Buying a new construction home is a bit different than purchasing a resale home – one that’s been previously owned by someone else. You’ll need to be familiar with a few tricks of the trade, along with understanding a bit about how the process works. These 20 tips to buying a new construction home are just the starting point on your way to the new construction home of your dreams. When you’re ready, I’d be delighted to be of assistance to you!
1. Use your own Broker/Agent
ALWAYS use your own Broker/Agent; doing so will help ensure that you get what you want. Understand that the sales reps you meet at a new construction community are likely really representatives of the Seller – the Builder, corporate owners, developers, whomever – that are there to present their product, answer your questions … and do the best job for the Seller that they can.
YOU want the same thing, but from your standpoint. You want to see the product, get your questions answered, but have your needs be number one. By using your own Broker/Agent, you can be assured that there’s no conflict of interest.
Most importantly, if at all possible, be sure to contract with a Broker/Agent before you start shopping. Often the policies at a community require that your agent be present at the first showing and then at every showing. If they’re not, you may find yourself working with the site rep even if you didn’t intend to do so. And your agent, who comes along later, may not get paid either – or perhaps will be paid a significantly less amount because the site rep was the person who registered you.
2. Don’t expect price reductions
Yes, it does happen. But overall, remember that Builders, etc., have established a set of prices that they feel best makes their product (the houses) marketable with an expected profit margin. Furthermore, lowering the price on a house drops the comparable value of other houses in the community, thus bringing the entire suite of houses down in price. Typically a pre-sale home … one that has not yet been built … will be slightly higher in price than a home that the builder erected as a “spec” house – one that was built to attract Buyers to the site. Note also, that very often homes that have not sold for a period of time will not drop in price – they actually go up in price at a new home development, thus supporting the builder’s position that materials and labor costs increase.
3. Look instead for builder concessions in the form of additional upgrades
Rather than price reductions, you may be able to gain a few upgrades from the Builder at no cost, or for less money. Perhaps the Builder would be willing to include a fence, landscaping, upgraded carpeting, or appliances as part of your purchase without charging you extra.
4. Builder incentives in the form of interest rates, etc., may not be coming from the builder
Lots of new communities boast incentive programs that cite things like “3.75% financing for 30 years” or “Zero Closing Costs.” What’s important to know is that the Builder may not be the one actually paying those closing costs, or reducing the interest rates. Typically, those types of incentives are coming from the Builder’s preferred lender who is counting on a sufficient number of loan transactions in order to recoup the cost of the incentives.
While Builders can’t require you to use their preferred lender in order to purchase a home from them, they can require you to use their lender in order to gain the benefit of the incentive. You’ll want to check with your own lender first to see if they’ll match the incentive or can give you a benefit in another fashion before deciding to switch gears and go with the Builder’s lender. Remember that nothing’s really free, so be a bit cautious when making decisions like this one.
5. Expect to use the builder addendum
In almost every case, new construction homes require the use of a Builder’s contract or at least a lengthy addendum in addition to the typical purchase forms used by a Broker/Agent. Generally those Builder forms include language specific to the terms of the building process and can be many many pages long full of tightly packed terms. While much of the language is common sense, be sure to read the contract thoroughly yourself (as will your Broker/Agent) and then consult with a qualified real estate attorney if you have questions or concerns. Agents, even those sales reps for the Seller, aren’t allowed to (and shouldn’t) attempt to advise you or interpret what those custom forms really say.
6. Builder warranties vary
Not all builder warranties are the same. Some builders warrant their work from top to bottom for several years, some only for one. Many builders will offer a warranty of up to about 10 years for structural-type issues, with other warranty time frames for things like plumbing leaks. In addition, you’ll find that your new home will likely have individual warranties for appliances, roofs, windows, etc. Be sure to carefully review the warranty offered by the builder of your desired home before signing the final contract for your Purchase.
7. The floor plan isn’t the floor plan
The little floor plan you see when viewing your potential home at the builder site isn’t an exact representation of what your home may look like. For example, you may see a nicely drawn oval bathtub with rounded edges on the drawing only to find out when the home is almost finished that the actual tub is rectangular. Room sizes are close estimates, but usually measurements are rounded. Sometimes the location of outlets will move around. Sometimes your chosen particular lot requires other modifications in order to fit the home properly.
8. Rarely can you modify the floor plans
Unlike building a custom home, most community sites where several homes are being built by the same or a group of builders are based on a preapproved set of plans that have already received the stamp of approval from the local building authorities. Conversely, in a custom home situation, your set of plans can be modified prior to building or even during the construction process if you want to pay the extra associated costs.
In these preapproved communities, fewer options for modifications are generally allowed. Doing so would significantly increase the amount of time the builder wants to spend on any one house, while also increasing his/her costs. Changes to floor plans, even to add extra outlets, etc., must be included in the particular permit and approved, which can involve new drawings and perhaps repeated permit processes. If you do want to make changes, be absolutely certain you’ve worked this out as part of your purchase contract.
9. Expect changes
While everyone starts out thinking all of the choices have been made, finishes chosen and the idea that the new home will look just like the model, realistically suppliers run out of or change products or prices, thus affecting the appearance of your home. Builders typically reserve the right to substitute materials and finishes, sometimes leading to surprises. Try to tour a finished home or two and do ask lots of questions about the sorts of things that the builder might substitute. It’s nice to know upfront what you might expect!
