There is nothing like a brand-new home. A home never lived in by another human being. Shiny. Up to date. Fully equipped and gadgetized. Charm and history are fine for other people, but they are not for you! You would sooner buy a used car than a used home. So, let’s look at all the benefits of new construction, as well as the pitfalls and how you can try to deal with them.
WHAT IS NEW/UNDER/PRE-CONSTRUCTION?
New construction, as you can see in the title of this post, comes in a few forms:
PRE-CONSTRUCTION – A developer may have a full set of blue-prints or plans, some sample finishes, and a home he recently sold that looks very similar to what he is about to build. But the house that you buy is still more or less a hole in the ground.
UNDER CONSTRUCTION – it’s more advanced than pre-construction, but still has a way to go.
NEW CONSTRUCTION – The work is done, or very close to done. The developer may have left off some finishes in anticipation of giving you choices. (See Customizing…section below). And he may still need to get final inspections and approval from the building department – a Certificate of Occupancy
In this post, we will use new construction to refer to all three categories together, and specify one or two categories when we are not referring to all three.
FEATURES OF NEW CONSTRUCTION
Above we mentioned that new construction is “equipped and gadgetized”. This can include a range of building materials and components for energy efficiency, environmental responsibility and convenience:
- Energy efficiency in appliances,
- High efficiency insulation
- High efficiency windows.
- Latest construction materials and technology such as SIPs (Structurally Integrated Panels)
- It may have a LEED designation I.e. certification for high level of energy and environmental features.
- Remote-control capabilities – not just within the house (such a remote control for window shades and lights), but really remote, as in from anywhere in the world via your smart phone (such as turning up the heat when you are on the way home, turning off the oven, video monitors).
LAYOUT OF NEW CONSTRUCTION
New construction tends to reflect new layout trends. Right now, these include:
- A large kitchen with an island as the new trend towards nesting means that people want to cook and entertain at the same time
- A home office or study because more and more people work from home
- A bedroom with an en-suite bathroom on the first floor to accommodate the greying of America.
CUSTOMIZING PRE- or UNDER CONSTRUCTION
You may have the opportunity to pick some finishes. Possibilities include paint color, bathroom tiles, appliances, flooring, light fixtures. It depends on how the developer works. He may give you an allowance and the name of stores to go to. Some choices my be included, and some choices may involve an extra charge. Or you may be able to order and pay for whatever you want and just have those things delivered to the building site.
You may also have the opportunity to make changes to the actual plans. Do you want to leave out some walls? Add some closets? Change the layout? Move the lighting fixtures?
In both cases – customs finishes and plan changes – the more expensive the items you select, and the more complicated implementation will be for the builder, the more you are likely to pay above and beyond the originally quoted price. If things are agreed upon early and quickly they may be less expensive than if the process drags out and new change request continue to come in from you.
When new construction is completely finished, or when only minor work for custom finishes remains, the cost is higher (on a square foot basis, of course) than for “re-sale” i.e. older houses. On the other hand, if you purchase early in the process, and you don’t make expensive requests, you will end up with a new construction house at less than the going rate for a new construction house…as long as the housing market doesn’t take a dive between your purchase contract and your closing. This discount reflects the fact the you have taken the risk that house will be finished as specified, and that you have been flexible with timing.
CHALLENGES OF BUYING NEW/UNDER/PRE-CONSTRUCTION
Obviously, if you contracted to buy the house before it was completed, you may not like it when it is done nearly as much as you thought you would.
There is frequently a shakedown period when all things that aren’t finished or working property need to be addressed. Builders probably moved on to their next project and stories abound about the difficulty of tracking them down to finish these things.
You knew you would have to wait, but you may have to wait more than that…and even more again…and …you get the idea. Depending on your permanent and transition living arrangements this may be seamless for you, or it can be a major disturbance in your life.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
- In an area which has many more re-sale homes than new construction, like the Boston area, you should think very hard about new construction if you are a first-time buyer. Buying a first home can be challenging enough without adding new construction issues to the mix.
- You should avoid new construction like the plague if you can’t be extremely flexible about timing of moving in. And it’s very helpful with new construction if you have a patient disposition in general.
- You should also think twice about new construction if you tend to have trouble making decisions. You may have to choose many things…not just paint and tiles and floors. How about the peephole, the handles on the cabinets, the doorknocker, light switches. Like shopping, it’s one person’s heaven and another’s hell.
- You will need to allow for up-charges if you are inclined to customize and find a builder who is able to accommodate your desires. “Change order” is a phrase that becomes synonymous with dollar signs the more you get into customizing mode.
- Since the bank can’t appraise the property until very late in the process when it’s done, and since you will likely exceed the rate-lock period of a traditional loan, you will need special new construction financing. The builder may have made prior arrangements with a lender, or you may have to find a new construction loan on your own.
WHAT DO I DO FIRST?
Now that you have read about the major benefits and risks of buying Pre/Under/New Construction, and decided that is still for you, what can you do to make the process go as well as possible? You can read articles that will give you advice like: “talk to owners who live in homes built by the builder”. And you can read all about tiles and door knockers etc., etc. But this is not an undertaking where you should be doing all your learning as you go. The most important thing you can do is work with a Buyer’s Agent who has substantial experience with new construction. (Your agent should not be learning as he goes either!) You also need an attorney, and a banker who are experienced with new construction. In addition, you may want to work with a designer. It is not the time to work with your brother-in-law’s sister or your best friend from college unless they happen to have impressive credentials in this area.
ARE YOU READY TO GO FOR IT?
Fasten your hard hat, make sure you have on your lucky charm handy, and go for it! If you’re not already working with an agent who has impressive new construction experience, talk to Chris! He happens to have personal building experience, as well as extensive experience helping developers sell and helping buyers who want to buy pre/under/new construction from developers. Call Chris at 857- 829-0282 or email him at Chris@Isellmass.com.