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Building New vs. Remodeling: Which is Better?

If you had to choose between building a new home or remodeling an existing one, what would you pick? Keep in mind the financial AND practical considerations that come along with both. This is a good analysis of building new vs remodeling and picking which is better for you and your own situation.

I’ve been following Crystal’s new house saga with interest; she and her husband just had a new house built, and while they’re finally moving in and getting settled, it’s been a long, bumpy ride. Several times as I read her posts, I was reminded of two experiences in my own life – the construction of my parents’ house and remodeling the one I live in now.

When my parents announced that they had purchased a lot and would be building a (gasp!) brand new house, I was one excited kid. We would get to pick out everything ourselves! Everything would be new and shiny! Except the construction took about three times longer than expected and cost probably twice what my parents budgeted. Mostly because my dad and my uncle (a contractor) built the house themselves while my dad worked 50+ hours a week at his full-time job. Yeah, great planning, guys!

When I got divorced in 2009, the hunt for a place to live proved to be a difficult one. With the housing market in trouble and people snatching up all the rentals due to foreclosures, my parents decided it would make more sense to buy a house and let me rent from them. The problem? Anything in a decent neighborhood either cost too much or needed some serious renovations. We ended up doing a total overhaul of my house, which was built in the 1950s and hadn’t been updated since. And, much like my parents’ house, the work took longer and cost more than expected.

Thinking about those situations led me to wonder, What would I do if I had to choose between another remodel or building a new home? While I’m not planning any new construction projects in the near future, things could change at the drop of a hat, especially now that I’m self-employed and can work from anywhere. Both options, building new and remodeling, have benefits as well as drawbacks.

The Pros of Building New

This should be pretty obvious. Building a new house means the sky (and your budget!) is the limit. You can choose the number, size, and configuration of rooms, the layout, the type of windows… Everything can be customized to your needs and tastes. You get to move into a fresh, empty house that already looks exactly the way you want it to. And you don’t have to wait for someone else to get all their stuff moved out! A new house is one of the only ways to get absolutely everything you want in a home, assuming you can afford the things you want.

The Cons of Building New

As I mentioned, my parents’ house took ages to build and there were a ton of unexpected costs. Both of these issues seem to be pretty common with new construction, as evidenced by Crystal’s posts on the subject. Materials cost a lot more than they did when older homes were built as well – $100k will buy a LOT of house in my area if you’re buying an existing home, but not so much if you’re building a new one.

The Pros of Remodeling

Remodeling my house was kind of fun, now that I’ve been here a few years and blocked out most of the memories of how awful it was. My house was very reasonably priced to make up for all the “features,” like mauve carpet, the blue bathtub and toilet, and 60s pine cabinets. I got to go through the house and determine what should stay (the walls were okay, and there were hardwood floors under the carpet) and what needed to go (basically everything else). Overall I ended up with a house I love but without the massive price tag of a new home.

The Cons of Remodeling

I can’t lie – remodeling is hard work! I personally painted every single wall and piece of trim in the house (thank goodness my dad painted the cabinets for me), as well as removing wallpaper, refinishing the hardwood floors, and all kinds of exciting tasks. Sidebar: Who the heck wallpapers the inside of a bathroom closet? And for the record, when you remove said wallpaper, 60 years of disgusting bathroom smells will rise to the surface. Gross. Anyway, remodeling also comes with unexpected costs, because you never know what people have done that isn’t readily visible. I’m looking at you, Previous Owner Who Apparently Let a Cat Pee All Over the Hardwood Floors for 40 Years.

So What Would You Choose?

If you had to choose between building a new home or remodeling an existing one, what would you pick? Keep in mind the financial AND practical considerations that come along with both.

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. This is probably just my exasperation at my ongoing renovations, but right now I would say build new. Ask me when the work is all done and I'll probably say buying a foreclosure and fixing it up was the right way to go, not only for the mortgage savings but also because of all the skills and knowledge I was able to learn along the way.

    • Feel your pain! I thought my house would NEVER be finished, and actually it still isn't completely done. We did the major stuff but there is a ton of stuff left on the to do list. That's my only thing with remodeling – you never quite finish unless you aren't moving into the house until it's done. Hope it goes smoothly and you get to hang up your reno clothes before long!

  2. I think either is fine. As long as I got exactly what I want! Building a new house where I live is actually CHEAPER than buying an older house surprisingly.

  3. It would be a really tough choice for me but the financial side would likely win and webwould probably remodel before we bought a new house. While it is a pain you do get a chancebto.add sweat equity!

  4. We bought our first home but did so knowing we weren't going to remodel anything. Eventually we plan on buying a big chunk of land and building a new home on it exactly how we want it. I hate buying other peoples junk, and if we build it I know there won't be any shortcuts taken and it will be done right. I know it will be more expensive to build (although we would save a ton because I can do probably 95% of the work) but it's worth it to me to have exactly what we want and where we want it.

    • Location is probably the only thing I'd change about my house. Well, that and the red brick. I live on a highway (luckily highways aren't too busy when you live in the middle of nowhere) and really miss the quiet neighborhood I used to live in. At the same time, I'm a lot more productive now that neighbors and neighbor kids aren't ringing the doorbell every five minutes. Building definitely wins a point for allowing you to choose a location that you love!

