Is It Cheaper to Buy or Build a House?

July 07, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Is It Cheaper to Buy or Build a House?

If you’re wondering whether it’s cheaper to buy or build a home, the numbers say that purchasing a house is typically cheaper, by more than six figures. That, of course, may vary with location and the kind of house you want to live in. But still, if price is your key determining factor, you’ll likely want to hit the real estate websites and open houses.

However, if you crave the process of creating a home from scratch and want total personalization, you might prefer to build. Or it might actually wind up being a better financial move than buying an existing house in your area.

Here, take a close look at this topic so you can decide which option suits you best.

Is It Cheaper to Build a House or Buy a House?

If you let the numbers tell the story, it is cheaper to buy a house than build one yourself.

In 2022, the average cost to build a house from the ground up was $644,750. The typical cost to buy a home was approximately $503,000. That’s a considerable difference.

However, prices can of course vary. If you are building a simple new home (perhaps it’s one-level living) in an area with a low cost of living, it might be quite affordable vs. buying. Much will depend on the particulars of your situation.

Cost of Buying a House

As mentioned, sales figures suggest that it is often cheaper to buy an already built house than to build a brand-new one. But, when it comes to buying an existing home, the price paid to the seller may only reflect a portion of the actual cost of home ownership.

Even if an individual can afford the home listing price, there are often additional expenses — like closing costs and any renovation or repair fees. Here’s a closer look.

Identifying Existing Wear and Tear

For pre-built homes, age is one factor. The older a house, the more likely it is to need some upkeep and extra care.

Before buying an existing house, a home inspection conducted by a certified professional can help future homeowners to stay informed about the current state of the house. You’ll want to be prepared for any major repairs or structural improvements that are needed.

Typically, the buyer is responsible for paying for a home inspection, which can add several hundred dollars to the purchasing costs. However, that can be an important look at the home’s condition and can let you know about and negotiate upcoming expenses. For instance, if the hot-water heater is nearing the end of its lifespan, the house needs rewiring, or the foundation definitely needs work, you could then try to get the seller to address some of all of the associated costs.

Evaluating Home Improvement Costs

When you buy a home, you will likely want to make some changes. Perhaps you want to install a heat pump, swap out the kitchen appliances, add a half-bathroom, strip off wallpaper, or simply buy new furniture to make the place yours.

These kinds of changes will add to the listed purchase price. For that reason, it’s often worth evaluating the cost of future alterations when estimating the cost of buying a house — whether such changes are large or small.

Ongoing Repairs, Maintenance, and Warranties

Even if repairs are not required right away, it can be useful to review the age of an existing home, along with that of its parts. When you build a home, everything is likely to be brand new. When you buy a home, you could have systems and appliances that are decades old and in rough shape.

Although buyers may not want to replace the roof at the time of purchase, mulling over the average lifespan of major home features (like roofing) can be beneficial. Some questions:

•   When were the house features last updated?

•   How well have these features been maintained? (The term “deferred maintenance” may signal you have some work to do.)

•   What will need repairs first in the near future?

Here’s one extra maintenance detail to think over: Older homes may not be as energy-efficient as newly built houses, meaning that — without upgrades to existing systems — it could cost a buyer more each month to heat and cool the house. Such ongoing and future expenditures may, over time, offset any savings received early on from buying instead of building a new home.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.


Cost of Constructing a New House

So, compared to buying an existing house, how can a buyer evaluate how much the cost of building a new home might be? The average single-family home costs about $150 per square foot to build. However, that figure is just a mathematical average. The individual cost can still vary greatly, depending on a home’s location, the builders chosen, property lot size, materials used, and other variables.

Calculating Construction Costs

The NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) estimates that construction costs amount to almost 61% of the average single-family new home build (finished lot costs comprise about 17.8% of sale prices). Included in these construction costs are things like:

•   Building permit fees

•   Land preparation

•   Excavation and foundation work

•   Frame construction and sheathing

•   Roofing pricing

•   Plumbing, electricity, and HVAC

•   Windows and doors

•   Appliances

•   Flooring

•   Clean-up

Put another way, if a new house costs $300,000 total, $183,300 of that would go toward construction, including materials and labor.

