There's no absolute answer to whether you should build or buy your next home. Even experts disagree. Contractors typically recommend building a new home, whereas real-estate agents would sooner have you buy an existing home through an agent. The best way to decide is to consider your needs and options and find the choice that's right for you.
A major draw for having a new home built is the chance to customize, paying to have exactly the features you want. If you know precisely how your home should look, you've a better chance of building it than finding a match on the market. You'll probably pay more per square foot than you will buying an older house, and builders are often less willing to negotiate than sellers. Another factor is time: to get the perfect house built usually takes longer than closing on an existing house.
The odds are that to buy a new home, you'll have to move to a subdivision or a new development. If you work in town, that may add a long stretch to your commute. Older homes are more likely to be close to the town center. Older neighborhoods may be more settled, but they may also have succumbed to urban blight. These are generalities -- the specific neighborhoods and suburbs you're considering may be different.
Building a new home guarantees you're covered by the latest standards for energy efficiency and safety. Your builder can also use the most up-to-date materials, which are often lighter and cheaper. If the existing homes you're looking at are relatively recent, though, these gains may not be substantial. Another factor to consider is that an existing home comes with existing appliances. If they're good enough that you don't need to replace them, you can save a lot compared to buying an entire set of new ones.
Lots of other factors may tip you one way or another. If you have the skill to handle part of the construction yourself, that's going to knock the price down. If the housing market is slack, the builder may be willing to offer a great deal just to get some money coming in. Then again, if you have to move immediately, waiting for a new home to go up may not be an option.
A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.