One of the major choices that homebuyers face is whether to buy a new home or one that has been previously owned and lived in. Buyers may wish to consider the following factors when making a decision.

Planning and Design Flexibility
New homes, which include owner-built properties, provide a greater deal of flexibility and customization options. Buyers who start from scratch by purchasing land and building a house can have complete control over the planning, design and finishing of the home, which provides the greatest degree of flexibility and customization.

Pre-planned homes that are sold by builders and developers also allow buyers to be involved in many aspects of the planning and design phases. Depending on the stage of development, buyers may be able to choose from a variety of floor plans, exterior finishes, flooring options, paint colors, bathroom fixtures, lighting fixtures, kitchen appliances and the like. Often, pre-planned homes are sold with a variety of "package" options, such as a standard package which would provide basic features, or a premium package that would include upgrades in materials (such as superior siding) or features (hardwood floors, for example).

Buyers of previously owned homes lose this flexibility since these homes are sold as is. Buyers can certainly customize pre-owned homes to better suit their needs and preferences, but these renovations, additions, and upgrades can be costly and inconvenient. However, some buyers enjoy the work and creativity that goes into fixing up a home, and not all buyers would consider necessary renovations an inconvenience.

Layout
The layout of a home is often a deciding factor in home selection. Buyers frequently have a layout style in mind when looking for a home, whether it's a large, open floor plan, or a home with distinct and separate living spaces. Today's newer homes reflect current trends in layouts, including larger kitchen/dining areas, high ceilings, increased closet space and more bathrooms.

Older homes may suffer from functional obsolescence with outdated layout, design and style features. For example, many older homes lack the "flow" that modern homes have, making it difficult to get from one room to the next. In addition, the older homes may have only one bathroom regardless of the number of bedrooms, and may have very small closets. Many of these outdated features served early occupants well. Homes with small rooms and low ceilings, for example, were easy to heat. Southern homes built with no hallways allowed air to circulate directly from room to room, making these homes easier to cool. With modern conveniences, such features may no longer be functional or desirable.

Maintenance
People who purchase new homes often do so with the intention of avoiding time-consuming upkeep and costly repairs. New homes should be free of the structural defects - such as leaky roofs and cracking foundations - that are common in older homes. All homes require routine maintenance, but a new home should not require any major work for a number of years.

While older homes do require more time and attention, many buyers feel the extra effort is worth it to be in a home with more charm than newer homes tend to offer. This old-home charm comes from features such as arched doorways, bay windows, dual-sided fireplaces, original plank flooring, vintage glass doorknobs, carved wood balustrades and decorative trim that certain homebuyers find desirable.

Safety and Building Codes
Newly built homes must conform to the most up-to-date building codes that apply to the area. Building codes are regulations established by state and local governments that set forth the structural requirements for a building. New homes will have approved electrical systems, plumbing, fire safety and natural disaster protection (such as hurricane-resistant glass) that help ensure the safety of the occupants. Older homes, on the other hand, may have obsolete systems, including outdated wiring that may require repairs or replacing, and outlets that are not fitted with a ground fault circuit interrupter (a GFCI, which automatically cuts off the power supply is an appliance comes in contract with water).

Environmental Hazards
More and more new homes are constructed using "green" materials and processes to lessen the environmental impact and to limit the occupants' exposure to hazards. While brand-new homes can still contain some hazards (such as the formaldehyde present in certain cabinetry), older homes often have a number of elements that may require remediation in order to protect those living in the home from health problems. Known hazards include:

  • Radon - a naturally occurring gas that usually enters the home through cracks in the foundation
  • Lead pipes - common in homes built before the late 1940s
  • Lead-based paint - common in homes built prior to 1978
  • Asbestos - formerly used to insulate furnaces and boilers, as well as the water pipes leading to radiators. Also used in vinyl floor coverings and in certain siding and roofing materials.
Warranty
Builders frequently provide warranties on brand-new homes that cover any defects in the home's construction. Many states require new-home warranties that can last up to 10 years in certain cases. This provides a great deal of peace of mind for new home buyers who know they will not have to pay for any repairs during the warranty period. Buyers should know, however, that warranties are limited - they do not cover every defect that might occur.

Next: Homebuyers' Walkthrough: Considerations When Buying A Home »


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