Old house or new construction: Which suits you best?
When it comes to buying your new home, you basically have two choices: live somewhere that already has a history or live someplace brand-spanking-new. Generally, you have to decide if you want your home to be new-new or just new to you.
There are pluses and minuses to either of these choices. It all depends on your particular wants and needs, as well as the location you're looking to move to. Let's dig into the differences you'll need to weigh when deciding between purchasing an existing home or going for new construction.
With a custom-built home, you'll work with a contractor to design a floor plan that meets your needs. If you're planning to raise a family, or spend a lot of time outdoors, maybe a mudroom or larger laundry room is a smart addition that you might not get with an older home. Or an extra bedroom and private bath with a separate entrance might be a bonus if your family might include an elderly parent living with you or a teen who needs their privacy.
If you're considering pre-built new construction, get used to more open floor plans, which is the trend today. Living rooms, dining areas and kitchens flow together in a loft-like feel with bedrooms and baths off to the sides or on separate floors. Older homes, in many cases, have smaller bedrooms, smaller bathrooms and smaller windows.
Compared to older houses, rooms in new construction homes tend to be larger and brighter, with lots of natural light. That's often because of the open-floor plans mentioned above and because bedrooms and bathrooms tend to be bigger in new construction, offering more wall space for bigger windows than homes built in the past.
Pre-built new construction may not allow you to personalize the home 100%, but it makes sense to try to connect with the developer before they complete construction. Doing so might allow you to upgrade some finishes from generic builder-grade materials. In many cases, a builder will offer basic appliances and finishing and give buyers a choice of upgrades. Still, if you connect early in the process, you may be able to go rogue and ask for finishes that are more to your individual tastes. Expect to pay for this luxury, but it'll probably be less expensive than swapping things out after you move in.
New construction — whether custom or pre-built — will nearly always offer modern appliances and utility systems that are more energy-efficient than those typically found in previously owned homes. That's usually true even if the new construction home you're interested in has the basic appliances on offer. You'll also see more efficient insulation and higher-grade windows and doors that make newly built homes cheaper to cool and heat than older homes. Older homes may have a lot of charm, but they also can be drafty — which can translate into higher utility bills year-round.
More and more newly constructed homes come equipped with innovative technology that can help with life's little necessities by automating security, convenience, comfort and entertainment. In smart homes, appliances and other devices communicate with one another — and with the owner's dashboard app — on a home network to create a unique living experience. This can include refrigerators, kitchen equipment, laundry appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, security systems, sound systems, TVs and even adjustable window treatments. Sure, you can outfit an older home to do all this, but it'll cost you.
If the health of a home is important to you (and we hope it is), you should know that newly constructed homes are often the healthier option when it comes to air quality. Many use paints and building materials that are low and zero-VOC (volatile organic compound). This is known to improve the air you breathe day after day. Although both old homes and new are subject to indoor pollutants, some can particularly plague older homes more than others. Pollutants in this category include lead paint, lead plumbing, asbestos, mold and formaldehyde and phthalates leaking from vinyl and laminate flooring popular from the '60s to the '90s.
This is sort of a no-brainer. Newly-built homes generally require less maintenance since everything from kitchen appliances and garage doors to the roof and water heaters are all brand new when you move in. This allows new homeowners to better anticipate monthly homeownership costs since you'll be dealing with fewer maintenance expenses. Additionally, warranties are available that can protect your new home and help you avoid dipping into your own pocket for surprise repairs over the years. You can buy limited warranties to protect appliances in older homes, but expect to replace and/or fix things in an older home much sooner than you would need to in a newly constructed home.
When buying an older home, you want to put an awful lot of consideration into the neighborhood. The rule of thumb is that you don't want to buy a home you love in a community you're iffy about. Look for parks, downtown retail and dining, activities — whatever is important to you and then go house hunting in your preferred area. On the flip side, buying new construction often means buying into a lifestyle. Many planned developments include pools, fitness centers, parks and community spaces with access and membership included in the purchase. It's all about your preferences.
Just remember to look for a new home — regardless of whether it's new construction or pre-owned — in a place convenient to good schools, doctors and ample transportation options. This will be an asset while you live there and really valuable when it comes time to sell.
Not in a rush?
If you have flexibility in timing, you might want to lean towards new construction. Many buyers of new construction engage with the developer before construction begins, which can give the buyers several months to prepare for closing and, eventually, moving. This can be a significant advantage to some who don't want to get caught up in the frenzy of a bidding war or feel pressured to make an offer on an existing home because they “need to move now.” That said, if you're looking at new homes that are already built, waiting won't be a factor, but you could still end up in a bidding war — especially with how sparse today's new home inventory is.
New construction and planned neighborhoods tend to be found where land is cheap and available. That's why you typically see these developments in the far reaches of suburbia. Living there might offer a quieter lifestyle but be further away from shopping, schools, medical practices, airports and popular commutes. In more metropolitan areas, new construction might come in the form of low-rise condo complexes in smaller lots with little outdoor space or in city areas where there are fewer amenities, like neighborhoods going through a revitalization. If that's the case, look for crime statistics and off-street parking for your urban home.
The same holds for pre-existing homes: which can be found in urban, suburban and rural areas. But at least with older construction, you can speak with locals to feel out a neighborhood. That's sort of hard to do with new developments or planned communities where all your neighbors will be moving in around the same time you are.
Nature v. Nurture
Existing homes are often surrounded by mature trees and shrubs that shade the house in summer and protect it against the wind in winter. In many cases, the way the property looks is a big selling point for buying an existing home. On the other hand, when purchasing an older home, you need to look closely at the trees. Are they healthy? Do they pose any danger by being too close to the house? New homes, especially in planned communities, tend to have fewer mature trees on the properties, which are often stripped bare to make way for all the required construction materials and vehicles. If trees are your thing you want new construction, you may end up waiting a decade or more before your property comes into its own.
Builders of planned communities usually work with exterior finishes that appeal to a broad range of buyers. If you buy new construction in a planned community, you may have to wait until after moving in to express your individuality with post-purchase painting and decorating. But wait: some planned communities frown on individuality. Many don't let owners plant gardens or shrubbery, paint or decorate their front doors or have unique mailboxes or house numbers. Ask the developer before making that offer! Usually, this is not an issue with a pre-owned home — unless the home you're interested in is part of a not-so-new planned community. If you're into putting your own stamp on a home, ask if there are any restrictions.
So what will it be? New or not-so-new?
When it comes to financing your newly constructed home, look for a mortgage lender who understands what it takes to get new construction home loans approved and closed quickly. Movement Mortgage has conventional loans and new construction loans specifically designed to meet the needs of buyers who want to build rather than buy a previously owned home.
If you're leaning more toward the charm of an older house, that's cool too. Movement Mortgage has conventional loans and loans explicitly designed for condos, US military veterans, homes in rural areas and more.
Interested? Find a loan officer in your area to get started.