Whether it’s your first ever home or you want to move up on the property ladder to something bigger and better, you have a choice between building your own home or buying a property from somebody else.
Most people assume that buying an existing home is less hassle, but that may not be true. New build homes are appealing for their modern building standards, but are more expensive, while pre-owned homes tend to be cheaper, but likely to need costly upgrades.
Meanwhile, self-built homes take a lot of effort and funding, but you’re likely to be satisfied with the end result you planned yourself, so it won’t require further work in the future.
With the housing market often seeming to be in turmoil, it’s not surprising that more people are looking into the possibility of building their own homes. It may not be common practice in the UK, but sustainability and self-build trends like ‘tiny homes’ are making the idea more popular.
There are pros and cons to both sides, but money is often the deciding factor. So, which is cheaper, buying a house or building a house? Which is better? Let’s look into the benefits and disadvantages of building a home versus buying a home.
Buying a house is often preferable to building one simply due to the convenience of being able to purchase an existing home and move in quickly.
If you choose a newly constructed home, you may have to wait a bit longer for the development to be completed, but you’ll have a freshly built modern house ready for you.
There are many reasons why buying a home is easier, but also drawbacks to buying a place that someone else designed and decorated – so here are the pros and cons.
When buying a secondhand home from a previous owner, the process can be fairly quick if you get the paperwork in order. Purchasing an existing house can be completed in several weeks, whereas building a new house takes months of planning before construction even begins.
Even if you buy a new build off-plan, the completion date should be within several months to a year of work beginning on the development. In either case, securing a mortgage to buy a property will be much faster than obtaining a loan for a self-building project.
When you build your own house, you have to make all the decisions yourself – and there are a lot of possibilities to consider. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to agonise over a million tiny choices, you might prefer to buy an existing house as-is, or a ‘cookie cutter’ new build.
You can simply adjust the filters on a property website to choose how many rooms you need and which features and amenities you’d like, select properties from the list that match to visit, decide whether or not you like the ones you view, and then choose which one you like most.
As mentioned, getting a mortgage is much more straightforward when you’re buying an existing home rather than building your own from scratch. You won’t just have a greater choice of lenders and fixed or variable loans, but the offers you get are also likely to be worth more of the property’s value.
When it comes to new builds, developers often provide incentives to use a preferred lender, which could get you a discount on the purchase price or extra inclusions with no added cost. Even older properties come with some bargaining power if they’ve been on the market for a while.
If you want to build your own house, you’ll need to find land to build on – which isn’t readily available in urban centres that are often overcrowded already. In many areas, potential building space has already been snapped up by commercial developers for business use.
If you have your heart set on living in a specific area, you’ll have a better chance of buying an existing property. You’re much more likely to find an apartment or house closer to a city centre or within an urban development that doesn’t place you too far from the action.
Purchasing a pre-built home usually means you can move in as soon as you’re ready. This is handy for relocations on a tight timeline, such as moving to start a new job, or moving your family to a bigger home while the kids aren’t in school.
You’ll have the near-instant gratification of moving house right away and settling into a ready-made home while you have more time to save up for any refurbishments you might want to carry out.
New builds have enough contemporary features that you shouldn’t need to do too much, while older properties can benefit from unique architectural features and mature gardens.
As easy as it may sound to be able to conduct a property search, visiting compatible properties and choosing the one you want to buy isn’t as easy as it sounds. There may not be a suitable property in the area you want to live in, or there may be too few options with too many hopeful buyers.
Demand for housing often outstrips the number of properties available, leading to intense competition between buyers and fast-moving bidding wars. You may not necessarily have control over the timing – having to either make a snap decision or experience multiple rejected offers.
In reality, finding a pre-built home that matches everything you want from your dream property is near impossible. You’ll likely have to compromise on a number of things, whether it’s pricing, location, number of bedrooms, size of the garden, age of the building, etc.
This may not be a problem if your preferences aren’t that strict, but most people are reluctant to make such a big investment when they aren’t entirely happy with the property. You wouldn’t want to pay to live with features that you don’t like, which you might have to spend more to change.
All homes need regular maintenance to keep them habitable, and older buildings require more upkeep. If you move into a pre-existing home, depending on its age and who lived in it, there may be a lot of wear and tear that needs repairing to bring your house up to the standard you want.
If your secondhand property purchase comes with appliances included, this may seem like it saves you the expensive problem of having to buy new ones when you move in – but the opposite could be the case, as older white goods and furniture may be outdated and close to breaking down.
Most properties for sale in desirable areas, such as urban centres, will be pre-owned homes that may have been built up to 50-100 years ago or more. These homes weren’t designed with anywhere near the level of knowledge or technology we have today – especially when it comes to energy efficiency.
Not only will the amenities and systems be outdated, but everything from windows, doors, and flooring will need to be upgraded. Otherwise, you’ll be throwing money away on heating, cooling, and electrical power, which is as bad for the environment as it is for your bank account.
Building your own home is definitely a big challenge, but there is less compromising and disappointment involved when you can design the home yourself on your own budget.
When you buy a ready-made house to someone else’s design, it’s unlikely to have everything on your wish list – meaning you might end up spending more on renovations, anyway.
Having a tailor-made home is an appealing idea, but it does come with many difficulties – so here are the advantages and disadvantages of building your own house.
Finding an existing house that meets every need is unlikely, but when you build a home from scratch, you’re involved in every step of the design and construction. This means every decision is in your hands, from the floorplan and number of rooms to the interior fixtures and finishes.