10. Expect about 5 months after permit or approximately 100-120 days after lumber drop
Every builder, City, County, etc. has different time frames that historically work for them when completing a home. For most builders in the greater Auburn Washington area, I’ve found that it takes approximately four months for a builder to complete a home after lumber drop – i.e., the date on which that huge stack of wood is delivered to your home site. Remember that lumber drop occurs after the construction permit from the city/county/etc. has been received by the builder … and after the foundation is complete. Those two tasks can add another month or even two to the process.
11. Add an extra month or so to the anticipated build-out time
As part of your pre-sale purchase, the Builder and/or sales rep will provide an estimated date of completion for the building of your new home. What’s important to remember is that the estimate is just that – a projection of when the home will be complete and ready for occupancy providing everything goes according to plan. Realistically, however, plans don’t work out exactly on time. In my experience, I’ve found it best to add about an extra month to the whole thing. Go ahead and include the Builder’s date in your contract, but in your heart expect delays.
12. Be sure to include your Broker/Agent in every walk through; cc them on all conversations, etc.
As indicated in Tip #1, your Broker/Agent is a critical part of your purchase team. With that in mind, be sure that you’ve asked your Agent to attend every walk through and meetings with the builder, and that you’ve included them in email conversations, etc. Note that some builders really try to restrict Agent attendance, but in my experience, you need an extra, knowledgeable set of eyes and ears to help keep things on track. You’ll want to negotiate or handle any restrictions they may have to this at the time you work through your Purchase agreement.
13. Don’t expect perfection
As much as we feel we’d like to control every piece of the building of our new home, realistically the house won’t be perfect when it’s complete. For example, the quality of wood used to frame the walls of your home is just not what it used to be. You’ll see knot holes, crooked boards, perhaps what look like curious framing practices, and so on. Unless you see significant problems, however, remember that each step of the build process has been inspected not only by the foreman in charge of your project, but also by the local building inspector who should be keeping an eye on things to be sure that the local building codes have been met. If you do see problems, be sure to bring them to the attention of your own Broker/Agent who will assist you in working out any issues with the builder.
14. Walking the site will get you into trouble
Stay away from the construction site, especially during working hours. There are a lot of physical hazards involved – workers are carrying lumber, shooting nails, stringing wires, spraying drywall compounds, etc. Most job sites require workers and visitors to wear hard hats in an attempt to prevent injuries.
Equally as important is the fact that you don’t really want to disrupt work flow. You want your house finished. By getting in the way of the current project, you’ll cause inordinate delays. Those workers can’t make changes and, as odd as it may seem, probably won’t even talk with you. They’re there to do their jobs, not chat with the Buyer.
Your purchase contract will probably state that you cannot visit the site without making an appointment with the seller rep who will then set up an appointment with the project superintendent or foreman. And then, of course, you’ll also want your Broker/Agent to also be in attendance so that there’s a good record of who said what and when. (Your Broker/Agent should also be conversant and knowledgeable enough with the process to help interpret what’s going on and what could be done to satisfy everyone involved.)
15. Be nice to the foreman!
You may only meet the construction foreman for your home build a few times, but these folks are gold when it comes to completing what you need. They’re usually very nice … but very busy … trying to coordinate several projects all at the same time and making sure that everything is done correctly. Remember, they have a critical job to do, but you want them to also be your advocate. They want the job done right too!
Each time you have the chance to take a walk through of the home or when you do visit the home site, be sure to take your camera along. I can almost guarantee that you’ll want to hang a shelf on a wall at some point – and wouldn’t it be great to know approximately what’s behind that drywall? Not only that, it’ll be fun to look back at the process … later.
17. Ask for leftover paint, vinyl, granite tiles, carpet scraps, etc.
Most of the bigger builders will put together a very nice box of touch-up paint for you as normal practice, but if you can, you may want to also request that leftover vinyl flooring, the sink cut-out from your granite counter, and the leftover hardwood flooring pieces and carpet remnant be left for you. These can be helpful patching materials when accidents happen and it’s nice to have everything match. Note that many of the finishing steps are done by subcontractors, however, and it may just not be possible to capture any of the leftovers. In addition, significant leftover materials may be used in other homes or even returned to the supplier. It never hurts to ask!
18. Do your own inspection
More precisely, prior to closing on the purchase of your home, be sure that your purchase contract allows you to bring in a qualified home inspector to test the various workings of your home … checking outlets, plumbing fixtures, walking the roof, the crawlspace and attic, and so on. Typically the items found on your independent inspection will be repaired by the Builder, but will not affect timely close of your purchase. Builders often retain a time period after closing to repair defects.
19. The “certificate of occupancy” is probably not a certificate at all
The final step before the Builder releases the home to you for closing of your purchase will involve receiving signatures on the final inspections by the City/County, etc. thus allowing the home to be occupied. The term “certificate of occupancy” is a phrase used to indicate that the final signature was received and you’re ready to go!
20. Move-in day is the sweetest day on earth
Well, of course it is for every Buyer for every home … but there’s just nothing like the unparalleled excitement that seems to surround moving in to a brand new home in which you made all your own choices. On the day before the furniture arrives, buy a roll or two of that tacky carpet protector stuff or paper to cover the walking paths on the rugs and floors so that you and the movers don’t track the great outdoors into your new home.
… And then take a moment for a big smile! Take a few minutes to sit on the floor, on the deck, on the sofa in the middle of the room (because you can’t figure out where to exactly position it) and reflect on what you’ve accomplished. This was a BIG deal!
Looking for new construction in the greater Auburn area?
- Part I – New Construction In and Around Auburn WA
- Part II – New Construction In and Around Auburn WA