Build or buy? 6 things to think about before you choose

House hunting season is almost here. If you’re on the hunt for a new place to live this year, you may be wondering whether to go out looking at homes or pick a lot and build one. It can be a tough decision, so we asked local experts for a rundown of each option, as well as how to get started.


Location: The biggest advantage to building your home is the opportunity for endless customization. This starts right away, with the location. “The building lot you choose can be located in the country, suburbs or urban [areas],” said Mike Dorsten, VP/General Manager of Beaver-Vu Construction in Beavercreek and board president of the Home Builders Association of Dayton. Often with buying a pre-existing home, the perfect house can turn up in a less than perfect area, so if you’re picky about where to live, building could be ideal.

Custom features: After you have the location picked out, the real customizing fun begins. “The orientation and exterior appearance of new home can totally be determined by customer from day one,” Dorsten explained. “[The] customer has freedom to create room dimensions specific to their personal and professional needs.”

For example, if you’re planning to have extended family live with you, particularly seniors, the house can be made accessible for their needs — easy to access bathrooms, ramps and other accommodations can be fitted seamlessly to your house.

Technology: If you have a home office with particular networking needs or are interested in a smart home, building is often the easiest way to meet those needs. “The option is available with new construction to implement the network needs in regards to home technology/automation without having to retro fit everything in an existing residence,” said Dorsten.


When people think of house hunting, they often think of the traditional methods: checking out open houses, scouring listings and signing up for apps like Zillow. Pre-existing or resale homes absolutely have their merit.

Cost: “It’s definitely more expensive to build. Buying a home is easier and less expensive,” said realtor Sue Smedley with Real Estate II in Springfield. “When building, it always costs more than you thought.” The main reason for this is that you need to have every single item in the home put in – from countertops to curtain rods to outlet covers. You may replace these on a pre-existing home at some point, but it does not need to be done all at once if budget is a factor. Although renovations and repairs may scare some, they are still generally less expensive than building a house from scratch.

Water/sewer: In most cases, pre-existing homes are already hooked up to sewer or septic and water lines. Be sure to double check whether this is the case when buying. However, when building, you will always be responsible for this, and costs could spiral out of control. “If you’re building, you’ll have to put in septic and a well if you’re out in the country,” Smedley said. “It’s questionable how much is it going to cost.” She explained that cost on these items is per foot, but that it’s difficult to predict exact amounts. You also would need to ensure that your lot is able to handle such systems.

Learning experience: Finally, living in a preexisting home is a great way to start out your home ownership journey, even if you know you want to build at some point in the future. “Live in a preexisting house at least once,” said Smedley. “Learn about houses and some basic repairs, find out what you’re looking for.”


Five things to do before you get started:

  • Whether you’re building or buying, your first stop should be to the bank for a preapproval letter. If you’re building, your lot will need to be paid for before the process begins, and “if you fall in love with a house when you walk in the door,” Smedley said. “If you don’t have a preapproval letter, you may not get the home.”
  • Budget should be your main consideration throughout – don’t risk choosing a house or custom feature if you’re not going to be able to afford it down the line.
  • In both buying and building, research should also be a top priority. Make sure you get a good, thorough home inspection when buying pre-existing and are aware of structural issues that may need to be addressed. “If a house needs a lot of renovations, and the person is inexperienced, they probably shouldn’t buy it,” Smedley cautioned.
  • When building, be sure to look into every aspect of your potential home – cost of each feature, whether your lot needs a sewer/water hookup or electricity, what expenses you might incur creating a yard and much more.
  • Your best bet in building or buying is to find a team of trustworthy professionals – mortgage experts, realtors, home inspectors/builders – who can guide you through the process and help you make smart decisions. “So many people can help you out,” Smedley said. “Just learn to ask questions and do serious research.”

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