Choose Your Own Adventure: Should I Build or Buy a Home?

dream home

The hubby and I love this home! We want it.

I bet if I asked you right now, “describe your dream home”, you’ll get a pretty vivid image in your mind. Am I right?

If you are like me, you probably have a “Dream Home” Pinterest Board. Mine only has a mere 981 pins. I mean, I’m a pragmatist. Sheesh! Okay, so I’m a dreamer.

“We often think we understand what we do not understand” – Rumi…or not Rumi, it was me.

The nitty gritty: misconceptions exist among homebuyers when comparing new construction with existing homes. 

Homebuyers often search for homes in price ranges, thinking that the new construction homes are going to cost the same as they are listed, and that the existing homes seem super pricey comparatively, so they want to lowball those darn older homes. Not exactly, peeps.

Still reading?

I like you. You’re cool.


Let’s pretend we have homebuyers who are qualified to buy a home that costs up to $400,000, so they want to look online for a home that will cost $350,000 to $400,000.

As of today, in October 2018, in my lil’ hometown of Saratoga Springs, Utah, there are 50 actively listed homes on the Wasatch Front Regional Multiple Listings Services, Inc. in that price range.

Of those 50 listings:

16 are existing homes (not brand new)

44 are “to be built” (new construction)

New vs existing: Apples to apples, right? You guessed it: WRONG. Two totally different ball games, folks.

Note: Many of those existing homes have been on the market for much longer than they expected, due to the crazy supply of new construction listings. In some cases, you may even sense a buyers’ market among existing homes: not necessarily the case with new construction.

Maybe you’ve always thought you’d like to build your own home, but aren’t sure what costs may add up during construction. But what if you buy an older home with a finished basement and a fence for a great price, but it has nasty old wallpaper?! For the LOVE!!

lambDon’t fret, little lamb. Let’s figure out what works best for your individual situation.

Get yourself connected with a knowledgeable real estate agent you trust and like to be around. This is a huge suggestion for you to have a successful home search. We love to help you from the get-go, to help you avoid major issues, and to consult with you and guide you as you take steps, and in the right order.

Where are you living currently? Need to sell your current home or give notice to a landlord? Get that ball rolling, ASAP.

First, find out what you can ACTUALLY afford:

Believe me, this will save you ZILLIONS in headaches and disappointment. Contact a qualified loan expert. I have a select few I highly recommend. This loan officer will listen to what you hope to achieve, collect important information, such as your W-2 forms, pay stubs, bank statements…etc. This information will stay confidential between you and your lender. He or she should run your credit to get the most accurate picture of what you can afford. Do not worry, you can shop lenders a bit within several days without it counting as more than 1 credit run. Bonus, right?

Don’t forget to save up your cash. Don’t be all spendy-spendy right now, Lawrence. That can ruin this whole ordeal. Do all you can to pinch pennies, avoid any credit card debt, hefty car purchases, or really ANY major purchases. Steady, man. Steady.

Second, create your wish list.

wish list

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding what you want. What are my favorite neighborhoods? Do I mind road noise? Do I want mature trees, or no trees in my yard? Do I need an expansive view? A front porch?  Do you mind construction noise and dust in a new neighborhood?

Here is part of my own dream home wish list, if you need a little help with yours:

  • TONS of trees
  • Gathering rooms for entertaining
  • Large yard
  • Big windows

Share your wish list with your REALTOR® as soon as you nail down a few top priorities for your next home. Be sure you know what you HAVE to have, and what you can do without. Stay focused, Lawrence.

Third, think about this for real: build or buy.

Let’s hash out some basic pros in favor of each.

New construction:

  • Customized to your liking.
  • Hand-pick the location.
  • Updated energy/safety features.


  • Finished basement.
  • Landscaped, may have mature trees.
  • Appliances, sheds, fences are usually included in list price. You usually know what you’re paying for from the beginning.

Now for some possible cons of each.

New construction:

  • Costs for upgrades/changes not included on the MLS or initial contract. Surprise!
  • Lengthy or unpredictable timing for completion due to various hiccups.
  • Provide your own window treatments, a fence, a yard, finishing the basement, and anything else above the actual finished home.


  • May need to make repairs, paint, replace carpet, or remodel the kitchen…etc.
  • Unable to remodel some of the outdated features to your complete satisfaction or within your budget.
  • Costly repairs come along more quickly than with new construction, like roof replacement or buying a new furnace.

I know. That wasn’t much help. I tried. Here’s the deal: you will know in your gut if you have the cash to make new construction happen the way you hope it can happen. Be honest with yourself, your agent, and your lender. Hash it out.

Fourth, tour the best homes and communities.


Meet with your REALTOR® to drive around the newer and older neighborhoods. Your agent will often have experience in the very neighborhoods you like, and can save you a lot of research. Be open to either newer or older homes, unless you’re absolutely decided.

Pay attention to the items on your wish list. Anything stand out to you as something you want to add to your list? Do you want to be closer to that new school, park, or lake? What vibes are these areas giving you? Take note, and talk it over with your agent. What have you decided really isn’t that crucial? Cut it off the wish list.

Be open to new construction communities and mature neighborhoods. Your agent likely has some online search options that help you hone in on exactly what types of homes you’re interested in touring. It takes some major energy to tour homes, so be ready for some cranky moments. It’s normal. You got this!