Recommended: The Cost of Living in California

Interior Finishes

On top of those costs, individuals interested in building a new home may also want to ponder the cost of interior finishes. According to the NAHB, interior finishes (such as walls, stairs, and doors) amount to about 24% of new home building costs.

While the actual amount will depend largely on a home buyer’s specific choices, based on this average, $76,200 of a $300,000 home would go toward interior costs, such as painting, trim, doors, plumbing fixtures, appliances, and lighting.

Pros and Cons of Building a House

While on paper it might appear cheaper to buy a house than to build a new one, it can be helpful to look deeper than just the listing price. Here, some of the pros to building your own home:

•   A brand-new house could require less maintenance and upkeep for years into the future. In many newly built homes, items such as appliances, roofing, and HVAC may be covered initially by manufacturer and construction warranties. In that case, were something to break (if under warranty), the out-of-pocket expense could be covered (and not up to the buyer to pay for).

•   A customized home may appeal on another level as well. Having a home that is designed exactly as you like can be incredibly satisfying. It can reflect your personal taste and address every need.

On the con side, consider these points:

•   When it comes to how long it will take to build a home, it’s likely a lot longer than buying one. It takes an average of 7.6 months to complete a new home, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Not all buyers may want to wait around that long to move in.

•   As previously mentioned, building a home can be more expensive than buying one that is already built.

•   You will need to wrangle permits (or have someone do it for you) when going through the steps of building your own home.

•   With a built-from-scratch home, buyers could also run a higher risk of ballooning construction costs or extended delays, which might result in extra interim costs too. While construction on the new home is being finished up, for instance, a buyer may need to pay for another place to stay.

•   Also, there’s stress involved when delays and extra expenses crop up. You need to have time available to interact with your building team, too, which can be an issue for some people.

Pros and Cons of Buying a House

Next, let’s consider the benefits and drawbacks of buying a house. On the plus side:

•   Typically, as described above, buying a house costs less than building one.

•   If you buy a house vs. build one, you will likely be able to move in more quickly. In fact, you might even be able to move in right away, without any renovations.

•   When you buy a house, what you see is what you get. There won’t be any surprises as construction gets underway, nor any areas that don’t wind up looking the way you’d imagined they would.

Now, for the downsides of buying vs. building a house:

•   It may not be exactly the house you want, and you may not be able to remodel it to become your dream house.

•   You may have to deal with the stress of bidding wars and other nuances of house hunting, especially in a hot housing market.

•   The home you buy may have maintenance issues and may not be as energy-efficient as a new home.

Recommended: First-Time Homebuyers Guide

The Takeaway

It is typically faster and less expensive to buy an existing home vs. building one. However, whether it is cheaper to build or buy a house can come down to individual situations and variables like desired locations and home amenities or design features. For different people, the main motivating factor may vary, and the choice of buying or building will reflect a very personal preference.

If you are in the market to buy, a SoFi Mortgage Loan can offer a competitive yet flexible option. With low down payments available and terms that can suit your needs, a SoFi Mortgage Loan can get you started on the path to purchasing your very own place. Plus, the whole process is quick and easy.

Shopping for a home? Learn more about SoFi Mortgage Loans today!

FAQ

Is it cheaper to build a home or buy?

It is typically considerably cheaper to buy a home vs. building one. Recent data suggests it’s 25% pricier to build than buy.

Is building a house cheaper than buying in California?

California is an exception to the rule that it’s generally more affordable to buy than build. By building your own home in California, you could save $200,000 vs. buying.

How can I save money to build a house?

If you want to save money to build a house, you can track and reduce your spending, grow your money in a high-yield savings account, pay down high-interest debt, and also try to earn more via a side hustle.


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