The Bulli Blog: Big Decisions – to build, renovate or buy something else?

  • 4 May 2020

The Bulli Blog by Nat Foxon follows our Hutton Ave Bulli build from the client’s perspective.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it took the best part of five years to decide what to do with our house and block. Yep, that beauty up above!

My husband and I had purchased a modest and unrenovated house in Bulli for us and our two small children. I remember when I saw the house advertised, the day it went on the market. The real estate photos are featured in this post so you can see my attraction to the house! It was in the perfect ‘triangle’ between beach, school and shops. It had a double garage and the layout made sense, with easy access to the back yard.

We tried, unsuccessfully, to make an offer on it about an hour after we saw the ad, before we’d even stepped foot inside the door. When we did step inside, we formed part of a real estate conga-line of a seemingly endless stream of house hunters (I’m not kidding, it was single-file), all wanting the same beachside living as us, I guess. By late that night we had an offer accepted, following a frenzy of bidding behind closed doors, the worst way to buy a house. In the end, though, and despite being stretched right to our maximum (and beyond) financially, the house was ours.

If you picture the classic Aussie suburban 1960s red brick house, that’s what all the fuss was about, along with 550 moderately sloping square metres all a minute’s stroll from the beach. The house featured a double garage at street level, then the main house above with 3 bedrooms, one bathroom (lilac), a kitchen (carpeted), lounge room, small dining room and a narrow tiled area at the back with laundry complete with concrete tub (and I don’t mean the trendy new ones).

Build or renovate GN Williams kitchen

I wasn’t joking about the kitchen carpet


After a few years in the house, we were itching to upgrade. We had done a $50k renovation before we moved in, put in an Ikea kitchen and refreshed all the floors and walls. The bathroom remained original. It was only ever going to buy us a few years.

Honestly, if we could have found the perfect house to buy in a similar location, within our budget, we would have left the old red brick house to someone else, and my story would finish here. Every house that came on the market (and yep, we looked at them all!) was either in an inferior location, needed substantial work, or was three times our budget. We realised that even to buy a renovated house, no house is perfect and we were essentially going to swap one set of problems for another.

Side note, we did find one house to buy that needed renovation but was much bigger and in a great spot – right across the road from the little red brick! We missed out on it and fun fact, that’s the house we ended up renting during our build!! Now we’re living in the house, it’s obvious how much better suited our new one will be.

The red brick house itself, I’ll concede, was probably a fairly solid old thing, at least judging by the similarly-built raised garden bed in the front that we decided to knock down one weekend. There was so much brick and concrete in that thing, it took 72 hours of amateur jackhammering, a massive skip bin and some very sore and regretful homeowners to get through the thing.

Build or renovate GN Williams Bathroom

I also wasn’t joking about the lilac (but very solid!) bathroom


So with a solid house and a location we were happy with, why not extend and do a full renovation? There were four main reasons for us not wanting to go down that path.

We already had glimpses of trouble. Significant plumbing problems were starting to appear, disintegrated pipes and drainage issues were revealing themselves, and already we were looking at sinking many thousands of dollars into repairs. Electrical faults were a common occurrence and we were frequently running, torch-in-hand, out to the meter box to investigate. Then minor leaks during rain started turning into spectacular waterfalls in my five year old’s room via the light fittings, which seemed less than ideal. So renovating, we thought, could get serious (and expensive) very quickly.

We had concerns about the cost. We knew friends who’d sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into extensions and renovations with a myriad of unexpected costs arising, and ultimately were still left with a half-old house.

We weren’t sure a renovation would give us the result we wanted. After all, there were no features of the house we wished to retain (nope, not even the horsehair ceiling or the drafty floor or the balcony balustrade held up with rope). It was the 1960s equivalent of a project home, not built with much thought to aspect or location.

We had specific requirements. We were interested in incorporating a self-contained space in the house that could house grandparents or guests. It was hard to imagine how an extension and renovation could meet our exact needs.

With all these things considered, we decided a renovation probably wasn’t a great choice for us, which left a full knockdown/rebuild as the remaining option.

Build or renovate GN Williams bedroom

We did get rid of this wallpaper to get through the first few years!


Something worth mentioning here, because you may have the same thought, is that I had concerns about the environmental impact of a knockdown/rebuild. It seemed like so much WASTE! I did learn that the reputable demolition companies sort and reuse/recycle materials, which I was happy to hear. More about this in a future post.

There are pros and cons for every choice, and for us, the main setbacks with a knockdown/rebuild were around the required investment of time, money and energy. Undoubtedly, it’s a big undertaking that will be a large part of the next 12 to 18 months of your life. Ultimately though, we felt it was a privilege to be able to build a home and to have full control over the finished product for our family. And with that, the decision was made.

Next… building the dream (team) – how to choose the right designer and builder.


About The Bulli Blog posts

Nat Foxon and her family are clients of GN Williams. Nat is also engaged to write about her experiences. Find out more about this custom home.