Fifth, DECIDE on the ENDING of this saga!


You are now fully aware of several of the pros and cons, and you have narrowed your search to the area you want to live.

What have you decided? Really?? Awesome! So exciting, right?!

  • If you chose to build, select ending A.
  • If you are planning to buy an existing home, select ending B!

Ending A: You chose to build! Hooray!

How fun will this be?!

  • Rookie building tip: the first time you tour the new construction model homes, and meet with various custom builders, be sure to go with your buyers’ agent. Some national builders require we come with you, otherwise, they won’t allow you to be represented by your own REALTOR®. Instead the builder will require that you work only with the builders’ own agent. Lame. Who wants to go to court and be represented only by the other side’s attorney? Not me.
  • During the building process, you may find out that even though the home was listed at $399,000, it doesn’t end up being that price. Like…at all. With new construction, pretty much every builder will tack on costs for any upgraded options, above what the list price includes. Be sure you know the difference. Get every inclusion in writing, bro. If you want to stay at $399,000, you may find that gives you laminate countertops and cheap flooring. Cue disappointment. 
  • If you find a new construction listing for $350,000, and you wisely select upgrades, you might be able to stay within the budget of $350,000-$400,000. Everything adds up quickly, so be incredibly picky about what you choose! Keep in mind: there are closing costs, too. If you are buying your land on your own, not from a big builder, be sure to ask your lender what loan products are the best when planning to build.
  • There will be a variety of online reviews for builders. Keep in mind that many will be negative. This does not necessarily mean the reviews are accurate. Some people are just plain old hard-to-please, or maybe they didn’t read this article prior to building. It is a lot of work, and you need high levels of flexibility and a positive attitude. Not all buyers should build. Stamina is a requirement, fo’ sho.
  • There are many smaller builders who don’t even have a website, but have integrity. They may be worth a shot. There are incredibly gifted high-end builders. There is an array of everything in between. Ask us.
  • Dig deeper. Talk to those who have built with your top choices, find those who have been living in their home for many years to find out how the builder treated them when problems arose after they moved into their home. This is often one of the most telling points.
  • Be sure to get all agreements in writing. Your agent will assist you in organization of communications and all documents, rest assured. Do not sign anything that you do not understand, even if a builder says it is required. (Ask your agent or gain legal counsel for more serious legal questions.) There is always room for negotiation. Never feel as though you have to agree to everything. You have options.
  • Always get informed of what is happening and what is next. Again, it’s our job to help you with that nugget.
  • Be sure to allow for many extra weeks beyond the estimated construction completion date before setting your sights on moving in. It takes many extra steps beyond what seems like completion to get your certificate of occupancy. In other words: keep your rental a bit longer, or trespass upon Auntie Sue for an extra month or so, just in case.
  • Building a home can be incredibly stressful, so gear up for an adventure! The reward will be that you have accomplished something HUGE, and it is exactly what you wanted!


Ending B: You chose to buy and existing home? Woot!!

You are a smart one, little lamb.

  • When you chose a home that is listed in your price range, you will likely get it for that price or maybe even lower! You’ll pay some in closing costs (speak with your lender and agent about that amount), but if you plan well, you can keep it well within your budget!
  • When touring existing homes, look for the quality of the important stuff: structure, floor plan, location, and feeling or other crucial items on your list. Overlook bad paint colors, design, ugly furniture, clutter, and even smells (I know, right? There are fixes for smells, tho). Be on the lookout for homes that have good bones, rather than just trendy color schemes.
  • Narrow down your search to your favorite 3 homes, and kick out the rest for now. Ask your agent to compare the top 3, to make sure they are each fairly priced. Then determine which is one that fits most of your needs.

My brother-in-law, Creston Inderrieden, a highly successful real estate broker in Houston taught me the 80-10-10 rule.

  • 80% of the home will be PERFECT. All you wanted!
  • 10% of the home will have characteristics you wish you could change, but cannot. Such as a loud road, power lines, or it faces the direction you didn’t want.
  • The last 10% will have characteristics you really dislike and CAN change once you save up, take the time and put in some effort.

Doesn’t that sound doable? You can find your dream home. Don’t give up. Stay focused on what you truly want, and stay within your budget. Your agent will walk you through it all, so do not ever feel alone! Your questions are not stupid! We love getting asked questions. If we do not know the answer, we will do all we can to find the answer for you.

  • Remember, you’ll also have a home inspector who will be checking out the home during the due diligence period. You will be given a full report of the home’s condition to understand and accept, or to utilize for further negotiations or repairs.
  • When your agent brings together the best lenders, escrow officers (that’s in title…another article) and experts to the table, you’ll be in good hands. We want you to work with the best in the business, so you are happy with your experience.
  • Buying an existing home can be crazy at times, with unknowns and surprises. However, you’ll also be surprised at how wonderful it feels to make it your own, envisioning what potential your property has to become what you dream it can be, and making it a reality!

HAPPY home-building or home-searching!



I want to hear from you! What were your experiences with building or buying a home? Were you happy with the result? What do you wish you did differently?

Do you have any questions about real estate? Contact me. I am here to help!


Thanks for reading!

Heather Johnson, REALTOR® at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Influence Partners in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

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Heather’s search tool and current listings are on her website:

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