Is Buying a House Cheaper Than Building a House?See key factors to consider when deciding to buy or build a home.

couple building a house together

The home-buying process can be an exciting time for first-time homebuyers and experienced homeowners. As you start to look at homes, you might be wondering, “Is it cheaper to build or buy a house?” While there are pros and cons to each, you might be surprised when you compare the two.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the median price of a new home in the U.S. was $305,000 in November 2015, while the median price of an existing home in the same month was $221,600. With home prices increasing and still-low mortgage rates, the time might be ideal for buyers to secure a deal on a new or pre-existing home. But which is the better investment?

See: 10 Signs You’re Not Saving Enough to Buy a House

Building a House

Since new home prices are higher, your first thought might be to buy a pre-existing home. But you might be amazed at what you can afford if you decide to build your own home instead. Since builders want to keep their crews working, they offer many discounts to encourage potential buyers to build.

5 Pros of Building Your Own Home

Building a new home can come with many benefits, such as:

  • Discounts on materials: If you’re working with suppliers, like your local lumberyard, ask for a builder’s discount. Some suppliers will offer higher discounts the more you buy, according to Bob Vila, a home improvement expert. On lumber and millwork, expect around a 10 percent discount; for lighting fixtures, expect higher savings.
  • Everything is new: Moving into an existing property can come with hidden costs, as you might need to make significant home upgrades that might not be entirely obvious during the purchasing phase. If, for instance, you purchase a pre-existing, 2,000 sq. ft. home in Los Angeles and need to repaint the exterior, you can expect to spend between $2,300 and $5,400 on the project.
  • Annual savings: If your air conditioning unit is new, you can save a few hundred dollars a year by omitting the service plan normally carried with an older system. If you purchase an existing home, on the other hand, you can expect to pay around $5,230 for a new air conditioning unit, according to a survey conducted by Angie’s List.
  • Design control: Everything is what you want from the start. You won’t have to spend additional funds redoing the home after you purchase it. One expense you might be spared with a new home: the cost of a bathroom remodel, which can cost between $9,000 and $14,000, according to About Home.
  • Easier entertaining: Entertaining is easier because new homes often have an open floor plan that supports large groups. Older buildings often have some illogical design choices — like having to walk through a bedroom to reach a communal bathroom — that newer homes don’t have.

Related: How I Saved $30,000 for a Home Down Payment in 5 Months

5 Cons to Building Your Own Home

Of course, not everything is perfect when you build a new home. Whether you run into issues with permits or other delays, building your own home can come with a lot of unexpected costs.

“I have never seen a home that was built come in on budget,” said Sissy Lappin, founder of ListingDoor, a service that helps people sell their homes. “I cannot tell you how many times I have had a client buy a lot to build, gave the architect a budget of how much they wanted to ‘be all in the house for’ then bid the plans out only to find out the cost to build the house is 30 to 40 percent more than their budget.”

Consider these disadvantages to building a home:

  • Time: It can take anywhere from four months to six months to build a home. This is a long time to wait and things can change while you are waiting to move.
  • Limitations: You might be limited in the style of home you can build within your price range. You might also find that making a lot of changes and purchasing upgrades from the builder can be expensive.
  • Construction loan and permits: You might be required to carry the construction loan on the building process if the builder does not do this for you. Even if the builder handles the permits, it’s a good idea to understand what is needed to ensure everything is built up to code. If you are unsure, it is best to hire your own inspector to make sure the job is done correctly the first time.
  • Legal considerations: The agreement between you and the builder might limit your rights if there is an issue with the home-building process and you need to take the builder to court. Make sure to read documentation carefully and consult an attorney in your state for legal advice, if necessary.
  • Temporary housing: You might have to move into temporary housing while you wait for your home to be built. This can mean added expenses from movers and rented storage space. Keep in mind, the average cost of a storage unit rental can run between $100 and $280 per month, depending on the market, according to Storage Talk.

Buying a House

Buying a house is an attractive option for many people because — in most cases — you can move into the home soon after closing. Oftentimes, homebuyers might fret over the purchase of a home that has some less-than-stellar features. But the home you buy doesn’t have to be perfect down to the wall paint. You can update the unattractive features of a home over time, and you might even profit from a few upgrades.

Lappin explained that she once remodeled a home that had Venetian columns in the dining room, baby blue carpet and mirrored walls. “It was on the market for 18 months,” she said, saying the home had some tacky design choices. But after remodeling the home, she explained, “Someone rang our doorbell and offered us a ridiculous amount of money. Yes, we sold. My husband would have thrown in the kids, he was so happy.”

