January 7th, 2017
Before you start borrowing and wind up blue, it's always critical to evaluate not just what you want in a house but what you want to put into it in terms of time, effort and money. At its simplest, this "a-ha moment" comes down to this: do you want to buy an existing or a new home? Let's take a few minutes to consider both and get you started on your path to purchasing.
An existing home is a good fit for someone who likes the feel of an established dwelling and neighborhood. They can see beyond a home's current layout, color scheme, etc., and envision how it will look after they've put their unique imprint on it, and enjoy the sight of a grown-in yard and streets lined with mature trees. A buyer may be interested in a particular style of home that is age-dependent in terms of construction - Victorian or Federal, a mansard or gabled roof - that isn't available in new build or would be cost prohibitive to create from scratch. And, in terms of cost, often - but not always - an existing home can be less expensive if it is need of updating, a seller is motivated to move for personal or professional reasons, is in foreclosure or a short sale, and other reasons.
Building out or modifying an existing home's "bones" to meet aesthetic or functional desires takes time, money and commitment - and that doesn't include what's found on a housing inspection report in terms of needed repairs that may be the buyer's responsibility in cases of as-is homes, etc. If money is no object, then the awareness of having a home that can't be lived in - or will be shared with workmen - for a while becomes the primary concern. If money is a concern, then does the buyer have the patience to accept living in a home that will be completed gradually - and are they prepared for the unknown expenses that can arise from owning that 1890s Victorian? Moreover, if a buyer wants to save money by doing work themselves, they need to take an honest accounting of their skills before peeling off more than they can glue.
When you want the newest, freshest of everything in a home, then new construction is the obvious choice in a home. A buyer knows exactly what they are getting because the house is either planned and built to their specifications, in which case they selected all of the design and functional amenities - from energy-efficient windows to "wired-ness" and more - and/or don't have to be concerned about out-of-date wiring, plumbing, or anything else that lurks in the walls, crawlspaces and attics of an older home with one or more previous owners (who may not know of the issues themselves). Especially with a build-to-your-own-spec house, the buyer has the opportunity to have everything laid out and installed how they want it right out of the gate, instead of having to go into an existing house with a "tear down - build up" mentality.
The tradeoff for all of the newness and amenities typically comes in the form of a higher price: if you're building your own home, you'll be paying for architects, engineers, builders and every nail and shingle at the going market rate - if you're working off of a builder's base model in a new neighborhood or community development, you'll be paying for each upgrade at the rate handed down by the builder. Should you want uniqueness or character, a new-build home in the latter scenario won't be your cup of tea, since, again, there are typically only a handful of base models and potential external modifications (hence the term "cookie cutter"). You also won't have the "built-in" neighborhood of an existing home and community - it will take years to not only complete every home but for them to be populated and the trees to grow, etc.
Something old, something new - it's up to you
As with every aspect of the home buying process, it's critical that you know who you are as a buyer and what you want in a home - and to be honest in how you assess both your monetary and DIY assets. Do you have the money to buy a new home? Do you have the necessary skills to renovate an existing home - and, if not, do you, again, have the money to pay someone else to do it for you? Do you have the time and patience to wait for a new neighborhood to develop or to fix up an old home? These and other questions need answers - and only you have them. In the end, the better you know yourself, the better home buying - and living - experience you'll have.