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Should You Buy or Build a Log Cabin? This Guide Will Help You Decide

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Among the most popular dream-home fantasies is living in a cozy log cabin in the woods. After all, who can resist the idea of snuggling on a couch next to a roaring fire under high, exposed wooden beams? Answer: nobody!

Log cabins are as beautiful as they are durable, nearly weather-resistant and energy-efficient. (Wood’s thermal mass is a natural heating material.) So if you’re getting serious about making your log cabin dreams a reality, you may be wondering if it’s cheaper to buy an existing log cabin—or building one from scratch.

Before you break out your jacksaw, take a step back and examine the “buy or build” question to see which choice makes the most economic sense. Here’s everything you need to know.

Buying a log cabin

The median cost of an existing home runs about $375,000. Yet the average cost of log cabins—being the specialty homes that they are—can be harder to pin down. A sampling of cabins that recently hit the real estate market ranges from simple structures selling for $132,000 to luxe getaways priced well into the millions.

And like any home for sale, a log cabin’s asking price all depends on location, recent home sales in the area, and overall state of the real estate market.

“A log house in California is going to cost more than one in Oklahoma,” says Donna Peak, editor of Log Home Living.

Another factor in determining how much you’ll pay for a cabin is how big it is. Do you want a log home that’s small and charming or grand and glamorous?

“The cost of buying a log cabin is dependent upon the square footage of the property,” says Keith Sant of Kind House Buyers in Tacoma, WA. “However, if you shop around the market, you may manage to get one for $100 per square foot.”

Building a log cabin

So how much does it cost to construct a log cabin? According to HomeAdvisor, building a 500-square-foot cabin costs an average of about $75,000. And if you want a full-time home rather than a cozy, rustic getaway, you’re looking at an average of $300,000 to build a cabin that’s 2,000 square feet.

“Building a log cabin could be as low as $100 per square foot and as high as $300 per square foot,” says Nick Stoddard, chief executive officer of KC Property Connection in Overland Park, KS.

Here are the main expenses you’ll encounter:

Land: Land prices vary across the U.S. depending on how developed the parcel is and other factors.

But to give you a ballpark figure, an acre of land costs $3,100 on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Land Values 2020 Summary. And once you purchase a plot of land, you will need building permits, which average $5,086 nationally.

Kits, prefab, and construction: The design of a log cabin includes the shell, interior finishes, kitchen and bathrooms, and mechanicals (i.e., plumbing and heating)—each of which can fluctuate by thousands of dollars. This is how the options break down:

  • Log cabin kits: “A DIY kit for a log cabin may cost you $50 to $80 per square foot,” says Ron Wysocarski, broker and CEO of Wyse Home Realty in Port Orange, FL. A kit is generally barebones framing and comes with walls, a roof, doors, and windows. Things like a foundation, floors, and bathroom will all cost extra.
  • Prefab cabins: “A prefabricated log cabin will cost $80 to $230 per square foot,” says Wysocarski. It’s usually built in a factory and delivered to your land. Assembling the cabin and hooking it up to utilities will cost extra.
  • Custom cabins: If you want to design and build a custom log cabin, construction fees alone will run you between $100,000 and $150,000, according to Stephen Keighery, CEO and founder of Home Buyer Louisiana. And according to HomeAdvisor, you can expect to pay from $300 to $500 per square foot for any custom home.

Labor: If you decide to buy a log cabin kit, you can save money putting it together yourself—that is, if you have the time and skill set.

“For example, if you buy a log cabin kit for $60,000 and pay other people to build it, the cost can go up to $180,000,” says Erik Nilsson, CEO and founder of Rentola.

If you’re not ready to spend your weekends hauling logs, make sure your budget has wiggle room when it comes to labor costs. And delays in weather or unforeseen construction problems can add hours of labor to a quote.

Wood: According to the National Association of Home Builders, supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic caused lumber costs to triple in 2021. As a result, lumber that once set builders back about $350 per 1,000 board feet now runs $1,200—a 250% spike in the price.

Beyond the fluctuating cost of lumber, the type of logs you choose will significantly affect your bottom line.

“Different wood species come in at different price points,” says Peak. “You could build the same house in Southern yellow pine or in Douglas fir and get two very different prices. The size and diameter of the logs are another cost factor.”

Utility costs

If you buy an existing log cabin: The electricity and plumbing are probably good to go unless the log home is severely dated. If not, an inspection will uncover any issues, leaving you room to negotiate the selling price.

If you build a new log cabin: “Most of the pre-built cabins have insulation in between the walls,” says Jason Simard, owner of Sims Real Estate Group. “It makes the cabins much more energy-efficient. As these cabins keep the heat inside the cabin, they can save up to 30% of your energy bill.”

But depending on where you decide to build, you may have to install a well for water or run electricity to the property.

“It can cost around $10,000 to install utilities,” says Nilsson.

The post Should You Buy or Build a Log Cabin? This Guide Will Help You Decide appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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