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Demolish or refurbish?

So you’ve decided in principle to move to a new home. But before you get going, you need to answer the following question: New or old build? Or, to put it bluntly: is it worth converting and refurbishing a beautiful old building or might it be better to just level it or put up a new one? The answer is perfectly clear: it depends.

New versus old build

This basic question when buying property is answered on several levels, and the issues at stake are ‘flair versus convenience’ and ‘expensive versus affordable’. Quite apart from the personal situation (family, couple, single) and the associated needs for living space, there are a few universally applicable factors that need to be considered when deciding in principle on whether to build or convert. And the most important one is undoubtedly the budget. On average, a new build will cost around 20% more than a comparable old building. Nonetheless, new builds may score higher in regard to significantly lower running and energy costs going forward. By contrast, old buildings can become more of a burden than a joy as the costs of refurbishment and modernisation mount up.

What counts as an old building?

Even new buildings might be quite old according to the Austrian Tenancy Law Act, as all developed properties that were approved after 30 June 1953 are classified as new builds. All others constructed before this date are considered old buildings, whereby those from around the turn of the 20th century are viewed as prime examples on the housing market. Among the most appealing aspects of these old buildings are their flair and location in the historical city centres, along with their features and stylishly homely feeling: parquet flooring, double doors and high ceilings, some even with moulded cornices – and the ‘old’ tenancy law still applies in full if you are renting rather than buying. Drawbacks include – as mentioned above – higher heating and energy costs as well as poor floor plans, ageing fixtures (pipes, wiring) and a lack of insulation (windows, façades). The required investment must not be underestimated if you want to make everything state of the art.

What are the pros of new builds?

Efficient planning and floor plans, reasonably manageable storage and ancillary spaces, energy efficiency and modern amenities (underfloor heating, improved insulation) are among the most persuasive arguments for a new build. But plots for building tend to be rare in the historical old centres, so new builds are often constructed on the city periphery and lack that certain ‘charm’. The buildings are pricier, and a rent contract at a comparatively higher rate is not governed in full by the Tenancy Act.

The best advice: think carefully and decide individually

There is no patent recipe to resolve the issue of ‘old versus new build’. Each building category comes with its benefits and drawbacks. So the only universally applicable piece of advice that everyone should consider before making a decision is: get some assistance and an appraisal from experts before proceeding. Energy efficiency, recommended conversions and an assessment of how the property prices and neighbourhood will develop going forward – experts are in a better position to assess a number of factors and offer solid advice about how they will affect the costs. So the decision on whether to pick an old building with its associated drawbacks, but a wonderful atmosphere and location, or a new build that ‘ticks all the boxes’ in regard to functionality and smart home features, will ultimately come down to personal taste.