When to Build vs. When to Buy: The Challenges in Finding your Forever Home

A custom home builder share tips and advice for when to build versus when to buy.

Your home is most likely the single largest purchase that you will make in your life, so it’s understandable that homebuyers want their pad to be perfect. But perfect means different things to each inhabitant, and buyers must weigh the pros and cons of buying an existing home and adding their own stamp, or building a custom home exactly to their specifications.

Either option has risks. So to weigh those pros and cons, ESTATENVY spoke with Jennings Smith, a regional partner with Alair Homes in South Carolina, to get some insight on the risks and rewards of buying versus building.

Buying an Existing Home

Buying an existing home is certainly the easier option. The structure is built already, so you can move in immediately. There may not be a need for more than a fresh coat of paint.

“Buying an existing home is instant gratification because you don’t have to worry about a long delay or cost overruns,” shares Smith. “Buying a home also is way less complicated to finance. You don’t need to rent or carry two properties during construction. And since you’ve seen some pretty killer work on ‘Property Brothers,’ you know that you can do a really nice job of tweaking that resale to make it just right.”

But despite those perks, there are some risks that even a home inspector can’t identify. When you buy an existing home, you may need to spruce up more than the décor. Hidden issues from years of serving as a living space can leave you with expensive and dangerous problems like mold, electrical work or a sagging roof. Building a home means you can design everything to your specifications, and since it’s all brand new, you won’t have any of those old home problems you can inherit when purchasing an existing property.

Building a Custom Home

Building a custom home is scary, but there is a certain romance involved with building a home to your exact desires from the ground up. Having your hand in every tile, deciding every room’s dimensions and seeing the process through from start to finish creates a sense of home and allows owners to fulfill their HGTV fantasies.

Smith shares that the most important consideration is finding a builder who understands your vision. Their past work is important, but what’s even more important is that they get to know you and your motivation for the project so that they can better help to make that vision a reality.

“People come to me all the time with a list of questions. The market has been conditioned to ask the same things. It’s usually around price, timelines, testimonials and experience. People want to interview their builder, but he or she doesn’t know a thing about you. So how can they advise you?” Smith said. “Your builder is a construction expert, but before he or she can become your construction expert they need to understand you and what’s important to you. This starts with them interviewing you, not the other way around. You have the answers they need. You are a ‘you’ expert, and I can’t become a trusted advisor to you until we really dig into why you want to do this.”

The flip side is important too, though. Smith advises to ask your builder’s past clients some key questions before signing on for a project, like how they organize their process in order to execute it on time, how they manage a project’s budget, how they communicate with clients and the quality of the finished product.

Alair Homes has this nailed down with a proprietary software program that allows clients to see updates on the budget, timeline and communication with their builder in real time, providing the transparency that much of the industry lacks.

Finding a builder who is respectful of your budget, and more importantly understands your market and the real cost of building a home, is paramount.

“I have seen many people buy land, get plans and invest money and time, only to find out the project is unaffordable,” Smith says.

After years in the industry, Smith says that the biggest mistake homeowners make when embarking on a homebuilding project is entering into a fixed price contract with too many allocations for items that they haven’t even picked out yet.

“You should never commit to the project until all aspects of the job have been hard quoted. It can seem like a good idea at the time, but the reality is that you really need that pre-construction plan,” he said.

When finding your dream home, it’s important to stay educated about your options to make the best choice for you and your family. Building your dream home comes with many challenges, but if you have some time and a flexible budget, you can make your vision a true reality. However, as we’ve all seen on TV, with a little sweat equity and options in remodeling, replacing and refinishing parts of your home can turn an existing property into your dream home as well.