New vs. Old: What kind of home is right for you?

There are a lot of choices that come up in the homebuying process. Do you want a house or condo? Do you want to live in the city or the suburbs? Do you prefer brick or stucco? And then there’s the mother decision that encompasses all these things: Do you want to buy a new or a resale home?

A lot of people like the idea of living in a home no one has lived in before—maybe you’re not into shopping at a thrift store. With a new home, you can work with builders to customize your house with upgrades and eco-friendly features. It’s like getting a dress or suit custom made. 

But others may like the look of an older home, or specifically want a historic home with all its creaky charm. Or maybe in the area you’re looking in, there are simply no new homes on the market, or they’re out of your price range. 

Ultimately, the choice between a new and resale home isn’t as simple as it may seem.

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Location

If you’re looking to buy a home in a dense urban area, there simply may not be many brand-new homes on the market. 

When Sara Watson, Neighborhoods.com’s resident homebuying writer, bought a home in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (she’s written all about it), she says that although the thought of renovating an old home “gave her chills,” her desired location limited the search to resale homes.

“Since I live in a historic city, much of the inventory in my target area is older—some even hundreds of years old. I think that probably helped manage my expectations of knowing I'd likely be offering on a resale home rather than a new build,” she says.

She added that there are some new construction builds in the city’s downtown area, but they were mostly townhomes and condos. Attached homes are often an accessible way to buy new construction in a dense and walkable urban neighborhood.

“My preference was a single-family home, so in order to get a new build of that kind, I'd need to widen my search to include the suburbs,” she says. “Proximity to downtown was my number one factor, so by that point it was pretty easy for me to rule out new construction.”

New construction homes are often more plentiful in the suburbs, particularly in master-planned communities, where you’ll find the largest concentration of new homes. But that might mean sacrificing proximity to urban amenities.

“Often the newer communities are built farther out of town, away from established restaurants, services, and many of the attractions that bring people to a certain city,” says Barbara Green, a Neighborhoods.com real estate agent based in the Raleigh area.

However, master-planned communities are known for incorporating desirable amenities right into the community—everything from resort-style pools to working farms, plus practical additions like grocery stores and schools—so as the MPC grows you might not feel the need to travel much.

Maintenance, Customization, and Renovations 

The easy thing about a new home is that everything should work for a long time—after all, all of the appliances, fixtures, and the HVAC systems are brand new. (There’s also builder warranties that cover materials, workmanship, and structural elements. Just make sure you go with a reputable builder to ensure they make good on their claims, or don’t go out of business before the warranty is up.)

In an older home, that might not be the case.

After buying her home, which is in a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Watson learned that not all contractors are able or willing to work on historic homes, which can make repairs more difficult and expensive. 

Also, she says that while the previous owner made many upgrades such as adding insulation and fixing wiring issues, she has to deal with terra cotta pipes (that means sticking to one-ply toilet paper).

“It's true that if we got a new build we wouldn't have to worry about some of these things, but I do have a sense of pride in caring for an older property in a historic neighborhood,” Watson says. 

Depending on if your home is historic (and not just old; there’s a difference), you might be restricted by preservation regulations on what changes and repairs you can make. However, tax incentives are often available for historic properties.

With a resale home, someone else has done a lot of the work for you—which can be good or bad.

“With a resale, someone else has provided window treatments, and established the landscaping. Many little extras, like ceiling fans and dimmers, have also been added,” says Karen Spell, another Neighborhoods.com real estate agent based in North Carolina. “The new house ‘bugs’ have been worked out. You are not dealing with new construction traffic, noise, and dirt—oh the dirt!—in a resale.”

But if you do want to customize, specifically with modern eco-friendly fixtures like tankless water heaters, energy efficient AC units, and solar panels, it’s harder in an old house—but it’s not impossible.

Many homebuilding companies offer eco-friendly customization, and there are an increasing number of MPCs touting their sustainability. If having an energy efficient, sustainable home is your priority, modern home builders make achieving that a lot easier.

Timing

“The real struggle with new construction is the timing,” says Matt Quinlan, a Neighborhoods.com real estate agent in Massachusetts. “Builders often build in a period of time; they are allowed to extend the closing due to delays in construction, such as change orders, weather delays, etcetera. New construction requires patience!” 

If you want to move in to your new home right away, it may not always be in your control. Chances are there are available resale homes you can close on quicker in your area; however, if you’re shopping in a popular urban neighborhood, you might have a lot of competing offers from other prospective buyers. Finding your perfect home in that case might take longer. 

Costs

It’s hard to say if a new or resale home is outright more expensive. There are a lot of variables, mainly location, and the kind of new or resale home you want. But here’s a rundown of some of the costs associated with each option: 

Resale:

  • Renovations
  • Big repairs (roofs, HVAC systems, plumbing)
  • Higher offers in competitive neighborhoods
  • Higher sale price for historic, architecturally significant homes
  • HOA fees (for condos and townhomes)

New:

  • Custom/luxury features
  • Commuting costs for farther-out communities
  • HOA fees (for new condos, townhomes, and homes in MPCs)

Bottom Line

If you value customization, eco-friendly features, or a low-maintenance home over everything—even cost or location—a new home might be your best bet. But you might have to be at the mercy of another party’s timetable and deal with some new construction-related dust and bugs.

But with an older home, you might be closer to the action in an amenity-filled urban neighborhood and get to enjoy the architectural beauty of an older, perhaps historic, home. You can also enjoy living in an established neighborhood with neighbors who have been there longer.

Aesthetically, an older home can be more charming and surrounded by more mature vegetation (trees take a long time to get that beautiful), but maintenance can be a challenge.

Going back to the clothing metaphor, buying something new can be the best and most convenient option at times, but nothing beats finding a really great vintage piece at a second-hand store. But with second-hand, sometimes you can’t find your size, or it’s made with old materials. You can also get a dress sewn for you, but it might take longer. But once you get the final piece, it’ll be perfect.

Although homebuying is more high-stakes than buying a dress or suit, when it comes to choosing a new or resale home, it all depends on your style, needs, and budget.

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