Renovating versus Rebuilding: A Complete Guide


Refurbishing (or renovating) is one of the most exciting ways to renovate. It’s all the fun and glory of shopping without the dust and hideous expense of a rebuild. Kitchens and bathrooms can be transformed into something magazine-worthy by replacing old and worn fittings.Here’s what you need to know as you contemplate renovating versus rebuilding in Chicago.


Bedrooms come up a treat with freshly painted walls and living areas can be made to look more modern with new window treatments or floor coverings. Yep, by the end of this guide, you will realize that renovation versus rebuilding in Chicago has a lot going for it.

Renovating versus Rebuilding in Chicago

By the end of this guide, you will realize that renovation versus rebuilding in Chicago has a lot going for it

What Does True Renovating Mean?

A true refurbishment means leaving the structures of the room as they are and replacing the accoutrements—the fittings, paintwork, skirtings and floorcoverings. A refurb leaves the ceilings, wall structures, floor structures, electrical wiring and plumbing intact. It is more like a redecoration than a renovation.

Renovating vsersus rebuilding in chicago

It’s up to you what you want to spend on a refurb

The sky is the limit with a refurb you can spend a lot of money, but you can also do it on a tight budget. For example, a cast-iron bathtub might cost $8500 while a plastic tub might cost around $150.You will pay the same amount of money to install and fit either bathtub, but the cast-iron one might last 10 times longer. It may also be out of fashion within five years. It’s up to you what you want to spend on a refurb but don’t forget that budget is still a prime consideration.

The Rules of Refurb

While it’s always best to refurbish rather than rebuild (your stress levels will thank you), there is no point spending money on a refurb when the property is screaming out for structural renovation.

Refurbishing a poorly laid-out room or one that really needs the walls re-plastered or the ceilings replaced is a waste of money. You will only have to rip up your expensive refurbishments to fix the underlying structures later—ouch, that will hurt the overdraft.

Remodeling versus renovating in chicago

ou need to assess what you want to do and how much money you have to spend

Naturally, the rules of renovation planning apply here. You need to assess what you want to do and how much money you have to spend. So, just like you did in the last chapter for maintenance and repairs, you need to do a room assessment and plan how you want to approach the refurb.

Renovating versus Rebuilding in Chicago

Many factors are considered when deciding to renovate or build a new house. Whereas renovation takes a shorter time. Building takes more time and more resources. However, it depends with circumstances leading to either renovating or bringing down the old home and constructing a new house. Some of factors considered are cost, time & change.

Should you renovate?

Value: once a house is renovated it appreciates its value immediately, if the owner would wish to sell it in future, this is an added advantage. It would fetch more money and even attract potential buyers thus selling it to the highest bidder.

renovating cersus rebuilding in Chicago

Remember your renovation mission statement.

Locality: Living in a place for some time gives someone a sense of belonging. Accesssibility to facilities will not change.

Beauty: Someone is able to spruce up house features as she/he pleases.

Space:  Depending on how big the house is, you can partition the lager spaces hence creating more rooms.

Challenges: The extent of renovation might increase due to structural defects.

Movement disturbance:  to create room for renovation, there has to be relocation from one room to the other.

Getting the refurbishing sequence right

You can easily minimize the cost of refurbishment if you spend loads of time planning. Once you have planned the elements you need for a refurbishment, it is easier to shop for cheaper materials, get competitive quotes for labor and choose the finishes and fittings you would like. Planning gives you the freedom to choose cheaper options—but only if you have time up your sleeve to exercise those options.

Desires and Budgets

Remember your renovation mission statement. Also, remember your budget. Don’t forget that your bank manager/mother/partner will want to kill you if you spend more than you can afford. Refurbishing is more expensive than plain old maintenance and repairs so you need to get a handle on costs before you start.

  1. First things first. Create a floor plan and work out how many square meters need renovating, then use a guide to costs to get a rough estimate.
  2. Estimate. Assess the materials you need to buy and the labor you need to hire to get a more accurate costing. You can also ask tradespeople and suppliers to give you quotes on jobs.
  3. Final budget. Work out exactly what materials you need and their costs, and how much you will pay for labor.
  4. Estimate. Work out how much time you will need to spend on getting quotes, overseeing suppliers, donating labor.

Refurbishing and your time

The longer you can take to refurbish a room, the cheaper it will be. Time gives you the luxury of shopping around for cheaper tradespeople and materials. It might also enable you to do some components of the job yourself—like stripping out and rubbish removal or painting.

