Q&A: Should I renovate or rebuild?

We usually get this question when a client really likes the location of the house, but not happy with the actual building itself. The costs of a major renovation might be closer to building a new house from scratch. In that case, should you renovate or rebuild?

The answer is that “it depends”. There are many factors at play. The most critical factor to consider revolves around zoning ordinances.  It is crucial to find out what today’s regulations allow for your property in order to make informed decisions on how and where you can build.

Some buildings and lots today are considered “non-conforming”, meaning that it complied with the zoning ordinance and regulations at the time it was built but no longer fully complies after the subsequent changes to the current ordinance.

The site plan above is an example of a lot in Virginia Beach. The red centerlines show the property boundaries, and the area that is shaded with diagonal cross patterns shows the buildable area after complying with today’s yard setback requirements in the City’s Zoning Ordinance.

In addition to the setback requirements, there are other zoning-related restrictions to consider, such as maximum lot coverage, maximum impervious coverage, maximum floor area, CBPA setbacks, etc. You could apply for a variance in some cases, however it most likely will involve more time and perhaps more money. And it may or may not be approved.

Before and After images of the above mentioned project. In this case, the owners love the location and decided to do a full-house renovation to maximize what the existing building and site can offer.

Other factors of equal importance to the Zoning Ordinance include both the budget for construction and the time required.  For example: if the total budget does not allow to build a new house all at once, you may need to renovate it in phases (See Q&A #1). The same can be said for the construction time. New construction is usually a longer process, and you typically can not move back into the house before it is fully completed.  

Other factors to consider include: financial investment return in the long term, cost savings on usable existing building conditions, personal attachment, sometimes if it is a very old house, it may need historical preservation….

Going back to the original question of whether to renovate or rebuild: contacting your local city officials and/or local professionals will be the good first step toward making an informed decision.

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