Self build vs. renovation

Hi all!

This seems like the never ending thread but despite everything that has been said about the topic I find myself to still be confused around this.

I’m currently progressing with 2 options, either buy a plot and self build or buy an existing house and renovate. Now the overwhelming consensus seems to be that renovation is extremely risky and often described as a money pit.
My lack of understanding lies in the following: doesnt that entirely depend on the type of property you buy and what you mean by “renovation”?

I can imagine that if you buy a ruine, the amount of money it would take to renovate it would vastly outgrow the amount you’d need for a self build. But if you buy a house with all the important elements in tact (plumbing/electric) and only need a “cosmetic” renovation which you plan to do yourself (new bathroom, kitchen etc.) with the help of a contractor for the more complicated elements, surely this can be done on a reasonable budget?

Reason why I’m asking is that so far my search has led me to believe that buying a plot and self build a house of approximately 160m2 can become very hard and costly as it covers:

  • Plot (say 60k)
  • All projects which have to be done by an architect (10k)
  • Permissions (??)
  • Foundation (18k)
  • The house kit (70k)
  • Construction (80k)
  • Plumbing/Electric (30k)
  • Finishing (40k)
    Making the entire project go over 250,000 Euro.

For a renovation, I often see good houses for 130,000-150,000 Euro with plumbing/electric in tact with only cosmetic renovation needed which a budget of 100,000 - 120,000 Euro should be able to cover.

Any thoughts/experiences you have to share to help me out? (region is Savoie or Haute-Savoie)

Thanks guys!

(Could be that I’m just naive about the cost of renovation, even just the “easy” stuff :wink: mind you, I plan on doing a lot myself)

I am not sure of your question here…

Are you asking if the renovated house will cost less than a new build? Well no one can advise you, as we don’t know the circumstances. The existing house may have a better/worse aspect, closer/nearer to a town, better/worse view from the terrace.

Its about what you want first isn’t it?

Have you found a cool place you like?

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I think it is likely that self-build costs will be more predictable.

Perhaps think of the final result - which would you prefer.

It is likely that heating costs would be far less on a self-build.

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A renovation has the benefit of being “potentially” habitable whilst you are working.

Mobile Homes are available - for use during a build/reno. Friends did just that - there is a firm which specializes in supplying and buying back if/when required.

What you are describing as option 2 is not quite what I’d call renovation. It sounds much more like redecoration, ie what people often do when they buy a new house : change kitchen and bathroom, paint and decorate, fix a few things, maybe knock down an internal wall or two and change some flooring. And things you can do as money available. So a budget of 100,00€ sounds pretty generous (ie 625/m2)

Renovation to me is roof, windows, drainage, new electrics etc etc etc.,…

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I’m interested in the environmental aspect of this discussion, and would like to hear the views of people with more expertise than I.
My guess is that a better end result in terms of energy use etc can be obtained through self-build - but what about the impact of the embodied energy in the materials, and the fundamental principle of re-using rather than re-placing?
And where does respect for history, local aesthetics, etc fit in?

Thats a great idea, Stella! Do you have a website for that firm?

I’ll get it for you - well, I’ll phone my friends and ask if they still have the bumpf


This is the company and this is the man they dealt with - I am told he understands a little English, although he and I only spoke in French.

Mathieu Sanchez
416 allée du bois de Larrat

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With either approach if you are motivated you can improve the energy efficiency considerably. We have improved ours hugely, and are soon going to put external insulation on the north wall to improve it more. However, I think it would be hard to achieve passive house standards with a renovation, or certainly not affordably.

As for aesthetics - some of the prefab or off-site kit homes are stunning and allow for choice of materials, roof lines and so on to ensure they can fit into local vernacular. Yes they are usually modern, but better that than some awful pastiche? Although, sadly, many of the self build homes I see are rectangular boxes, plonked on mounds with UPVC windows which make no attempt to enhance local character. We live near the Bresse, where the traditional houses have a very distinctive split roof line, which kicks up to create a covered verandah along length of house. It would be so easy for new builds to have this local feature, for the cost of a couple of extra posts, but of course they are all the standard A-line. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

And some people restore old houses and remove every touch of character so you might as well have knocked them down and started again.

So no single answer, as ever.

Fab! Thank you Stella!

Hey Darren,

Sorry if I wasnt clear. The point isnt really what my personal preference and idea of a “nice home” is. More a question around “given that all variables are similar, location, size, standard, budget etc”, does renovating or self building give me more bang for my buck?

I understand that various specifications lower or raise the value of a property but if I have a budget of, say, 250k Euro and aim to have a place of around 150m2, would that 250k be better spent on a self build (along the lines of the cost outline in my original post) or a house which I buy for 150k (in good shape, only needing redecorating along the lines of new kitchen, bathroom etc.) and leave 100k for these renovations.


It took just over 2 years for the rebuild of their fire-destroyed home. The secondhand mobil home was a godsend during that time.

They did need a Permit (via the Mairie) for having the MH on their land during the rebuild and after that, it was bought-back by the company and taken away.

(Second-hand is best option - much cheaper :hugs:)

IMO yes
That is precisely what we have done and because it’s a new project, we can (and did) control the size, shape and purpose of the rooms to meet our expected lifestyles.
Don’t forget that whilst you may need professionals on board to get all the permissions done and dusted seamlessly, you won’t necessarily need and architect to ‘stage manage’ the build (and collect a percentage fee) if you do the same as you would with a reno project and do the project management yourself, researching and buying the materials yourself and reserve paying for professionals to do the jobs you can’t manage. If you have skills in say, plumbing and electrics, no reason not to do these yourself. The electrics will have to pass muster with the Consuel ( and the tarif (in 2018) can be seen here. You will need this before EDF will allow you electric on site (but you can get a time limited temporary connection to assist with the building process).
No such requirement for water (plumbing) but SPANC will need a fee for inspection before and after installation of a fosse (or connection to a public system) but a good local fosse installer will be known to SPANC and they will obtain the permissions/inspections for you.
As for finishing off, there is no reason why you cam’t do it yourself or employ jobbing builders on an ‘as necessary’ basis - just make sure they are registered :wink:

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Very helpful Graham, although I do admit that the process you are describing seems daunting. I’m not experienced and I fear that all the permits, licenses, certificates and processes will end up being too much. After doing my preliminary research on self builds it feels like buying an existing property (in a reasonable shape) and doing some moderate renovations will be more realistic for me.
I’ve always dreamed of building my own house though but now that we’re getting close it feels overwhelming and we might just take the coward’s way out and renovate :-/

Not that I think renovating is easy but feels less daunting than the self build…

It’s really not… You’ll be surprised at how simple and easy the process is - this is France!

Nor was I experienced in such matters. Go for it and surprise yourself.

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haha you know how to motivate :smiley: We’re 2 people with fulltime availability, one (my girlfriend) with excellent project management skills, so who knows we might take the plunge :slight_smile: Still lots of things to do in the information gathering phase.