Brisbane Character Home Stay Or Sell?

Brisbane Character Home Stay Or Sell?

BEFORE REAR: Paddington Workers Cottage

BEFORE REAR: Paddington Workers Cottage

Like many homeowners, you may have come to an inflection point. Your mind keeps rolling back around to a central burning question about your Brisbane character home: stay or sell? As your family grows and the suburb changes, the home you once fell in love with becomes less livable. Over time, you’ve come to realise that it no longer meets your needs. 

Contrary to popular thinking, opting to renovate or rebuild should not be your first consideration at this moment. It’s more important to examine your lifestyle options. Let’s dive into the first essential  question, “Should I stay or should I sell?” 


Needs Analysis

AFTER REAR: Paddington Workers cottage

AFTER REAR: Paddington Workers Cottage Extension Pod

By asking some relatively easy questions now, you can make pivotal choices early in the decision process. This will provide a basis for sound financial decisions when you are ready to find your dream home.

With the high cost of renovations, it’s important to avoid wasting time and money. So consider your unique requirements, before you approach an architect. 

A ‘needs analysis’ helps you determine which level of design service that suits your family and your budget. This is the very first question in this all-important decision. To help you, PlaceMate’s Principal Architect, Jan Hogarth*, outlines the tipping points for your decision to tackle one of the three choices you have as a character homeowner:

home renovation or extension on existing site,

building new on existing site or,

buying or building in a new location.

Value your real estate as an asset

BEFORE REAR: Brisbane Home Renovation

BEFORE REAR: Brisbane Home Renovation Deck Extension

There are a number of very good financial reasons for taking this first step seriously. Home is tied to our basic needs for food and shelter as well as the more advanced needs of love and belonging. These emotional ties can blind us to the ebb and flow of external market forces and cloud our judgement. As the market changes, you want to feel sure that you are making good decisions for all the right reasons. 

Clarity comes with objective market research about your suburb and the lifestyle your community offers to suit the needs of your family.

  1. Online Research

    REAR DECK AFTER: BrIsbane Renovation

    REAR DECK AFTER: Queenslander Renovation Deck Extension in Brisbane suburbs.

Start by typing your address into one of the real estate websites shown below. Gather the following four figures and compare them with each other. This will help you determine the value for money offered by a renovation or project home. Here are the specific questions you want to ask:

  1. What is the value of your home at the moment?
  2. What is the value of your dream home? 
  3. What is the value of your dream home outside of your area?
  4. How much is it worth to stay?
  5. Can you buy your dream home where you want it within your budget?

Start by searching your property on the top real estate websites:



  1. Primary Research

Online information is great, but real estate sales figures are at least three months behind the market. So the next important thing you can do is to ask a respected local real estate agent with a sound reputation for buying and selling property in your area:

If I wanted to sell right now, what would you recommend I fix up or makeover to create value for a prospective buyer?

The answer to this question will set your parameters for whether you stay or go. It will also help you determine at what level you are willing or able to renovate.

Ask yourself the question, “Should I stay or should I sell?”

SELLING IN STYLE: Should I Stay or Should I Sell?

ENTRY BEFORE: New Farm Brisbane Character Home Stay or Sell?

Let’s consider three alternative scenarios that can attract more potential profit to your Queenslander and make you want to stay for the long run. Or, they may help you decide to sell up sooner.

Why you should sell…

If you can buy the house you want; where you want it; in a condition you can live in; within your budget, and at a price, you can afford. Then do so. Do only cosmetic renovations to your existing house to sell it. To make top-dollar at sale make your home look its best for potential buyers, within your budget and timeframe for selling.

Renovations are always more expensive than you anticipate. Don’t buy a house to renovate unless you absolutely love the location and are in it for the long term. Finding a house to renovate and sell for profit requires a separate skillset. It should be approached with caution and clarity of purpose.

Your preferred option may look something like this:

OPTION 1.1: Sell House and Buy New

ENTRY AFTER: New Farm Home Selling in Style

ENTRY AFTER: New Farm Home Selling in Style

You realise that you can buy a brand new house in an outer suburb today for $XXX,000, (you can fill in the noughts and crosses yourself); that can potentially appreciate in X0 years’ time to $X,XXX,000 when you are ready to sell. 

    • Over time, does renovating your existing character home offer a better ROI (return on investment) than buying elsewhere? 
    • Do you dislike project homes enough to never want to live in one?

If YES, then stay. If NO, then go.

OPTION 1.2: Cost Considerations

You’re not committed to meeting (or justifying) the cost of an architecturally designed inner-city character home renovation that would suit your existing site, your lifestyle, and your immediate and future family needs for the next 20, or so years.

    • Are the costs of maintaining and updating a character home affordable? 

If YES, then stay. If NO, then go.

OPTION 1.3: Future Earnings

Consider your level of debt:

    • Do you believe that renovating your character home will be within your existing or future budget? 
    • Can you count on your potential future earnings to bear the brunt of borrowing for the renovations? 
    • Do you love your job enough to find out?
    • In essence, can you ‘grow’ into paying off your inner-city character home renovation? 

If YES, then stay. If NO, then go.

OK, so you’ve decided to stay… 

But, you need more room? Or, is your home ‘just not right’?