A long time period could also make it easy for you to project-manage the job and schedule the plumber, tiler, electrician and painter yourself rather than paying a builder to oversee the renovation. If time is of the essence and you can’t go without a proper kitchen for three months, it is worth spending the money on a builder. Or you can employ a kitchen or bathroom company to do the renovations in a timely manner for a fixed price (just make sure you check reputations before you sign any contracts).

Two easy ways to renovate

renovating versus rebuilding in chicago

You can move and do everything at once or do it room by room

Move out and do everything at once

Pros: Can be quick and relatively cheap and painless, which adds to the gratification.

Cons: If costs or schedules blow out, it is more frustrating. Finding suitable rental accommodation can be painful.

Do it room-by-room

Pros: Less pressure and disruption to life. You can also get a better handle on costs; if the bathroom blows out, you can save on the bedroom.

Cons: Slowly, slowly it can drive you insane. You might also pay more in call-out fees for tradespeople, as well as find it more difficult to buy materials in bulk.

The Most Valuable Rooms to Refurbish

Common wisdom suggests bathrooms and kitchens are the best rooms to refurbish for the resale value of a property, but this doesn’t necessarily hold true. Louis

Christopher, a property owner from Arlington Heights, says buyers need to know that new kitchens and bathrooms actually depreciate over time. ‘Renovations just for the sake of renovations don’t really add any value,’ Louis says. ‘Most people would rather pay more money for simple things like a double garage or an entertainment deck—features that really add to the lifestyle value of a house.’

The most common renovations are

  • New kitchens and bathrooms
  • Second storey additions
  • Ground floor extensions
  • Garages and decking

The most common trends buyers are looking for in homes relate to ease of lifestyle outdoor entertaining areas, open-plan living with the kitchen as the hub of the house, luxury bathrooms for pampering, rooms to capture views or outlooks. So refurbishing rooms that offer to improve the lifestyle value of a house is probably the most valuable thing you can do.

Outdoor Refurbishing

It is probably fair to assume that opening a small lounge room to the outdoors by installing glass doors will be more valuable than just upgrading a kitchen. But if you have a squalid outdoor bathroom and still decide that installing glass doors to open up the lounge room to the outdoors is a more valuable move, then you need your head read.

The only accurate way to get an idea of the most valuable rooms to renovate is speak to your local real estate agents about what is selling in your area and which features potential buyers are demanding. In some suburbs, an in-ground swimming pool is a great asset to a property; in others it is considered a drawback due to high maintenance and ongoing costs. Get to know what works in your local area, and refurbish your rooms according to the demands of the local real estate market.

What experts say

Real estate agent Debbie Saunders, who specializes in selling prime Chicago real estate, says refurbishments that are clean, simple and uncluttered have the most market appeal. ‘People are more attracted to white tiles in the bathroom than tiles with three colors. They want simplicity,’ she says.

renovate versus rebuilding in chicago

Expert advise is by far the most useful input while exploring renovation costs and ideas

The key to refurbishment and spending your money to best effect is to work within the current layouts of rooms, especially the kitchen and bathroom. If you don’t need to move services like plumbing and electricity then your main costs will be stripping out, buying new fixtures and fittings, retiling and painting which will be kinder to your budget.

However, if the design of a room or the structure is fundamentally flawed, forget the refurb and save up for a rebuild. Don’t waste money on cosmetic work for crap rooms which will always be crap.

Refining Your Refurbishment Plan

With the confusion over the many tasks and trades involved in a refurbishment, it makes sense to use some revised planners to help keep your thoughts and budgets on track. Try filling in the following blank planners to summarize the planning steps you have already been through.


Rebuilding is the last resort, the worst type of renovation. It is expensive, time consuming and very dirty—do not do it unless you really have to. There is no way you can rebuild cheaply or without inconvenience—you will need to engage a range of professionals and very possibly move out of the property while work is being done.

rebuilding versus renovating in chicago

A newly rebuilt home











For the purpose of this guide, rebuilding means:

  • Moving doors
  • Moving windows
  • Removing walls
  • Removing floors
  • Replacing structures such as roof supports, walls, footings or decks
  • Rewiring electricals
  • Replacing old plumbing
  • Demolishing structures.

If a property has any of the following faults, it will probably need rebuilding, at least partially.

Crumbling Walls

Brick walls that are close to the sea or very old may have crumbling mortar or rusted arch bars. You can repair crumbling walls if the extent is not that great. In some instances, however, it is cheaper to demolish and reconstruct.

