Residential Remodeling Vs. Building a New Home

Remodeling an existing house isn't always cheaper than building a new house.

Remodeling an existing house isn't always cheaper than building a new house.

Remodeling a house is one of the biggest tasks you may ever tackle. You may even consider whether you would be better off building an entirely new home. Personal needs, the age of the existing house, local zoning laws and costs will influence your decision to remodel an existing house or build a new house, among other factors.


Consider what you and your family need from a house, and whether those needs can be met with a remodel. If you want to drastically expand the amount of square footage, you may consider building an entirely new house on a larger property. If you can add an adequate amount of square footage by finishing a basement and turning it into usable space, remodeling may be the cheaper, smarter choice. You could also remodel your house by adding a second story. If you have detailed needs, building a home to your specifications can be the better option.

Older Homes: Not Necessarily Bad

If you live in an older home without historic value, you may choose to build a new house rather than remodel an older house. Down the line, a remodeled older house is still an older house, whereas one that is newly built can be marketed as recent construction with energy-efficient features and modern finishes. Conversely, if you live in a turn-of-the-century bungalow with historic charm, consider whether you can afford to use the same quality of materials today. A newly constructed house isn't always worth more than well-done remodel.

Local Laws

Residential zoning laws and regulations vary by county and will have a large impact on your decision to either remodel or build a new house. Some neighborhoods will not allow new construction but have liberal definitions of "remodel." Many counties require that you leave only a small part of an existing structure standing in order to qualify as a remodel. Check local zoning laws and building codes before deciding on a remodel or new construction.


The cost of remodeling an existing house and building a new one depends on the quality of construction and finishes. Remodeling an existing house may end up being as expensive as building a house from the ground up. According to Remodeling Magazine, the average national cost in 2011 for adding a second story to an existing house is $165,243, and a major kitchen remodel averages $58,367. The National Association of Home Builders reports that the average national new construction cost in 2011 is $184,125.

Other Factors

Many factors may contribute to your decision to remodel or build a new house. If you like most aspects of your house, remodeling may be the wiser decision than trying to start from scratch. If you do not want strangers traipsing through your house and the daily hassle and noise of remodeling, hiring a builder to construct a turnkey house may be a better option. Your house's value in the context of its neighborhood is also important. Real estate agents generally advise that your house should not be more than 10-15 percent of the median price of other houses in your neighborhood. If you add significant improvements during a remodel, such as a master suite addition or second story, you could drive the value of your house much higher than the others in the neighborhood, which can make it difficult to sell in the future.


About the Author

Based in Chicago, Annie Wang has been writing since 2008. Her work has appeared in World Architecture News and other online publications. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and art history from the University of California, Davis.

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