Remodel or Build from Scratch?

When you buy a property with an existing house on it, you have several choices ahead of you. You can:

  1. Move right in and accept the house as is.
  2. Do a classic “remodel”, putting in new floors, carpeting, bathroom fixtures, and/or kitchen appliances.
  3. Tear the whole thing down and start from scratch.
  4. Tear 99% of the thing down, start almost from scratch, and call it a remodel.

Options a and b are pretty straightforward and if your house already has a great footprint and layout, you probably don’t need to think about c or d. But what if you need to completely reinvent the property? What is the best way to accomplish a total transformation with as little friction as possible?

In the United States and other countries with similar building conventions, it’s usually option d. All cities are slightly different, but generally if you keep even a single wall up, it officially counts as a “remodel”. I’ve even heard stories of people keeping a tiny portion of an existing wall up, calling an inspector out to bless it, and then knocking the wall down and rebuilding it within 24 hours.

If you get your project blessed as a “remodel” by your city’s planning department, you save yourself a lot of extra permitting, extra costs, extra arguments with the city and/or neighbors, and extra time. You’re also more likely to get special “out of code” allowances from the city if you need them. For instance, the carport in my current structure does not conform to code anymore (it’s too close to the street) and the western-most edge of the house is technically in an environmentally critical zone. If I built from scratch, the chances of getting approval to re-create these out-of-code elements would be small.

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