Should I renovate or move?

by | Jan 17, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

An overhead view of Jennifer Crawford Architect sketching with a pen on Yellowtrace on a dark coloured table.

Written by Jennifer Crawford

As a registered architect who has been working in the construction industry for over 25 years, I’ve worked in architectural practice, for large construction companies, land developers, commercial builders and project home builders.

Is a renovation worth it?

One of the most frequent questions I get when people are thinking about speaking to me is “should I renovate or move?”. Quite often when I see my clients at a consultation I can be talking people out of projects rather than talking them into them.  This is rather odd for an architect isn’t it?  When I speak to a lot of my clients they are often unsure about whether they should even undertake their renovation project.  Sometimes they have a wish list and vision that they would love, but are not sure whether they can afford it.  Other times, they are not sure whether they should do it at all or just move.

I don’t mean to be a party pooper or dream crusher but what I do want is for my clients to be able to build a project and be happy and comfortable with it at the end.

What does happy and comfortable mean?  Well it’s not only about the building, the finishes and how your home functions.  It’s also about how much was spent on the project and the running costs of the renovated house over time.  Can you pay for it comfortably?  If you were to sell, would you realise that investment?  Over capitalisation is a thing.  Something to be avoided.  So what is the best and most effective thing to spend your money on?  What will give you the biggest bang for buck?

Sometimes too, the most suitable solution is not actually a building project.  It might be more of a landscape exercise.  It could be more of an interior design solution or even just a question of buying different furniture and positioning it differently.

All of these things can have a big impact without building anything at all.  But aren’t architects supposed to be excited about building things?  Yes of course.  I love a great project as much as the next architect.  I’ve also been involved in enough projects to know which ones will work well and which ones just aren’t worth it.

Having said that, many projects still turn up surprises.  Especially renovation projects on old houses.  There are so many quirks involved that even with the best of intentions there can still be the odd surprise or two.

So, we ask the question “Is it worth it?”  What makes a renovation worth it or not?  Well, obviously there is the financial cost.  Building is not cheap and you don’t want to overcapitalise.

There is also the emotional toll of it all.  A renovation project is not for the faint hearted.  There are so many decisions to be made, constantly.  Every decision has its consequences – financial, time-related and many more that ultimately affect the end result.

A former architectural boss of mine used to say that when it comes to residential architecture :”It’s 20% design and 80% marriage counselling.  There is quite a bit of truth in that.

So what makes a renovation worth it?  Well it depends on how you live and how much money you have to spend.  Even if you have a comfortable amount of money in the bank, it still may not be worth it.

Here’s a few things to consider:


If you have a growing family or circumstances that are changing then a renovation could well be worth it.  To make it truly worthwhile you need to love where you live.  That is, the actual location first. Things like the walkability of your neighbourhood, access to shops, services and public transport all score big points when it comes to considering a renovation. If you don’t truly love where you live then it is definitely not worth it or the time and money to move.

Good bones

My husband often laughs at me when I talk about houses with “good bones”.  So what does that actually mean?  It means a house with a robust structure and with logical planning (ie. rooms in the right places).  Often people ask me whether they should renovate and I ask them “Do you love this house? Do you really love it?” because often there are quite a few houses that have come to the end of their life span.  Yes, you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars working on them but if the fundamentals are wrong then it is definitely not worth it.

Great Site

A building is often only as good as the site it is placed on.  There are easy sites and challenging sites, great sites and horrible sites.  You just need to understand what type you have. Some of the best sites are also most challenging due to slope or rock or something similar. Sometimes it’s excavation costs that can blow a renovation out of the water.  Other times, it can be a simple thing such as access or the lack of it.  The orientation of a site is critical.  Many people often ask for a North Facing site (In the southern hemisphere) without really understanding what that means. Every site is a north facing site unless you are overshadowed by a significant obstacle along your northern boundary. (That can happen too).  All you need is to understand where north is and how to make it work best for you.

Rules and Regulations

This can be a killer.  It is very much worth investigating the rules and regulations about what you can build on a property before purchasing it.  If you own it already then one of the first things you need to do is research whether what you want to do is permissible. Many a renovation can come undone through such unglamorous things as stormwater easements.  Other things that can really restrict what you can and can’t do are things such as flood levels, bushfire regulations, building heights, setbacks and site coverage.

Creating value

Once you’ve determined whether you can actually renovate, now the question becomes, what should we do?  There are some things that can create immense value to a property and other things that perhaps don’t add much.  In many inner urban areas, an additional bedroom and ensuite can add significant value as can a covered car parking space.  If you already have a large house then another room may not add that much extra value.  People can often spend a lot of money on a kitchen and then not necessarily recoup that value when the house is sold.  It’s well worth considering bang for buck.

Is it all about resale?

Well, yes and no.  Obviously you don’t want to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a renovation and not be able to realise the value at resale.  In other words, you don’t want to overcapitalise.  However, if all you are ever thinking about when renovating is the people that will live in your house after you have left then you have really missed out on the opportunity to live in a house that you love.  It’s always a balancing act.

What now?

Once all of these things have been considered, then you should be in a position to know whether renovation is right for you. If you are not sure, I’d be more than happy to help you make that decision. Once that decision is made and you have decided to go ahead we come to the next stage in the process and that is all about “Where to start?”  I’m more than happy to help you with that too. 

Written by Jennifer Crawford

As a registered architect who has been working in the construction industry for over 25 years, I’ve worked in architectural practice, for large construction companies, land developers, commercial builders and project home builders.

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