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Buying vs Building a House: Which is Better in the Military?

Buying vs Building a Home

The Buy vs Build Decision Point

When it comes to military housing decisions, there are a lot of options to choose from; buy a house, rent a house, base housing, pitpads, crashpads, your friend’s couch, and for some of you, one of those refurbished RVs planted at the RV park. 

Lately though, we’ve seen a big wave of military families choosing to build a home or purchase a recently finished new build at their new PCS location. 

Considering the hurdles that come with building a home and a long-distance purchase, this is an interesting trend.

Over the last several years there was a boom in residential construction. New homes were flying up all over the place. Now, with the changing market conditions and higher interest rates on home loans, many builders are looking to offload their oversupply of houses and sell their existing lots.

In fact, one military specialized real estate agent we work with at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, recently mentioned that the supply of existing homes in his area was down nearly 50% this year. With fewer existing homes to choose from, new builds are suddenly at the forefront of the real estate market.

As a military home buyer, what should you take into account if you are considering building or purchasing a new build over an existing home?

We came up with a pros and cons list to lend you a hand.

Buying an Existing Home

The Pros


It’s usually easier to buy an existing house, especially if you are a first-time home buyer. Not only is it typically more affordable, but you get the vast experience of owning a home before taking on the adventure of building one. The floorplan, light fixtures, door handles, countertops, etc. already exist, so all you have to do is furnish the place and possibly undertake minor updates, like paint and new carpet.


When you’re looking to buy a home, it is usually in an already established neighborhood… with TREES! ) We’re talking about the big, beautiful trees that have been there for years…not those little scrawny ones the builder just planted. You won’t have to battle a bulldozer for road space or look at the giant mounds of dirt waiting to be redistributed in the developing lot next to yours.  

The established neighborhoods are also likely to be close to major amenities and offer more options on location which can be important for schools and optimizing your driving distance to base. 

Readily Available

During PCS season, you’re usually in a time crunch, and buying an existing house gives you the option to relocate fast into a move-in ready home.

The Cons

Fixed Layout and Features

Buying a home means you have to settle for what the house already has to offer…unless you’re a closet DIY-er and plan on knocking down some walls yourself. (Hey, Chip and Joanna!) 

If you plan on renovations, don’t forget to add in what you will spend out-of-pocket on updates when you are comparing prices of new builds vs existing homes. You might be surprised at the current cost of labor and materials.

Bidding Wars

Depending on the specific market, the buying experience could come with additional stress in the form of high competition. In many cities, bidding wars are still common, and you may end up paying above asking price. 

Home Inspections and Maintenance

When you’re buying an existing home, the home inspector will have a much larger “laundry” list of fixes than if you purchase a new build. Also, you’ll have to look out for more maintenance issues from an older home and varying costs of bills that come with less energy efficient houses. 

Building a Home

The Pros

New, Shiny, Customizable

A brand-new house is shiny, new, and completely customizable! If you work with the builder from the very beginning, you get to pick your ideal floor plan, add in that stainless steel fridge with the built-in Amazon Alexa, and prioritize a big walk-in closet with endless storage for all those pairs of combat boots.

Warranties & Limited Maintenance Issues

Since it is brand new, the home should have fewer maintenance issues, and it will often come with a builder’s warranty for major systems. New appliances usually have similar guarantees.

Lower Cost on Utilities

New homes are also built to be energy efficient. Low flow toilets, tightly sealed windows, efficient HVAC systems, etc. are all key to keeping your utility costs low.

The Cons

Construction Delays

The supply chain is still struggling from COVID-19 woes; and production for major items, like cabinets and garage doors has been slowed. According to the National Association of Realtors, in 2022, 85% of new construction buyers experienced some sort of delay, with 50% waiting three months past the estimated completion date or longer for their homes to be move-in ready.

In fact, we knew multiple military families who had to scramble for alternate arrangements last year after getting snagged by building delays. One family was in a hotel for several months!

More Complicated Financing

If you are purchasing a home from a builder, beware of construction delays causing challenges with your financing. If your home build is delayed, you could potentially lose the interest rate you initially locked in and also have to submit updated documentation for your loan.

If you’re wanting to build from the ground up with a VA construction loan, you will have to find a licensed and insured VA-approved builder, submit a complete set of construction plans to your lender, appraise those plans, and provide additional documentation. 

Building from a Distance

Buying a house from a distance is difficult, but building a house is a whole different animal. Unless you have the luxury of visiting the area multiple times during the build process, there is a lot that you are leaving up to chance and the builder’s prerogative. While the builder is incentivized to finish the home, they’re not necessarily going to go out of their way to make sure you’re 100% happy with every detail. 

If you are building from a distance, it’s even more crucial to have your own independent real estate agent represent you so they can monitor progress and make sure all of the details are correct. (And when we say independent real estate agent, we don’t mean the agent that the builder offers. Their interests are not necessarily your interests. If you’re in a situation like this, our sister company, WeVett Realty can get you linked up with a Realtor that will fight for your best interest first.)

Don't Forget the Cost Comparison

Every location and market is different when it comes to typical costs for buying and building. We’ve compiled a list of the standard cost categories for building a house and also the costs associated with purchasing a home. For most new builds, you will need to account for both.

Check out the chart below

Bottom Line

Buying or building is not a one-size-fits-all decision. Be diligent about asking questions in advance and be realistic based on the market and your specific situation.

The best way to make sure you’ve covered all your bases is to talk it over with an experienced military focused real estate agent at your new PCS location. They know the local market and can advise you on existing home inventory and also give you background on builders and new construction.

Not sure where to find a real estate agent? Our sister company, WeVett Realty can link you up with a military friendly real estate agent here.

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