house preclude you from doing what you want to do? This is a multipart question, does the house sit on the site in a way that makes expansion difficult, does the room layout really not work, do the levels in the house not work or are the ceilings too low. Those aren’t always remodel fixes and may mean starting fresh.
Do you have enough room to go out, or do you need to go up (or down) also? Adding levels to an existing house definitely adds complexity and may point towards starting fresh.
On the other hand, does the existing house allow you to get away with something that you couldn’t do if you scrapped? We’re currently doing a feasibility on a multi-unit building in Denver that is built to the property lines, if it were torn down it would have to be rebuilt 5-10 feet from the property lines and the site would yield less units. On a smaller scale, your existing staircase or window design may be built in a way that we couldn’t build from scratch.
What are your plans for the house? Consider what your goal is, are you just doing a fix and flip or are you planning to stay for the long haul? This will have an effect on just how far you will need to go with your changes; how far do you chase that old pipe, how much do you insulate existing walls and do you really need to replace the furnace or the windows.
There is also an obvious need to look at the costs of your options and you can look at involving an experienced contractor or builder to aid in this analysis. You need to figure out just how many of the systems will need to be remodeled or replaced in order to bring the house up to current standards and codes. As architects we can give you a lot of advice but you should consider bringing on someone who works with material and labor costs daily.
There is another option to consider, if the house just doesn’t meet your needs but you can’t make the numbers work on tearing it down, you might look at selling and buying a lot that makes more sense.
Finally, if you are facing this dilemma or are looking at property to purchase and need some advice, contact an architect or a general contractor and get a second opinion from someone with experience in remodels.