The key to any successful ‘on budget’ renovation is to keep as much of the existing house, as possible, the same. You can start at the budget end of the renovation scale. In the short term, as a minimum, you can repaint inside and out, change the furniture, and polish the floors. 

To do more major works, look at your house from the top down. Are you changing the roof? Are you changing the ceiling? It’s easy on paper to just shift that wall a bit to the side. But don’t forget, when it comes to the actual construction, it may require changing the floor surfaces, wall surfaces, electrical, plumbing, and ceiling. 

Why you want to keep as much of the home the same as is:

Here’s the thing… new builds are cheaper to build than renovations. The current average new build is about $1,800sq/m, while renovations run at around $2,800sq/m. Why? 

Think of it as repairing an antique piece of furniture or a 100-year-old car classic car:

  • A renovation has more detailed materials than a new project home, and these materials cost more;
  • Renovations are slower and more fiddly than project homes. So the labour costs are higher;
  • The construction of a renovation requires a more skilled builder than the average project home builder;
  • Even when it’s simple, you usually have to replace the not-so-simple (ie. electrical and plumbing) at a minimum;
  • Building approvals take time. There are a lot of rules for approval, especially in character-controlled precincts.

This means you are obligated to hire the best consultants you can, those who will make this process smooth and successful. 

Option 2.1: When you should demolish and build new

UPPER MT GRAVATT: Demolish and Build NewBuld

UPPER MT GRAVATT: Demolish and Build New

You should demolish and rebuild when you can’t keep the house much the same as is.

Here are some examples:

If it’s built after 1946 and all the walls and ceilings are lined with fibro.

Renovating can feel like you are throwing good money after bad. You can live in a home with asbestos in the walls, but the next owners won’t appreciate it. No matter how adorable your house is, the cost of replacing all the walls, ceilings, insulation, along with, altering the internal layout, changing the windows to new glass, etc; means it’s cheaper to demolish the house and buy a new project home. 

If you can’t find a project home that really suits your site and your needs then hire an architect who specialises in your type of home in your area. Here are some examples:

A single-storey house and you want to add an extra floor on top. 

  • It sounds easy. Take off the roof. Put a floor over the ceiling. The problem is that the builders end up re-building the ground floor to put the floor above on top. It costs double to get one room. That’s why most older homes have a series of add-ons out the back.

  • For more on this, check out House Renovations Brisbane – Build A Second Storey?

The tipping point is when you change more than 1/3 of the floor area.

  • Look at the rooms by ceiling. If you’ll end up gutting the room to rebuild a portion of it, count the whole room in the cost of renovation. 

When must you keep the house?

  • Maybe it’s too good to walk away from or, it’s a Queenslander: a pre-1946 house in a character area in a Demolition Control Precinct.

OPTION 2.2: Lift the existing home and build in (or excavate) under

AUCHENFLOWER VIEW: Lift and build in under the existing house

AUCHENFLOWER VIEW: Lift and build in under the existing house

If you lift and build under, you will probably need a planning application regardless of whether you’re in a demolition control precinct, or not. So, when is it better to excavate?

  • It’s better to excavate when you can’t raise the house, ie. where the maximum house height is 9.5m. The council sets the basic design requirements to ensure that houses fit in with the surrounding area. Here’s what the Brisbane City Council has to say about housing heights:

For improved flood immunity and flexibility with housing design, the maximum house height has been raised to 9.5 metres and two storeys. Building up to 9.5 metres in height does not require development approval from Council however, you will need a building approval from a qualified building certifier. If you are proposing to build higher, you will need to seek Council approval.

  • It’s better to excavate when the original cottage doesn’t comply with the local building codes. 

The National Construction Code restricts the openable windows in bedrooms of new residential buildings where the floor below the window is more than 2 m above the surface beneath. (See advisory note: Protection of Openable Windows)

It’s also better to excavate when the land rises from the street and you need to build garages in underneath. Jan prefers to separate the retaining walls from the plasterboard. Cracking, leaks and termites, can be expensive and difficult to address post-construction. Do you live upstairs or downstairs? Open plan living is much easier to achieve on the lower floor.

Check out Auchenflower – Lift and Build Renovation

OPTION 2.3: Retain the original house and build a pod on the back

Extension Adds Liveability At Woodend

WOODEND ELEVATION: Rear Extension Overlooks Creek and Bushland

It’s cheaper to construct this type of home extension. It’s also important to remember that cost is not the only consideration here. Drive around your area and look at the design values of recent extensions, renovations, and newly built homes.

It’s important not to plonk a modern box on the back of a character cottage. This will negatively impact the pride you feel in your newly renovated home. It will also erode the value of your ‘designer home’ over time. A PlaceMate architecturally-designed pod makes the completed construction feel like one house.

*For more than 25 years, Jan Hogarth has advised homeowners on over 1,000 design projects. Of these, she has overseen over 200 custom home designs and renovations taken from design concept to finished build.

Let us help you to identify and develop the best qualities of your site. Our architectural team fully specify the material and details strategy. If required, we help you re-select finishes at short notice during construction. We can also help you choose a good reliable builder to suit your project and timeframe.