Build or buy? Why an older, period building can also be attractive

New means modern – but not always better. An older, period building offers advantages over a new construction, especially for families.

A garden and playground, a cooking island and a wellness oasis: the Jones family knows just what they're looking for in their dream house. They can most easily realize their dream, down to the tiniest detail, by hiring an architectural firm to build an entirely new home. They could also influence the design by purchasing a new home “off plan,” and introducing their preferences in the early stages of the planning and project phase. This is the great benefit of constructing your own “four walls” from the ground up.

The cost of a new building

But this approach comes at a cost. The costs of a new building most often exceed those of a comparable older property. The need to keep an eye on the construction process and repeatedly make decisions is time-consuming and takes strong nerves – especially if there are delays or construction defects.

It costs much less to buy an existing house, where what you see is what you get and where you can also often witness daily life in the neighborhood, including on the playground and the way to school. All these factors are important for a family.

No guarantees

On the other hand, when buying a period building, you get no guarantees, while in the case of a new building, the developer is generally liable for defects for five years. With a period building, the seller only answers for fraudulently concealed defects. Apart from that, the buyers take over the house “as is.” This is why it's a good idea to inspect a building carefully and to bring along an expert to the inspection.

UBS Immo-Check can be of practical help. In the blink of an eye, it gives you information about the property and the community, as well as any needed renovations, the purchase price and affordability. This information lets you assess what renovations are necessary and to what extent you want to adapt the building to your needs. Depending on the budget, it makes sense to start with the most urgent work and leave the rest for later. In any event, we recommend consulting with a UBS client advisor.

Pay attention to long-term energy costs

At first glance, acquiring an existing house would appear to be more environmentally friendly than building a new one. But in the long run this looks different. Older buildings often lack good insulation and modern energy technology. Only a small percentage of buildings in Switzerland has been updated to the latest energy standards. Over time, these higher energy costs may exceed initial savings. The good news: energy efficiency can be improved with only a few changes.

Ultimately this is true of every home: none is perfect. The question is not whether, but where prospective buyers are willing to compromise.

Eco-friendly renovation – here’s how

Interview with Prof. Achim Geissler, head of the Construction Research Group and lecturer for Sustainable Building, FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW).

It only takes a few steps to convert an older house into an energy-efficient building.

What should home buyers who want to live in an eco-friendly home look at?

The location. The Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA) recommends also looking at “construction-related mobility costs.” For instance, low­energy MINERGIE-P® buildings in the country that involve a daily commute with two cars of more than 30 km are less environmentally friendly than a period building in the city with connections to public transportation.

Where should a family start if it wants to design a house that's more eco-friendly?

Generally, it's easiest to add solar energy. With thermal collectors, this energy goes directly to heating the household hot water. Alternatively, a photovoltaic system can generate electricity. At the same time, you could update the roof insulation of an older roof. The roof is a large surface area and easily accessible, so this step brings a lot at reasonable expense.

What other energy-saving measures are important?

It depends on the circumstances. Does the heat generator run on fossil fuels? Can a heat pump be used with a borehole heat exchanger? Insulation is of basic importance, since it helps reduce the amount of operating energy needed. If there's a plan, for example, to paint the facade, look into the possibility of simultaneously renovating the exterior insulation.

Interest-rate advantage for renovations

If you want to renovate your own home, you can get attractive interest rate rebates with the UBS Mortgage “Renovation” – in particular if the property reaches an energy-efficient building standard. If a Minergie® certification or a class A GEAK® certificate exists, you benefit from a further reduction in the interest rate. Minergie is regarded as a seal of quality for energy efficiency; GEAK is the building's energy label.