The Big Debate: To Renovate Your House Or To Build A New One

You’ve found the perfect property in the neighbourhood you’ve been dreaming of living in for years. This could be your forever home! But when you think about the actual house, you wish that the facade wasn’t so outdated, the bedrooms were larger, the living/dining space had a more open concept, and that the bathrooms were just different. That backyard though - it is absolutely amazing! You could easily envision you, your family, and your friends spending many a summer night back there for years to come.

Holly Chandler, a sales representative on the Julie Kinnear Team, has seen many clients buy a property with the intention of building new:

Toronto’s housing stock is pretty old, especially in the High Park area where most homes were built between 1900 and 1940. There are often a lot of surprises behind the walls and this is why most contractors will say that it is easier to just build anew.

When you began looking for your new home, you never even thought of buying a house only to tear it down and build a new one. Is this something you can do? Is this something you even want to do?

The answer to the first question is "yes!" More and more people are choosing to demolish the existing structure on the property of their dreams in order to build from scratch. This growing trend is significantly changing the ever-evolving streetscapes of many Toronto neighbourhoods. Taking a walk through the side streets of areas like Little Italy will reveal a rich tapestry of both historic and contemporary architecture.

The answer to the second question can really only come from you. While choosing to customize your house to fulfill your "forever home dreams" is an exciting prospect, it is also a very daunting one. There are many things to consider, especially the added work and stress that the project will inevitably add to your current life.

Where To Start

If you're considering building a new home from scratch, it is important to understand the work involved in such a project.

  • The first thing that you’ll want to do is find out if your property is included in the Heritage Register or designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. If it is, then demolishing the building isn't possible. Heritage properties can be renovated, though, but there are strict laws and guidelines to be adhered to.
  • Next, you will need to obtain a Residential Demolition Permit with Replacement Building from the city of Toronto. The costs associated with this type of permit in 2017 total $3098.12.
  • Prior to submitting the building permit, you will also have to apply for a Zoning Certificate to make sure that your project is compliant with all of the applicable laws. The fee for the Zoning Certificate will be deducted from the above permit as long as it is for the same project and is submitted within the year.
  • You will also have to make sure that the demolition is in compliance with the Building Code Act and that it will be carried out in an environmentally safe way.
  • A Municipal Road Damage Deposit will have to be paid to ensure that no sidewalk, curb, or road will be harmed in the demolition. This also covers mud being tracked onto the road as well as snow that isn’t removed during construction.
  • Finally, it is important to remember that in Toronto, you must complete the new building within two years of the demolition or face a $20,000 fee.

When asked about the barriers Holly's clients have faced during this process, she felt that:

Obtaining the permissions can be the biggest challenge. The actual demo doesn't take long.

The Cost And Time

In Holly's experience:

My clients will often know that they intend to build new when looking for a property and so they will already have the design planned. With a rebuild they have the option of larger spaces and a more modern layout without being limited to the confines of the existing structure.

The next part is the fun part - you get to design the forever home you’ve been imagining! Many home builders offer services that include both the design/architectural and building components. The total cost of the home will vary, based on the design detailing, high-end customizations, and home comfort systems you’d like to add.

Holly's advice to her clients:

The first thing to do is find a builder who comes recommended and take the time to interview them.

According to Harlequin Homes, a local custom home builder, the average cost of building a home in Toronto is $250 per square foot. That means that building a 3000 sq. ft. home would cost approximately $750,000. This estimate includes permit costs as well as fees for architecture and design. It also factors in both the hard and soft costs. Hard costs include labour and materials, while soft costs include things like the supply of temporary power and insurance.

Although there will certainly be many things to consider as the project continues, the last main consideration at this stage is the length of time it will take from start to finish. Building a new home can take anywhere between eight to twelve months. The demolition itself will take under a week for the existing structure to come down and the debris to be fully removed from the property.

Renovation Is Always An Option

Holly recently completed a major renovation on her own home and when asked why she chose to renovate, she said:

My house is a semi which would make it complicated to tear down! It was built in 1922 and I like the character and the look of the home, so even if it was a stand alone I probably wouldn’t have torn it down.

If understanding the laws, applying for permits, demolishing the old structure, designing a new home, and then dealing with all of the challenges that may arise throughout the process feels like an overwhelming undertaking for your life at this time, you may want to consider renovating instead.

While this can seem like a less daunting option, Holly still found the process challenging:

I bought the house spontaneously and thought a coat of paint would go a long way, but soon after I realized that it needed more. Because I didn’t take the time to plan in advance, I went way over budget on the whole renovation. I got quite involved and at one point the general contractor said that it would be better if there was only one of him. It took me a minute to realize who he thought the second general contractor was - it was me!

You can do things like update the facade, open up the living space, change the layout to make the bedrooms larger, redo the bathrooms, and even add another floor. If your must-haves would leave more than half of the home unchanged, then renovating may be a better option for you. Keep in mind that renovations come with their own set of rules and challenges as well.

Holly's advice to those choosing to embark on a home renovation:

The process will be smoother, the budget will be easier to adhere to, and the results will be better if you take the time to plan ahead rather than opting for instant gratification.

Overall, rebuilding is doable. Just count the cost beforehand because by the time that you realize that you didn't, it'll be too late and that's no way to start the adventure involved in your forever home.

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