To Buy or Build?

Every homeowner, at some time, has come to a point where they have weighed the options to either build a new home or buy an existing one. With the real estate market continuing its “insane” trajectory, homes are in high demand, making the idea of purchasing raw land that much more appealing. As a Realtor with a background in construction, I have seen (and weighed) the pros and cons to both sides. As we dive into the options of buying or building, one thing I’ve learned is to just enjoy the journey.

The High-Level Pros and Cons

Home BuyingHome Building
PROSInstant gratificationEverything to your liking
CONSMight not be “perfect” and may need workIt takes time…sometimes, a lot of time


Buying New Construction

Choosing a home that is already built gives you the satisfaction of being able to use it immediately after closing.  If the house is new construction, the builder and their subs typically offer a 1-Year Warranty on the house.  Be sure to make a “punch-list” of items to be repaired prior to possession and another before the end of the 1st year. 

Buying Used Homes

Choosing a used home that has been lived-in is the most common option. When home-shopping, the most important elements to consider are location, structure and finishes. Expect the home to not necessarily be a perfect fit, as Buyers typically will have a list of things they may want to change or update. In this competitive market, we are seeing many homes sell as-is, or with very few concessions. Consider this when making an offer, even if you want to make improvements to the home. How badly do you want this home, and at what point and price will you be comfortable walking away? 

*Something to note: Sellers usually have some price in ownership that goes with selling their home, so it is recommended to “tread lightly” when discussing any renovations or improvements you are planning, especially in front of the sellers. (Try to be conscious of the “Ring” doorbells and other cameras and security systems when walking through homes).

How badly do you want this home, and at what point and price will you be comfortable walking away?

Home Renovations

Renovations on an existing home are always full of surprises, and only a select, brave, few contractors would dare to renovate a home while the homeowners are living there.  Prepare for change orders, delays, dust, dirt and more dust.  Also, pricing projects like these are nearly impossible since each home will bring new challenges around every corner.  Also, in a busy construction market, home remodels and renovations are typically a subcontractors last priority as compared to new construction.


In this competitive home-buying market, you will need to be prepared: have your proof of funds (and, if needed, a pre-approval letter) in place. Looking at homes with an experienced REALTOR, and having a home inspection, will give you a good idea what you’re getting into and if the home needs work beyond any aesthetic changes you want to make.

Home Building

With a new home you can get the house you want built where you want it.  Perfect right?  Not always.  As with home renovations, you can always expect delays, whether they are project, subcontractor, material- or weather-related, they will happen.  The more complete your building plans are from the beginning, the more efficient the build will be, and with less headaches down the road.  Recently, building materials (eg: wood) and appliances (eg: refrigerators, ranges, hot tubs) have become scarce, and prices have skyrocketed! Timing and budget will play key roles here, but with a thoughtful plan, you can predict most problems that can or will surface in advance.

In the Flathead Valley, local Builders are working as fast as they can to get homes built. There is a shortage of sub-contractors, and as a result, they are charging higher wages to complete the job. Between rising material prices, a shortage of workers to do the work and increased cost of living, these increased costs are passed down to the home owner building the house. While we don’t have a crystal ball, at least for the foreseeable future, plan for additional time and budget to get your project to completion. 

The Cold: When building, the most important element to consider is the frost line (the depth that the ground will freeze below grade). Footings that support a house garage or shop all need to be excavated and poured below that line (about 36” in Flathead Valley).  In the winter, prior to concrete pours, the contractor has to make sure the ground doesn’t freeze before it’s poured, or it can crack when the ground thaws. To prevent this, common practice utilizes heat blankets and active ground heaters (aka Thawzall) that use Glycol to heat tubes that keep the ground warm before the pour, and the concrete warm post-pour to cure. These blankets are expensive, and a Thawzall will run you about $1,000 per night. Picking the right time to break ground can have an impact on your project’s overall cost.  This is just one example of “project creep” that can alone add $10,000 to your build.  Also don’t forget the snow removal!


Before you begin sketching plans on napkins and start losing sleep about building your dream home, it is also a good idea to talk to a bank about the process of buying a lot and getting a construction loan.  It also has some challenges and you will need more cash than with a typical home purchase.  

Time to Choose…

Buying new, used, building or renovating homes all have their challenges but also all have great rewards.  I try to keep in mind that this is only a house that we are buying, and only when we move our personal items in and invite friends and family inside to enjoy it, will it feel like a home.

Market conditions are always evolving. Both Residential Home sales and Residential Land sales have skyrocketed in Northwest Montana in 2020 and into 2021. Having an experienced Realtor on your side – with connections throughout the Valley and an eye for construction – will help you find – and land – that perfect property, regardless of whether you choose to buy or build. Regardless of whether you decide to buy, build or remodel, plan for the unknowns, overruns, change orders, weather delays and most importantly – enjoy the journey.  

Do you have questions about buying or building? I’d love to discuss them with you. Contact me at or 406-260-2268.

Picture of Scott Bull

Scott Bull

Working as a Realtor for 15 years and in Construction for 25, Scott Bull has a background in home building and land development, and has created a niche in meeting the needs of his clients by finding ways to get over the inevitable hurdles. Having previously lived in California, Utah and Texas, Scott knows the Whitefish feeder markets and, as a resident of Whitefish, understands what makes Whitefish so special.
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