Should I Restore or Build New? The Age-Old Question

Casa Nana in Mérida’s Santa Ana neighborhood started as a combination renovation and new build. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

The easy bargains are gone. For property hunters with dollars that weakened while the Mexican currency became the “super peso.” Plus, demand is up for Mérida properties that 10 or 15 years ago might have been had for a song. So, it’s time for a strategy. Some tips from pros: 

Your key considerations when deciding this start with temperature and humidity control. Older homes may feel cooler due to traditional building materials, but they could also harbor humidity issues that are often easier to address in a new construction. Also consider structural Integrity: While old roofs and floors may have aesthetic appeal, potential issues like rusting rebar and damage to wood may compromise the structural integrity, leading to problems such as leaks. Construction permits are an issue with a new building. The bureaucratic intricacies can be frustrating. Then again, the existing layout of an old home may impose limitations on the desired functionality, impacting aspects such as the ability to add a garage. Infrastructure additions: Introducing wells, septic systems, or pools become more intricate during the restoration process, requiring careful consideration of access and potential damage to the existing structure. –Fernando Abreu, Centro Architects

If you’re building from scratch, you can, of course, customize to your needs and tastes. New homes also tend to be more energy efficient, lowering utility costs over time; you can easily incorporate the latest home automation systems and technologies in a new build. New homes typically come with warranties, as well. Finally, new homes are built to meet current building codes and safety standards. Then, when you renovate an older home, you will likely enjoy the character and charm of an older building. Restoring an existing home can be more environmentally friendly, as it reduces the need for new materials and minimizes construction waste. It may be more cost-effective, depending on what you’re starting with. Moreover, restoring an old home can contribute to preserving local heritage and maintaining a neighborhood’s aesthetic character. The downside is the timeframe: Building permits can be a time-consuming process when the property’s location is prominent, and it has some historical significance. –Carlos Betancourt, Mérida Living Real Estate

Casa Nana in Santa Ana kept the original front rooms and build new ones toward the rear, a typical plan for restoring a colonial home in Mérida. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

To restore or buy “done up” is one of the great questions and often changing ideas when clients are shopping for a house in Mérida. Buying “done up,” of course, is much simpler versus the time (a lot) and effort of full-on design, navigating government red tape, and learning the way of doing things in a new country. Imagining that you, as someone new to the market is going to save money restoring a home (often for the first time in your life) can often be a sad surprise. A third and often overlooked midway point between these two options is what I call “restoration light”. After choosing a property that has been done up in the past yet looking dated or missing desired design elements, etc- and of course, getting a full condition report beforehand- changing out a kitchen, bathroom, floors etc, can be much more reasonable than people imagine; most often this process does not require permits, hiring of an architect and can be done in a fraction of the time as a total rebuild. In any case, a good real estate agent should be able to supply a builder, architect, or designer on a second visit to a prospective property to help you make the right decision, taking into account all elements of finances, patience, and ease. –Ross Schiering, Mérida Centro Real Estate

“Building is not for the faint of heart. If all you want is a nice place to live, I highly recommend buying a finished place. If you know what you want, and have a masochistic and visionary streak, building is for you!” –Cecil Hemingway, who with his partner, built from scratch

“It’s really a question of the ultimate potential of the property. If the existing building has good bones and structure and you don’t have to demolish too much, you’ll save on materials and construction costs. Building from scratch can be easier but more costly, though you can make exactly what you want. Does it immediately speak to you? Then buy it!” –Elizabeth Lamont, currently restoring a mid-century house in Centro

“The pros for restoring are retaining original architectural details, floors, doors, etc, whenever possible. The cons are if you are in Centro INAH has to approve any changes to the original structure. For instance, if there’s a door where you don’t want one, you can’t remove it. Pros for building are room size, ceiling heights, flow of spaces, and putting doors and windows, as well as electrical outlets, fans, and fixtures wherever you want. Cons, potential cost overruns, but that goes for restoring too.” –Trey Speegle, Mérida homeowner who both restored and built new

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