  5. I am pro building new since I think both scenarios come with issues, but at least I can keep turning in issues for the next year (or 10 for certain things) for them to fix since it is all warrantied. 🙂 I also love knowing that we watched this house go up every step of the way. 🙂

  6. Two bad choices! Buying a lot and building on it is not common here, so for me it would either be buying something that needed a lot of work, or buying something where I could move in and do little projects one at a time. That would be my preference — my friends spent a month getting rid of wallpaper!

    • I'm pretty skilled at wallpaper removal, but it didn't go too well in this house. My bedroom had been wallpapered with the same pukey floral motif ever since the house was built, and despite scoring the paper and spraying it down with warm water and fabric softener, it would only peel off in little finger-sized sections. It took over a week to get it all down. After that experience I will never understand why ANYONE thinks wallpaper is a good idea, and I would definitely think twice about buying another house that had it!

  7. The home I grew up in was a completely different home when my parents finally moved out of it. My dad remodeled EVERYTHING over the course of my parents time there. When they bought a new-to-them house, they did the remodeling right away and now (about 6 years later) have everything the way they want it. My parents did their remodeling in stages, over time so they could pay cash instead of taking out a loan or refinancing. So I guess I am in the remodel group since that is all I really know hahaha! But it sounds like by remodel you mean get it all done in a shorter time period? Regardless, I am into giving something you own a makeover instead of starting from scratch.

  8. I would love to build a brand new home and we have considered doing it a couple times. In the end we jut got my grandmother's old house and it has been great.

    In the future we would still like to build brand new, but I have been looking more and more at some of the pre-fab homes. They are starting to look nicer and nicer these days and can be put up quickly. This is probably what we will do if we ever decide we can afford the lake house of our dreams

  9. I think I'd personally go with remodeling. I'm not creative enough to build a house from scratch, as I am better molding things and spaces into what I want than creating them in the first place (and heavens help me if I end up disliking a setup I once created!). So when the time comes, chances are I'll just buy a house and remodel it from there. It also makes a lot of economic and time sense to me.

  10. Brand new sounds lovely, but I wouldn't want to build it from scratch. Too much headache and, like you said, too easy for everything to take far too long. And cost way more than expected.

    To remodel, you can do it in sections. If one thing runs horribly overbudget, you aren't expected to pay for three others simultaneously. That said, to tear out and replace probably costs more than just putting it in a new structure so… Meh.

    With a remodel, it's easier to just make things nicer in small bits. You don't love the older stuff, but you know you'll get around to it. With a new house, you can't really rationalize putting in stuff you don't particularly like with an eye toward replacing it later.

  11. We renovated, I wanted the sweat equity….I'm glad we chose this, especially for our first home, it was a good way to really learn what we like/hate about our home and really know what we want in our forever home…after going through a big reno, our forever home will most likely be built on land.

  12. I built new and I will never do it again. I tried to sell it after 4 years and the inspection revealed extensive mold and water damage(behind exterior walls and in the vapor barrier). After we fixed that we put it back on the market and had a Title V septic complete failure resulting in a 14k bill to replace. We lost about 120k in equity and had to pay out over 15k in damages when all was said and done. Never again. I will take the old house with the known issues than the one that looks perfect.

  13. plantingourpennies says

    Mr. PoP's parents built their house from scratch (and by built, I mean his dad and his older step brothers did the bulk of the work), but we went the remodel route. There's definitely a place for both, but like FrugalPortland mentioned, sometimes it just depends on the "where".
    Our "where" meant we probably would not have wanted to pay the premium (probably at least $250K-$300K minimum) to build in our neighborhood, or anywhere remotely close to the beach (our house was about half of that). In Florida, pre-built houses are grandfathered in with the older building codes – though if you remodel too much, you can dig yourself into a hole and be subject to the new codes on the entire house! It's a balance that you have to be careful to maintain.

  14. We just finished building our new house a month ago. I'm so happy its done but it was way better for us to build new than to remodel. We love living in the country and we had the perfect (to us) lot. If we were going to live in town, we would buy a house a couple years old because it is cheaper usually.

  15. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says

    I would go with a remodel, because like you said, you can buy more house with the same money. I am terrible at imagining what a place would look like after a $20K renovation, but at least I could afford said renovation with the savings from the purchase. And while it may take forever, at least you have a roof over your head (if you went for old with no structural work), which is an extra saving. I believe they made better houses before too, with better and stronger materials.

  16. "…when you remove said wallpaper, 60 years of disgusting bathroom smells will rise to the surface."

    Oh, god. I retched in my coffee a little.

    One day I would like to build completely new, such as a cosy cabin tucked in the mountains (finances willing). Something away from everyone. Misanthropic tendencies and all.

  17. Anne @ Unique Gifter says

    I hope you feel like you got your money/time value out of all your work 🙂 That bathroom detail sounds really, really gross. My parents last house had carpet in the bathroom when we moved in. It came out pretty darn quick and boy was it disgusting. It was pretty much black on the bottom.

  18. Remodeling for me! I love old (well constructed) houses with good bones and I love to make space my own. Yes, stripping wallpaper and opening up walls can be a little like an archaeological dig, and yes the stuff you find can often be disgusting, but the end result is not only pride in your achievements but a space that is truly personal – truly your own.

  19. kimateyesonthedollar says

    I think I'd vote for remodel, but honestly I might live in a tent before I did either. Maybe buy a new house that was already built, so you don't have to go through the process. I guess you can never get what you want without some work.

  20. I would love to remodel a house! I'm more of a concrete thinker and don't think that I could ever build/buy an unbuilt house because I'd have too much trouble visualizing everything in the abstract

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