Is it better to build or buy a house?

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The opportunity to upgrade to a bigger and better house is in the near future and you have an important decision to make.  To build or buy?  Each camp has loyal followers and it can be easy to get stuck in the middle.  There are important facts to look at with either side of the debate.


new-homes-construction-1210994-639x427Building is an exciting time because you are getting a brand new house that has never been lived in and doesn’t need any renovation.  On the flipside, it has also been said that many a marriage has been ruined by building a house.  There are many decisions that have to be made when house-shopping for a preexisting home to buy, but there are countless more when building as you might have more freedom in designing the floorplan, choosing the color of the countertops and walls, and the brand of appliances you want to be installed.

Advantages of Building

There are satisfactory houses when building a house.

More Freedom of Choice

By buying a house, you are stuck with the existing floorplan and the current amenities.  If you want to upgrade anything, you did to remove the old and install something new.  By building, you have the opportunity to work with a builder to create a custom floorplan.  For example, you can choose whether you want linoleum or hardwood floors.  Stainless appliances or colored appliances.  A full custom builder will even allow creating a unique floorplan instead of only modifying the standard blueprint that makes every house in the subdivision look similar.

Building Can Be Cheaper

Many people choose to build because of the ability to control costs.  Builders offer discounts to entice house shopper to build instead of buy.  And, you might be able to save some additional money by shopping for your own materials.  This depends on the contractor and how much time you have, but it’s possible to compare prices and find better deals on lumber, flooring, paint, etc. that the builder might just buy from the closest store.  If you are handy, you can save some additional money by doing some of the work yourself.

If you decide to customize your house any cost-savings might be negated by the upgrades, but, it still might be cheaper and easier than remodeling.  The important thing to remember is to enter a building project knowing how much money you want to spend for a house and what are the necessary features you want in your new house.

Everything is New

Certain existing homes sell at a discount for a reason.  They need some TLC and it’s going to cost some money & time to complete the repairs.  While a “fixer-upper” is cheaper at the beginning, it can easily cost as much to remodel as it is to build a new house.  Not every existing home needs repairs, but, chances are the last owner didn’t replace the HVAC system, water heater, or windows all before leaving.  They fixed the essential items to increase the value of the house so it would sell, but, they saved most of their money to invest in their new dwelling.

New homes have issues as well, but, they are not as common as existing homes and many repairs should still be covered by a warranty.  For a new house, you can normally go 10 to 20 years before major repairs need to be made.  The maintenance timeline will vary depending on the condition of a purchased house.

Disadvantages of Building

If you talk to anybody who has built, they will tell you that building isn’t a perfect process.


Each year, there are fewer building lots on the market as they have already been developed.  Often times, building means having to love in the outskirts of town and having a longer commute to work or school than you would if you buy near your current neighborhood.  Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing, especially if you are looking for a change of scenery, but time can be just as valuable as money.

Need Patience

A house normally takes 4 to 6 months to build.  Construction projects, residential and commercial, usually take longer than projected due to weather delays, receiving building permits, and construction delays.  If you are on a time crunch, you can buy a house and move in about a month later when the closing process is completed.  If you currently rent, the move-in deadline might be even more important to avoid having to find an intermediary place to sleep until the construction has finished.

Landscaping (or lack thereof)

Another downside of building is you most likely will not have any established landscaping.  You will need to spend a lot of time caring for your freshly planted grass and might have to wait decades for some big shade trees to grow outside to hang a hammock from.  If the lot was already wooded, you might be able to keep some of the trees if the construction workers can work around them.

Sketchy Builders

Just as you can buy a “lemon” car, it’s also possible to buy or build a “lemon” house.  When comparing builders, it pays to check Better Business Bureaus for reviews or try to ask some reputable local sub-contractors (painters, insulators, plumbers) for the quality of a builder.  You can also try to locate some existing homes they have built that are listed on the MLS (realtors’ homes for sale database) and tour some homes to inspect for quality.  Whether you build or buy, you should try to hire an independent inspector to check their work as well.

Buying A House

for-sale-sign-1445308-639x426Buying a home is very popular because there are plenty of them on the market and you have a better idea of when you can move in.  There are other reasons to buy as well.

Advantages of Buying

Established Community

When you build, you might not know who your other neighbors will be yet.  When buying, you have a good idea how safe the neighborhood is and if there are other families the same age as yours.  Another benefit of an established house is that there should already be some landscaping such as shade trees and a healthy lawn.  You might have to do some tree trimming or weed-pulling, but it’s nice to know you already have a built-in shade tree on your lot.

Less Stressful

Buying a house is an anxious process for any person but it can still be less stressful than building as fewer decisions need to be made beyond location, floorplan, and price.  It takes time to view homes and make offers, but, it is still less time-consuming during the financing process and you don’t have to wait several months to move in!

Potential Cost Savings

There are a lot of factors that determine if it is cheaper to buy or build including the house size, location, and the local real estate market.  Buying a house is similar to buying a used car.  The previous owner purchased it new and most of the value depreciated while they own it.  While house values normally stay flat or slowly increase in value (unlike many vehicles) a used house will need repairs.  The repairs are where the potential cost savings can make buying less expensive than building.  By buying, you have more opportunity in doing DIY repairs instead of having the construction crew do the work for you.

Disadvantages of Buying

Some of these reasons are why people decide to build instead of buy.

Limited Floorplan

People like to build because they can get more of what they want.  When it comes to buying, you are limited to what is available on the market.  If you are not in a big hurry to move, waiting the 4 to 6 months to build is better than waiting a year for your “dream house” to finally be listed on the market.  Building might make sense if you want certain features in your home such as a part of the house that can double as a home business or hobby as a remodel might be too expensive or impossible when you factor in load-bearing walls, etc.

Chief of Maintenance

An existing home is going to require more maintenance than a new home.  As the foundation settles and the elements come and go, each house needs routine maintenance and unexpected repairs.  With a used home, especially a “fixer-upper” will require several weekends of work after moving in to fix issues that the previous owner passed on.


Sellers will normally do some upgrades to improve curb appeal during the selling process, but they will usually forego other upgrades so the buyer can choose the exact replacement they want.  Maybe the carpet needs replaced and the new buyer wants to install hardwood instead.  Once again, this depends on the house and the market.  But, hidden costs that a new buyer pays to help make the house feel more like their own can greatly increase the cost-to-own beyond the original selling price.