Learn: How I Went From Renting to Buying a House Before I Turned 25

5 Pros of Buying a House

Here are common benefits to purchasing an existing home:

  • Opportunity to flip your home: If you buy a home and make much-needed upgrades, you have the potential to flip the home, allowing you to roll over profits into a newer and better house. According to a RealtyTrac report on single family home sales in Q2 2015, the average gross profit of completed flips was 35.9 percent of the original home purchase price.
  • Upgrade costs can be delayed: With a pre-existing home, you can take your time making upgrades, allowing you to better budget for the expenses.
  • Ability to move quickly: In most cases, the buyer can move in immediately after closing. There is no wait time or temporary housing to worry about.
  • You know the neighborhood: If you’re buying a home in a pre-existing neighborhood, then you already know the neighbors, property values and the like.
  • Easy to visualize: You can see the floor plan and the layout of a pre-existing home. When you build a home, it can be difficult to visualize the layout and ensure you’ll both be able to build and afford what you’ve dreamed up.

5 Cons of Buying a Home

Disadvantages of buying a pre-existing home include:

  • Buyer’s remorse: You need to discover and get used to the quirks in the house that didn’t stand out when you were in the buying process.
  • Upgrade costs: Having to move into a home and make upgrades can be a major time and money investment. The average cost of even the simplest home remodeling projects can cost thousands. The average cost of a bathroom remodel in the U.S. in 2016, for example, is $17,908, according to Remodeling.
  • You are stuck with the layout: You can’t easily change the layout or floor plan of a preowned home.
  • Decorating costs: You might have to invest some time and money to bring the home up to current decorating standards by removing wallpaper, changing paint colors or updating flooring. The typical costs for a home repainting project is between $947 and $2,426, according to data collected by HomeAdvisor.
  • Higher home insurance: Compared to a new home, your home insurance costs will be higher with a preowned home. New homes come with features that are new and up to date, unlike some pre-existing homes.

Average Costs for Home Remodeling Projects

Remodeling’s “Cost vs. Value 2016” report determined national averages for typical home remodeling projects. Whether you’re building a home or upgrading a pre-existing property, you’ll want to weigh these costs against your plans.

Home Remodeling 2016: National Average Costs
Upgrade Cost
Attic insulation (fiberglass) $1,268
Basement remodel $68,490
Bathroom remodel $17,908
Deck addition (wood) $10,471
Entry door replacement (fiberglass) $3,126
Family room addition $86,615
Garage door replacement $1,652
Kitchen remodel (major) $59,999
Kitchen remodel (minor) $20,122
Master suite addition $115,810
Roofing replacement $20,142
Second story addition $171,056
Source: Remodeling “Cost vs. Value” 2016

Is It Cheaper to Build or Buy a House?

When it comes to deciding between buying a pre-existing home and building a new one, “There isn’t an exact formula,” said Gloria Shulman, founder of Centek Capital, a mortgage brokerage in Southern California. But, she explained, “In my opinion, it is better to buy a habitable house and do a major overhaul.”

Lappin emphasized that building a home can be more expensive than you might initially plan. “I had one client that told the architect ‘this will be our forever house.’ When he got the building bid he said, ‘It was going to be our forever house and it would have to be our kid’s kids’ forever house.’ It was so over budget, it would not break even for 50 or more years if they had to sell.”

She added that homebuyers might “forget the cost of window coverings, extensive landscaping, pool, light fixtures and upgrade finishes. A builders allowance is usually for the minimal finish, and then you have change order fees. “It adds up to thousands,” she explained.

When it comes to building versus buying a home, Lappin advised, “If someone has lots of time or can hire a designer to pick out the finishes, then they should build. If someone is spending a lot of money, then they should build.”

To help you understand if it is cheaper to build or buy a house, make a list of the features that are most important to you, then compare costs. Know what you are willing to give up and what you must have in your next home. Then, look for homes in your price range that meet your criteria. Your home is your biggest investment so it’s perfectly acceptable to be picky and take your time to find the perfect home.

Michael Galvis contributed to this article.

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  • Louisville Home Builder

    You’re absolutely correct saying that customers would be surprised about how inexpensive it is to build a new home rather than attempt to repair a pre-existing home. There are just too many unexpected surprises that can be involved in buying a pre-existing house. Why not be in control of what you’re buying? Good discussion.

  • Sarah Efm

    My only problem in researching what we want to do in the future is size. It is very hard to find a house that meets some, if not all of our needs. I am trying to find out if it is wiser to build a house with 7 or more usable rooms (bedrooms, playroom, library, workspace), or buying either a house with those functions or adding on. It is all very cumbersome. Even when I find homes that fit the needs, they often have costly cons, like in-ground pools(too much cost and maintenance) or 15 outbuildings. It’s kind of frustrating.