You can be confident that the architects, builders, and contractors are doing exactly what you want, as you have control over any changes that need to be made. Though you may be limited by budget and have to wait longer for completion, the end result will be perfectly to your taste.
Technology is constantly improving, and the energy efficiency of newer buildings is substantially higher than older homes. When you design your own home, you can make sure that the space not only maximises functionality, but is also built efficiently for heating and cooling.
You can opt for high-quality sustainable materials and systems, including smart home technology, to make the home as up-to-date and eco-friendly as possible. You can also look into self-sufficiency by installing solar panels, heat pumps, or water boreholes on your land.
Though some people like to save money by thrifting materials or furnishings for self-built homes, in most cases, the materials will be just as fresh as those used in a new build development. You’ll benefit from better quality materials and construction that will last for much longer.
Moving into a brand new home not only feels like a luxury, but also means that there will be less maintenance needed to keep everything shipshape, conveniently requiring less ongoing upkeep. It’s possible to set up a structural warranty for a new home to cover latent structural defects, too.
It’s true that there will be more upfront costs when creating a custom home, but there are also opportunities to save money. By choosing everything yourself, you’ll only be paying for exactly what you want, rather than having to pay for an existing home with features that you don’t like.
You can make cost-effective choices on materials with longevity and environmental efficiency in mind, and even pitch in yourself for parts like painting the walls and landscaping the garden to save some money. In the end, a new and unique home will have better resale value, too.
With demand often outpacing supply, making an offer on a home can quickly turn into a bidding war with other potential buyers who want to purchase the same property as you. Multiple offers can turn into the hassle of a back-and-forth that could drive the price up beyond your budget.
When you want to build your own house, you have to either lease or purchase the plot of land to build on. Since fewer people choose to build their own property, there will be less competition when it comes to buying a lot, and you won’t have to deal with price hikes fuelled by competitive bidding.
It takes a lot of effort to build your own house. Even if you have the budget to outsource as much work as possible, you’ll still be responsible for everything, and have to sign off on every final decision – and there will be a lot of decisions you need to make before construction even begins.
When you buy a parcel of land, you’ll be responsible for all the landscaping and maintenance of that land. Depending on its state when you purchase it, this could cost even more time and money to manage. Speaking of which – the financial management of such a project can be very stressful, too.
As carefully and thoroughly as you try to budget for your project, there is so much to do when designing and building a bespoke home that the costs quickly add up. From plans and drawings to builders and materials, plumbing and wiring to landscaping, there’s a lot to pay for.
Unless you have the funds to do everything yourself from the start, you’ll likely need to secure financing from a construction loan provider, which is likely to require a larger deposit and higher interest rates. The longer it takes to get finances in order, the more the price of labour and materials could go up in the meantime – possibly costing far more than you originally budgeted for.
Building a home obviously takes much more time than buying an existing house that’s ready and waiting for you to move in. The longer timeline can feel drawn out, putting more pressure on you with the possibility of unforeseen delays due to factors out of your control.
Depending on the scale and complexity of your custom build, it’s likely to take several months to a year (or more) before your home will be anywhere near ready to live in. That said, the timescale can be similar when buying off-plan in new build developments, which aren’t as customisable.
With limited land in busy urban centres, where most people want to live due to proximity to work opportunities and amenities, it may be difficult to find a suitable place to build your own house in the location you would prefer. You’ll likely have to look for a plot further out.
This may not be an issue if you drive and like to have more green space around than built-up streets – having your own plot of land while the nearest town or city isn’t too far away by car could give you the best of both worlds. However, if you don’t drive, your choices could be very limited.
On the face of it, buying a home seems to be much less expensive than building your own from the ground up. Down payments and closing costs may seem minimal compared to buying land, drawing up plans, obtaining permits, and procuring construction materials and labourers.
However, many factors can affect the cost of both building a home and the cost of buying one, which include (but are not limited to) the following:
Which route happens to be cheaper often comes down to the location, as rural properties tend to be larger but cheaper, while central properties tend to be smaller but costlier.
According to figures reported by Just Do Property in June 2022, the average cost of buying a home sits within the range of building costs for most sizes – though when it gets to a house with five bedrooms, it can be much cheaper to build than to buy:
|House Size||Average Building Cost||Average Buying Cost|
|2-bedroom house||£190,000 – £280,000||£255,172|
|3-bedroom house||£240,000 – £360,000||£283,706|
|4-bedroom house||£290,000 – £440,000||£426,099|
|5-bedroom house||£320,000 – £480,000||£585,000|
It still depends on the location, though, as revealed by Get Agent’s map of the places in England where it’s cheaper to build your own home than to buy one.
Based on land value, house price, and construction costs, the map upholds the common standard that it’s far more expensive to buy throughout the south than it is in the north, while there is the lowest difference in cost between buying and building in the North East.
It’s not an easy decision to make, and certainly not one that anybody else can make for you. The main factors to take into consideration are location and how this affects the overall cost of the property and the amount of work you want to do on it.
There is definitely more to take on board when building a home, so you should consider your financial capabilities and the time you have available before committing to such an intensive project. Similarly, you should make sure you understand the purchasing process before choosing to buy.
In either case, think carefully about all the factors we’ve discussed above to make sure you’d be happy with your choices in the long term before making a decision.
If you decided to buy a new build home, the property will likely come with a new build warranty that the developer set up and passes to you. However, if you buy a secondhand property, there may be no such cover in place.
If you’re buying an existing property less than 10 years old, or choose to build your own brand new home, you should look into setting up a building warranty yourself. This will give you some peace of mind, knowing your investment is protected if something goes wrong with the structure.
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