Failed plumbing

Old clay plumbing pipes are often cracked and broken; even 20-year-old homes can have leaky or blocked pipes or inadequate stormwater drainage. In many older structures, the only way to replace the plumbing is to break open the wall cavities. But if you’re lucky the pipes are more accessible. Perhaps only requiring a bit of digging. Sub-floor areas allow easier plumbing renewal.

Old electrical wiring

You should consider replacing wiring that is more than 30 years old. However, if you insulated the wires well and hid the insulation within brick walls, you are safe. You also have to have good quality sockets and switches. If this is the case, you can consider not replacing the wiring system. All this is for your own safety more than anything else.

Extensive rotting or decay of brick or timber structures

If your building is poorly maintained, refurbishing is necessary. This is to maintain the structural integrty of the building. For example, they shake when you push the walls or the floor is unsound. Sometimes a structural engineer can restore and repair the area.

Inadequate roofing and roof supports

You can fix leaking roofs. There is no need of removing the whole roofing system. However, the timber supports for a roof can rot or be damaged by termites, and in these cases you have to rebuild them.

Wide-reaching termite damage

When termites damage the supporting beams and bearers of a building, the only option is to exterminate the pests and rebuild the damage.

Demolishing To Rebuild

A growing trend is the ‘knock it down and rebuild’ market, where people demolish an existing house and build a well-priced new home on the same site. This is extremely cost effective, especially in areas where land is in short supply.

It is cheaper to build project homes. This is because builders can buy materials in bulk, saving on cost.

Most brick-veneer project homes can be built for $900–1300 per square meter. This price does not include demolition of the existing home (site costs), landscaping or fencing. Take a good look at your renovation estimate. It might be more cost-effective to build a new home.

What about apartments?

Just like houses, apartments have design features that are worth refurbishing. It goes without saying that individual apartment owners cannot renovate an entire building. That is the responsibility of the collective owners (the body corporate, the executive committee, the owners’ corporation). You can, however, make some improvements to your apartment.

What History Has to Say

There were two major booms in apartment construction in Chicago the 1930s Art Deco era and the 1960s.When upgrading the interior of these apartments; it is well worth retaining some of their original features. These include:

Art Deco – Patterned ceilings, leadlight windows, curved windows, glass doors, timber windows, timber floors, timber skirtings and picture rails, original plaster cornices, original tiles and light fittings.

1960s These are often maligned as brick bunkers, but many have excellent solid brick and concrete construction, simple room decoration (no cornices, minimal skirtings), parquetry floors, and sometimes interesting laminex or tile finishes.

What about Chicago?

Apartment styles vary across Chicago, but generally more modern apartments are not as well constructed as earlier styles. Apartment construction is booming but it’s important to note that not all constructions are alike. The very best modern apartments offer a view or outlook. The poor alternative being staring at a brick wall or another apartment block.

Renovating versus Rebuilding in Chicago

DIY plans come in handy while deliberating on renovating instead of rebuilding

They also have good natural light and ventilation, often with open plan living and dining spaces that connect to a small balcony or courtyard. Poorer-quality apartments have no solid walls, minimal floor space (to maximize developers’ profits) and low ceiling heights. Sure, a modern apartment with stone bench tops and stainless steel appliances looks like it will never need renovating, but in another five or ten years those fittings may start to look dated.

Repair and Maintenance

Maintenance is the easiest way to renovate—it is the cheapest and most cost-effective way to make a property seem like new again. There are essentially two

Types of maintenance:

Scrub-up maintenance – This is the maintenance you do not make periodically. Scrub0-up maintenance contributes to the permanent look of the house.

Regular maintenance – These are the boring drudgerous tasks you need to undertake on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to keep the property looking neat and tidy.

And finally

Maintenance is intrinsic to a property’s value. A well maintained and clean kitchen or bathroom can seem just as valuable to a potential purchaser as a renovated kitchen or bathroom. Qualified professionals will tell you that a well-maintained and tidy property is more appealing than a renovated but poorly maintained property. While debating renovation versus rebuilding in Chicago, the tiniest bit of information could make a huge difference.

While many renovators rush to put in new kitchens and bathrooms, falsely believing it will ‘add value’ to their property, they forget the mantra of maintenance. Maintenance will pay you back ten-fold if you invest your time in it.

For more insight and advise on whether to renovate or buy altogether, you can contact us for comprehensive and personal consultation.

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