  • Michael

    As Jenny pointed out there is no one size fits all answer. Building a home is not something that should be taken lightly. The number of factors that can impact your life in negative way increase substantially. I have bought, built and sold many homes and I would not build one again as I don’t have the patience. Others do and they are very happy. Then again, I eat frozen pizza and enjoy it.

  • Chris Holdheide

    Great article Jenny. I was in the middle of doing this just a few years ago and I found building was actually a lot cheaper than buying an existing home. The reason for this was because of appraisal values. The small town I live in here in Ohio is has very high appraisal values because of the limited lots you can buy.

    On top of that I was able to score a $14,000 discount from my builder and I was able to get a better house than if I were to buy one. If live in live in a community that is up and coming it may just be better to build rather than buy.

    • Jenna H

      Hi Chris! I’m from Ohio an also looking into building! Do you mind if I ask who you chose to build with? We have visited the two big name builders in our area – Schumacher and Wayne homes!

  • HBH

    I’m considering building a house. Where I live, every single house has multiple offers. I lose on every single house, despite going several thousand over asking price. I regret selling my last house so much, because now I am forced to live in an overpriced apartment full of boxes. Building a home might be the only way to own a home these days. This is no longer a buyers market.

  • Cws

    My wife and I want only a one story home. Who wants to go up and down all the time and especiallly if you have little ones like us?? We want to think long term. We don’t want to be 80 years old going up and down stairs. We also need 5 bedrooms. I work from home so i need my own office plus 3 bedrooms for the master + the 2 kids rooms. That leaves one room left for a hobby/entertainment/playroom or in the future another bedroom for the grandkids/family. Most 5 bedrooms homes are two-story and most builders plans don’t offer that, sadly. I also don’t understand why there are houses that are some 3,000 sq feet but the kitchen is tiny. Maybe someone can shed some light on that.

    We also want to live efficiently. Styrofoam insulation, solar panels, solar water heater, energy efficient appliances, water catcher. Yeah a lot of that is more expensive but when you don’t have a power bill each month after a while you get that back.

    We also want anywhere from 3-5 acres of land so we can build a pool later and grow a garden so we can eat homegrown fruits and veggies. We hate HOA’s and deed restrictions. Why would you want to pay hoa fees for a pool that you won’t use? We don’t want people with power ego trips to tell us what we can’t and can have for a house that we paid for. It’s not that we are trashy people, but deed restrictions have gotten out of hand.

    If building communities didn’t stack house next to each other like sardines to provide some sort of yard and deed restrictions were reasonable then things would be better for everyone.

    These are the reasons why we would rather build our own home.

    • Jay Briwn

      i agree and we would want same thing, however how practical is it?

  • Another consideration is location. Often times, the newer developments are on the outskirts of towns, and result in longer commutes to work. If you add that issue to all of the others, and to have to wait 6-9 months to build the home, is it really worth it?

  • doc D

    I believe older homes are of much higher quality, especially if you get one built in the mid 50s , or earlier, and it was buillt as an upper middle class abode, or higher. Hardwood floors, solid, plaster walls , raised foundation, 2 by 4s that are not warped and POCKED is knots like a pimply faced teenagers grill, all are unavaiable at any cost today. Our grandfathers generation trained for a lifetime to learn the trades, today men and what we do have beeen devalued, and very few train to learn how to do craftsmenship.
    Thats why a new house is glorifeid pre fab, snap together cardboard and plastic. Dont let the so called energy efficiency fool you, when that insulating press board caca gets damp it will warp, crumble and stink.
    Do yourself a favor and buy an old house in decent shape. One that has not had the kitchen opened up to the living room, so the cook can stay in the kitchen and the men can watch the game in the living room, that opem airport hanger look is a bunch of decaying baloney, the old seperate rooms were better.

  • Kenny Garland

    Another option, which may be more difficult to come by, is that of renting with the option to buy. In some cases you can add the option to purchasing a home as part of your rental agreement. This way you can live in the home and understand the upgrades and repairs that it requires.

  • Robert

    This is a tricky situation! Most people would say that buying a house is more expensive than building one. I have built a house and I recently bought a house by contacting a real estate agent in Mississauga, Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd. For me both the houses are coming around the same rate. The expense part is different for different person. In most cases building a house is cheaper. There are also cases where buying a house is cheaper.

  • GoPhlucYourself

    I’m pretty sure he was kidding. You need to lighten up.

  • Mike Zaycev

    Totally agree with your words. As for me, the choice is clear. There are much more cons of bying prexisting home. I’ve bought the ill-fated house and wallowed in problems with it. I had to invest a ton of money to repair all defects. For example, I had to fix wall basements wall cracks with these basement waterproofing products http://liquidrubber.ca/products/basement-sealant Thanks God it worked

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