Crafting Your Legacy: Should You Renovate or Rebuild in California’s South Bay?

Crafting Your Legacy: Should You Renovate or Rebuild in California’s South Bay? 800 450 White Sands Design/Build

Navigating the journey of homeownership in California’s South Bay can be a thrilling adventure. Along the way, though, you’ll be faced with some critical decisions that will determine the exact kind of home you’ll eventually move into: location, appliances, and floor plans are just the beginning – or, rather, the ending. That’s because the most significant decision comes at the actual start of the process, when you’re figuring out whether to renovate an existing house or demolish it in order to make way for a new build. This choice is not just about creating a great living space – it’s about establishing an inviting home where family and friends can congregate, both now and for generations to come. 

In this article, we’ll take stock of every factor you should consider as you decide whether to refurbish an old home or start anew. It may sound like a lot at first, but having the right firm in your corner will make the whole process feel like a breeze.

8th Street Home Demolition for Rebuild

Historical Considerations and Initial Challenges

Any home’s historical designation is always the first factor worth considering, as it will largely determine what you legally can (and can’t) do. Unfortunately, parsing through local regulations and historical evaluations is never as straightforward as it ought to be. Properties that are historically designated come with stringent limitations, which often complicate renovation efforts and prohibit tear-downs altogether. For that reason, understanding the specific regulations and potential historical designations of your property early in the process is nothing short of essential. And while the South Bay has improved its documentation of historical sites in recent years, there are still instances when it could take some time to figure out.

A previous White Sands client, for instance, immediately fell in love with a Manhattan Beach plot that they believed would make a perfect sanctuary where their kids and grandkids could visit for years to come. Their initial plan was to demolish the original structure so that they could cultivate a home that would reflect their needs perfectly, but the seller had suggested that the structure came with historic protections. Had this been true, the purchasing family would have had no choice but to refurbish the original structure. But after hiring a land-use attorney and conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, they determined that the house was not, in fact, historic and could therefore be torn down. It may have been a tedious first step, but it was still necessary to determine what could be done to build the perfect home. A word for the wise here: we recommend figuring this out before closing on the sale!

8th Street Home Demolition in progress for a rebuild

The Blank Canvas Advantage

Sure, there’s something charming about updating and adapting an older home according to your personal needs. But the truth is that this process will always have innate limitations, especially if it’s an older home – can a home built in 1980, for instance, really meet all of the needs that come with modern life? Would an antiquated layout ever be sufficiently adaptable to accommodate our day-to-day expectations?

Opting to demolish and rebuild, on the other hand, offers a freedom of design and customization that renovating cannot match. By choosing to start anew, homeowners have the opportunity to tailor every aspect of their home according to their unique preferences and lifestyle. The aforementioned clients, who found out their home was not historically designated, were elated at the freedom they suddenly had to follow their heart’s desires. Granted permission to start from scratch, they had all the latitude they needed to design a home where loved ones could comfortably gather for the indefinite future.

8th Street Home Fully Demolished for Rebuild

Structural and Safety Considerations

Whether you’re renovating or rebuilding, the structural integrity and safety of older homes should always be taken into account. Notably, many older structures in the area still lack modern earthquake retrofitting, or underpinning, which would make a complete renovation very material- and labor-intensive for any family that intends to prioritize long-term safety. Furthermore, extensive renovations will sometimes reveal structural problems, such as compromised framing, that had been previously invisible but still necessitate a rebuild. The evolution of seismic design over the course of the past twenty years has been dramatic, which means that any home designed from scratch today will far exceed the earthquake resilience of a home built as little as 20 years ago. With all of this in mind, a full rebuild is almost always going to end up producing a home with more structural integrity and durability, and chances are that it won’t even demand a whole lot more time, energy, or money. 

The Many Steps of Pre-Demolition

One would naturally think that the process of demolition is pretty straightforward – once you decide to tear down a building and have plans ready to go, all that should be left is the right equipment and team, right? But the fact of the matter is that a number of stakeholders need to sign off on the project before it can move forward legally. Everything from foliage to parking is liable to be scrutinized by city officials, and new landowners need to meet a number of legal obligations – holding neighbor meetings, sending waste management plans, and testing for asbestos, to name a few – before starting the demolition process. The city planning process, which typically took six months about ten years ago, now takes 12-15 months, as new regulations are added every year. This doesn’t even account for the necessary on-site preparations, such as unhooking all the lines, turning the water off, putting up a fence, and setting up a temporary toilet.

Considering how much time and energy goes into the pre-demo phase of the rebuild process, it’s vital that homeowners establish realistic expectations. If you plan on moving in by a specific date, make sure that you’ve accounted for all of the preparatory steps you’ll need to take before doing anything else. We recommend starting this evaluation as soon as possible by commissioning an expert to provide a thorough estimate on the amount of time and money it could take just to break ground on the project. Between utility disconnections and securing permits from the city, this process is bound to take a fair bit of time.

8th Street Home Demolition (Bird's Eye View) for Rebuild

Economic Considerations

At White Sands, we’re typically adamant proponents of a full rebuild – the bottom line is that it’s much more resilient and likelier to meet your family’s specific needs. Before saying anything else, though, we should address the elephant in the room: yes, a full rebuild is a bit more expensive than a full renovation.

The operative words here, though, are “a bit.” Because believe it or not, a full demo-and-rebuild job is usually only about 30% more expensive than a full exterior/interior renovation/addition. When you consider the advantages of a rebuild, this seems like a small price to pay. What’s more, a major remodel may initially seem less expensive, but any hidden problems, regulatory requirements, and natural wear-and-tear can (and almost always will) erode this advantage. A new build, on the other hand, will be more costly upfront, but it offers greater control over the budget and design, providing better long-term value.

8th Street demolition top view

Advice for Prospective Homebuilders

If you’re considering buying property in the South Bay, and unsure whether you should renovate or rebuild, we recommend starting the planning process as soon as possible. With construction costs rising 5-10% each year, time is of the essence. You can start by reaching out to local design and construction teams – a few local design/build firms such as White Sands handle the process from start-to-finish. Taking on this endeavor alone can seem intimidating, but working with a passionate and experienced firm will help provide a sense of clarity, no matter what step of the process you’ve already reached. We’re happy to help pick out the perfect plot according to your needs, or to provide guidance as to whether a rebuild or renovation makes the most sense for a property you already own. 

If you’re ready to take the next step in this exciting process, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re always happy to help families design and build their next home in South Bay, whether it’s through a renovation or general rebuild process. Ultimately, this decision will be the first of many as you create a welcoming refuge, where you and your loved ones can deepen connections for years to come.

Thanks for reading,

Brett Malkin

Brett Headshot

Brett Malkin is the Director of Operations at White Sands Coastal Development. He handles contracts and business admin—all the legal and numbers stuff. His background is finance and large-scale residential development, and his degrees are business and psychology. That psych degree helps him figure out what motivates clients and how to give them what they really want. He and his wife are raising two kids in the boho-enclave of Hermosa Beach.